Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year, everyone! Z Novym Rokom! S Novym Godom!!!

Still an hour to go here; Khreshchatyk and Maidan are so loud; we can hear VV (Vopli Vidoplyasova) playing at Maidan even if we keep our windows shut; suprisingly, Marta does not wake from the constant booming of fireworks and fire crackers, some distant and some very, very close. How I wish I could sneak outside for a while!..

May the New Year bring all of you tons of joy and happiness!

Much love,
Veronica, Mishah and Marta

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ouch. I couldn't pass this headline in the New York Times - 2-Year-Old Boy Is Found Drunk After Mother Goes Into Labor - but parts of the story almost made me cry...

When Orbalina Miranda went into labor with her third child at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, she left her two children asleep in their beds, in a relative's care, and headed to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital with her husband, Jose Gomez.

But while Ms. Miranda was still in labor, a cousin passed out drunk, the police said. And her 2-year-old son consumed enough alcohol, supposedly from bottles strewn around the apartment, that he registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.094 percent, higher than the legal limit for adults to drive.

The cousin, Juan Reyes, 37, was arrested, charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a minor. Her 3-year-old daughter, Rosa Gomez, was in the custody of Suffolk County Child Protective Services. And her 2-year-old son, Wilfredo Gomez, was in the emergency room of the same hospital where his mother was in delivery.

Hearing the news, Ms. Miranda became too upset to concentrate on giving birth, said her brother-in-law, Gilberto Gomez. "The baby got stuck," he said. "It was bad, very bad. She was crying."


But through a window of the bright blue house, they spotted Mr. Reyes on a bed and the two toddlers in the apartment unsupervised, the sheriff's office said.

"The little girl was playing and acting normally," said Deputy Vincent Spadafora. "She spoke very little English, but she kept trying to hug us and she smiled a lot." The boy was in a different state. His eyes were bloodshot; he was stumbling around and appeared abnormally lethargic, he said.

You'd think it could only happen here, in our part of the world, but of course not...


Stories like this give me a sense of relief when I'm worried sick I'm not doing certain things right as a mother: it's good to know there are plenty of extremes I'm never gonna go to, no matter what, and even if I am screwing up - diaper rash is one of the biggest worries now, and also Marta's poop that's somewhat too liquid and probably caused by something I eat - the damage is tiny, comparatively and on its own, and, hopefully, won't last.

I happened to watch some silly pseudo-documentary on Russian TV sometime halfway through my pregnancy, about a very young woman who worked as a train conductor, provodnitsa, and gave birth to her baby girl right there on the train. That was an unplanned pregnancy and an unwanted child, and no one even suspected she was pregnant, so she threw the newborn out of the window (3 meters off the ground, with the train moving at 70 kilometers per hour), washed all the blood off herself - and was serving tea in the morning, as usual. Incredible, but her child survived: someone found the little girl on the tracks a few hours later, with just a few minor injuries to her head.

I had no idea why I was watching this crap - but after it was over, I had a new weapon to fight my panic attacks: babies are damn strong, and I'm never gonna do such terrible things to mine anyway.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

We need to get some paperwork done (related to Marta's birth), so Mishah went to his district's tax administration today (the weather's ugly, relatively warm but way too wet, and the place is somewhat too far from where we live now). There, he was told he'd have to write a formal request and they'd issue the needed document in two weeks.

The punchline: he hasn't been able to submit the request today and will have to go there again - because he didn't have a blank A4 sheet of paper to write on with him, and the tax administration isn't some paper mill.

Welcome to Ukraine.
I got this message when I was still at the hospital, on Dec. 6:

hi veronica,

i'm writing a story for Marie Claire magazine in New York. I'm trying to find a respected salon in Kiev that can explain the most-popular haircut right now. Is there any way you could help me? I'd need you to go to the salon of your choice, ask them the following questions, and email it to me in english. here's what i need:

-a description of the most popular haircut
-the most popular color or shades
-the most-requested celebrity cut


Maureen Dempsey
Features Writer
Marie Claire

The real world was limited to my aching boobs at that point, but Ms. Dempsey's message reminded me I needed a haircut badly. I had been planning to have one before I turned 32 in January - but then Marta arrived and I forgot about most of my plans and intentions.

