Tuesday, August 30, 2005

This is one of the photos from the Ayvacik Friday Market selection, and the little girl in it is wearing a t-shirt with a Russian cartoon character Masyanya, wildly popular here just a few years ago - and still very fondly remembered.

I almost dropped my camera when I saw this girl: the market seemed like such a beautifully rural affair, so foreign, so distant from what I'm used to, and Ayvacik, unlike other parts of Turkey, isn't full of Russians at all - but here it was, part of our world, right in my face. I wouldn't have really paid attention to an I Love NY! t-shirt, or one featuring Walt Disney characters, but Masyanya!..


Masyanya is a tongue-in-cheek St. Petersburg girl, "a decent girl living in an indecent society." When I came to St. Pete for the first time in fall 2002, I expected all women there to be like her.

You can download and watch Masyanya archives here (in Russian, of course), at the site of Masyanya's creators, the Mult.ru studio.

There's also plenty of Masyanya-related stuff out there: screensavers and wallpaper for your desktops - here, and t-shirts, mugs, stickers and other merchandise - here.

And here's a St. Petersburg Times story on a copyright battle between Masyanya's creator, Oleg Kuvayev, and Muz-TV, "Russia’s home-grown clone of MTV." Among other things, the story says that Masyanya is "frequently described as Russia’s answer to 'Beavis and Butthead.'" I've never thought about her this way, somehow...

When I was walking in Istanbul's poor neighborhoods on July 1, I realized that if it hadn't been for the kids there, I'd have been walking somewhere else. Without the kids, it would've been too depressing.

The kids are everywhere there, playing football, obviously having fun, posing for photographs. And only sometimes asking for money. Very rarely.

In May, two boys led us to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy that we wouldn't have bothered to look for on our own - and we gave them some cash in the end, even though they didn't ask for it. They must've expected us to give them something, but somehow it seemed that they were as interested in practicing their English on us as they were in our money. When we told them we were from Ukraine, they immediately responded: "Andriy Shevchenko!"

This time, when I was back at the hotel, I suddenly remembered myself as a kid: how much I loved it when foreigners smiled at me or gave me chewing gum. That didn't happen often, as foreigners didn't walk around Kyiv just like that then. There were too few of them. (In Yalta, there were plenty, though, and we used to go there twice a year, to play tennis, so I did have some exposure...)

Their smiles probably made me feel more special somehow - it's a nice memory, blurry but nice.

Chewing gum I remember much better - we were told at school to never take it from the evil foreigners because they put needles inside to kill the innocent Soviet kids. But we gladly took gum and candies and little souvenirs - and survived.

(Actually, I shouldn't speak for anyone but myself: I loved the foreigners' attention, but Mishah, for example, says he never really cared.)

Back at our Istanbul hotel, I promised myself that I'd buy a kilo of candies and take them with me next time I went for a walk to the ugly neighborhoods full of wonderful kids. Then I thought about the needles-in-chewing-gum Soviet paranoia, and asked our dear Istanbul friend if he thought it'd be okay if I gave the kids some candies every time I took a picture of them: would their parents get mad at me or something?

No, don't worry, everyone would be happy, he said.

And I myself was so happy for a while, imagining how some sweet little kid from Istanbul would vaguely remember me years later, just as I still remember one or two of those foreigners from my own childhood. And this was one of the reasons I couldn't wait for September, when we thought we'd go to Istanbul. But now we aren't going anywhere, and, if all goes well, there won't be Istanbul for us for at least another year... And even though I shouldn't, I do feel sad about it...


A selection of kids pictures from our spring trip to Istanbul is here.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A bunch of Kyiv skinheads beat up a yeshiva student yesterday night - in an underground pass near the relatively fancy and relatively new mall, Mandarin Plaza, three minutes away from the synagogue and as close to my Bessarabka home.

The Jewish guy is in critical condition.

When I read about stuff like this, I can't help thinking of the 9-year-old Tajik girl killed by skinheads around the corner from where we lived in St. Pete, back in 2004. I still can't get over it.

I hate them so much.


The Haaretz reports that our police do not think the attack was motivated by anti-Semitism - and this, too, reminds me so much of Russia. The irony, of course, is that we Ukrainians like to believe that we are so different, so incomparably better than the Russians... Right.


In the Haaretz Talkback section, someone calls the Israelis to boycott Chicken Kiev.

Another guy doesn't have the brains to read past the headline and accuses the Haaretz of being anti-Semitic:

Your heading to this attack in the Ukraine is a joke - yes?????? If not anti semitism than what do you bright sparks at Haaretz call it - I would really like to know. Your paper gets more and more unbelievable. Your hatred of your fellow Jew is so rotten, and you go on and on and on ....................................

The headline, of course, reflects the view of our glorious police, not that of the newspaper (Ukraine: Attack on yeshiva men not motivated by anti-Semitism).

Finally, at least one person over there seems to think that the drunk skinhead jerks have been following the news of the disengagement drama:

These skinheads are just following Sharons example.

If Jews expel Jews from their homes why can`t we?

If Jews can destroy Jewish synagogues why can`t we?

If Jews can remove Jewish graves why can`t we graffiti them?

If Jews can arrest 13 year old girls for months without charges, why can`t we beat them?

These are questions we must think about before blaming the Ukranians.

I don't know why I'm reading this trash...
I'm totally not in the writing mood now.

But I'm done with my Turkey photo backlog: the last two installments are from my two days of binge walking in Istanbul, which I briefly wrote about here.

Back then, I sort of hoped to be able to return to Istanbul in September, but now I don't have this hope anymore, so sorting through these pictures was both too sweet and too painful.

I know I'm repeating myself a lot in my Istanbul photos, but somehow it's not making me feel bad...

- Friday, July 1, 2005 - from Sultanahmet to Eyüp (56 photos):

- Saturday, July 2, 2005 - from Sultanahmet to Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (63 photos):

Saturday, August 27, 2005

I want to keep all my "promo pictures" here - but I still sort of remember what a pain slow internet connection is - so I'll leave only two days of entries for a while, until I'm done with the photo backlog and ready to get back to writing.
A lot more stuff on my photo page - pictures from our trip to Turkey (June 20 - July 3) - way too many of them, as usual...

- A bus/ferry trip from Istanbul to Ayvacik (17 photos):

- Kayalar, the village we stayed in - or, to be more precise, we stayed above the village and walked through it on our way to the beach. Very friendly people, amazing air, we wish we had a house there... (27 photos):

- Lesbos, just across a little gulf from us (3 photos):

- Assos - as anywhere else in Turkey, there's lots of history and lots of life here (23 photos):

- Ayvacik, a town nearby, the final destination of our bus from Istanbul, a place to buy groceries - and a site of an awesome Friday market (16 photos):

- Friday market in Ayvacik (20 photos):

- Kucukkuyu - I keep misspelling some of the names and words because I don't know how to make those Turkish umlauts work here... Here, can any of you read it like this: Küçükkuyu?

