Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The comment section to this entry is pretty polluted by now, so I'll post this here:

If these guys could do what they did to a fellow soldier, imagine what they might've done to a prisoner.


Andrei Sychev's condition has deteriorated, and he may not survive (via Gazeta.ru, in Russian).

Monday, January 30, 2006

What happened in Katowice is so awful, so sad. Reading about it makes me feel as if Moscow's Transvaal Park collapsed yesterday, not two years ago. Like then, I've now spent a while ignoring the story behind the headline, hoping it'll pass, hoping there won't be anything too newsworthy (read: so many casualties) for them to dwell on.
Two guys knocked on our door a few days ago, during one of the blackouts, and introduced themselves to my mama as the Segodnya newspaper. Turned out they were looking for our elderly neighbor who lives one floor up: he had called the paper and complained about the situation with electricity.

On Friday, Segodnya ran a very emotional piece (in Russian), and our building, due to its central location, was featured prominently in it. There was even a picture of our neighbor standing next to his empty - and immaculate - freezer: we all had to move most of the stuff from our fridges to our balconies. Two other neighbors were mentioned, one an 83-year-old woman who had to spend half an hour in the freezing cold, waiting for someone to help her walk up to the sixth floor: the elevator didn't work.

The reporter and the headline writer obviously couldn't agree on whether we didn't have electricity for the fourth or the fifth day, but otherwise they did well. Both the pensioners and a ZhEK woman were quoted criticising Kyivenergo, and Kyivenergo was given a chance to explain that, according to the rules, they were allowed not to restore power in residential buildings for up to two days.

The happiest about this publicity was Masha, the slightly crazy woman who cleans our building - she was running back and forth that day, waving the paper excitedly, announcing the good news about our neighbor to everyone who walked by: "He's in a newspaper! Look, he's in a newspaper!"


That same Friday, another neighbor went to complain to the president's representative responsible for our district.

It's been three days without the blackouts, three wonderful - well-lit and warm - days. (Tfu-tfu-tfu.)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A horrible thing has happened in Russia. Next to it, Abu Ghraib is like kindergarten.


Soldier Loses Legs in Bullying Ordeal
by Nick Allen in Moscow

Russia's defence minister yesterday condemned brutal bullying that left an army conscript fighting for his life as "shameful" and ordered a general to investigate.

The life of Andrei Sychev, 18, was "hanging by a thread", doctors said, two weeks after surgeons had to remove his legs, genitals and fingers after beatings by drunken soldiers.

"This shameful fact happened on New Year's Eve," the minister, Sergei Ivanov, said. "Why did it take 25 days for Moscow to be informed?"

Mr Ivanov sent Gen Alexei Maslov to investigate the incident at the Chelyabinsk tank academy in the Urals and sacked its chief.

According to reports, Pte Sychev was forced to crouch for three hours while being kicked and raped. His sister told the media he was tied to a chair, with circulation to his limbs cut off.

The soldier complained of pain in his legs for three days but was not sent to a civilian hospital for treatment until gangrene had already developed. Details of his ordeal came to light when an anonymous caller tipped off local human rights activists.

The most active group fighting the epidemic of bullying in the Russian military, the Soldiers' Mothers' Committee, yesterday called for Mr Ivanov's resignation.

According to official statistics, believed to be much understated, 25 teenagers died in the first half of 2004 as a result of bullying and more than 100 committed suicide.

Marina Litvinovich suggested people should gather by the defense ministry in Moscow on Saturday, and they did - some 300 showed up - and they demanded Ivanov's resignation, and even the cops were sympathetic.

Some photos from the rally are here. One of the posters reads: "Putin, protect not only the diplomats' kids," referring to the time last year when kids of the Russian diplomats were beaten up in Warsaw, which was followed by some really loud rhetoric from Moscow. Another poster demands that the children of the ruling elite - including Putin's daughters - also get drafted.

A good piece by Valery Panyushkin about what happened and how it affects the army's image is here (in Russian, just as some of the previous links).

Saturday, January 28, 2006

This search - 'kryvyi rih sex' by someone from India - must be one of the consequences of last year's sale of Kryvorizhstal to Lakshmi Mittal.
Via Notes From Kiev, a New York Times Travel section piece about Uzhgorod - Onion Domes and Cellphones in Uzhgorod.

Uzhgorod's my favorite Ukrainian town. Lviv and Odesa are also my favorites, but they are in a different category. And there's also Crimea, of course.

The New York Times piece has one drawback: after reading it, I want to find myself in Uzhgorod right away. The headline's kind of silly, too: 'onion domes' are associated with Russia all too easily, which is misleading. And why 'cellphones'? Why not the honest 'long-legged beauties'?

The best part is this menu snippet: "more esoteric dishes like 'herring under fur coat'." I saw this translation of selyodka pod shuboy in a Mykolaiv restaurant in 1999 and it still makes me laugh: instead of a salad, I see this angry-looking fat fish, in this long and heavy mink coat...
So he did catch a cold, after all, as I feared - and had to postpone his trip to Zaporizhzhya. Here's a screenshot of a Jan. 25 Korrespondent.net piece:

From this piece I've also found out that Yushchenko went to swim near the Cossack Church in Otradnoye - the neighborhood where my hospital is located. Mishah and I ran into that church during my last walk as a pregnant woman, the same walk when we ran into the sculpture named Marta...

This is the church:

It doesn't look real, does it? I wonder what it's like inside - but it was closed when we were there, looked deserted in the gloomy weather of Nov. 30. It seemed so cold then - but compared to the day Yushchenko was running around naked, it must've felt like summer then.

