After two very happy days in Istanbul it turns out we've all been in close contact with a baby who's got chickenpox, so we'll be leaving much sooner than we planned.
Too many things to be worried and upset about - and I am very worried and upset to go into it here.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I'm not listening to music these days very much. Put on a Tori Amos CD today, Marta asked what language it's in - English. She said she didn't understand anything, I told her she didn't have to. She listened for a while - "Precious Things" - then gave me her verdict: "This is a sad song, Veronica!" - and ran off to watch Bob the Builder - in Arabic, which she doesn't understand, either. Then she was eating pancakes with Mishah - and asked him what 'sahib' meant. I've looked it up: 'sahib' seems to mean 'master.'
Monday, December 22, 2008
A rare luck today: two cab drivers who spoke very kindly of Maidan, were upset about the subsequent developments in Ukraine and shared their memories of the August 1991 events in Moscow (one of the drivers noted on how kind and friendly people who were protesting here then were - just like during our Maidan).
This, and also the fact that I was on Staryi Arbat today, buying souvenirs for Istanbul, reminded me of something I wanted to write about long ago but kept getting distracted.
There's a Ukrainian Cultural Center on Staryi Arbat - as well as a Ukrainian bookstore and a Ukrainian restaurant (most likely, too expensive, though I've no idea). I don't go to Staryi Arbat often and when I do, it's always too late for the bookstore to be still open. But a month or so ago, I was passing by with Marta, on my way to the store that sells sledges (didn't buy anything - which is okay, since there's no snow), and the bookstore was open, so I decided to check it out. The selection of books doesn't differ much from what we have in Kyiv, and there's also a small Taras Shevchenko book exhibit as well as a selection of works on Ukraine-related landmarks in Moscow (none of which I had a chance to really look at because Marta was all over the place and I had to run after her). The woman at the counter put on a Pikkardiyska Tertsia CD soon after we came in, and I realized that she probably knows Ukrainian, so when I picked up a CD for myself, I addressed her in Ukrainian. She responded in Ukrainian. I felt pretty excited about this whole impromptu experience, so I told her: "Wow, it's so nice to all of sudden speak Ukrainian here!" And she replied: "And how nice it is to hear Ukrainian spoken here all of a sudden!" And we both laughed, and had a bit more of a small talk, and she told me that there's a Sunday school for kids at the Cultural Center, where they teach kolyadky, etc., and we both told Marta that she should definitely come over and play and learn with other kids here once she's a little bit older, and then I told Marta to say 'thanks' in Ukrainian, and she did. When we got out into the street, I realized that Pikkardiyska Tertsia was playing not just inside the bookstore, but also outside, and it all felt really wonderful.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Ran into this old unpublished text of mine, was moved by the photo, re-read the text, was moved by the memories of Maidan - am re-posting it here...
A FRIENDLY REVOLUTION
Throughout the night of Nov. 22-23 I kept going to the room facing Khreshchatyk to look out of the window.
Out there in the freezing cold were some 200 tents, nearly 2,000 people in them, and as many hanging out nearby. I could barely see them from behind the chestnut trees, and I heard nothing but the honking of the cars – three beeps in a row, a wordless variation of the “Yush-chen-ko!” chant. I rushed to the window every time the honking intensified: we were all expecting riot police and/or thugs hired to pose as Yanukovych supporters to attack the newly-erected tent city at 3 a.m.
During one such trip to the window, I saw half a dozen young men turning over a bench as weighty as a small car, and heaving it away, slowly, each step a grueling endeavor. On any other night, I would’ve identified them as drunk mischiefs, but these boys – all wearing something orange - were not stealing the bench just for fun: they were hauling it in the direction of the barricades set up at some distance from the tent city entrance. After they were gone, I suddenly realized that Khreshchatyk’s famous chestnut tree alley had no more benches left – the boys had just dragged the last one away.
The following night, Nov. 23-24, Yanukovych supporters built a tent city of their own, on a hill in the park, across the street from the Cabinet of Ministers and just a 15-minute walk away from Maidan Nazalezhnosti. A confrontation between the two camps – pro-Yushchenko “Orange” and pro-Yanukovych “Blue” – seemed inevitable.