Küçükkuyu is another place we drove to to buy stuff and eat (28 photos):

- An antiques market near Edremit, not in Küçükkuyu, as I wrote earlier: Mishah has corrected me (6 photos):

- Neighboring villages, etc. (18 photos):

Friday, August 26, 2005

Masha Gessen's column on Beslan in the Moscow Times - Beslan Demands Words, Not Silence (via A Step at a Time):


This is also what we are all invited to do next week, on the first anniversary of Beslan, when the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi is organizing a silent rally. "No Words" says the white-on-black poster advertising the event. It looks beautiful. But here is the thing. When it comes to the memory of Beslan, the right things to do are to listen -- or read the transcripts of the trial online -- remember and tell others. Silence, when it comes to Beslan, is not dignified. Silence is the opposite of truth.

But I can't read the trial transcripts - I tried but that's too much pain. I can't bear to watch the kids testify, either - this boy on the news today, he broke down mid-sentence...

I've just learned that it's up to the parents to decide whether to allow their kids to testify or not.

It shocked me, somehow: isn't it cruel enough that the children who survived this horror a year ago have to continue living in Beslan, have nowhere else to go? And now some of them have to live through it all again, during their testimonies?

That's another side of talking vs. staying silent.

And it's heartbreaking to know that after this circus - the trial - is over, only one person will go to jail: Nurpasha Kulaev. And no one from the government will be held responsible, all the officials will keep their chairs...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

- Moscow State University (10 photos):

- Moscow (19 photos):

- A nameless boulevard in Moscow; one side of it is called Krasnokholmskaya Naberezhnaya (which is at least a 5-minute walk away), the other - Narodnaya Ulitsa (8 photos):

- Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral (6 photos):

- A boat trip down the Moscow River (14 photos):

Kyiv, May 2005: Stuck in 2004...

Yanukovych supporters and their tents in Mariinsky Park (12 photos)...

I'll write more about them as soon as I find the notebook in which I was taking notes on that walk.

Kyiv, Trukhaniv Island, May 2005 (33 photos):

I'm posting some of my photo backlog on my photo page - don't know how long the pictures are going to last over there: fotopages.com have long been threatening to discontinue their free service, and I'm not yet ready to pay for my Internet distractions...

Anyway, here're some highlights - though much of the stuff isn't exciting in any way, it's just that I need to get it off my shoulders somehow... (And please do ignore the dates of the entries!)

From my visit to Kyiv back in May:

- Pora kids sort of protesting Roman Zvarych's lies in front of the Ministry of Justice (5 photos):

- Dmytro Korchynsky and his vision of the "beautiful Ukraine" (9 photos):

- Khreshchatyk (9 photos):

- Kyiv (9 photos):

- Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (14 photos):


More later.
Slowly, I'm getting rid of the mess in my files...

Below is an Orange Revolution text I was asked to compile for a fledgeling U.S. publication, World Pulse Magazine, this past spring. It's something of an ode to the Ukrainian people who've managed to avoid turning their country into yet another frontline - and it was meant for the magazine's Frontline Journal section: "The real stories behind the headlines. Personal journal accounts of lives from the frontlines of conflict and courage."

World Pulse Magazine, however, ended up publishing only a bunch of my photos (and slightly misspelling my name, Khoklova instead of Khokhlova), alongside a piece by Tatyana Goryachova, editor-in-chief of Berdyansk Delovoy newspaper: "...the writing we have from a brave Ukranian woman journalist whose newspaper kept getting shut down during that time & her car was nearly run off the road!"


by Veronica Khokhlova

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.
Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Turns out the New Yorker piece on Sri Lanka I mentioned yesterday is posted online - Tides of War, by Philip Gourevitch.


Prabhakaran, who turned fifty last year, is one of the most bloody-minded and effective warlords in today’s crowded field. Osama bin Laden is more infamous, on account of Al Qaeda’s global reach and sensational operations, but Prabhakaran and his Tigers, in their determination to carve out an independent Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka, have been every bit as bold. The Tigers, whose extremist ethnic nationalism is essentially secular, are often credited with inventing suicide bombing, and although that claim is surely exaggerated, they did develop the sort of explosive suicide vests favored by Palestinian terrorists, and they refined the technique of using speedboats as bombs to ram large ships, which was employed in 2000 by Al Qaeda agents in Yemen against the U.S.S. Cole. In 1991, long before female suicide bombers became a fixture of Middle Eastern terrorism, the Tigers deployed the woman who blew up India’s Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. That was Prabhakaran’s most notorious hit, but his suicide squad of Black Tigers has claimed more than two hundred and sixty bombings in the last two decades—an average rate of nearly one a month—injuring and killing thousands of people, the great majority of them civilians. “Of course we use suicide bombers,” a Tiger official who was overseeing humanitarian relief for displaced tsunami survivors near Mullaittivu told me. “Because, as a revolutionary organization, we have limited resources.”

Prabhakaran depicts his struggle as a quest to reclaim his people’s historic homeland, but the idea of secession is actually a relatively recent phenomenon, a response to the government’s discriminatory policies and its complicity in communal violence against Tamils during the decades following Sri Lanka’s independence, in 1948, from British colonial rule. Until the early nineteen-eighties, most Tamils favored the establishment of a federal system that would grant them substantial local autonomy within a unified state; and, even as hope for a political solution gave way to Tamil militancy, armed struggle was widely seen as a means to force such an outcome. Prabhakaran, however, has always been hostile to the idea of power-sharing. He proclaims himself and his Tigers to be the only true representatives of Tamil political aspirations and has waged a systematic campaign—every bit as relentless as his war against the state—to eliminate Tamil rivals. Nevertheless, the Tigers have consistently had to resort to the forced recruitment of Tamil children, a practice barely distinguishable from outright abduction, to fill their fighting ranks and replenish their suicide brigades.


Yet, as with so many armed liberation movements, the more the Tigers pressed their advantages and consolidated their power as a military and political force, the more they came to resemble—and then to exceed—the most repellent aspects of their enemies. Thirty years after Prabhakaran shot and killed the mayor of Jaffna, he is probably the world’s most prolific political assassin. But the paradox of his monomaniacal pursuit of a Tamil homeland is that Tamils have borne the brunt of his violence.


