Tuesday, November 29, 2005



Still pregnant; c-section is, most likely, on Thursday, Dec. 1, in the morning.

Monday, November 28, 2005

On Saturday, several TV channels showed Oleksandr Moroz, leader of the Socialist Party of Ukraine, speaking on the Famine (in Ukrainian, as he usually does) during his trip to Lviv.

I couldn't bear listening to him, not on this subject - and especially after an introduction in which he declared his right to talk about the Famine, if only because half of his native village had perished in it. This sounded so outrageous.

Moroz was born in 1944, so he cannot be blamed for the horror of 1932-33 directly. But he joined the Communist Party in 1972 and made an impressive career through it - which, of course, didn't turn into a burden overnight, the moment the Soviet Union collapsed. Quite the opposite.

In the Nov. 4, 2005, issue of the Socialist Party's Kyiv branch newsletter, Kyyeve miy, Moroz had a column on the 88th anniversary of "the Great October." Here're a few quotes:

[...]

Some people are unfairly calling the revolution a coup carried out by the Bolshevik party. No, it was indeed a people's revolution, and if the party hadn't found the exact answer to the aspirations of the peoples of Russia, nothing would've worked, nothing would've changed.

Yes, many things that the revolutionaries dreamed of and V. Lenin aspired to were not implemented. Today, those who use politics to their own ends are happy to point out the failures, tragedies and defeats, but they forget that the best achievements of the Soviet order (collective values, patriotism, industrial breakthrough, free education and medicine, no unemployment, etc.) were the result of the October Revolution. [...]

Yes, there were repressions, and famine, and unjust wars, and the loss of a mighty state. The reasons for each of these events have been studied, but these studies are of unequal depth and credibility. Still, I dare state that the common cause - and perhaps the main one - of those troubles was the lack of democracy and management mechanisms, which would have placed the government under the control of the society and made it dependent on the people. The government that cannot be controlled can easily escape punishment, and is often criminal; it inevitably turns hostile to its own people. The experience of the past years in Ukraine does confirm this.

[...]


Moroz may not have real blood on his own hands; but he sure has inherited some of the sins of his mentors and predecessors - and the blood they shed.

The blood of half a village of dead people Moroz claims to be speaking on behalf of is but a tiny part of it.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I keep having birth dreams now, sometimes more than one a night. The baby's always different in them, but always perfect.

In one of today's dreams, I could finally see that lower part of my body that's been concealed by the belly for so many months (and still is, in real life). That was pretty exciting.

I can't say I'm really impatient. More often, I just can't believe that the changes ahead will really take place. Also, very often I wish time could stop for a while - I don't feel I'm ready yet. I am pretty nervous about it all right now... On Tuesday, I felt I could take five times as many photos - if only that allowed me to keep the present routine...

(Now that I've written this, I feel it's all untrue: I can't wait for the baby to arrive! Go figure.)

I haven't been there yet, but, according to Gazeta po-Kiyevski (in Russian), they've opened Bankova for pedestrians - thanks to the Pora party activists, it seems.

On Monday, I stumbled on a news item that said Pora was planning to re-establish free access to Bankova by sawing off the shameful iron gates. The show was scheduled for 2 pm, and there was no way for me to make it there in ten minutes, with the slippery hills and all. There seemed to be no follow-up on it in any of the media afterwards, so I assumed that nothing important had taken place.

Yesterday, I found the story in Gazeta po-Kiyevski: on Monday, there were three rows of riot police and one row of regular cops guarding the gates on Bankova, ready to fight Pora activists if the order came. One of the riot police guys told the reporters that he hadn't quite expected to be standing there again, a year after Maidan.

Then Oleg Rybachuk, head of Yushchenko's Secretariat, showed up:

I saw all this police here and decided to see what's happened! [...] We didn't order to put up this fence, Kyivrada [Kyiv City Council] did! The fence is an anti-Yushchenko symbol! [...] I suggested to the president to take it down and he agreed!


Rybachuk ordered to open the gates, and when a hundred or so Pora activists got to Bankova from Maidan, there seemed to be no reason for them to be there anymore.

Rybachuk then made the following promise:

The gate is open. It will always stay open, except for the days when diplomatic events are being held here!

It happened to us more than once in Istanbul: someone would ask where we were from, we'd say, 'Ukraine' - and they'd reply, 'Oh, Shevchenko,' meaning Sheva, Andriy Shevchenko, the football star playing for Milan.

Even 10-year-old Istanbul boys know what Ukraine is - because of Sheva. Way cool.

Well, right now, within the past hour or so, Sheva has scored four goals in the game against Fenerbahce in Istanbul. It's incredible. Sheva totally rocks.

And I'm very sorry for Fenerbahce - they play very well, except for the moments when Sheva scores...

I also wonder if it's safe for Ukrainians to travel to Istanbul after this game. It probably is: Fenerbahce is just one of Istanbul's teams, not the only one. But then again, who knows...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My 80 photos from Maidan's first anniversary - enjoy!

(As far as I know, TV had the best picture of the evening crowd... Nothing I can match it with, unfortunately...)

***

Some of my favorites:


'Our Ukraine'



'Stop persecuting Tymoshenko, she's had enough in Kuchma's time!'



'Victor Andriyovych, don't listen to your entourage, listen to your heart!'









Putin in orange disguise ;-)))))

Came back home very soon - too slippery; the crowd's incredibly huge; no way to push through closer to the stage, not with my belly, anyway; and - the further you are, the less you can hear, because the sound system isn't as good as a year ago, when they were re-broadcasting it all throughout Khreshchatyk.