Yes, but that park - and Otradnoye in general - is a weird place; I have no idea where they found clean water to swim in there.

There's also a windmill near the church - not sure if it works:

It's been almost two months, but when I'm thinking of that time now, it's like thinking of someone else's story, something I've read about someone else. Have I really been pregnant? Was there time when Marta wasn't around? Weird.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A quick note: my review of Ukrainian blogs is now posted on Global Voices Online.
Here's from today's Independent:


Just about everything that could have gone wrong in Georgia has gone wrong. First the main pipeline supplying the country with Russian gas was mysteriously blown up by saboteurs and has yet to be repaired because of the cold weather. And then the fierce cold ruptured power lines leading from one of the country's most important hydroelectric power stations.

Mr Saakashvili was quick to blame foul play by the Russians, accusing them of trying to punish his country for adopting a pro-Western line in recent years. Moscow dismisses this as paranoid nonsense.

Whatever the truth, it was minus 7C in the capital Tbilisi yesterday. Schools were shut and power was restricted to hospitals, bakeries and water pumping stations. Much of the city was plunged into darkness, public transport ground to a halt and 40 per cent of residents were reported to be without heating gas. People were seen cutting down trees for firewood.

Terrible. Reminded me of what my Armenian friends used to tell me of the early 1990s in Armenia. Hopefully, the current Georgian crisis won't last that long.

Here's from one of the stories I did back in Iowa in 1997:


Miserable conditions of life caused by the blockade of Armenia forced Armenians to feel despair at times. Infant mortality rates increased due to the lack of heating in winter; electricity supply was limited to one and a half hours a day; factories shut and many people were unemployed; schools were closed from November through March.

Grigorian cannot forget the pain he felt when he used to come out with a candle to meer his younger brother at night, and how tense his brother looked after going up the stairs to the sixth floor in the dark, with rats hustling back and forth under his feet.

Okay, so that was a bit too impulsive, wishing for an Armenian culture minister neighbor. I take it back. Violence's no good.

An hour or so before electricity returned, we called ZhEK, and they said that Kyivenergo people were already in our building, trying to fix the cable that burned down. Mama went out to check whether this was so and found a really tired woman from ZhEK supervising three really tired electricians from Kyivenergo. The electricians worked in the dark, using some tired, dim flashlights; they looked so miserable that mama gave them her own flashlight and spent some time with them. "All night long we are working, all over the city," one of the guys complained to her. "And I didn't find it in me to start a fight with them, you know," mama told me when she came back.

Two days ago, after nine hours without electricity for the second day in a row, I called ZhEK for, like, the twentieth time, and had a moving conversation with a dispatcher. He was working a 24-hour shift (sutki), from 9 am to 9 am, and when I called around 9 pm, he was halfway through his nightmarish workday. Six buildings in the district he was responsible for were out of power, he told me; all relevant city services were aware of the problem, so there was no use complaining to them; Kyivenergo, the monopolist, was to blame for everything - they weren't answering their phones, they weren't sharing their plans and prognoses. He actually apologized to me several times - just think of it, someone from ZhEK was saying he was sorry! And I wished him to survive the night of angry phone calls, told him I knew it wasn't his personal fault that we were having such a prolonged blackout. And he must've been moved, too. "It hurts so much when people are cursing me on the phone," he suddenly confessed. "Especially when women call and begin cursing!"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I'm back again; this time we didn't have electricity from 10:30 am till 6:15 pm - almost eight hours. And about 45 hours total this week.

Just one more thing for now: how I wished we had a neighbor like the former Armenian culture minister, someone who'd go to our ZhEK and to Kyivenergo and beat the shit out of them all. Maybe someone did, because other neighborhoods are sometimes left without power for much longer - three days in a row, how about that? - and some people in those neighborhoods have electric, not gas, stoves...

The paradox here is that, technically, we own our apartment, we privatized it a while ago - but we still rely on Kyivenergo (it's state-owned, isn't it?) for everything: hot water, central heating, electricity. Why should I really care about who owns Kryvorizhstal when it's ridiculous for me to say that I really own the apartment I do own on paper?
Shit, they shut the power off again... Around 10:30 am. Oh, how I hope this outage doesn't last too long this time... Feel so helpless I want to cry, in unison with Marta...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I'm back, after 31 hours without electricity - from noon Jan. 24 to 6:45 p.m. Jan. 25, half an hour ago.

The record low in our room was +15.6°C at 5 a.m today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Power was restored at 2:40 am; Marta slept from 9-something till 2 am, my wonderful little girl; the temperature in our room didn't fall beneath +17°C because I kept the door open to let in the warmer air from the rest of the apartment; the most annoying thing about it all was that everything but our building was very well-lit - Khreshchatyk, all the shops across the street, the monstrous construction site on the backyard side, everything. I really, really hate winter.


What I stopped short of saying in the previous post was that if Ukraine was indeed stealing Russian gas, it was definitely not stealing enough of it - but, of course, this is totally wrong and I'm glad I didn't say it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Amazing... Here I am, sitting in our huge-windowed room, -18°C (0°F) outside, around +19°C inside (thanks to the heater), and I'm feeding Marta, and suddenly the lights go off, shortly after 8 pm - but my computer screen doesn't blink, so I go online (dial-up isn't affected by electricity shut-offs), and I'm typing this with my right hand, because the left one is holding Marta, and I know that if they don't fix whatever's broken in the next hour and a half, the computer's battery will die and I'll either get a few more hours of sleep (if Marta behaves) or I'll have a hell of an evening (if she's sleepless) - in a very cold room.