There's also a tiny follow-up on the recent killing of Sri Lanka's foreign minister - here.
A huge thanks to Stephan of Everybody I Love You for the link to Carolyn Drake's striking photography: of Kosher Iowa; of the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn; of Lviv and the Carpathians following the Orange Revolution; and other subjects.

Absolutely beautiful.

Carolyn's work reminds me of another favorite photographer of mine, Sergei Maximishin. There seems to be more movement in her photos, though.

Both Carolyn and Stephan are coming over to Ukraine as Fulbright scholars: Stephan in September, Carolyn early next year.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Several pictures from our yesterday's walk along the Moscow River somewhere in Fili or Kuntsevo...

I don't know how to translate church terminology, but this piece on Rambler.ru (in Russian) really cracked us up yesterday, so I'll just sort of retell it.

It's a story about the Russian Orthodox Church holiday that they celebrated this past Friday here - the Apple Spas (a folk name for the holiday; the official church one is different - Prazdnik Preobrazheniya Gospodnya, but I don't have the vocabulary to translate it).

In the second paragraph there's a summary of the biblical story on which the holiday's based: Prophet Moses and Prophet Elijah descend to Christ and talk to him, and then there's a voice from the cloud above them, the voice of God, declaring Christ to be God's beloved son everyone should obey. Then comes this sentence:

The apostles who heard it fell to the ground in fear, RIA Novosti reports.


This, of course, reminds me of my very favorite University of Iowa School of Journalism professor, Steve Bloom.

Here's a passage about him from a Salon.com review of his book, Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America:

A secular Jew who had lived most of his life in urban centers of the East and West Coast, Bloom writes that he felt isolated after his first few years in the heart of Christian America. His son's Cub Scout leader talks unthinkingly about Jesus, and the Easter Sunday headline of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reads: "He Has Risen." (Bloom jokes that this "broke all the rules of news judgment that I preached to my journalism students. The event was neither breaking news nor could it be corroborated by two independent sources.")
Ren-TV's owners have changed, but the channel's newscasts continue to carry content that other Russian channels seem to shun: on Sunday, we watched a re-run of their Saturday weekly news summary, in which Andrei Babitsky was interviewed about the ABC/Basaev incident.

Babitsky said he had been shocked by the intensity of the Russian authorities' reaction. He also said he thought ABC had presented the interview in a somewhat superficial manner - but that's understandable and forgivable, since most Americans know very little about Chechnya and have no idea who Basaev is.

(I cited other journalists' reactions to the interview and what followed here and here.)
How wonderful it is to hold a not-too-outdated copy of the New Yorker, leaf through it, looking at the cartoons, and then read carefully all there is to read in there... I don't get to do this often, since they don't sell the magazine here; I have to rely on the kindness of friends who send me a relatively old New Yorker or two every now and then... (Thank you, Julinka!!!)

The August 1 issue Mishah borrowed from work, while his editor was on vacation, and I felt like I was the first person in the world reading it, very happy. Much of the stuff I read can probably be found online, too - but it's a very different sensation to be reading a print edition. I still keep getting surprised, though, at how thin the New Yorker has grown after 9/11.

One story that I can't find online is about Sri Lanka, a very interesting, in-depth piece that I'll quote from later today, when Mishah makes a copy of it for me: the magazine itself has returned to Mishah's work because the editor's back from vacation today...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

I feel at least twice as smart now that I have deciphered the meaning of this sentence in an Aug. 1 New Yorker piece on the U.S. Supreme Court:

As Scalia noted with dismay in his dissenting opinion in Lawrence, the Association of American Law Schools "(to which any reputable law school must seek to belong) excludes from membership any school that refuses to ban from its job-interview facilities a law firm (no matter how small) that does not wish to hire as a prospective partner a person who openly engages in homosexual conduct."

I read it at least seven times - twice out loud - before I got it. Reminded me of the GRE.

Friday, August 19, 2005

I've spent the past few days terrorising myself over the unconquerable mess in my papers, photos and computer files.

I've even lost the ability to write because it feels like the mess around me is spreading into my head.

Every time I try to clean up, I give up after five minutes - there's just too much of everything. A backlog.

(Speaking of backlog, this blog seemed messy, too, so I updated the links yesterday, adding a bunch of Russian- and Ukrainian-language livejournals I sometimes read. But it's not enough: I wish there existed an easy way to sort all entries by categories...)

The apartment, except for the closets and drawers, looks fine - but that, somehow, leaves me indifferent, neither happy, nor unhappy.

I've spent the past three hours - or maybe even more - opening various folders, then closing them, feeling absolutely desperate.

And then I remembered something I'd read about a while ago: the 'nesting instinct' women experience during pregnancy. I rushed to Google and found this:

Around the fifth month of pregnancy, the "nesting" instinct can set in. This is an uncontrollable urge to clean one's house brought on by a desire to prepare a nest for the new baby, to tie up loose ends of old projects and to organize your world. [...]

I'm 25 weeks pregnant now.

It's nice to know that what I'm going through is normal - though how can an 'uncontrollable urge' be normal?..

Funny to think of what I worried about when I was imagining getting pregnant: How am I going to quit smoking? Will I be able to learn how to fall asleep lying on my side? Will I have morning sickness, or evening sickness, or round-the-clock sickness?

I quit smoking in a week; I haven't even noticed that I no longer need to lie on my stomach to fall asleep; I haven't been sick a single time. Thank God.

But - I've grown so big, I have only two more dresses left to wear, and my mama, who normally makes all the nice clothes for me, is very busy and exhausted doing a remont in Kyiv; I'm so big that even my doctor says it's not okay; every time I go out, I hate this country for the lack of clean public bathrooms; and now I've got this uncontrollable nesting instinct...

But I'm not complaining, no. I'm too superstitious to really complain.

I just wish I had a secretary or something, to help me clean up the mess in my files.


A wonderful distraction today has been Danny Gregory's text about his wife's pregnancy - in The Morning News, one of my very favorite online magazines:


So many of Patti’s clothes don’t fit. Her pantyhose cut deep incisions around her abdomen. She struggles to get into her skirts and leaves them unzipped.

She is excited to have discovered that my shirts fit her perfectly, so I guess we’ll be dressing alike through the spring. I can’t believe I have the proportions of a pregnant woman. I’ve got to get back to the gym.


...I've been wearing Mishah's shorts for about two weeks now...

Anyway, Danny Gregory's beautiful blog is one of my favorites, too - Everyday Matters. And the text I've read today is actually a book chapter, published in installments in The Morning News every two weeks.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

They showed Milla Jovovich on NTV news yesterday - she's in Crimea now, with her mama, attending Artek's 80th anniversary celebration. She looked very excited, spoke very cute but not too fluent Russian and said she was Ukrainian when asked about her 'nationality.' Her mama is very nice but looks like a more or less average woman from our part of the world, nothing American or even slightly foreign about her, very hard to believe she emigrated 25 years ago.