Nov. 25 was a wonderful day, sunny and freezing. At noon, several hundred “Blue” tent city dwellers lined up on the hill in front of their tents. The “Orange” crowd was gathering below. They were so peaceful that even the pleas from the friendly traffic cops didn’t go unheeded: “Please, will you step back to let the cars pass? Please?” And they did, and most drivers were smiling and honking three times as they drove by.
Very soon, however, everything around turned orange, the cops and the cars vanished, and the “Blue” crowd on the hill suddenly looked very tiny. I relocated to a higher point near the park entrance and stood there, watching and taking pictures, awed and up to my knees in snow.
One by one, the most daring “Orange” men began climbing the hill and mixing with their opponents, talking to them, arguing, laughing, shaking hands. Simultaneously, tens of thousands in the “Orange” crowd started chanting: “Skhid ta zakhid razom!” (“East and West together!” – referring to the imaginary chunks Ukraine is divided into, the chunks viewed by many as two different worlds ready to collide and explode) and “Slava shakhtaryam!” (“Glory to the coal miners!” – referring to the people of Donbas, a coal-mining region and one of Yanukovych’s strongholds).
Some in the “Blue” crowd didn’t like the “Glory to the coal miners!” slogan. "What coal miners?! We’re from Crimea, not Donbas," they yelled indignantly. “It doesn’t matter now,” the “Orange” guys yelled in reply and continued the chant: “Slava shakhtaryam! Slava shakhtaryam!”
That was poignant, funny, inpiring and overwhelming. And frightening. A peaceful gathering suddenly turning into a disaster, a stampede, a violent mess: watching it on TV is one thing, imagining being there is something completely different.
But that was just a fleeting thought. More and more “Orange” people were now climbing the hill toward the “Blue” ones. Next to me, an old village woman wrapped in a woolen scarf kept sliding down, and several men teamed up to push and pull her up, with great care. I slipped and fell, too, on my way up, but was rescued by a few pairs of strong male hands, “Orange” and “Blue.”
Up in the park, mixed-color groups stood everywhere, chatting like old buddies. Fires were set near the “Blue” tents, and we all took turns getting warm.
A journalist asked a metallurgic plant worker from Dnipropetrovsk region: “Do you think there’ll be a civil war in Ukraine?” The man, a Yanukovych supporter, replied: “No way. Ukrainians don’t fight each other. East and West are together.”
Nov. 26 was an extremely cold and slushy day. Five teenage girls waited patiently to be allowed beyond the cordon separating the protesters from the riot police guarding the Presidential Administration. The girls brought yellow flowers for the cops.
An 18-year-old medical college student was running around, distributing medicines and vitamins to the protesters. Of a dozen or so tents, three were marked with red crosses. The boy said he was prepared to provide first aid if the riot police were forced to attack the protesters. When a foreign TV journalist began interviewing him, his friend wanted to stand next to him, but then changed his mind: “No, I can't, if my father learns I’m here, he'll kill me!” The medic boy replied: “Don't be such a fool, this won’t be on Ukrainian TV!”
One of the ubiquitous slogans was "Militsiya z narodom!" ("The police are with the people!"). Another was "My razom, nas bahato, i nas ne podolaty!" ("The people, united, will never be defeated!") One snowy day, young people standing for hours face to face with the riot police, combined the meaning of the former with the beat of the latter and and came up with the best slogan ever: "Idit' pohriytes, a my za vas postoyim!" ("Go and get warm, and we'll stand here for you!") The cops – Ukrainian citizens as young as many of the protesters – just couldn’t help smiling.
After reading all kinds of horror stories about the crisis, it was nice to see Moscow's Central Asian street cleaners play football with that wonderful boyish self-abandon - just like they played about a year and a half ago...
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I've been reading about layoffs on blogs, etc., but now a dear friend in Kyiv has written me a little bit about the situation: about 60 percent of the admin staff - marketing people, mainly - have lost their jobs at a major dairy company she used to work for; 70 percent of production staff are out of their jobs, too; production of certain crucial products has stopped, they are now selling what's left in their storage facilities. At another company, people were not getting paid for three months, then were forced to write resignation letters and sign papers that said they'd received all the money - otherwise, the employer refused to release their trudovye knizhki. That's totally illegal, but some people obviously don't mind being treated like this, perhaps hoping till the very last moment that this might help them keep their jobs. Trips to the unemployment center several times a week - with no results whatsoever. On a positive note, the unemployment center is offering English classes. I went there a few years ago, to get a paper certifying that I'm not registered with them - the place looked orderly and neat and reminded me of the States a little - the office in Iowa City where I went to get my driver's license.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I visited the new Holodomor Memorial last week, and that was a strange experience.