Even though Ms. Dempsey sounded as if we knew each other, we didn't. In fact, I was the wrongest choice possible for this kind of an assignment. It usually takes me months if not years to have a haircut; I rarely go to "respected" salons because folks there like to experiment too much, and when I tell them I need the simplest and the quickest thing - "Just try to make it look neat, the edges and all" - they tell me it's old-fashioned and proceed reluctantly, as if they're doing me a huge favor, and very slowly, and then they charge someone's monthly salary for it. To imagine asking those people some stupid questions, with Marta waiting for my boobs at home, was ridiculous. So I wrote to Ms. Dempsey that I couldn't help her, but that she should definitely mention Yulia Tymoshenko's braids - even though her style isn't popular here at all, as far as I can see.


They seem to have a fixation on Ukrainian hair at Marie Claire: I've just fished out one of my old grad school papers, in which I, among other things, quoted from a feature on the concept of beauty in different world cultures (October 1996 issue of Marie Claire, p. 44):

Elsewhere, however, hirsute is haute. Among the virtually body-hairless Chruki [sic] of northern Siberia, pubic hair is a sign of great beauty in a woman, as is a female mustache in parts of the Ukraine.

This has made receiving Ms. Dempsey's message double fun.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

If not on a desert island, then I'd like to be in Istanbul now - like we were last year...

I often wish now I were on a desert island with Marta, not back home in Kyiv: there're just too many intrusions and interruptions here. And I dread to think what it's gonna be like when I begin to follow the gas scandal and other such pre-election bullshit...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Here's my first entry that's not related to Marta:

Mishah was at the antiques market today (yesterday, that is, Saturday) - and he saw Yushchenko there.

Mishah was no more than three meters away from Yushchenko at some point - while his brother, Max, happened to be right next to the president: he was squatting next to a low wooden table, inspecting it, when he heard a vaguely familiar voice coming from above, asking the same vendor about the price of something; Max looked up and saw a familiar Cossack ring on the hand stretched out above him; he then got up and found himself almost face to face with Yushchenko.

Yushchenko looks exactly the way he does on TV, and his face's not pretty; the only difference is he's dressed very simply, very inconspicuously. He is said to be coming to this market at least once a month, and he's been doing this forever, long before he got elected. Like everyone else, he walks around a lot, inquiring about the prices and bargaining, but he's not buying much. Vendors discuss in detail every interaction they've had with him; there are plenty of rings for him to choose from - including the Cossack rings that resemble the one he has and is very proud of. There's no police in sight, only a couple plainclothes guards accompanying Yushchenko - but, hopefully, there're more scattered in the crowd. People follow him around, and he stops often and lets them have their pictures taken next to him; Mishah thinks this must be really exhausting - Yushchenko is like a bear or a monkey on Khreshchatyk that you can have your picture taken with, he says.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

On Nov. 30, the last day of my pregnancy, Mishah took me out for a walk to the park a few blocks away from the hospital. We had been there the day before and came back again not because the place was anything special, but because I really wanted to get sick and tired of all this walking, so that I didn't miss it when the baby arrived and I was stuck at home, nursing and waiting for appropriate weather to venture outside. I savored these walks, despite having to pull up my pants after every other step I took.

It was roughly 18 hours before my c-section when we saw this sculpture of a young guy and a girl, sort of pretty, but looking overly enthusiastic in a very Soviet way:

All kinds of things were written all over their darkened bronze bodies, and we decided to have a closer look. In addition to curses and other such stuff, both figures had names painted in white on their foreheads: the boy was Zhenia, and the girl - Marta!

I, of course, took it as a sign, a good one.


People keep asking why we chose to name our daughter Marta. My dear friend has told me today his mother asked him, too, and he replied that Veronica had seen this name written on the forehead of a park sculpture, that's why.

It's not, of course. Nor is it because I got pregnant in March (mart in Russian), as someone else concluded.

A shortcut explanation for the name choice is this: 'Marta' sounds beautifully on its own as well as with Mishah's last name, Smetana (translated as 'sour cream').

The real reason, though, is Martha Gellhorn, an incredible war correspondent, an incredible woman, whose work I was reading in St. Pete in spring 2004: I remember very well how I walked to the other room at some point and asked Mishah if he liked the name Marta. He said he did.