Here's more about Artek camp from BBC, and about the celebration from RFE/RL. Artek's site is in Russian, as far as I can see.

When I was 10 or 11, we were taken on tour of Artek by someone "with connections" - I remember a ride from Yalta in a black Volga (a car used almost exclusively by the party schmucks), and then I remember rooms with equipment used to train astronauts, authentic, we were told, and my mama, of course, decided to check if she could tame a centrifuge - and then I don't remember the rest, which probably means that mama with her courage scared the shit out of me, as usual, but everything ended well, as ever.

I don't remember the camp itself, rooms and stuff, probably because I've always hated camps. The only camp I was forced to spend 40 days at was not far from Moscow, near Vladimir and Petushki, and I barely survived it - but we had no choice then but to keep me there, because it was 1986, right after Chernobyl.

The worst part about camps is the idiotic discipline they impose on you - like, if they find a wet sponge in your drawer after you've taken a shower, all 15 or so people in your room are gonna be punished... Nineteen years later, I still don't get it - are you supposed to eat your sponge or what?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Via Andy at SiberianLight, I've learned that, for once, a Russian official seems to have found a common language with... how should I put it... someone in Latvia, the country perceived by many here as one of Russia's main enemies:

Both the Russian ambassador and the leader of the Latvian Catholics hated the gay pride parade held in Riga last month.

Here's a Moscow News piece on it:

Russian Ambassador to Latvia Viktor Kalyuzhny thanked Cardinal Janis Pujats, head of Latvia’s Roman Catholics, for the latter’s criticism of the recent gay and lesbian parade in Riga, the Baltic Times newspaper reports.

The paper quoted the Russian diplomat as saying that it would be impossible to organize such a parade in Russia, as “it is anti-human.”

He also criticized authorities’ decision to allow the march, which took place on July 23.

“Today, the mortality rate in Latvia exceeds the number of births, and now here is an attempt to say in the framework of democratic principles that this [the gay parade] is necessary and democratic,” the ambassador said. “This is not only a matter of the church, but that any normal individual should understand that cheating nature is impossible.”

Kalyuzhny told journalists that during the meeting with the Latvian archbishop he “made a deep bow to His Grace who practically alone has clearly, openly and directly said what happened here.”

Dykun, who's now in Riga, has more on the Riga gay pride and the issues surrounding it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

I finished reading Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian yesterday - once again, a huge thanks for the gift, Hugh!

At first, the book horrified me:

The character of Valentina, a 36-year-old Ternopil woman who has lured a recently widowed 84-year-old Brit into marriage, seemed so incredibly grotesque and yet so familiar that I came up with something like a tagline almost right away: "Multiply Valentina by a hundred million, then learn to ignore all these multitudes of unbearable women - this is what life in the former Soviet Union's like." I'm exaggerating, of course.

The character of Nikolai, the silly old man, made me wonder why there is no upper age limit for marriage.

I also kept choking on the Russian names used throughout this book about the Diaspora Ukrainians - how come it's Nikolai and not Mykola, Nikolai Alexeevich and not Mykola Olexiyovych, Nadezhda and not Nadiya, Mikhail and not Mykhailo, Vera and not Vira? I have nothing against Russian, or any other, names - but I expected that a character who spoke Ukrainian and, moreover, wrote non-fiction and poetry in this language, would use Ukrainian, not Russian, names for his family members; a character to whom it mattered what language his fake wife spoke on the phone:

'Aha. Telephone. Now here is a problem. Too much talking. Husband, brother, sister, mother, uncle, auntie, friend, cousin. Sometimes Ukrainian but mostly Russian.' As if he wouldn't mind paying the bill if it was for talking in Ukrainian.

I ended up liking the book, though:

I liked the consistency of Nikolai's character: he kept soiling himself pathetically every time Valentina acted up - but that wasn't due to old age alone. In his youth back in the Soviet Union, in order to avoid an undesirable job, he had lied to the authorities about being married to 'an enemy of the people' and, as a result, his mother-in-law was tortured during interrogation and nearly sent off to Siberia. Later, he deserted the Soviet Army and hid for a month at a Jewish cemetery, not because of his convictions, but because he couldn't stand marching around and fighting anymore. In the end, though, these cowardly actions re-united him with his family and saved his life.

Here're the musings of Nikolai's younger daughter, a post-war baby, and the response of her older sister, born in 1937:

When I was young, I wanted my father to be a hero. I was ashamed of his graveyard desertion, his flight to Germany. I wanted my mother to be a romantic heroine. I wanted their story to be one of bravery and love. Now as an adult I see that they were not heroic. They survived, that's all.

'You see, Nadezhda, to survive is to win.'

Funny, but if I hadn't read Masha Gessen's book last week, I might have missed this one meaning of Lewycka's novel: our parents' and grandparents' life-saving compromises, which, from certain perspectives, may look like skeletons in the closet... And who are we to judge those people, judge them, moreover, by the standards of our time, not theirs?

This is a slippery slope, and at some point it becomes really hard to blame Valentina for being what she is and using the methods she's using. There's no excuse for choosing to be a monster - and yet... The very positive final chapters of the book - very kind chapters, I'd say, even though Valentina does end up getting kicked out of Britain - do nothing but cement this rather unprincipled reaction to the novel and its characters.

So yeah, I don't agree with Andrei Kurkov when he writes that "[j]ust about everyone portrayed in [the novel] inspires the sympathy of the reader except the Ukrainians, legal and illegal. What we see are caricatures."

Sympathy or not, as the story develops, an evolution of sorts does occur in one's feelings towards the characters: something that no caricature could inspire.

And, caricature or not, the novel's characters definitely fit well among other warring relatives of world literature, including those from Ukrainian writers' works.

I retold the book's plot to Mishah and he said it reminded him of a number of Ukrainian texts we were required to read at school in the 1980s, in which family members hated each other's guts so much that compromise was never considered an option. Kaidasheva Simya (The Kaidash Family) - by Marina Lewycka's partial namesake Ivan Nechui-Lewycky - comes to mind first.

And I kept thinking of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres - and even imagined Nadezhda's "Big Sis" Vera as the aged Jessica Lange from the 1997 film based on Smiley's book...
I found out about it at one journalist's Russian-language LiveJournal, and I'm not sure if many peole have noticed, either here, or in the States, that the Russians did strike back after having been humiliated by Babitsky and the ABC:

The state-run news agency RIA-Novosti interviewed Abdullah al-Jenabi, leader of the largest anti-American armed group in Iraq, Jaish al-Mujahideen. In the interview, among other things, al-Jenabi warned that his group was planning multiple attacks on the occupational forces and their allies in the nearest future.