There were few people there, most of them construction workers: there's still a lot to be done before the Memorial is completed, even though it already looks presentable enough - the mournful spirit is all there for me. There were still some candles and other traces of the commemorative event documented so beautifully by Taras at Ukrainiana - here and here.
But, unfortunately, reality kept interfering.
I heard a few people passing through say bad things about Yushchenko as they glanced up at the Memorial. And there was also this hungover-looking guy who lifted the lid on one of the candles that stood by the statue of the poor barefoot girl - and lit his cigarette from that candle. A construction worker came up to the guy right away - they are filling in for security guards there, obviously - and asked what the hell he was doing there. I didn't hear what the guy replied, but I filmed him a little - I guess at some point you can hear him say something like, "Mne podkurit' nado" - "Need to light up":
When the guard was gone, the guy turned to me again, pointed at the Memorial and asked whether they had completed the thing recently or what. I felt too disgusted to talk to him.
This, and the media coverage of the costliness of the Memorial, as well as some people's comments - it's making it hard to focus on what really matters: the memory of the victims, their suffering, the grieving, the issues of justice and responsibility. Hard to think of the Memorial outside of the political, economic and social context of today's Ukraine.
The Memorial's projected cost is 748,853,000 hryvnias (UKR) - which was over $150 million at the time when hryvnia was still doing okay. Kyiv city budget got 80,000,000 hryvnias (UKR) from the state budget for this year's construction phase.
The Memorial kept popping up in conversations with friends while I was in Kyiv, and here reality kept interfering, too.
One person I talked to mentioned a TV documentary she had just seen about the horrible conditions in which tuberculosis patients in Ukraine were receiving their treatment. Another person spoke about Kateryna Chumachenko's fundraising efforts (UKR) for the new children's oncology center in Kyiv - they planned to finish it next year (RUS), but don't seem to have started yet.
I've looked up some figures. In 2007, the national TB prevention program reportedly got 200,182,000 hryvnias (RUS) from the state budget. For the construction of the oncology center, they need 600,000,000 hryvnias - and have so far raised 262,033,260 hryvnias, most of it - over 242 million hryvnias - two years ago, on Dec. 17, 2006, during the all-Ukrainian fundraising telemarathon (according to the fund's 2007 annual report, UKR, .pdf file).
The Memorial could have - and should have - waited, these friends of mine believe, and I agree.
As part of the misplaced priorities aspect of the new Memorial comes a question of why Yushchenko was not content with the beautiful monument at Mykhailivska Square:
Yes, the scale there is different: that monument is not "monumental" at all (which, I think, is actually good, though I understand that it's a matter of taste).
But the old monument's size somehow never seemed to matter - definitely not on commemoration days, which have become a tradition over the past few years, a wonderful tradition observed by so many people. There was a very grassroots feel to those commemorations at Mykhailivska; among other things, they used to remind me of the 2004 Maidan. All things considered, it's sad that this did not feel sufficient to some.
Photos from the 2006 commemoration at Mykhailivska are here.
And here are some more photos from the new Memorial (the whole set is here):
Update: There's an interview with Kateryna Chumachenko in today's Dzerkalo Tyzhnya/Zerkalo Nedeli - among other things, she's answering questions about the oncology center and the money raised for its construction. Interesting.
The interview in Ukrainian is here, in Russian - here.
Below are a few excerpts (RUS):
Мы никогда не думали, что сможем оказать настолько эффективную помощь первой леди Украины. И потому искренне рады тому факту, что уже через пару дней после того, как в пресс-службу Е.Ющенко были направлены наши 15 вопросов, в том числе и об отсутствии финансовых отчетов фонда «Украина 3000» за последние два года, на сайте фонда наконец-то появился отчет за 2007 год. Конечно, в конце декабря впору было бы ожидать появления отчетов уже за 2008 год. Нас заверили в том, что «над ним сейчас активно работают» и опубликуют в январе 2009 года.