On the way to Maidan, I suddenly heard the crowd give out one very powerful cheer - from where I was, it sounded more like a gasp - and then I heard a female voice coming from Maidan, and though I couldn't make out a single word, I knew it was Tymoshenko. Later, I read that she had been carried to the stage, through the crowd, all the way from Instytutska.

Yushchenko showed up on time, at 8 p.m. sharp, and spoke for about an hour. I missed most of his speech. Closer to the end, he attempted to explain the situtation with the memorandum he had signed with Yanukovych: remember how you were taking food and clothes to the folks brought down here from Donbas last year, the poor souls who had nothing but vodka with them?.. remember how you were all chanting 'East and West together!' last year?.. - something along these lines...

***

According to some estimates, there were 100,000 people at Maidan tonight (Gazeta.ru), and according to others - 200,000 (NTV).

When I was near Besarabka, on the way back, there seemed to be a bit too many tipsy guys around - but right now, there seem to be none - not where we are, at least, on the Besarabka side of Khreshchatyk. That's good.

***

Vitaly Klichko was briefly on stage tonight - he's not too eloquent, so it's good that his speech was very short. He had a limp - post-surgery, I guess - and he seemed to be leaning on a walking stick. After Tymoshenko, he probably got the warmest welcome from the crowd. If it's true that he's planning to run for Kyiv's mayor, he probably does have a good chance of winning. I'd vote for him: with his achievements, he's totally worthy of every kind of respect, plus he must be rich enough to abstain from stealing and taking bribes, and he's seen the world, so he'd know the areas that need some fixing in Kyiv, and there are plenty of those right now.

***

There was also an Armenian guy congratulating the crowd tonight - speaker of the Armenian parliament, I guess, but I'll have to check that. His last name is Bagdasarian. That's interesting, because Robert Kocharian, the Armenian president, was among those who, along with Putin, congratulated Yanukovych on his victory last year, prematurely. So I wonder if the guy who made a very friendly and unexpected - if not too inspired (he read from a piece of paper) - speech at Maidan tonight was a dissident or something...

Update: A dear Armenian friend of mine has described Artur Bagdasarian this way: "He is a very bad career-maniac-never-a-reformist-not-even-remotely-a-patriot-snobbish-like-hell-without-any-depth type of guy... None of those bastards deserve any minute of your thinking about them and why they do something."

***

I'll try to post photos later tonight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I'm still home (on my way out, actually). At Maidan, they're doing speeches right now, all of them. I'd rather have a dance party, I'm afraid, considering they'll have up until the end of March 2006 to promise things and talk beautifully.

Many of them are saying that the criminals of the previous regime belong in jail - so why aren't they there yet?

The number of people at Maidan is amazing. So wonderful.

Just returned from Maidan, for a snack and some hot tea: the weather's evil.

But - the atmosphere is lovely: everything's orange, lots of people there, and a lot more are coming. I was afraid it'd all be more like a Soviet November 7 celebration, when the guys up there order us to show up at the demonstration, so we do, and then pretend we're happy and are thinking of nothing but 1917... Thank God, today is different: there's lots of joy - and most of it is for real.

It's sad, of course, to watch the documentary about last year's events, to be reminded that it's been a year, and so many things have been fucked up. There is some bitterness. But overall, it's wonderful, despite the snow.

I've got many pictures, but I'm planning to go back to Maidan a little later, and I'll try to post all I have and probably write something later tonight!



P.S. Speaking of politics, Tymoshenko has prepared wonderfully for this day: her party's flags are everywhere.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Walked to Maidan and back, got somewhat too tired - I'm not who I was last year, obviously, and the weather's pretty lousy, too - 31 photos...

***

At Maidan, there was a Natalya Vitrenko/Progressive Socialist Party freak show.



Lots of people, not only from Kyiv but from other places as well, with various flags, posters and banners, including a couple Russian flags. Vitrenko's speech was full of hatred, her rhetoric so familiar, so similar to the one most popular in Russia at many levels now: paranoia, everyone's out to get us, the poor little Orthodox Christians, especially those evil Americans, and those evil orange ones.





Vitrenko's such a liar, too - claimed to have nearly been killed by the orange crowd last year, but the brave coal miners rescued her; okay, but now, of course, she didn't give Yushchenko any credit for letting her hold this circus at the country's main square, where anyone was free to join her if they felt like it. Back in 1999, when Vitrenko ran for president herself, she promised to shut down all international airports if she won.

The crowd didn't look anything special: a fair number of men looking and smelling like they drank too much last night and smoke too much in general; a fair number of middle-aged, not too friendly-looking women; some young people with red stars on their jackets and the word 'Breakthrough' (proryv) typed on their scarves. Despite their lack of charm, though, most weren't as hysterically hostile as their leader - as long as you avoided talking politics with them, I guess.

One woman told her friend to strike a pose when she noticed I was photographing them, and they both sort of smiled back at me when I sort of smiled at them. A man with Vitrenko's party flag asked me to take a picture of him - 'for history.' He gave me his address then, in Dnipropetrovsk, and asked me to mail him the print.



It reminded me of this guy at the May 9 freak show in Moscow:



He was from Omsk, staying with his friends outside Moscow; that day, he was in such a hurry to catch his commuter train that he left his camera at his friends' place; he was the only person at that gathering I grew to have any feelings for, even though he didn't conceal he was a Communist; 'I'm a decent person [poryadochnyi chelovek],' he told me, and part of me knew he wasn't lying; he also said he was an offspring of Ivan Annenkov, a Decembrist; I still feel very guilty for losing the piece of paper with his address and never sending him the picture.