The problem is very few people know anything about Martha Gellhorn, and it usually takes awfully long to explain why she's so cool I've decided to name my daughter after her: how she started her career in 1937, covering the Spanish Civil War, and finished it in Panama at the age of 81, in 1990, covering the U.S. invasion; how a few years later she admitted she was too old to go to Bosnia; how she was Ernest Hemingway's third wife and he was her second husband, and how she was his only wife to dump him before he did (the nurses back at the hospital used to roll their eyes a little at this point)...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

No pictures to post for now, so here's my first text-only entry in three weeks:

Yesterday morning, as I was feeding Marta and Mishah was sitting nearby, I looked away from her for a moment and suddenly realized that Mishah's head and his face were HUGE, grotesquely huge.

I told Mishah, and he said he'd noticed the same about me and my head a few days earlier, but he kept silent about it because he was afraid I'd misunderstand him and get mad for telling me I'm fat.

Every time I look at Mishah's face up close now, it sort of scares me; Marta's tiny face is perfect, however.
It now takes Marta forever to fall asleep after she's eaten: she can whine for what seems like hours unless she's lying on my chest, cozy and warm. I really love being her pillow during the day, but at night I'm terribly scared to fall asleep and accidentally crush her or drop her... Yesterday night, I put her in her bed and gave her a pacifier, and for the next hour or so I'd fall asleep immediately and two minutes later she'd drop the pacifier and start screaming, and boy, was it a torture!.. She was sleepless again tonight, so I decided to stay up and wait till she tires herself out; as I waited, I've managed to get rid of my photo backlog - baby pictures from the past two weeks are now posted on my photo page, here!

Monday, December 19, 2005

A very quick note:

We are fine, and Marta is a total joy.

I'd be writing a lot more here, if only I had both of my hands available to me most of the time. Unfortunately, when I'm feeding Marta (every three hours or so), one of my hands is always busy holding her. If it's my right hand that's free, I am jotting down stuff in my notebook; if it's my left hand, all I can do is read (Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, my second attempt in eight years to get through it); either way, I can't type.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm sorry for not writing - I've been meaning to every single day, but something keeps getting in the way.

We're doing great, back home since Thursday, Dec. 8.

Marta is so sweet; I call her koshechka, a kitty, because of her eyes and because of how she loves to nap on my chest after having eaten!..

Speaking of cats, here's Nur's first encounter with Marta:

There are nights when she lets us sleep for four hours in a row, but then there are nights like tonight, when I had to change and nurse her every two hours. I feel it's not as bad as I was expecting, maybe because I'm such a night owl, but I do tend to forget things now even more than I did during pregnancy. Also, I feel too tired/lazy/busy to write things down...

Hope you're all well; thanks so much once again for your wonderful wishes!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Thank you all for your wonderful greetings!!! I feel like printing them out and pasting into some special Marta's album - only I'm so disorganized I doubt I'll ever do this... But - thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I love you all!

Dyakuyu, spasibo, sagol, shnorakalyutyun... I can go on in a dozen more languages...


I've got less than an hour before Marta wakes up and starts screaming for food. My daughter, she likes to eat a lot.

Now that she's used to the formula bottle, she gets really angry when I try to give her what little I have of my own milk - and she gets so angry, I'm sometimes positive I hear real human words in her screams... That's frustrating and exhausting.

Otherwise, I'm the happiest person in the world. Or maybe I'm the second happiest, after Mishah:


More pictures from Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 are here.

(There's only one picture of me again - this time because, at some point, I suddenly noticed how fat I am, that double chin and all...)


I'm taking notes as often as I can, but I don't hope to be able to post anything longer than this entry anytime soon...

And please don't expect me to bitch about politics, Ukrainian or Russian, now.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Mishah and I are incredibly happy to announce the birth of our wonderful daughter, Marta:

Born: Thursday, December 1, 2005, at 10:08 am, in Kyiv, Ukraine
Weight: 3 kg 140 g
Height: 50 cm


Dec. 1 - Marta is roughly 4 hours and 20 minutes old

Dec. 2 - 27 hours old

Dec. 2 - almost 31 hours old


Dec. 1 - Marta is nearly 4 hours and 30 minutes old

Dec. 2 - 30 hours and 40 minutes old


Dec. 2 - Marta is 32 hours old (and I feel a million times better than this picture would make you believe: I feel wonderful enough to keep taking the camera away from Mishah and then ending up with just one photo of myself with my daughter worth showing to anyone!..)

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

Today is the Holodomor Remembrance Day in Ukraine.

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 (, 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 (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 - 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 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.

***, 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 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...