— В каком банке и под каким процентом хранятся деньги, собранные на строительство и обустройство «Детской больницы будущего»?
— Они хранятся на депозитных счетах АКБ «Трансбанк» под 19% годовых.
— В каком состоянии сейчас банк? Надежно ли защищены эти деньги?
— Банк, в котором размещены эти средства, выполняет все нормативы Национального банка, он так же надежен, как и другие украинские банки.
— Какова стоимость реализации избранного вами проекта? Хватает ли на это собранных средств?
— Сейчас разрабатывается бюджетно-сметная документация с учетом последних изменений курса доллара и стоимости строительных материалов. Имеющихся средств хватает на все необходимое для больницы оборудование. Завершение этого проекта зависит не только от нашей работы по сбору средств, но и от того, изыщет ли государство возможность включить строительство больницы в бюджеты следующих лет.
— Насколько возросла сумма со времени проведения телемарафона?
— Хочу заметить, что во время телемарафона мы объявили сумму собранных и задекларированных средств — более 242 миллионов гривен. С тех пор сумма задекларированных средств увеличилась на 20 миллионов гривен. Это не означает, что все они сразу были перечислены на счет благотворительного фонда «Детская больница будущего». Согласно договорам, которые подписаны со всеми благотворителями, они перечисляют нам деньги несколькими траншами в течение определенного периода. Почти все благотворители выполняют взятые на себя обязательства, и почти все средства поступают в сроки, определенные договорами. Мы болеем за всех наших партнеров и благотворителей и надеемся, что они с легкостью выйдут из этого экономического кризиса. Сейчас на счету благотворительного фонда «Детская больница будущего» более 114 миллионов гривен.
Мы искренне желаем Катерине Михайловне успехов в благородном деле создания «Детской больницы будущего», которую в 2007 году журналисты назвали одной из самых ярких благотворительных акций. И очень надеемся, что люди, взявшие на себя обязательства по выплате денег на строительство столь необходимого украинским детям медицинского учреждения, обещанные средства перечислят. Но к сожалению, потеряно время. И, как признается сама Катерина Ющенко, поскольку «наша страна поражена инфляцией значительно больше, чем другие страны», то сумма в 114 млн. гривен, собранная на строительство ДББ в 2006 году и находящаяся на депозитном счете в «Трансбанке» под 19% годовых, на сегодняшний день в долларовом эквиваленте «весит» в два раза меньше. Поэтому, несмотря на заверения инициаторов проекта, большой вопрос — хватит ли на него денег. Ведь до вышеприведенного заявления Катерины Михайловны нам не удалось обнаружить ни одного упоминания о том, что строительством здания для ДББ должно заниматься государство. Это не внесено ни одной строкой в бюджеты этого и прошлого годов. По словам организаторов Всеукраинского телемарафона «Детская больница будущего», речь тогда шла о возможности участия государства в финансировании расходов на зарплату специалистам, которые будут работать в больнице, но никак не о строительстве государством здания.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I've learned with Marta that the more routine something is, the faster it will be forgotten, replaced by something as routine. Every once in a while, I force myself to write down things about Marta that I don't even notice anymore - it's really nice to re-read this stuff a year or so later. Sometimes I also force myself to take pictures of Kyiv (or Moscow, or Istanbul) that reflect nothing but the totally ordinary present moment. Below are two such pictures from around Tolstoy Sq. in Kyiv:
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Speaking of corruption, here's an explanation of how to bribe Ukrainian traffic cops, which appeared (UKR) in Ukrayinskyi Tyzhden last week:
Illustration by Andriy Yermolenko
Here's a quick translation:
- Don't put money inside documents - this can be perceived as provocation.
- If you are going to give a bribe, take the needed amount of money*** out of your wallet in advance and hold the wrapped bills in your hand.
- If we are talking about a significant amount of money, it should not be passed from hands to hands - put the money inside the policeman's car in between the front seats.
- Don't beg for the policeman to take the money - he knows better when it's okay to take and when it is not.
Remember: Traffic police do not give change!