Today's guy said he was a former marine, and I thought it must've been a long, long time ago, for he was so skinny now; I told him I could only promise to try sending him the picture - but I couldn't promise I'd actually send it, because of my pregnancy; he wished me to have a very healthy baby, and I thanked him; he then tried to talk to me about some esoteric shit, hypnosis or something, and I escaped, telling him I could no longer stand his cigarette next to my face.

***

One of today's slogans on Vitrenko's side was 'The fascist won't get through!' (Fashist ne proidyot!'] - and I found it so silly at first, so irrelevant.

But then I crossed the street to the other side of Maidan, where there was a bunch of UNA-UNSO guys. They were singing some military songs, and on finishing one of them, they shot their right arms up and forward, unbent, several times - a gesture resembling the notorious Nazi one just way too much...

A good thing about this UNA-UNSO group was that, unlike Vitrenko's crowd, they weren't numerous at all.



Sunday, November 20, 2005

Mama and I spent part of the evening looking at the few remaining family photos - my mama when she was little, her parents, my mama as a student in Nizhyn, and later, when she was already working in Sevastopol.

I knew all these photos by heart when I was a kid. I had stories attached to them, the stories I'd invented, in addition to the real ones.

Then we kept losing them, with all the repairs and moving around. At some point not long ago, I realized I craved to see them again, and today mama has found them, at last.

These photos reveal so much - but they keep silent about even more things. It's overwhelming.

I wish I could be more specific, but it doesn't seem right to talk about my grandparents, for example, now - right after I've spent a few hours looking into their eyes. It'd be like talking behind their backs. And some of it is too personal, way too personal.

I wish I had a scanner nearby so that I could at least post a couple of these pictures now...

***

Our family is like an iceberg - and there's no way to see what's not on the surface. Most of the things I can only guess - and it's an amazing feeling, so much freedom and so very few allegiances to keep. Even the obviously wrong guesses are worth thinking about and are totally enjoyable - and what if... no, definitely not... but it would've been so cool if...

And to my family now adds Mishah's - with all their stories. And they do know and remember a lot more than we do.

All in all, it feels like I've just discovered a treasure I'd been sitting on for the past few decades, without realizing it. And that's not the first time I feel this way.

***

I've also found two notes written by my mama to my papa in January 1974, from roddom, right after I was born.

They are terribly moving. Masterpieces.

They also say so much about that period. Here're just a couple lines:

I don't need any food. Well, just lemons, maybe. Perhaps Vasya's mother could find some. Take as many as possible.


Lemons were hard to get then, defitsit. Hard to believe now.

***

The two roddom notes were written with a pencil, not a pen.

In one, I'm referred to as Nika (Neeka) at the beginning and as Stasya at the end. On Jan. 10, when I was 4 days old, my parents were still undecided on whether to call me Veronica or Stanislava...

Friday, November 18, 2005

I'm back home from the hospital. Inshaallah, if all goes well and according to the plan, I'll return there on Nov. 28 and will have a c-section at the very beginning of December.

***

Nothing to write about except for the cab driver who took me home today: a relatively young father of four, a physicist, got really offended when I called him a cab driver, because that's a part-time job for him, something he's forced to do to feed the family. I explained I wasn't being arrogant: I myself would've loved to be a cab driver, only I'm too timid for that. And I'm grateful I don't have to, of course.

Even though their situations have nothing in common, he reminded me of all those "Russian" cabbies in Brooklyn, half of whom seemed to hold Soviet Ph.D.'s in something very complex, but were too old to study the language and then look for a proper job. Their kids and grandkids, though, have a lot more chances than this guy's kids. Then again, who knows, maybe everything will change here by the time they grow up...

Here's my translation of a little item from Maidan.org.ua (in Ukrainian).

I wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't been about the neighborhood I've spent the past five days in (not right where I am, but very close - even closer when you think in Moscow distances, not Kyiv...):

Potemkin village on 1 Komarova St.

A user of the Education and Science forum reports:

Today our President, Victor Andriyovych Yushchenko, will visit the National [Aviation] University - one of the most interesting universities of our country.

We know in advance what our President will be shown. We also know in advance what will remain invisible.

The President will be taken through the repaired Building #1, and perhaps he'll glance into the newly repaired Building #11, where the real pride of our university is located: the aviation hangar.

He won't be shown Buildings #3 and #5, where the windows haven't been washed in years, where the elevators do not work, where it's cold in winter and no air to breathe in summer. He won't be shown the conditions in the lecture rooms in the highrise Building #8.

The President will be happily greeted by the students dressed in uniforms for which they were forced to pay 550 hryvnias [$110], and by the professors who paid from 850 [$170] to 1200 [$240] hryvnias, after being threatened that they'd be fired and have the following scary note inserted in their records if they didn't comply: "[Fired] for disregard for the behavioral norms and for violating the university's internal regulations." (It has to be noted that the quality of the fabfric the uniforms are made of is so low, it's shameful to wear them in front of others after just one year.)

Perhaps the President will look from afar at the wonderful Aviation University dorms, where, in horrible conditions, five people live in rooms meant for two or three students. Only the lucky ones live there, though, for there isn't enough space in the dorms for all students, and many have to look for shelter around and outside Kyiv.

The president will be told about the university's library, which has a few thousand volumes. And he'd probably be surprised if someone told him that to check out one book, a student has to pay 1 hryvnya ($0.2). Oh come on, this isn't money! And the librarians are poor, their salaries are tiny but they need to eat, too!