After the interview had been published, six Iraqi security officers raided the RIA-Novosti office in Baghdad and seized some CDs and tapes. The search was sanctioned by the Iraqi Interior and Justice Ministries.

But they didn't ban the news agency.

The link to last week's Moscow News story about it is here; a Kommersant article is here.


The same journalist wrote this (in Russian) about the ABC's interview with Basaev:

My reaction to Basaev's interview on ABC is far from being simple. I could've understood it before, but after Nord-Ost and, especially, after Beslan... It's strange. After the United States have put him on the terrorists' list... Or have I been brainwashed, too, and don't understand something? If you look at it not formally but as a human being with conscience, I think that if they were itching so badly to air this interview, they should've followed it up with an interview of a mother who lost a child in Beslan, or whose child was maimed. Or give word to a child who had to drink his own urine - he also has the right to say what he thinks about it after they had messed up his life so violently. Aren't we learning principles of democratic journalism from Americans? And the main one of these principles is to let both sides speak. And the other side in this case, I think, isn't the Russian Embassy, it's not Lavrov and Ivanov - they are bureaucrats and everyone knows what they have to say. The other side here is those who had to face the terrorists. [...]

Sunday, August 14, 2005

And a new picture of me and my stomach!.. (My belly? Baby?..)

Victor Yushchenko is vacationing in Georgia (here's also an AP story on it by a Georgian man named Misha DZHINDZHIKHASHVILI... what a spelling...) - and Mishah and I spent this Saturday afternoon eating absolutely delicious Georgian food at a rooftop terrace of a Garden Ring building where painter friends of our friends have a studio. We were celebrating our friends' return from a monthlong vacation in Georgia, I guess...

I drank Borjomi mineral water, Mishah drank very good Georgian white wine, and there were also a few bottles of Nemiroff vodka, a popular Ukrainian brand, standing around. Here's a very cheesy picture of a jar of Georgian wine next to our gorilka...

Two more pictures:

The flag is Norwegian, for some reason, not Georgian... (Update: it's not a Norwegian flag, either - it's Icelandic! Sorry for the confusion and thanks for a correction!)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The first classmate of mine to emigrate was Slavik Feierstein: in 1986, right after Chernobyl, he and his family left for the States. Many more - and not just my classmates - followed several years later.

Masha Gessen's family left the Soviet Union in 1981, after some three years of redtape and other obstacles. The airport farewell scene is one of the most moving in her book:

[pp. 3-4]

[...] I remembered our relatives, eyes red from sleeplessness and crying, lined up in two crowded rows against the chrome barrier that marked the border zone at Moscow's Sheremetyevo-Two Airport, their faces receding and approaching again. They watched two customs officers go through our belongings, packed into our 'emigrant's suitcases' - cheap cardboard affairs designed to withstand exactly one journey, one way. I ran back to hand one of my aunts my drawing box, barred by customs. I ran back again to take a drag from another aunt's cigarette. I was fourteen, but this was the most difficult day of our lives. We finally stepped through customs, sideways and backward so as to keep looking at their faces, receding now. They waved. Two-thirds of the way to passport control, just before their features became indistinguishable, my mother drew my head close and whispered, 'Look at them. You will see all of them again, except great-grandmother Batsheva. Look at her.' What she said was absurd: everyone knew there would be no return and we would never see any of them. [...]

Masha's parents and brother came back for their first visit in early 1988 - just as many people I knew were preparing for or going through their departures, an ordeal that must've been very happy and very heartbreaking at once.

In a way, the 1970s 'immigration wave' converged with the 1980's 'wave' somewhere in the air during perestroika, moving in opposite directions.

Friday, August 12, 2005

I normally guard the privacy of my visitors, but this is a special case:

100,000th page load of Neeka's Backlog has taken place today, at 10:40 am Moscow Time, when someone from Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, stopped by here, searching for images from Chernivtsi!!!

Huge thanks to everyone who's reading me!

As for Chernivtsi, I've been there once, but, unfortunately, it was four years before we got our wonderful digital camera, so I don't have any pictures from there...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Gazeta Po-Kievski reported yesterday (in Russian) that Natalya Dmytruk, the brave sign language translator from the UT-1 state TV channel, might soon lose her job:

[...] They've decided to get rid of the sign language translation at the First National, the country's main channel that reaches the largest audiences nationwide. This way they are depriving those who can't hear of their only source of information. They believe sign language translation affects their ratings negatively, though with the audience like this the ratings can only grow: there are about 60,000 registered members of the Ukrainian Society of the Deaf alone. Natalya Dmytruk and her colleague, a sign language translator Lada Sokolyuk, have been sent on vacation till autumn, without an explanation of what awaits them later. No one has apologized to the viewers, either.

Says Marina Liferova, sign language translator of the Ukrainian Society of the Deaf:

- At first they moved the newscasts with sign language translation from 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to an earlier time - 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The unofficial explanation for this was that people who can hear well come home from work in the evening, turn on the news and don't feel good watching the newscast: they are annoyed by the sign language translation.

But there's also a theory that they decided to get rid of the sign language translators because they remembered Natalya Dmytruk's brave action, when she, during the election, informed the people who couldn't hear that the election results had been falsified. Like, who knows what you are moving your hands about over there. What if you have something of your own to say? I remember that certain media people in Russia considered Natalya's action a "violation of the translator's code of ethics." [...]

Says Natalya Dmytruk:

- No one gathered us to inform us about anything when the rumors began to spread that the sign language translators would be dismissed. Then we learned that from July 18 there'd only be left two newscasts at the channel - at 6:30 pm and at 9 pm. Both without sign language translation. When I got to see Andrei Shevchenko [vice president of the National TV Company of Ukraine, formerly a Channel 5 host], he told me: "You've got only one thing to do - a vacation. Take a vacation - you've accumulated so many days off - and leave. I'll tell you honestly: your future is very uncertain. Because newscasts with sign language translation are, in our opinion, inefficient. A sign language translator in the corner of the screen is distracting. That has a bad influence on the ratings. And one more thing. You are getting a salary from the channel. I understand that it's not too high (580 hryvnias - editor's note, [$116 a month]), but, little by little, it'll allow us to save money. We spoke with the Ministry of Labor and Social Politics, and they told us that 95 percent of the deaf would like to see a crawler, not sign language translation."