I was sort of prepared for this, though: first, there was some blinking a couple hours ago, and later mama came back home and reported that the elevator didn't work and the staircase wasn't lit; then I remembered I had to give Marta a bath (with this weather, I sort of kept forgetting for the past two days), and I made some chamomile tea to pour into water for Marta's skin, and I went to the bathroom to prepare everything, and turned what had to be hot water on, but it was icy and it stayed icy for the next 20 minutes, which wasn't all that strange, though normally the water does get hot after 15 minutes or less (it takes a bathful of water to wash a cup, as someone from our building described this recurring problem to mama), and it got me slightly mad, but I quickly recovered, changed Marta's diaper and sat down to feed her.

And here we are, an hour later: our fancy-schmancy phone doesn't work without electricity; we can't call the maintenance people from a cell phone because we can't locate the piece of paper with their phone number on it; Khreshchatik is well-lit and so are the buildings across the street from us; my feet are really cold now and I'm using Nur, one of the cats, to warm them; we're down to +18°C already; Marta's not asleep yet, but she's yawning, which is a good sign; mama has lit up a candle and is cooking dinner in the kitchen.


The last story that I read on Gazeta.ru before the lights went off was about Gazprom: they were saying their European clients weren't getting all their gas because of Ukraine (yes, again).

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Just days after Estonian TV showed pictures from a party hosted at the presidential palace by the president's teenage granddaughters (kids drinking, smoking pot, running around half-naked and peeing on the roof - or, according to the Russian media, peeing on the national flag hoisted on the roof), the New York Times names Tallinn the "party capital of the year":

[...] Just 50 miles across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki, Tallinn gets a whopping injection of cash and conviviality from the more than half-million Finns who head across every year - frequently on multiple daily "booze cruises" - to exploit Tallinn's significantly cheaper alcohol.

Pockets filled with kroons (about 13 of them equal a dollar), motivated pleasure-seekers can smoke Cuban cigars at La Casa del Habano, watch rugby over a pint at Scotland Yard, sip cocktails in the Scandi-chic interiors of R.I.F.F., boogie at the huge Club Hollywood or elite Club Prive, watch women lose their clothes at the Soho strip club, and then lose their own shirts at Bally's Casino.

But Finns are increasingly quaffing alongside a new crowd: British bachelor-partyers. Take a summer stroll in the Old Town - the city's medieval center - and you're likely to find a host of Mr. Shorter's besotted countrymen weaving over the cobblestones and into myriad pubs and beer cellars. Many are sent by Tallinn Pissup, a three-year-old travel agency whose sole mission is to send bachelor parties to slosh through the various forms of decadence in the Estonian capital. [...]

Somewhat insensitive of the New York Times - or am I just getting old? (Or both.)
Marta wouldn't let go of me yesterday, and I was so tired at some point that I found it much easier to send an sms to a British friend visiting Kyiv than calling him and having to speak in English. And today's New York Times Magazine has a piece on text-messaging - The Pleasures of the Text:


There are also cultural reasons for the spread of text-messaging elsewhere. The Chinese language is particularly well-suited to the telephone keypad, because in Mandarin the names of the numbers are also close to the sounds of certain words; to say "I love you," for example, all you have to do is press 520. (For "drop dead," it's 748.) In China, moreover, many people believe that to leave voice mail is rude, and it's a loss of face to make a call to someone important and have it answered by an underling. Text messages preserve everyone's dignity by eliminating the human voice.

This may be the universal attraction of text-messaging, in fact: it's a kind of avoidance mechanism that preserves the feeling of communication - the immediacy - without, for the most part, the burden of actual intimacy or substance. [...]

By 2 a.m., I was even more tired - especially tired of having only one hand available for typing long passages of text on the computer - and I ended up taking audio notes, something I'd never done before. I have a little lisp, and I speak Russian with a trace of what sounds like Moscow accent. I suffered through a radio class at the University of Iowa back in 1997, so I was aware of the lisp, and of the accent I have in English, but it was still quite a revelation to hear myself like this again, after all these years and in Russian. On the recordings, I'm interrupted by Marta's screams every now and then, and she also sneezes twice at some point, and I tell her 'bud' zdorova, koshechka.'

Saturday, January 21, 2006

It's -25°C (-13°F) in Kyiv now.

At 6 a.m. yesterday, when it was still dark, I thought I felt the cold pressing with all its weight on every inch of our huge windows. It was scary. Like being in outer space.

A dear Malaysian friend whose birthday is on Dec. 6 pointed out a while ago that Marta is a December baby, too - and I still don't know what to make of it, because the notion of December, as of anything else, is so relative.

It's +25°C (+77°F) in Kuala Lumpur now.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I've spent a good part of the day today holding Marta; she was restless and cranky, and boy, did she scream when I was giving her a bath... When she finally fell asleep, my head felt empty, exhausted from hours of blocking out baby screams.

To entertain myself, I went to the site of the Central Election Commission to browse through the lists of parties, blocs and candidates running in the upcoming election (credit should be given to those who maintain the site: it is very orderly).

I knew I'd find something that would crack me up there, but I was surprised it took me less than ten minutes.

In a totally empty-headed manner, I decided to check for any namesakes among our potential MPs. Khokhlov/Khokhlova is a depressingly common Russian last name, so there were four: Khokhlov Anatoliy Mykhailovych from Selyanska partiya (Villagers' Party), Khokhlov Yuriy Mykolayovych from the Communist Party, Khokhlova Alla Vasylivna from Pora/PRP - and ... Khokhlov Andriy Viktorovych from ... Partiya polityky PUTINA - the Party of Putin's Politics!!!