And, I wonder, what will they do with that huge pack of stray dogs who live near the university's dining hall and run around Harmatna St. in the evening, scaring the passer-by?

[...]

And of course, the President will never go down to the undreground pass by the Harmatna tram station (sorry - the National Aviation University station) - if he does, he'll never believe that he's two steps away from the National [Aviation] University and not in some remote Gorlivka [town near Donetsk] neighborhood full of drug addicts and dealers.

The university faces lots of problems, but there've been many achievements, too. It'd be unfair to stain the memory of these great scientists and teachers: Bashta, Kukhtenko, Malynovsky, Mkhitaryan, Lozytsky and others.

Just one question: does Ukraine need modern universities or Potemkin villages?


This was posted in the morning. From the evening news I understood that Yushchenko never showed up at the Aviation University. Minister of Education did, though (I think his last name is Nikolaenko, but I don't know anything about him).

There was some silly concert dedicated to the Students' Day (today), and then the minister went on stage and, surrounded by the young men in uniforms and with stupid smiles on their faces, told a student joke: how Baba Yaga and Koshchey Bessmertnyi (scary Russian fairy-tale characters) caught a few students, and Baba Yaga decided to make a soup out of them, but Koshchey told her not to - because last time he did, those guys were so hungry they spoiled the soup by eating all the potatoes out of it! And everyone in the audience laughed, though it was hard to tell if they laughed obediently, or for real, or both.

***

This anonymous post reminded me of a story I've been telling everyone since 2001. Somehow, this is the first time I'm writing about it here.

A friend who used to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ternopil recalled how Yushchenko, then still the prime minister under Kuchma, came to visit his alma mater, the Ternopil Finance and Economics Institute. Prior to his arrival, all the professors who had computers at home were ordered to bring them to the institute, and a makeshift computer lab was created. They showed it off to unsuspecting Yushchenko when he came over. As soon as he left, the professors were allowed to take their computers back home - and the computer lab disappeared.

I always tell this story when I want to explain to someone foreign what pokazukha is - something so typical of the Soviet and post-Soviet societies, the contemporary Potemkin villages...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

In Paris yesterday, Yushchenko put flowers to Symon Petlyura's grave (three photos at Maidan.org.ua - here).

In Paris today, at the age of 86, died Marina Denikin-Grey, daughter of General Anton Denikin (two recent photos of her in the Kommersant - here).

***

Petlyura's Wikipedia bio is here; Denikin's here.

***

I don't have any particular feelings for either of these men, and I have to admit I know very little about them - but I do find it amazing that their life and afterlife stories seem to cross at some really significant points:

- before and during WWI, both served in the Russian Tsarist army, with Denikin based first in Kyiv, then in Galicia;
- during the civil war, Petlyura fought against Denikin, among others;
- after the Communists came to power, Petlyura and Denikin both eventually ended up in France;
- during the Soviet times, they were never mentioned in a positive context, let alone praised, not officially anyway;
- now they've both reclaimed their 'national hero' status in their respective motherlands, with Denikin's body re-buried in Moscow in a lavish ceremony a month or so ago.

If nothing else, this means that at some well-hidden level Russia has changed as much and in the same direction as Ukraine.

***

I don't care about Denikin or Petlyura, but I did fall in love with Denikin's daughter, who has died today.

At 86, she had the energy of a beautiful, young woman, she was shining all the time in this really contagious way, and she looked both fragile and resilient, both very kind and very tough - at least, this was how she appeared to me on TV.

In one interview with her, I read that she'd spent 40 years with her third husband; they both loved tennis, but she also loved football (soccer), while he hated it; when she gave him a second TV set as a present, he was extremely happy, because that meant he'd be able to watch whatever he liked while she was watching her football!..

Rest in peace, Marina Antonovna.

Here's a little something from RFE/RL on another potential alternative to Putin's regime - Dmitry Rogozin and his Rodina (Motherland) Party:

The Moscow prosecutor's office is considering whether to ban a controversial campaign video with racist and anti-immigrant undertones.

The video was made by the nationalist Motherland party ahead of Moscow legislative elections next month. The video also shows Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin and Yurii Popov -- Motherland's candidate for the city vote -- watching men of Caucasus descent throw watermelon rinds on the ground and demanding they pick them up.

A banner on the screen reads: "We're cleaning Moscow of garbage."

The background music played during the advertisement is ethnic music from the Kabardino-Balkariya region, which was the scene of violent unrest last month.

Prosecutors say they will rule on 11 November on the legality of the video, which is already airing on Russia's TV-Tsentr television.

Politicians and public activists have hotly criticized the video as xenophobic and hateful. Lawmaker Vladislav Reznik of the centrist Unified Russia party described the video as "tasteless and obscene," and a product of "redneck fascism."

TV-Tsentr has said it will continue to broadcast the video until the end of the election campaign on 2 December if it is not banned.

Prosecutors are also considering the legality of a statement made by Rogozin on Ekho Moskvy radio. In his comments to the broadcaster, Rogozin suggested the 4 December elections would be "stolen from Muscovites," and that Motherland was prepared to call "tens of thousands of people" onto the streets to protest any perceived voter fraud.


***

The video also features a bleach-blond girl with a stroller, and some old schmuck, Rogozin's companion, who asks one of the non-Russian-looking guys whether he speaks any Russian at all...



The video is available at Rodina's site - here.

***

The irony, of course, is that many - if not most - of those who keep Moscow's streets and backyards relatively clean do not look like ethnic Russians at all.