***At least 50 percent of the amount of the official fine.
It hurt to translate this into English. It also hurt to read this in a decent-looking Ukrainian-language weekly magazine. Actually, it made our jaws drop when we saw it. I wonder how many people have found this information useful - or amusing.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
By the way, Serhiy Hrabovsky writes (UKR) in Ukrainska Pravda that they are only turning off hot water in "poor" areas of Kyiv - while "Pechersk and Lipki" have not been affected. I don't like such geographical simplifications and generalizations (Kyiv is very mixed, in many senses) - and also, what he wrote is just not true: my friend who lives roughly across the street from the Ministry of Internal Affairs has no hot water, despite her Lipki address. And, she's not better off financially than my other friends - who live on Raduzhnaya (not Kyiv's center) and do have their hot water. Go figure.
Update: No hot water on Troyeschina as well.
Friday, December 12, 2008
For a moment, it looked like hot water was coming back: mama said that something was actually running from our hot water tap - and it seemed not ice cold at first, though not warm, either - but then, to our disappointment, it turned ice cold. There was some hope (and maybe there still is) - because Kyiv prosecutor's office has ordered KyivEnergo to restore hot water supply, and Yushchenko has given similar orders to Chernovetsky.
On the news, some guy from Naftogaz talked about the debts of Kyiv and sounded as if he was someone from Gazprom talking about the debts of Ukraine.
On Savik Shuster's show (and Shuster himself is without hot water now), another Naftogaz guy sounded pretty aggressive towards Chernovetsky. Rightly so, I guess. Chernovetsky is unbelievably inadequate.
But this Naftogaz guy sounded incredibly inadequate himself when he attacked Vitaly Portnikov, who is very sweet and smart and said something that made lots of sense about this whole hot water situation. (And by the end of his appearance on the show, the Naftogaz guy was acting like a total nut - worse than Chernovetsky. Scary shit.)
And it is still not clear whether our hot water will ever return, despite this very long and high-pitched conversation.
Hanna Herman was the only one who brought up Ukraine's debt to Russia, but it sort of got lost in the whole domestic thing.
(Later, she also asked Chernovetsky to tell everyone when exactly we are going to have our hot water back. He said on Monday, after we all rally in front of Naftogaz.)
And it's not clear who the real asshole is - Chernovetsky or Naftogaz. I agree with Portnikov here - both are assholes.
The guy from Naftogaz is totally anti-consumer: the argument that I, a consumer, have paid my bills and thus deserve to have hot water, is not working for him at all: he yells at people who tell him this stuff - Portnikov and some other guy.
Amazing how much this whole situation and the arguments used resemble what we've already seen more than once with Gazprom...
Tomas Tsintsabadze showed up at Shuster's show - all of a sudden, together with his wife, doctor and Oleksandr Moroz's son-in-law - and sounded a bit too out of context. What he was saying was important: prosecutor general's office has taken away his Ukrainian passport, right after the publication of his Ukrainska Pravda interview (RUS) on Yushchenko's alleged poisoning. But his style is so unbearably mafia-style it's almost funny.
Lawyer Tetyana Montyan (who, as far as I remember, used to be friends with Moroz's comrade Tsushko) looked at the paper Tsintsabadze had signed today, asked him a few questions and announced that he shouldn't have signed it - because the paper said something that Tsintsabadze claimed was not true. She made them all look somewhat uncomfortable, I think. Moroz's son-in-law (who is also Georgian and whose name I don't remember) joked that Tsintsabadze knew nothing about laws and that the guys at the prosecutor's office basically forced him into signing the thing (yeah, right), and that perhaps Montyan should be his lawyer - and Montyan seemed to smile a very peculiar smile back at Moroz's son-in-law, a smile I don't know how to interpret.
In the Naftogaz/Chernovetsky/Ministry of Communal Services argument Montyan sounded way cool - talked about the lack of transparency in the way Naftogaz and KyivEnergo work, and about the abundance of bullshit that ordinary Ukrainians have to take from all these politicians. One of the points she made was that even though the communal services minister said that we could all go and sue Naftogaz now, this was crap, because we could only sue our ZhEKs, and our ZhEKs could sue whoever it is that they have agreements on gas supply with, and, basically, Naftogaz is safe because there's no use for ordinary Ukrainians to try and sue the bastards - because the law does not allow us to do it directly.