Can there be anything more absurd?

According to the justice ministry (in Ukrainian), this party used to be called the Slavic People's Patriotic Union until November 2005. In the 2006 election, they'll have 192 candidates (Khokhlov is #112) - which is quite a lot.

I won't bother translating their program, mainly because I can't force myself to read it to the end, but here's the gist:


Comparing internal and foreign political situation in Ukraine today with that in the Russian Federation in 1999-2000, we can find a great number of common features typical of the condition of the aforementioned states.

Taking into account the achievements made in the Russian Federation during the presidency of Volodymyr Putin, we consider it logical and correct to use the experience of our northern neighbor to rescue and develop our country, paying attention to the peculiarities unique to us.


One of the weirder products of democracy. Also, a masterpiece of idiocy.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Oh my God, look at these pictures in Ukrainska Pravda... The holiday is called Vodokhreshchennya (water baptism?)...

I hope our reckless president doesn't get pneumonia after this - I don't want another presidential election, in addition to the March 26 one. Yanukovych is way more careful.

And that guy with a hairy back - who is he? "It's like he's wearing a sweater," my mama just said.
This past Friday - Friday the 13th - I went to the employment center on Zhilyanska and Gaidara to have them certify that I'm not getting any unemployment assistance from the state. I don't know that area at all, so I got lost and ended up asking a drunk - a professional drunk, I should add, not some amateur - for directions: at first, I didn't trust him and almost walked away when he told me to follow him, but then I realized he had no evil intentions and was indeed trying to help me. I apologized and wished him a happy new year, and a merry Christmas, and a happy "old" new year, and we parted as friends, almost. "Did you really think I was going to rob you?" he asked me cheerfully at some point along the way.

I had imagined the employment center to be some miserable shack, and I had also expected to see the dirty-faced unemployed crowding in front of it (you know, like those construction workers from Ukraine and Central Asia waiting for potential employers on the side of the road just outside Moscow). That was probably why I turned to a drunk to show me the way. But the employment center turned out to be a modern building, very presentable, and they had very presentable leaflets and brochures inside on how to launch a successful career, and it took them less than five minutes to issue me my piece of paper, and it didn't feel like Ukraine at all there.


Zhilyanska and Gaidara looked rather gloomy, even though a very nice area of Tarasivska and Tolstoho isn't far away. Neither are the Botanical Garden, and the Shevchenko University. That was my first real walk without Marta (Mishah walked with her on his own that day), so I took some pictures the old way, without having Marta's stroller in the foreground on nearly every one of them.

I posted these pictures yesterday night - here - and this morning I read in the news that this whole area - Zhilyanska, Saksahanskoho, Volodymyrska, Tarasivska, Gaidara and Tolstoho - had their central heating turned off around 11 pm, just as I was posting my pictures. Some ancient pipe must've burst there and 26,000 people are reported to have been affected as a result (19,000 residents of 105 residential buildings, two medical and 11 educational institutions, and over 70 office buildings). They are supposed to get their warmth back only now, around 6 pm Thursday. Poor, poor people.

Update: Now they are promising to fix that pipe by 8 pm... (via a Korrespondent.net piece, in Russian)

(This boy was playing football with just his shorts on - and believe me, it wasn't hot on January 13, either.)


That area is very close to where we live, so I'm incredibly happy we bought an electric heater yesterday. With central heating alone, the temperature in the room Marta and I are in never gets higher than 19 degrees Celcius, even when it was still comparatively warm outside.

I just hope they won't be shutting off central heating and electricity simultaneously.
Via b0ris (via Estee) - a Jan. 4 issue of the Ukrainian Communist Party's newspaper - complete with a Christmas greeting, the "Workers of the world, unite!" line, a picture Lenin, a picture and a message of Symonenko, the party's leader, and a picture and a message from an Orthodox Christian patriarch... Unfuckingbelievable.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

For those who read Ukrainian, a wonderful interview with Les' Poderevyansky in Telekritika:


In physics, there's a law that says shit doesn't drown. [...] But it'd be immature of us to say: "We aren't going to vote because both these ones and those ones are full of shit." We have to distinguish between shit of various degrees of nobility - elephant's shit and shit of a hyenna, for example. And we should go and vote for elephant's shit because an elephant is a more noble animal and it doesn't stink as much. In other countries, politicians aren't made of honey, either. And it's nothing unusual for us, because here, the best ones were being washed out for centuries.

According to Gazeta.ru, it's now -30 degrees Celcius in Moscow's southeast - and it's "a little warmer" in the center: -24...-26 degrees!..
Our daughter is a night owl, I'm afraid.

Or is it too early to know?

She wakes up to eat around midnight and then doesn't fall back asleep till 2 or 3 a.m. Tonight's the fourth night she's acting like this. She's not crying, she just lies there with her eyes wide open, looking around, dreamy and sleepy, but not enough to actually sleep and dream.

I'm a night owl myself, and right now it's an advantage: it's relatively painless for me to wake up any time until after 8 a.m., to change and feed Marta. After 8 a.m., however, I'm a zombie, until 10 or 11 a.m.; that's when I have the dreams that are as vivid as movies.

To be a night person in real life isn't nice, though, and I really hoped that Marta would escape my fate. Now it looks like she hasn't.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mishah has just left for Moscow: his paternity leave is over. Apart from being sad about it and missing him already, I'm worried about the weather situation currently developing in the Russian capital.