Here's my photo of three Moscow janitors walking down Nikitsky Boulevard in March 2004:

This Gazeta.ru story (in Russian) is about a monument to Prince Svyatoslav recently erected in Belgorod, a town near the Russian-Ukrainian border.

A creation of sculptor Vyacheslav Klykov, once a member of the notorious Pamyat' Society, the monument commemorates Prince Svyatoslav's victory over the Khazars:



The guy on the horse is Svyatoslav; the defeated guy with the Magen Dovid on his shield is a collective representation of the Khazars...

***

Here's the symbol of the Pamyat' Society:



The head resting on a swastika is that of Jesus Christ, I assume.

***

Khazaria.com, the American Center of Khazar Studies, seems like a very good resource.

A Wikipedia page on the Khazars is here.

There are about 150,000 homeless children in Moscow alone. Just think of it.

(This figure is from this Gazeta.ru story (in Russian) on the UNICEF report on child poverty in Russia...)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Had an uninspired walk today, partly because I watched my favorite Gaston Gaudio play against Davidenko in Shanghai (Gaston lost...), so I got out pretty late (it gets dark so early here...), but also because I feel I'm repeating myself in my photos, and that this neighborhood is repeating itself as well (this is what life with short attention span is like, more or less...) - 13 photos.



***

The writing above the door and the partially crossed out stuff on the door both announce that someone gay lives in this building...

Part of this entry could've appeared around 5 a.m. yesterday, when I woke up after just a few hours of sleep, sweating as if I were in a sauna, not a hospital room.

I was so mad and so unhappy - but, fortunately, I'm trained to use my Dear Diary in cases like this, so I've avoided spilling it all on innocent people. After a cool shower and a few pages of some extremely angry writing, I managed to fall asleep again.

In the morning, I told the nurses that I'm either leaving soon, or they find me a fan. They moved me to another room instead.

The air's cool here and I am feeling perfect.

***

The most frustrating thing about these two days was that I constantly focused on myself, was preoccupied with all these thoughts about bad luck and the goddamn dry air - and had neither time, nor energy to think some wonderful, positive thoughts about the baby and my pregnancy in general.

***

The torture of the past two days wasn't unexpected; I knew something like this would happen to me at this fancy-schmancy hospital - I've known it since last Friday, when we spent the night on a Moscow-Kyiv train, as fancy-schmancy and costly.

The train is new, has been running since August, and makes it to Kyiv in nine hours or so, not 12. When they were reconstructing the tracks for it in July, all the trains on this route were running late, including the one we took to get to our own wedding: we arrived in Kyiv two hours late and just three hours before we were due at the wedding office. We had a two-bunk compartment, SV, so there was no way for poor Mishah to escape my fury...

This time we also had an SV compartment, to avoid having some fat person (or two) cough or snore on me all night.

Inside, the new train looks different from other trains in this part of the world: its walls are made of beige plastic, very cheerful; the WCs are clean, wide (which is really important to me now), and you can use them anytime, not just when the train's moving. Way cool.

But when we lifted the bunks to put our stuff there, we saw a midsize cardboard box under one of them. We knew right away that the provodnitsa was making extra cash this way, working as a parcel carrier. It happens all the time, and we send stuff this way ourselves sometimes. So, normally, I don't mind having something not my own underneath the bunk - but pregnancy has made me more paranoid: the train's crossing two borders, and who knows what's in that box and whether the border control or customs guy would believe it doesn't belong to us. Also, for the money we've paid for the tickets, it'd be nice of the provodnitsa to warn us she's using our compartment or, even better, ask our permission. Mishah walked over to her to ask what was inside the box, and she was somewhat jumpy, realizing probably that she'd done something inappropriate; she said there were envelopes or something like that in the box, and we let it stay.

Next, we learned that the lock on our door was broken. Having been robbed on a train once (and almost robbed another time), I didn't like it at all, even though this train had a fancy alarm system that sounded off if someone opened the door. My paranoia told me that the provodnitsa could conspire with the bad guys and turn off the alarm, to clear the way for them. But then I had to use the bathroom every 20 minutes for half the night, so even if she had some evil plans, she must've reconsidered, as I was obviously awake.

The real torture came when I decided to finally fall asleep. As it often happens on trains, some tiny, insignificant detail must've gotten unscrewed in a totally unreachable part of the compartment, and as soon as the train gained speed, it began making loud noises. Boom boom boom all night, except for the time the train slowed down or stopped. And no way to escape the noise. Not all trains have this problem, and most new ones are very quiet - but I spent two years on, predominantly, old ones and learned to go crazy from this sound the moment I detected it. To buy an expensive ticket, expecting comfort and all, and then to spend the night sleepless and seized by some of the old nightmares - it's more than just disappointing.

As if this wasn't enough, we also had problems with the Russian border control - but that's irrelevant and completely our own fault. (Briefly, I stayed a couple weeks more than the three months I'm allowed to in Russia, allowing the border control guy to make some $35 on us. Nothing serious, but it added up to my insomnia, so I started to weep at some point, as Mishah went out to pay the fine (if you can call it that). The provodnitsa came over and tried to soothe me, saying, "Stop, stop, or, God forbid, you'll have your baby right here.")

In the morning, I told Mishah there was no way I was going to the hospital I'm at right now: because we'd pay them all this money, and everything would be way cool, until one loud Soviet bitch shows up - just one, that's more than enough - and spoils it all for us. Just like that loose part of the train. This is how we got ourselves into the roddom 6 and 7 situation.

The loud Soviet bitch at this place turned out to be the screwed-up air conditioning in my room. I managed to get away from Moscow's horrible air and ended up in a room with no air at all.

