I looked out the back window of the van as we pulled away from Luba’s apartment building in Kherson. I saw her turn to her husband of only a few days, cover her face with her hands, and cry. He wrapped his arms around her. That was the last time I saw the girl who had been my roommate, confidante, and best friend in Ukraine.
Our lives have seen many changes since the day we met in a friend’s living room six years ago. Then we were both recent college graduates. Together we experienced our first teaching jobs, she as a German teacher at a college, and I as teacher to American missionary children. Together we learned how to live as single women in a culture that often treats such women as children. We stayed up late many nights, laughing and talking. We watched both Russian and American television, trying to explain the programs to each other. We developed a great love for our dog, Betsy, and made up thousands of silly nicknames for her. We did laundry together, went to the market together, and walked home from visiting friends together.
My husband, Andrew, and I married a year before she and Valik married. They visited us at New Year’s last year, just before announcing their engagement to the rest of the world. I knew when I saw the two of them together that they were in love. When Andrew and I decided to leave Ukraine, we determined to stay long enough to see them married. In August, we attended what seemed like the wedding of the century! They decided to have both a civil wedding (the typical Ukrainian kind at the “Justice of the Peace”) and a church wedding. By the time we helped out at the rehearsal, went to both weddings, and watched the wedding video the next day, Andrew and I had seen Luba and Valik pledge their undying love to one another four times!
When we drove away in the van that morning, our last in Ukraine, I also had tears in my eyes. I knew that I might never see Luba again. Sure, we would keep in touch and write letters. We promised to send each other pictures of our children whenever we have them. I gave her my beloved Chinese jade plant, and she says she treasures it as a “living memory” of me, I left that morning to begin a new life in an America that would at times seem almost as foreign to me as the Ukraine we’d left. Luba went back inside her apartment to begin a new life with her brand new husband. Both of us realized the opening of a new chapter of our friendship, an adventure really, that began five years before in a small apartment in Kherson, Ukraine.