This is extremely cynical and it's also a violation of the individuals' right to obtain information. Even the Constitution says that "sign language has an equal status with other languages used in Ukraine." Most people who can't hear fail to read the crawler. Many miss the meaning of a story when they have to focus on reading instead of on the picture. Many miss the text while watching the picture.

I remember feeling happy when Shevchenko joined the channel. I watched nothing but Channel 5 during the revolution and I admired his work. Together with him we paced around in the snow at Maidan - and here's what we've got now...

My parents are deaf and my husband doesn't hear well. You should've seen their faces when they learned that there's not gonna be news with sign language translation anymore. And I just burst out crying when they asked me why. It took us a lot to be able to have news with sign language translation at UT-1. But, it turns out now, the worst part of it is that during the old regime it was easier to achieve this.


Here's a nice story about Natalya Dmytruk in the Washington Post - As Ukraine Watched the Party Line, She Took the Truth Into Her Hands, by Nora Boustany, April 29, 2005:

Natalia Dmytruk did not have to learn sign language at school. Her first words had to be mimed. Both her parents are deaf.

The baby was crying. Big sister Natalia, then a 20-month-old toddler, alerted their mother by cradling an imaginary baby in her arms and tracing invisible tears down her cheeks. These were Natalia's first words, her mother would later tell her.

Her mother, a soft and loving woman, made the best Ukrainian cookies and the tastiest borscht. Her father bought his daughters a cheap record player so they could learn to appreciate classical folk songs. When Dmytruk was older and her parents needed medical care, she accompanied them to give them a voice. Her eyes talk when she expresses herself.

Mama told me there was a piece on pregnancy in last week's Zerkalo Nedeli, which, she said, I didn't have to read, not really.

"Just remember the main point: pregnancy isn't a disease, so there's no need to waste your time on doctors," she said.

I kept from reading the piece for two days, but today I've given up.

While, overall, I hate the author's style, I feel very grateful to her for tackling the subject I would've loved to tackle myself - but prefer not to. Or don't have the guts to. And feel somewhat jealous as a result. Because this is my type of story - to bitch about how nothing works in this part of the world, including the nominally free health care.

But to write about it, I'd have to subject myself to the system that millions of Russians and Ukrainians are content/discontented with - and I just can't.

I can't because now the situation is different from when I was getting a driver's license. If they yell at me and I yell back, the baby might be affected; if they decide to save money and use someone else's syringe on me, the baby might be affected; if they decide to make some money and tell me I have a condition I don't really have, a condition for which I'd have to buy some medicine from them (and they'd get a commission), the baby might be affected. Et cetera.

So fuck it. I'm totally happy to translate parts of the Zerkalo Nedeli story - and avoid going through hell to be able to pretend I'm still a journalist.

by Yekaterina Shchyotkina

[...] So, a pregnant woman for the first time enters the office of her district gynecologist: she's got joyous news - she's pregnant and intends to give birth to a healthy baby in a few months. But the doctor doesn't share her joy, for some reason, nor does he sympathize. That's life, of course, and he's not being paid for being delighted (in the months to come, you'll hear about his miserable salary more than once).

- I'll examine you, but I won't enter you into the database, - he says with a heavy sigh.

- Why not?

- You haven't got your passport with you, have you?

- No. I've come to a clinic, not police department.

I'll learn that there isn't much difference between the two soon.

- How would I know that it's you, not someone else, who lives at this address?

- Because I'm telling you so. Why would I lie?

The doctor sighs once more [...] and opens a large notebook that contains a list of all those who live in his district.

- But how would I know that you're who you say you are? - he asks.

I shrug and produce my press card that has my photo and last name on it. The police is usually quite content with it. But I'm not at the police department.

- But your address isn't here, - the annoyed doctor says.


He produces a heap of papers out of his desk drawer and gives it to me.

- Here, go make a copy and then run back.

- What's that?

- A medical card.

- Do I have to make a copy of it?

- Yes, what else do you expect? There are many of you, but there's only one card. Hurry up.

- Is there a Xerox machine at the clinic?

[...] - Are you kidding me, woman? Who's gonna bother buying a Xerox for the clinic?


[...] The atmosphere has affected me so much that I tried to answer the doctor's questions briefly and, where possible, negatively. No, it doesn't hurt - no problems, no complaints. [...]

- What, you don't work with a computer?

I admit I almost lied but realized that he wouldn't believe me. I was forced to say the truth.

- Don't do it [use a computer] again, - the doctor barked.

- Why?

[...] - Because.


Turns out that I'll have to take a syphilis blood test three time, HIV - twice, staph infection - twice. These tests take a rather long time, so if you don't hurry, it's easy to give birth before all the test are ready.

- What if I don't take the test three times? - I ask.

- Then you'll be giving birth in one room with various bums and drug addicts.

I haven't been following the trial of Nurpasha Kulaev, but here's a site that has transcripts of the court proceedings, 20 of them so far, all in Russian, unfortunately: PravdaBeslana.ru.

The English-language page is under construction and for now conains only three articles.
I finished reading Masha Gessen's Two Babushkas yesterday; loved it. Here's a note on one of the most memorable parts of the book:

It's been a sort of a shortcut to believe that most people in the Soviet Union knew little or nothing about the atrocities taking place in the country - and to somehow assume that those living abroad knew a great deal more.

The story of Harrison Salisbury, a New York Times correspondent Masha's grandmother Rozalia loved to read but was also forced to censor, disproves this assumption and shows how the Soviet censorship and the ignorant/indifferent editing back home affected the quality of the stories filed from Moscow:

[pp. 240-241]

Then I got hold of a long since out-of-print memoir by Harrison Salisbury, Rozalia's all-time favorite charge. Salisbury was different: for several of the chilliest years of my grandmother's tenure, in the early 1950s, he was the only foreign newspaperman in Moscow. The rest were wire-service scribes whose jobs did not require them to attempt analysis. Unlike many of his colleagues, who stayed in Moscow because they were married to Russian women who could not leave, Salisbury, a bachelor, was not one of Stalin's hostages. Nor did his political beliefs necessitate the sort of compromises that skewed some other Moscow correspondents' dispatches. Salisbury had no special expertise on Russia when he arrived - he never really mastered the language - but he stayed for a long time, and he had a talent for noticing simple things. He was also possessed of a dogged determination to work the censorship system [...].


But most of what Salisbury wrote was not cleared. In January 1950, for example, the censor killed thirteen (about half) of Salisbury's stories outright, and severely mangled the remainder. The reporter vacillated between badgering his editors at the New York Times to include a 'cleared by Soviet censor' disclaimer with his articles (they never did) [...].