Here's a Yahoo! Weather forecast in Celcius:

And in Fahrenheit:

Friday, January 13, 2006

Petro at Petro's Jotter has started a collection of photos of campaign billboards. Here's one more for him - Volodymyr Lytvyn'd bloc, the green Santas I wrote about here:

That's on Khreshchatyk, but they're everywhere, variations of the 'happy holidays' theme. Lytvyn actually seems to have started the campaign earlier than others, back in November or perhaps even earlier, with posters featuring people of various professions, from farmers to factory workers, in a somewhat socialist-realism kind of way. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine also had pretty tacky billboards everywhere at that time, something sentimental about Kyiv. And yesterday, during our walk, we saw portraits of Yulia Tymoshenko on the windows of #62 buses - very amusing, the Beauty and the Beast, the beast being the stinky buses packed with the gloomy electorate, dressed in all black because it's winter now. And then there're Yevhen Marchuk's ads, very meaningless and forgettable - forgettable unless something memorable happens, as it did to me: I was passing one of them when Marta's stroller shook like crazy and almost fell through an especially huge crack in the asphalt; I cursed loudly in Russian, making a woman walking nearby turn to look at me. It was like Newton's apple, in a way, this realization: why don't these idiots, all of them, fix the roads, make everything look like that little new maidan in front of the presidential administration, and take credit for it, and then win all those votes they need, win because people would be grateful to them and would consider them trustworthy? Instead, they're wasting all this money and paper on their shitty campaign ads.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A translation of Vasily Grossman's wartime notebooks and articles has just been published, and the New York Times reviews the book - Dispatches From the Hottest of Hot Zones:

Grossman spent the entire war in the hottest of the hot zones. On several occasions he was within a hair's breadth of being encircled by the German advance. Purely as a record of events, "A Writer at War" has value. Grossman's journals, for example, contradict the usual accounts of the fall of Orel in the first week of October 1941, which portray a city taken completely by surprise, with streetcars still running. Grossman, by contrast, describes a scene of mounting panic, with citizens already packing up and leaving, well aware that the enemy is at the gates.


Brief jottings suggest the magnitude of Russian suffering and the ferocity of combat waged against a technologically superior enemy. The seriously wounded, in the early days of rapid retreat, get a piece of herring and 50 grams of vodka to keep them going. During the fiercest fighting in Stalingrad, a tank driver, out of ammunition, jumps out of his tank and begins throwing bricks at the Germans and cursing. "This war in villages is a bandit war," one lieutenant tells Grossman, adding that his men sometimes strangle Germans with their bare hands. Even more shocking is the admission of a peasant soldier who tells Grossman, "As for hardships, life is harder in the village."

Not a word about Grossman's Life and Fate, an unforgettable book.


Shortly before leaving Moscow, I bought a volume of Grossman's short stories and non-fiction, in Russian. One text in it was about the extermination of Berdichev Jews. My grandmother had seen a tiny bit of that unspeakable horror and was delirious for a week afterwards. Maybe one day I'll be able to write about it.


A Writer at War came out in Britain first, and the Guardian had a review by Andrei Kurkov back in November 2005 - Not About Heroes. Kurkov does mention Life and Fate:

The battle of Stalingrad has a central place in the book, just as the battle was pivotal in the history of the war. Grossman's picture of it is quite different from the apocalypse traditionally described by military historians. The stories he tells, either overheard or told directly to him, are all carefully recorded, and sometimes completely untrue. Occasionally he admits as much in his notes, but, none the less, Grossman the writer is fascinated by all of them. If, having read this book, you read Grossman's most famous novel, Life and Fate, you will recognise a great many of the characters and events.


Life and Fate is one of the most honest books about the second world war. As soon as Grossman tried to publish it, KGB officers raided his apartment and confiscated every copy they could find. One copy, which Grossman had given to a friend for safe-keeping, survived, and eventually, after the author's death, a microfilm copy was smuggled out of the USSR.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A 20-year-old nut has burst into the synagogue across the street from where we live in Moscow and stabbed a dozen or so people with a knife. Horrible. (And yet, one of the thoughts that ran through my head as I read about it was: "Damn, the news is breaking right next to our house and I'm not there." But Moscow seems like a different planet now...)

Here's more from the Haaretz:

A man armed with a knife stabbed and wounded 11 people, including three Israelis, in a synagogue in downtown Moscow on Wednesday.


Moscow police arrested a man identified as Alexander Koftzev, suspected of carrying out the attack. He was reported to be in his 20s from Moscow. Moscow authorities said the incident appeared to be anti-Semitic, but that other motives were also being investigated.

An initial investigation reveals that a skinhead wearing a leather jacket told the guards at the entrance to the synagogue that "I will kill people. I will kill Jews," before bursting into the synagogue.


"I saw a man run in. He had a big knife," said one woman who worked in the kitchen at the synagogue and gave only her first name Svetlana. "I saw people lying on the floor, cut by a knife."

She said she had heard the man had attacked people in the kitchen while people were eating, and then went upstairs and began to attack people in offices before he was stopped by the synagogue's rabbi and others.

She said the man had a knife sheath hanging around his neck. [...]

According to Gazeta.ru, eight people have been wounded, among them a U.S. citizen, an Israeli and a Tajik. (The Tajik must've been a construction worker.) I hope all of them recover real soon...