I hope so much that it'll all go smoothly from now on...

***

Had another walk around the neighborhood - 25 photos.





***

I feel a little like Tarkovsky's Stalker during these walks: the place is so unfamiliar; no one walks around with a camera here; who knows whether I'll encounter any of the traps; but the traps are definitely out there, all over the place. Actually, the morgue guy was one, and today I stepped into dog shit as I was about to take a picture of the misspelled word 'cannabis' - connabis - scrawled on a kindergarten gazebo...

I am, of course, a comic variation of Stalker: my pants keep sliding off my belly and I absolutely have to pause and pull them up every three minutes or so...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Channel 5 has just had a story about the Ukrainian Mobile Hospital whose doctors worked in Pakistan after the earthquake.

Among other things, they helped the locals with seven births - and one newborn Kashmiri boy received the most Ukrainian name in the world - Taras!

Monday, November 14, 2005

The air here is too dry and it was really hard to breathe during the night. I felt as if I were back in the airless Moscow, almost. A scary feeling,

But at least I woke up early thanks to that. Couldn't wait to get outside for some fresh air, but with all the ultrasounds and IVs I only managed to take a short walk around noon - 15 photos.

This neighborhood is called Otradnoye (I guess), and even though there's something about joy in its name, the area I walked in today is pretty joyless. Lots of medical institutions around - Medgorodok.







***

As I was taking yet another picture of something ugly, a man called out to me from behind a broken-down fence; he looked like someone who rides around in an ambulance all day. At first, I didn't hear all that he said. But I thought I heard the word 'morgue.' The building behind him, which I had just photographed, could've been a morgue, I thought. He repeated: "Devushka [miss, girl], is that a hobby of yours to take pictures of morgues?"

I erased the picture immediately, without thinking.

A little further on, I saw a chimney. They probably cremate bodies here, I thought.

And this is where I bounced back up from the shock of the encounter with the morgue employee and was able to see it as if through someone else's eyes: a pregnant girl with a camera and a tired man with a difficult job and a weird sense of humor, totally consistent with his occupation; he's enjoying himself immensely as he is scaring the shit out of the very pregnant girl. Hilarious.

***

Some three minutes before the morgue conversation, I had been sms-ing Mishah about something very pleasant: all of a sudden, in the middle of this depressing neighborhood, I smelled New York City. A sweet smell of something being baked in the street, pretzels or something, mixed with some mild stench, totally bearable, coming from a nearby subway station. Made me feel so nostalgic.

There's probably a bakery somewhere close, I'd been thinking. But then I saw the chimney, and for the next two hours, until Mishah wrote me back, I worried about the possibly different nature of the NYC smell. Mishah, however, wrote that there was only one crematory in Kyiv, at Baikove Cemetery, far from here.

***

There're tiny plastic bottles with shampoo and shower gel here, hotel-style. After the morning shower today, I smelled very unfamiliar, and the only place I could locate myself at with this hotel smell all over me was Istanbul, where we do stay at the hotel. This was the first time I felt nostalgic today, and a little bit too hopeful, for some reason - but then I looked out of the window, at the gloomy buildings of Medgorodok and the leaden sky, and knew again that I was in Kyiv, not Istanbul.

The weather this whole past week has been depressing. Somehow, it's the weather I've been imagining we'd have on the day I deliver, and I kept forcing myself to imagine something else, something happier: lots of sun, lots of fresh snow, frost and wind - and me having the baby...

Someone hacked PravdaBeslana.ru today, according to Marina Litvinovich, the site's creator (links in Russian). It's back online now, or at least a big part of it, thanks to several people who, miraculously, have kept backups. The provider's backup was dated Jan. 30, 2005, the time when the site did not exist yet.

Weird.

Maybe this is unrelated to the first-anniversary hysteria - but if it is, I really don't understand why.

The site's main content is the transcripts of Nurpasha Kulaev's trial - not Marina Litvinovich's or anyone else's opinions on what happened in Beslan last year. (And even if there're personal views on the site, what's wrong with it?)

The transcripts may, of course, prove dangerous: they aren't verdicts and anyone reading them is free to form their own opinions.

I wonder how many people have the heart to read the transcripts, though. I also wonder if there's still a single soul out there that hasn't yet formed an opinion on Beslan and the personalities involved.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I'm at the hospital now, for the next five days or so, not exactly sure what for. Had an IV for the first time in my life today, not scary at all. Glucose and some other stuff to feed the baby, they say.

The place is wonderful - I can even blog from my room! Everyone's very sweet, everything's clean, and in general, it feels more like a nice hotel than a hospital, especially in the bathroom. If only there were more places as good as this one in this country...

The windows don't open (perhaps to prevent women suffering from post-partum depression from doing something awful), and it's a bit too hot for me here - and that's a minus. But I could hear the heartbeat of a neighbor's unborn baby in the room next to mine (very quiet, but it's impossible to mistake it for anything else), and that was so moving - which is definitely a plus. (They did attach this heartbeat monitor thing to me, too, today, for about 20 minutes, and all of a sudden I realized that this busy little pump has been working inside me, alongside my own heart, all these months...)

***



Saturday, November 12, 2005

They were shooting something Orange Revolution-related on Khreshchatyk today, near Prorezna - a commercial, a video, a promo for the Nov. 22 celebration, I don't know. It looked pretty authentic from afar - and they even made a fire, so the smell was authentic, too... Many people stood around, staring; a guy next to me said, 'Oh, fuck it all,' (V p.... vse tse) and walked off.