The anecdote below, told by Salisbury himself in 1981, is as startling:

[...] January 1951 was a typical month. I filed 35 stories and only 6 were not censored. Sometimes I would try to write stories in such a way that they would get by the censors but their actual meaning could be understood by the editors.

Once I sent a story that included agricultural statistics showing productivity growth. I disguised the fact that agricultural productivity had finally reached the levels attained under the czars, and got it by the censors. Then I got a cable from New York saying that what I'd written about the growth of Soviet agricultural production didn't make sense because the same levels were reached under the czars. I wanted to confirm it, but by then the censors were on to me. [...]

Salisbury was awarded his Pulitzer in 1955, for the stories published after Stalin's death - and after the journalist had traveled across Russia, seen Siberia and the camps, and left the Soviet Union and its censors:

For his distinguished series of articles, "Russia Re-Viewed," based on his six years as a Times correspondent in Russia. The perceptive and well-written Salisbury articles made a valuable contribution to American understanding of what is going on inside Russia. This was principally due to the writer's wide range of subject matter and depth of background plus a number of illuminating photographs which he took."

Monday, August 08, 2005

By the end of this year, according to Ukrainska Pravda (in Ukrainian) and Stanislav Nikolayenko, minister of education and science of Ukraine, a college professor will be making $360-$380 a month ($4,320-$4,560 a year), and a school teacher's monthly salary will be $120-$140 a month ($1440-$1680 a year).

Here's Ukrainska Pravda's "catchy" headline on this item: "Professors are to be given a salary that would allow them to buy a cell phone with a camera."

Friday, August 05, 2005

Today was a 'Missing Lithuania' day for me: if I didn't have to go back to Kyiv to get a visa, if I could just buy a ticket and jump on a plane, I would go to Palanga (via Vilnius or Kaunas, I guess) this very evening. But this is not possible, so I just spent part of the day feeling nostalgic - and even joined a Yahoo! Lithuanian Language Group.

Palanga was such a wonderful place back in the 1980s, so different from what we were used to: one of the main distinctions was that they didn't have fences around their private houses, no fences at all, neither tall, nor small ones, just shrubs and, beyond them, flowers and green lawns for everyone to admire. And the Baltic Sea. And amber.

My parents and I first went there in May 1985, for a kids' tennis tournament, and we fell in love right away. Last time we were there was in August 1990, fifteen years ago, and I've missed Palanga ever since.

At some point today, I walked into a tiny bookstore on Prechistenka, the one where I once bought a Czech and a Yiddish language textbooks. What if they have a Lithuanian one, I thought. Not that I'm planning to study seriously, but I seem to be collecting language textbooks, and Lithuanian is such a very beautiful language, it'd be a pleasure to try to remember some of the words I learned as a child.

The saleswoman said they didn't have Lithuanian textbooks but were thinking of ordering some. As I was paying for another book, she asked me if I had Lithuanian roots, I said I didn't, and this was how I got myself into that conversation...

The saleswoman was very angry at Lithuanians and the rest of the 'pribalty' (do you call it 'the Balts' in English?) - for their dislike of the Russians.

She must've been pretty bored, too, sitting in a cellar all day long, for it was somehow impossible to just say good-bye to her and leave.

She recalled how once, as a tourist in Lithuania, she was standing in line for a sausage and a vendor refused to pay attention to her because, naturally, she spoke Russian, not Lithuanian. Feels like a fresh wound, I thought, but when I asked, it turned out the incident took place in 1987 - and the bookseller has never gone back to Lithuania. I told her I was sure she had encountered a billion rude Russian vendors in these 18 years - did it mean anything to her except that jerks abound in every ethnicity and race, has it forced her to consider emigrating from Russia?

She seemed to agree - but not enough to let me go.

She recalled yet another offense: how Latvians were putting flowers to the monument to the Nazi collaborators on May 9 this year. I said there were probably many people in Latvia who found this as offensive as she did - similarly, there was a pretty large group of Russians with portraits of Stalin on May 9 here in Moscow, which, however, didn't mean that the majority of this country's population wanted Stalin or his policies back.

At this point, a man entered the room; he must've been the bookseller's colleague.

"Why," she exclaimed, pointing at the man, "I suspect our Sasha walks around with a portrait of Stalin every now and then!" My jaw sort of dropped. I was shocked, mostly, by how out-of-the-closet she sounded, not really proud, but still too casual for this subject.

The man she called Sasha turned to me and said that no, he didn't carry Stalin's portrait with him, but he did believe that Stalin deserved credit for many good things he had done.

I'm disgusted to retell the rest of the conversation here and, in any case, it had nothing to do with Lithuania.

We didn't fight, we didn't even argue with this Sasha. We spoke about Stalin in two different languages: the language of emotions, and the language of figures and economic data trimmed to fit a certain point of view. He even had an idea of how to praise Stalin in connection with the Ukrainian famine: according to him, the famine kept returning in cycles for decades, and the horror of 1933 was the last one, wasn't it, and all thanks to Stalin's economic policy...

I wanted to return the book I'd bought and get my money back, but that would've prolonged the torture. So I just left, having promised myself to forget this episode as soon as possible and not to be mad at those two assholes for the next 18 years.
August is here.

First, I saw a reprint of last year's survey in Kommersant Vlast magazine: "What do you expect from this August?" I decided not to read the responses because I still remember very well myself how bad that month turned out to be. And how it spilled into September.

Today, a small military submarine sank somewhere near Kamchatka. Seven people are on board, 200 meters or so down below, with enough air to last them from two to four days (update: one day).

In Crimea yesterday - and, of course, Crimea isn't Russia but Ukraine, even though many people think otherwise, but in the month of August anything goes in this part of the world - yes, in Crimea yesterday there was a blackout, from Gurzuf to Sudak, and an unspecified amount of shit (update: 500 cubic meters) has poured out into the sea along the coast. August is the most crowded month in Crimea, and the place becomes unbearable even when there is electricity and the sea is relatively clean. Now, however, tourists are advised against going into the water for at least two days. Two of my Kyiv friends are on vacation in Crimea now, first in Sudak, and then they were going to spend some time at an archaeological camp in Chufut-Kale, an ancient Karaite settlement, so I hope they are there by now, unaffected by the blackout and its consequences.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

In their Moscow Times columns, Yulia Latynina and Masha Gessen comment on Andrei Babitsky/ABC's Nightline interview with Basayev and the hysterical reaction of the Russian authorities (thanks to David of A Step at a Time for the links).

