Thursday, November 04, 2004

I'm down with a cold and sick of politics. So I decided to read some poetry, by Vasyl Stus, a Ukrainian poet and, twice, a political prisoner. That, of course, isn't a good way to escape thinking about politics.

Vasyl Stus died in a Perm region labor camp in 1985, midway through his 10-year sentence for political dissent. That was his second sentence; the first one sent him to a Mordovian camp (1972-77), and then to exile in Magadan region (1977-79). The man who pretended to defend Stus in 1980, Victor Medvedchuk, now heads President Kuchma's Administration.

But I knew all this before. I knew that Stus hadn't been the only one in the Soviet Union whose life was ruined by Brezhnev, not Stalin, in the years that many assholes consider idyllic, abundant in cheap food, etc. There are plenty of people here who still miss that time.

What I didn't know is that Donetsk, the city to which Stus' parents moved when he was 2, used to be called Stalino from 1924 (the year Lenin died) to 1961 (eight years after Stalin's death). I've just discovered it in the bio of Stus, at the end of the book of his poetry and letters. I couldn't believe my eyes.

When Donetsk is mentioned now, it's hard not to think about politics, either: Victor Yanukovych, the prime minister and a presidential candidate, spent much of his life in and around this city.

I did a web search to make sure Donetsk was really called Stalino for 37 years: somehow, it is hard to believe. But skimming through the brief history of Stalino/Donetsk, I ran into a little something that made me forget politics for a while: Stalino/Donetsk was also called Yuzovka for a while, and though I did hear about it, I never bothered to think about the origins of this name.

It turns out that it was named Yuzovka after a 19th-century Welsh industrialist, John Hughes. There's another way to spell Yuzovka in English - Hughesovka. In 1870 (the year Lenin was born), Hughes came to what then was the Russian Empire and built a metallurgical plant - and around the plant grew a city, first Yuzovka, then Stalino, and now Donetsk.

Getting back to the Ukrainian election and politics, the Central Election Commission is still counting those 2.33 % of the votes, and we still do not know who won the first round: Victor Yanukovych or Victor Yushchenko. So far, we know that 10,895,667 Ukrainians (39.88 %) have voted for Yanukovych, and 10,713,348 for Yushchenko (39.22 %).

I'm sure Yushchenko wins in the second round and becomes the next Ukrainian president. And 'biased' isn't a correct term for me: I don't pretend to be impartial - I am one of those nearly 11 million Ukrainians who believe Yushchenko will make a better leader than Yanukovych, for many, many reasons. I wish I had enough energy to recount some of these reasons - but I'm down with a cold and sick of politics. I also wish I could translate a poem or two by Stus and post them here - but I'm a lousy translator.

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