(And all of a sudden I've got a terrible craving for the delicious blinchiki with meat I used to buy at this synagogue... And khinkaly... yes, kosher khinkaly... No, but I don't really miss Moscow, not yet, not when I think that I'll have to fly there with Marta, not when I try, in vain, to think of a place where it'd be nice to go for a walk with her there, on weekdays...)

Sorry, no Russian butt here, just some boring Ukrainian politics!
Marta's sleepless for the second day in a row: she's not really crying, not much, especially compared with Jan. 5, but she's not sleeping either... So I sit and wait...

The parliament vs government situation seems absurd - or do I just need to get some sleep in order to understand it? Here's what we have:

The MPs voted to sack the premier and his cabinet, but they violated the procedure, so their vote might be annulled.

They do have the power to fire the government, but it won't be until after March 2006 election that they acquire the power to form a new government.

Yulia Tymoshenko's Bloc voted in unison with Yanukovych's Regions of Ukraine, the Communists, SDPU(o), United Ukraine and Lytvyn's bloc, but this doesn't mean Ukraine's got a truly united opposition.

Various experts think that the so-called opposition has just scored some points, while the sort of former premier Yekhanurov said that the voters loved losers and that's why Yushchenko's Our Ukraine would benefit.

They don't want to pay $95, but they weren't too proactive when Russia almost imposed a $230 price on us.

Stanislav Belkovsky writes in Ukrainska Pravda (in Russian) that Vladimir Putin is one of those mysterious individuals represented by Raiffeisen in Rosukrenergo; he also writes that Tymoshenko would have made a deal with Itera, a company registered in Delaware, to supply gas to Ukraine for $115-120.

President Yushchenko announced that nothing extraordinary had happened, so he wouldn't interrupt his visit to Kazakhstan, where he's meeting with heads of states such as Hamid Karzai and will attend president Nazarbaev's inauguration later today.

But he is going to ask the Constitutional Court to clarify whether today's vote was constitutional - he's sure it wasn't.

The Constitutional Court's judges haven't been sworn in yet, however: they await the parliament's approval.

Oh, and is it really true that Ukraine is the seventh largest consumer of natural gas in the world? Are we really using this gas for industrial needs - or are we re-selling huge amounts of it?
What a waste of time and resources (via Bloomberg.com):

The vote raises the possibility of a constitutional crisis in Ukraine, the main gateway for Russian gas shipments to Europe, ahead of parliamentary elections in March. Yekhanurov may challenge the vote because it violated normal parliamentary procedures, said the government's spokeswoman, Larisa Ostrolutska.

"The parliament voted to dismiss the government without including the issue on its agenda first," Ostrolutska said via phone from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. "Putting any issue on the agenda before having a final vote on it is required by law."
After nine days of holiday drinking and overeating, Ukrainian parliamentarians have decided to sack Yuri Yekhanurov's government today:

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's parliament voted on Tuesday to sack the government over a controversial gas deal with Russia, plunging the country into a crisis just two months ahead of a parliamentary poll.

A no-confidence motion was backed by 250 deputies in the 450-seat parliament, angry over the deal that will force Ukraine to pay nearly twice as much for its gas imports this year.


"This is an attempt by political opposition in Ukraine to seize political initiative from President Yushchenko's camp ahead of the March election," said CSFB economist Sergei Voloboev.

If $95 is such a horrible price that they fire the government over it, then where were they when Russia was demanding $230? Why were they so quiet? Why didn't their people walk over to Maidan to protest Russia's cruel intentions, to voice their indignation?

Mishah says there's no 'they' - each faction that voted to fire Yekhanurov and his cabinet today pursues its own interests. Fine, only it doesn't change the outome, and only God knows how it can possibly contribute to the well-being of ordinary Ukrainians. This constant bickering, bitching and bullshitting is really tiresome: within the government and Yushchenko's camp in fall, with Russia at the end of 2005, and in parliament now.

Mama said she wouldn't go to the polling station at all in March. I told her I'd vote against them all - just so that they know they're being watched.

Where's Pora/PRP in this, by the way? I was pretty much ready to vote for them, but they seem to have vanished...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The new logo of Yulia Tymoshenko's Bloc resembles a heart - as well as a yes-vote in a ballot box next to her name (her first name, by the way, printed in large type; Yulia's so well-known and so unique in the context of the upcoming election that her last name could've been omitted completely - but that would've made the logo's message even more immature, even more populist).

As if this isn't enough, this heart-shaped check thingy also looks like a chalice, the symbol of femininity that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is based around: I realized this back in early December, when I was still at the hospital, reading the book, and Tymoshenko held a gathering at which the new logo was first presented.

I wonder if the guy who created the logo is aware of this additional symbolic layer.
Khreshchatyk turns into such a circus on weekends.

Yesterday, Santa Clauses dressed in green were rollerskating around with green flags, advertising Volodymyr Lytvyn's party. At some point, a whole orchestra of them marched along, playing something boisterous - but I've been scared of Santa Clauses ever since I saw Derek Jarman's The Garden back in 1994.

Today, the Communists have set up a campaign tent at the spot where Yanukovych guys had theirs a few weeks ago. They are playing all those songs about Lenin, the Party and the Komsomol, and about "my Motherland the Soviet Union." Mishah regrets our windows aren't close enough to the spot they're at - he would've emptied a garbage can full of Marta's dirty diapers on them. "Screw them," I reply and put on Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, loud enough not to hear the Communists and quiet enough not to wake Marta up.