This photo is all over the Russian LiveJournal-sphere. The original is here.



It's St. Pete, 1994, and the man reading a newspaper in the background is Vladimir Putin.

My favorite caption to this photo is by Marina Litvinovich: Lyuda chose this suit for him, yes.

Lyuda is Lyudmila Putina, Putin's wife, Russia's first lady with a truly horrible taste. She's not in the picture. The man in the foreground is Anatoly Sobchak, St. Pete's governor (or mayor: I'm not sure what they called themselves then) and also the one who jumpstarted Putin's career.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Finally, I've got the energy to watch Ukrainian TV - if you can call Savik Shuster's Svoboda Slova on ICTV a Ukrainian show.

(Shuster moved to Kyiv after they cancelled his Svoboda Slova on the Russian NTV; he devotes the Ukrainian program to issues relevant to Ukraine - and yet, there's some sense of foreignness to it, a strange feeling, as if someone invisible is watching you. Just takes some time getting used to, I guess: Shuster and Ukrainian politics - in the purely Ukrainian context...)

Today's topic was federalism, separatism and the threat of Ukraine's break-up. They drew on last year's events: the get-together in Severodonetsk, during which a number of folks decided to proclaim the South-Eastern Republic (was that the name?) with the capital in Kharkiv.

Yevhen Kushnaryov, former governor of the Kharkiv region, whose hopes to become head of a new state were crashed a year ago, was speaking when I turned on the TV. It was strange to see him, not pleasant, and I didn't care about what he had to say, especially when I realized that he led a party called 'New Democracy' and his every word was part of his campaign.

I don't think I consciously paid attention to the language he spoke in, Russian. But then someone - editor of the Literary Ukraine newspaper, I think - asked Kushnaryov a question in Ukrainian, and I couldn't ignore that because of the weirdness of looking at Shuster and hearing someone's beautiful Ukrainian. And Kushnaryov replied to this guy in Ukrainian, believe it or not - not as beautiful as the guy's Ukrainian, but totally okay, as neutral as his Russian a minute ago. Again, I wouldn't have paid any attention - if it hadn't been for Shuster's presence.

I am used to our linguistic schizophrenia - but what about poor Savik Shuster, how is he taking it? They don't give you any warning as to when they are intending to speak which of the languages (reminds me of an Armenian-Iranian man I used to know in Iowa - his American wife was in a constant state of panic becuase their 4-year-old son kept switching from English to Armenian to Farsi, and of those three she could only understand English...). Moreover, you'd expect someone like Kushnaryov to speak Russian and nothing else - you'd expect it if you were in Russia, with enough distance to be able to simplify all things Ukrainian, that is. And what is Taras Chornovil doing among these "pro-Russian" guys, speaking nothing but Ukrainian, a little-shit son of the great father, Vyacheslav Chornovil?..

And you'd think the language issue has been dealt with at last, and everyone's more or less bilingual and happy about it - but no, another election is coming up and the language issue, movne pytannya, is as overused as it always is in times like this. Overused mainly by those who have been overusing it for the past fourteen years - thirteen of which they had been running the country and could have done something to solve the problem, if there ever was one...

***

I liked Anatoly Matvienko, former Crimean prime minister, a soft-spoken, intelligent man, who was trying throughout the show to say how important it was to avoid locking yourself up in a ghetto, an enclave, linguistic or geo-political.

***

Leonid Kravchuk, first president of Ukraine, is 100 percent a politician, and it's sickening. He spoke of how Ukrainians hate the idea of joining NATO - as if the prospect of it is as real for each one of us as, say, going out to a store and not finding enough money in our pocket, or going over to a hospital to deliver a baby and realizing that the conditions there are so horrid we'd better violate the law and have that poor baby at home...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

We were depressed, pissed, confused and exhausted, and then we decided to stop torturing ourselves and the baby, and went over to a private maternity clinic. It's clean and cozy there, and not overcrowded - which, hopefully, means that doctors and nurses can afford to pay enough attention to every patient, without it being a real torture to them. Inshaallah, everything will go smoothly for us from now on, with no major adventures and little to write about.

***

This clinic is located right next to the kids' music school - 18 photos - in which Mishah's mother has been working for the past 30 years or so: after we were done with all the paperwork today, we walked there to say hi to her.





***

This kid is a student of Mishah's mother: Marusya, 11 years old, a violinist, has four siblings, all play some instrument, but she's the most gifted of them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The roddom situation is getting more and more complicated and stressful.

We weren't completely happy with yesterday's place, so today we decided to follow up on another recommendation and visit roddom #6. It's closed for washing now, till Nov. 27, and we knew that it wouldn't make sense for us to have any plans for it, as I may go into labor sooner than it re-opens. But we wanted to talk to a doctor there and see what she had to say about other options available.

Funny, but she said we should check out roddom #7, the one we went to yesterday. We told her we'd already been there and gave her the name of the doctor we'd seen: she said that was a very good doctor.

And then she said something that yesterday's doctor should've told us herself - but didn't, for some reason: that the #7 place would close down for washing on Nov. 28 (#7 right after #6), till Dec. 15.

My approximate due date is Dec. 5. If we decided to stick with #7 (and it was very likely that we would) and nothing happened till Nov. 27, I'd be homeless - roddomless - and our yesterday's doctor would go without her money... She told me to come over for ultrasound on Nov. 22 - they have some really cool, new equipment, she said, donated by Yushchenko himself, showing half the stuff in color, etc. My theory is she'd try to convince me to have the baby early, by giving me fake ultrasound results or something. Very risky for her, yeah, but she does need to make money to feed her family... Why else would she not warn us that we'd better look for some back-up options?