Ha-ha, Yulia called Chernovetsky inadequate, too - earlier today. He retorted on Shuster's show that she lied when she said she didn't have hot water, like many other ordinary people in Kyiv: according to Chernovetsky, Yulia lives in a $20-million house, is his son's neighbor and isn't affected by the hot water crisis in any way.
Chernovetsky keeps calling his wife's family and children Georgian - while I thought they were ethnic Armenians. Or not? Armenians from Georgia? Like the father of Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov?
Savik Shuster's show is totally addictive. Initially, I was planning to post a brief hot water update - and ended up taking notes like a student for two hours in a row...
They've turned off hot water in a number of Kyiv's districts, and although Besarabka isn't mentioned in this Korrespondent.net piece (RUS) about the emergency, we are without hot water, too. In mid-December, it sucks a lot more than it does in summer. Mama called ZhEK to ask what happened, and they said they didn't know exactly themselves yet. According to them, there's no hot water in all the buildings on Khreshchatyk and Lyuteranska, and, possibly, on other streets around here as well. According to the article, the problem is between Kyiv City Council, KyivEnergo and Gas of Ukraine: the first one owes something to the second, and the second owes something to the third. Why we still don't have a water heater at our place is beyond me, really.
Update: No hot water still.
No hot water on Zhmachenko St. either, which is in Darnytsya, Left Bank. At their ZhEK, unlike here at Besarabka, they do know that the water has been turned off because of the money owed for gas - and they aren't too shy about saying it to the residents.
At Raduzhnaya, which is also Left Bank, not far from Zhmachenko, hot water is still there, somehow.
What's most annoying about the system here is that even if you personally are totally diligent in paying all the utilities bills, someone else isn't, and when they punish this someone else, they punish you as well.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
An ad for Novaya Gazeta (a Ukrainian namesake, not to be confused with the Russian Novaya Gazeta, for which Anna Politkovskaya used to write):
"Further away from those in power, closer to the readers."
The woman in the picture is Yulia Tymoshenko's look-alike, but it's not her. Here's a zoom-in:
The picture was taken at Obolon metro station.
Back in late September, when the exchange rate was around UAH 5.05 for $1 and that seemed way crazy, a guy at the bank told me that by December it would most likely be UAH 5.80 to $1 - which sounded totally impossible then...
Today, that same bank guy was helping me, and $1 cost UAH 7.40... I reminded him of our conversation two months ago, we both tried to smile, but ended up sighing heavily...
So yeah, Lytvyn is the speaker again. I wasn't going to comment on it at all, until a Facebook friend asked me to. They showed some fat woman give him a huge bouquet of white roses when he returned to his speaker's seat after such a long absence. He also got a hug and a kiss - and red roses - from Yulia. BYuT and the Communists voted very well for him, NUNS did okay, too, while the Party of Regions voted against. I really don't have any thoughts on it and couldn't care less. And I said all I wanted to say about Lytvyn a year or so ago, here.
P.S. As for the "new" coalition - well, good for them, I guess.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
A swastika in our backyard in Kyiv:
The first one ever - and left-facing at that. Maybe it's some Buddhists, or some Slavic neo-pagans, not the neo-Nazi thugs? Or is this similar to the word "slavyane" (Slavs) misspelled as "slovyane" in that xenophobic rental ad in Moscow - a very ironic typo?
Since this is where I live, I sort of like that it's so open to interpretation - though, honestly, I'm not too full of optimism.
Friday, December 05, 2008
I wanted to post these ugly pics earlier, following this discussion of Condoleezza Rice, Russia and IKEA.
Here are some of the options that we have in our IKEA-free city, Kyiv:
This one cost 2,050 hryvnias, which, according to the summer exchange rate (very different from what it is now), was something like $410...
This one was 2,700 hryvnias ($540)...
2,866 hryvnias ($570 or so)...
3,150 hryvnias ($630)...
This is their "leader of sales" - 11,731 hryvnias ($2,345 or so) - for a couch and two armchairs, I assume...
Finally, this sweet couple decided against buying this thing - because it was roughly the size of their bedroom when turned into a bed, and they, obviously, wanted to leave some space to be able to move around...