A Bison Herder’s Ukraine Love Tour
The man’s name was Gary. He approached me at a hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, beer brewing on his breath. “So you’re a travel writer,” he said, “I’ve got some stories for you.” He was denim all over, jeans rough with wear and a well fitting jacket lined with fuzzy lamb’s wool. He was drunk and nostalgic. Back in the 90s, after he’d saved some money working hard in the bison business, he’d treated himself to a dating tour in Odessa and Kiev. The women weren’t sincere, he didn’t have much to say about them. They were beautiful and young. But he didn’t bring one back. What he remembered most from his visit to the Ukraine was an enormous war memorial somewhere near Kiev that, his guide told him in halting English, was to honor 2.5 million deaths over the course of ten years. Gary thought he’d heard the number wrong, wasn’t it 250 or 2,500? But no, 2.5 million people, his guide insisted. His cheeks got moist with tears that seemed to seep through his pores, fogging up his glasses as he spoke. He’d never read about it in history books, he said, why? It had been covered up, he surmised. He couldn’t verify this memorial or event, and neither could I. The man was drunk, but his feelings were sober. He was crying quietly by the fireplace. “You’re a travel writer? Those are the stories I want to know about,” he said. And I wished that those were the stories I could tell.