This must be too confusing - and yes, we're confused. And I'm really, really pissed now.

***

Since #6 closed down yesterday and only a few women with newborns were still there, the doctor was able to show us what one of the post-delivery floors looked like.

Regular rooms (free or almost free, at least officially, I assume):

Two adjacent rooms, for one woman and a baby each, separated by the wall with a large window in the middle of it: if one of the women suddenly felt sick, her neighbor might notice and call the nurse, we've been told. There's one nurse on each floor, we've also been told, for it's a state hospital, not a private one. (I can't say exactly, but it looks like 20 to 50 women may fit on one floor with their babies, and one nurse for them all is definitely not enough.)

Each room has a bed (three types, all pathetic), a regular table and a table to wrap the baby on. There are no curtains or rugs, nothing to make the room just a tiny little bit cozier.

There's a shower and a toilet for every two adjacent rooms; the toilets don't have seats attached to them - instead, stored in big plastic bags attached to the door, are some round things cut out of thick, heavy, brick-colored rubber cloth, which you lay on the toilet before sitting down. There's no toilet paper, of course.

(Pretty miserable - but still way better than staying in one room with 15 other women and seeing your baby only when it's time for breastfeeding. That was how my mama had me - and those were considered totally normal conditions then.)

Rooms you pay $200 for and stay for as long as you have to (five days or so seems to be the norm):

Six rooms - two singles, in which the shower and the toilet are all yours, and four doubles, where you share the shower and the toilet with the neighbor. All look exactly like the free rooms, except there's a fridge in each one and no windows in the walls. A really important distinction is that husband and other relatives may visit you there in the afternoon - but the nurse is still the same one, serving the whole floor on her own...

***

Two of my friends had babies at roddom #6 ten years ago. One got yelled at at the reception - because her waters broke and some of the stuff got on their precious chairs - but otherwise that was a very uneventful and nice delivery - and a wonderful daughter... Another had her husband present at birth - they must've been one of the first couples in Kyiv to do it, the pioneers; Hillary Clinton stopped by at this roddom that week, and the husband even tried to say something in English to her...

***

There's a lot more I could write about - but I'm so exhausted now, and some of it is so weird that I need to digest it first.

***

I haven't been photographing #6 a lot because I felt that I might still have plenty of time for that when I end up having the baby there - now I'm not so sure, though, so I sort of regret it (19 photos):





***

I have to post this: it says "Baby I love you" and is an example of the written surjik.

'Baby' (malysh) is written in Ukrainian, the rest is in Russian (ya tebya lyublyu instead of ya tebe lyublyu):



Surjik is a crazy mix of Russian and Ukrainian spoken by many people here; very ugly until you realize it's a language in itself and it's impossible to be fluent in it without some practice... Neither Russian, nor Ukrainian, could be thought of as a special type of illiteracy...

Monday, November 07, 2005

On the way back home from the hospital, we made a detour and walked through the Republican Stadium and the tennis courts above it - I spent a good part of my childhood over there (9 photos):



It all looks very neglected, but more so to Mishah, who doesn't have an almost physical memory of, say, the broken-down concrete stairs that have been there for as long as I remember myself.

An almost physical memory of everything that's still there from my childhood: a mirror on the wall; a bench with a soft seat made of brown artificial leather; an 85-year-old nurse, Valentina Alekseevna, a woman of amazing energy, who used to swim in the freezing Black Sea in Yalta in early March and who seems not to have changed a bit - she just grew smaller, as old people do, and she still works at the tennis courts, sitting indoors, drawing numbers on the little thingies that they later attach to the locker keys.

The lockers are all new, and many other things there have also changed, of course.

Now we are trying to decide where to have the baby in Kyiv.

Roddom #7 - 23 photos - is a likely choice, if only because someone has recommended a doctor here (though Kyiv is such a small place, comparatively, that it seems each one of the city's few maternity hospitals has been recommended to us by now).

The doctor's okay (sounds and acts like Yulia Tymoshenko, only she's at least ten years older). The place seems as depressing as those three that I saw in Moscow, but I'm so tired I don't really care anymore.

One thing we felt terrible about today was having to be on the floor full of very pregnant, hospital-clad women - while we were wearing our street clothes, with all the germs on us and all - but this is how things work here. At least, I haven't seen a single cockroach running by. We assumed this was the floor for those who were having their babies free of charge; it'd be nice if the floors where they keep the patients who pay aren't as easily accessible, though I wouldn't expect too much.

The writings on the asphalt below the hospital's windows didn't really excite me as much as they did back in Moscow - maybe because I was taking pictures and, at once, trying to get used to the thought that this was, most likely, the place... One thing I noticed, though, was that roughly half the writings were in Ukrainian, not Russian.





Sunday, November 06, 2005

There were so many cops at our playground today, waiting for the orders that never came, I guess. Very surreal...







There were plenty of young Communists on Khreshchatyk, too; Mishah saw them, but by the time I went out, they were gone. When Mishah was describing them, he mentioned that they looked a little like those we saw in Istanbul, and it occurred to me that, in my perception, Russian and Ukrainian Communists differ quite drastically from their Turkish or American comrades, their age being the main distinction. Unlike their old-fart mentors, the young ones may possibly change something for the better - like, organize trade unions that are of some use to anyone other than those who run them: good luck, is all I can say. But horrible history is not going away, never, and it would've been so much nicer if there were a force capable of accomplishing something - but free of all those historical sins and carrying a different name.