Update: Mishah sits by the window and hears more of the Commie songs than of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He recognizes them all and at some point says he remembers them all from childhood, how horrible. I don't, not at all - one of the advantages of being scatterbrained.
Karen Alkalai-Gut's poem on the time after her father had a stroke - and, in a way, on what may await Sharon:

January 6, 2006

My cousin told me she didn't sleep all night worrying about Sharon, and I must admit I too am oddly disturbed. With all my suspicion of him and ambivalence, he signifies some sort of stability, and his bold actions of the last year - because incomplete - arouse a sense of hunger for a sense of wholeness.

But the state that he will be in, even if he survives, will not allow for it, and the humiliation of that should be saved him.


My father fell in Babel
from the tower
and now every hour
tries a different way to let me know
something. What is it? I ask.
Do you want Mother?
Money? Does it start with m?
Ah you want the bathroom!

mmmmm and a nod. "Don't put words in his mouth!" My mother groans.
"He doesn't know what he wants," The aide
assures me. And then a smell
rises that proves he does.

In the nursing home
I kiss his quivering cheeks, lock
with those clear eyes so much like mine,
and leave him
alone, crumpled by the tower

in exile

Everyone I speak to is traumatized, whether they listen to the news or not. Today at the cafe, Nona, no one mentioned it, yet everyone was short, edgy. The vet - who always jokes with me - was silent after he told us that he was taking the news of Sharon hard, and when i told him of my father he asked about his fate as if he knew nothing of medicine. People are scared and hungry for even the most irrelevant details as if their own father were in danger. The regular channels are broadcasting the same news over and over.

What the media should be doing now is getting people used to the possibility that Sharon will not be PM again and that it won't kill us. We have any number of people who could fill his shoes - If I like others complain all the time that we don't have leaders, its also because people are not given the opportunity to lead. The only people I'm scared of are the ones who have led and failed, like Bibi.


My own father's still at the hospital. One thing I caught him saying when he was at home for the New Year's was something like cherez dve medvedi instead of cherez dve nedeli ('in two bears' instead of 'in two weeks')... Heartbreaking.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

I don't remember if Marta was already screaming or not yet when I ran into this story Thursday night; it made me laugh, but because of Marta I failed to mention it here (via Blogrel):

Armenian Culture Minister Quits After Reported Assault

Armenia’s controversial Culture Minister Hovik Hoveyan was forced to step down late Thursday over reports that he attacked and pistol-whipped electricity workers after a brief cut-off in power supplies to his apartment.


According to the Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA), Hoveyan, his son and several other men visited an a power distribution station in Yerevan on Wednesday to express their fury with the disruption which the national power utility says occurred on New Year’s Eve and lasted for about 20 minutes.

“They used force against our workers,” ENA spokeswoman Margarit Grigorian told RFE/RL. “Two of them were hit by pistol butts and taken to hospital with injuries. Their condition is satisfactory now.”

I also love the comments on Blogrel. This one:

Hoveyan’s predecessor was consdired an idiot until she resigned, but nobody suspected that Hoveyan could make even better copy. [...]

On the other hand, anyone who has tried to talk to the electricity or gas people on the phone only to have them lie or be rude to you, assuming they actually pick up the phone, will privately be applauding his actions.

And this:

As always in Armenia, it’s all about the culture.

Reminds me of St. Petersburg - all's about culture there, too.
I turned 32 yesterday, and it was also five weeks since I had Marta, and a few dear friends stopped by, and it was really fun, and both Marta and I got some really nice presents, and Marta loved all the attention directed at her, she lay there looking at everyone, really interested and more or less capable of focusing already, and she didn't cry once, and I was so happy I even posted a note about it here.

But at 11:30 pm, Marta began to cry, and she wouldn't stop until 2:30 am. It was so terrible I went back to this blog and erased that entry, out of superstition caused by hopelessness, I guess. At some point, I thought it was a punishment for my windbagging (see Abdymok), for wasting so much time thinking about the silly gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine. We tried everything to calm Marta - I won't recount it here because most of it is in Russian in my head; everything worked, but only for 5-10 minutes. By the time my mama managed to lull her off somehow, Mishah and I were delirious. Now we know what they meant when they were warning us about sleepless nights. A torture.


We went for our second walk with her today - the first one was on Jan. 1; thirty minutes now, fifteen minutes then; both days really sunny and beautiful, but much colder today and Khreshchatyk open for traffic, so we took a different route.

I've posted pictures from both walks on my photo page - though it's a weird genre, these pictures: almost nothing of Marta, a little of the stuff that surrounds us, people, buildings, etc., and nearly every picture has either me, or Mishah - with a stroller, silly and happy! Marta was asleep through both walks and is probably unaware of having been out of this room.


On Jan. 4, we were at the children's clinic for the first monthly check-up; photos from that day are also posted now, here. The clinic is poor, but they are making quite an effort to make it look nice, and it's very touching. And it was real fun to take pictures - I wish I had more time. Doctors and nurses are also nice. Not that it makes me want to take Marta there often, or at all...

Friday, January 06, 2006

So how come no one in Russia is going crazy now and screaming to the whole world that Bulgaria is a liar, a traitor and a thief, now that this brotherly Slavic nation has decided to tell Gazprom to go to hell, instead of agreeing to pay more for its gas?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

This paraphrase of Oleksandr Turchynov in Korrespondent.net is what got me confused about Raiffeisen Investment AG, a company that operates Rosukrenergo jointly with Gazprom.

Yesterday, I wrote that, allegedly, it had nothing to do with Raiffeisen Bank - because I was too busy to question what I read in two Korrespondent.com pieces (June 17 and Sept. 15, in Russian):

According to Turchynov, Raiffeisen Investment AG has nothing to do with Raiffeisenbank and acts on behalf of some individual or company.