Masha Gessen's piece - Like the Censors of Old - is informative though a bit too retrospective, while Latynina's reads like a manifesto and is really worth quoting in full:

Words Versus Body Counts

by Yulia Latynina

When the ABC program "Nightline" aired journalist Andrei Babitsky's interview with Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev, it made Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov see red. The Defense Ministry has troops in Chechnya, including two military intelligence battalions: Zapad, which is under the command of Hero of Russia Said-Magomed Kakiyev, and Vostok, which is under the command of Hero of Russia Sulim Yamadayev. Yamadayev's men recently distinguished themselves in a violent raid on the peaceful civilian population in the village of Borozdinovskaya.

You would think that the defense minister would be out there pledging to nab Basayev as fast as possible so that he would stop giving interviews to journalists and start giving testimony to investigators. But no. Instead, the ministry's retribution promises to be far more terrifying. From now on, the U.S. channel's single Moscow journalist will be banned from all ministry briefings. This is it, folks. ABC will never recover from the blow.

The interview scandal has its roots in the peculiar nature of the Russian authorities. Those in power in Russia today are former KGB men. These chekists are running businesses, interfering in politics and tapping many a wire. But somehow they can't manage to keep track of Babitsky, who lives in Prague and has long been a thorn in their side.

The authorities had a chance to catch both Basayev and Doku Umarov, whom Babitsky has interviewed in the past. They had at their disposal the means to catch them if they didn't want them to talk to the press, such as the Vostok battalion or the FSB's elite Alfa unit. But just because the FSB can't seem to get the job done does not mean they should take it out on journalists.

An interview is not an act of terrorism. Terrorists do not use words to make their points; they use dead bodies. Basayev is a terrorist not because of what he says but because he kills people.

You can understand why the authorities reacted to the interview the way they did. They had to react somehow, and better to condemn its broadcasters than to discuss its content. For example, Basayev was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word "Anti-Terrorist" and said that Russian policies in Chechnya were terrorism, which makes him an anti-terrorist.

This might sound almost reasonable if it weren't for one small "but." Let's not forget that back in 1999, Chechnya was for all intents and purposes independent. Regardless of how terrible the war was before the Khasavyurt accord and no matter which side committed more atrocities, Chechnya had practically gained its freedom. There were no Russian troops, but only President Aslan Maskhadov and roadblocks manned by criminals who robbed passersby in the name of Allah. Basayev, like many a military leader in peacetime, was threatened with political oblivion.

When did Chechnya lose its hard-won freedom? When Basayev and his men attacked Dagestan. Some believe that this invasion was orchestrated by the Kremlin: It got Vladimir Putin the presidency and returned Basayev to the limelight. I would not go so far as to suggest a conspiracy. But at the very least Basayev sacrificed his homeland's freedom to satisfy his own ambitions.

A person who orders a sniper to take out a terrorist holding a detonator is just as responsible for the ensuing explosion as the people who planted the explosives to begin with. In much the same way, Basayev, by invading Dagestan, shares the blame for the second Chechen war with the Russian authorities.


Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I went outside to buy water and witnessed a wonderful scene:

An old woman, skinny, neat but poor, poor but neat, dressed in an apricotish sleeveless cotton dress, was pulling a cloth bag on wheels along the street. A strap of her bra had slipped off her shoulder onto her arm, but she was too burdened to move it back up; somehow, this made her look a lot younger than she was. Her bag was ancient, in use since the Soviet times, and the wheels it rode on were as old: they were making a horrible, deafening sound, impossible to describe!.. I almost wrote 'blinding' instead of 'deafening' - and that's true about the sound, since it was so unbearably loud and constant and disgusting that it seemed to paralyze all my senses and stop my heart as well...

I don't know where this guy appeared from - maybe he'd been sitting in a car parked around the bend, listening to the old woman approach, or maybe he was a worker from the nearby construction. Anyway, a young guy suddenly came up to the old woman, with a bottle of car oil or something in his hands. He told her to stop and wait, bent down and started dripping oil on the bag's wheels. They were strangers but he acted somewhat unceremoniously, as if he was the old woman's grandson. She seemed happy and grateful, and I heard her exclaim, "Oy! Thank you so much!"

That was so sweet - and I feel like saying it was so "un-Moscow" - but if I witnessed something like this in a village, would I pay attention, would I be as moved? Probably not.

So maybe it's a totally Moscow thing, or any big city thing, to feel incredibly happy when something as tiny and unlikely happens as you're walking down the street, minding your own business and really wishing to find a way to get out of this damn city...
Masha Gessen's book is making me feel misanthropic (I'm halfway through the chapter about the Bialystok Ghetto and Masha's great-grandfather). And the opposite, too: it's a torture reading this book at coffee houses, trying not to cry when there're so many people around.

It's a very good book, very interesting. Though it did take me some time to get used to the format: so different from Masha's concise, pointed magazine pieces... Like here, in this description of the Moscow Institute of History, Philosophy and Literature in 1940 - a beautiful image, followed by three lines of the seemingly unnecessary explanation:

This was a community of writers, virtually none of whom kept a journal: private notes could be, and often were, used to convict their author of treason, espionage or whatever other absurd charge happened to be advanced.

It's also quite amazing to be reading Masha Gessen's book right after Azar Nafisi's one... Another reason to feel misanthropic.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Andriy Yushchenko now reminds me of Philip Boit, a trailblazer cross-country skier from a totally unlikely place - Kenya...

In a country notorious for intellectual property rights violations, the Ukrainian president's son seems to be making quite a living as the copyright owner of all the political brands used during the Orange Revolution - including the Tak! logo and the horseshoe.

Mykola Katerynchuk, formerly head of Yushchenko's campaign's legal department and now deputy head of the Ukrainian tax administration (with plans to resign, however), revealed Andriy Yushchenko's potential source of income during an online chat (in Russian) at Korrespondent.net; he then elaborated on the issue in an interview (in Russian) with Kommersant's Ukrainian edition.

Katerynchuk said he had transferred the copyrights to Andriy Yushchenko after the victory in the third round of the 2004 election. The brands aren't cheap, he admitted:

"At the time, many people looked at me with suspicion, saying that, you know, Katerynchuk is a rich man already. [...] Interest in these brands had been expressed in Western Europe, Canada and America. Many European-level designers were interested in them, as well as manufacturers of various goods in Ukraine."

Experts say the brands may cost up to a hundred million dollars, according to Kommersant.

So far, there's only been one case, however, when someone tried to use them as a trademark:

[...] during the last election campaign, a company named Artemida began producing vodka "Tak!" - but it didn't last. "Remember when vodka "Tak!" appeared?" says Mykola Katerynchuk. "No one had given them permission for that." The former general director of [...] Artemida, a [Ukrainian] parliamentarian Anna Antonyeva, refused to recall this story yesterday.