In fact, Raiffeisen Investment AG is part of Raiffeisen Banking Group; their statement regarding yesterday's agreement is here. Turchynov must've meant the bank's Ukrainian or Kyiv branch when he made his comment.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia and Ukraine struck a five-year gas supply deal on Wednesday after a bruising pricing dispute in which Moscow curtailed deliveries, hitting supplies to European consumers.

Alexei Miller, chief executive of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, told a news conference the deal was effective from January 1 and would be based on a price of $230 per 1,000 cubic metres.

"We have reached a final agreement. It is successful for Gazprom and we are satisfied," Miller told reporters after talks with Oleksiy Ivchenko, head of Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz.

"This agreement will ensure stable supplies to Europe."

But Ivchenko said Ukraine would be buying gas at the Russian border at $95 per 1,000 cubic metres.

"We have reached an initially acceptable agreement which gives us the possibility to meet the gas needs of Ukraine and the transit of Russian gas to Europe," Ivchenko said at the news conference.

A Gazprom source said the $230 price would apply only to exports of Russian gas to Ukraine, up from $50 now. Under a complex deal, Ukraine would be able to buy gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, piped via Russia, at a cheaper price of $95 per 1,000 cubic metres.

On the surface, it's all clear and nice: they've reached an agreement, and we aren't paying what Gazprom initially wanted us to pay. Europe can relax, too.

But, as noted above, it's a complex deal. The Reuters piece doesn't mention Rosukrenergo as part of the scheme, an intermediary company that will be buying Russian gas from Gazprom for $230 and then selling both Russian and Turkmen gas to Naftogas for $95. A Gazprom affiliate and Austria’s Raiffeisen Investment AG own 50/50 stakes in Rosukrenergo, which, in a way, means that Gazprom will be buying gas from itself. Rosukrenergo is registered in Switzedrland, and Raiffeisen Investment AG has, allegedly, nothing to do with Raiffeisen Bank. Oleksandr Turchynov, former head of SBU and Yulia Tymoshenko's man, launched an investigation into Rosukrenergo in summer 2005, but was not allowed to finish it. More about it in a Kyiv Post piece here, at Kiev Ukraine News Blog.

All parties involved in the scheme will no doubt profit from it, but I have no more time now to try to figure anything out because we have to take Marta for her first monthly appointment with the doctor!

Update: Here's a quote from a Gazprom representative (via Ukrainska Pravda, in Ukrainian):

Rosukrenergo is buying not only Russian gas for $230, but Central Asian gas as well. Central Asian gas is cheaper and there's more of it. By mixing it with Russian gas, it becomes possible for Rosukrenergo to supply gas for Ukraine for $95.
Via Leopolis, this graph:

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I really enjoyed Savik Shuster's show this past Friday, but couldn't find enough time to write about it (and about the gas dispute). Amazing how a TV program - just like a person - can emigrate and become successful (or not) in a new country: it used to be interesting to watch Shuster's Svoboda Slova ('Freedom of Speech') on the Russian NTV channel, but then they chased the show off the air, and it moved to Ukraine, and now it's very interesting to watch its reincarnation here and realize, among other things, just how different Ukraine and Russia are. (My other entry about Svoboda Slova is here.)

Anyway, while Yushchenko's boring conversation (pre-recorded, I guess) with three Ukrainian journalists from three leading TV channels was being broadcast on those channels Friday evening, Shuster had Andrei Illarionov speaking live from Moscow. Illarionov had resigned as Putin's economic adviser just a few days before, the immediate reason for his resignation being the Russian-Ukrainian gas scandal. Somehow, what he had to say seemed way more urgent and significant than Yushchenko's message. In particular, Illarionov compared the current hysteria in Russia and in the Russian media to a similar hysteria in Germany, in 1938, over Sudetenland: "Then [as Ukraine now], they were seriously considering this issue in Czechoslovakia: how should we respond to such demands? We know what was done then, and we know the consequences."

(I'd really like to translate more, a lot more, because it's worth it, but I have neither time, nor energy right now... The complete transcript of the Friday's Svoboda Slova is here (in Russian and Ukrainian).)

Another highlight was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, also live from Moscow. This man may seem like he's just a crazy schmuck, but more often than not the bullshit he's spitting out is actually the bullshit that's in many people's heads. So first he announced that by 2010, Ukraine and all the rest would be paying up to $1,000 for 1,000 cubic meters of the Russian gas (and as much for the Turkmen gas, because "Turkmenistan used to part of the Russian Empire, not Ukrainian"). He then promised to teach us all the Russian language, and history ("There's never been a Ukrainian state in European history. Today's name of your state is a ruin, 'the outskirts of the Russian Empire.' If you don't like it within the Russian Empire, you're free to move elsewhere.").

The audience at this show consisted exclusively of Ukrainian college students studying in Kyiv, and they were laughing out loud every other minute. Vladyslav Kaskiv, of Pora, noted that despite the seriousness of the problem being discussed, the atmosphere in the studio was very cheerful: "I think this is the best illustration of what the real issues are and what's fiction in this hysterical dispute. I have to say I'm very proud that in this country the existence of politicians like this [like Zhirinovsky] is virtually impossible. And those who resemble them - certain witches [Natalya Vitrenko, most likely] - they do not have any real political status in Ukraine."

A hilarious illustration of Kaskiv's point - that no politician in Ukraine, no matter how idiotic, could compete with Zhirinovsky - came when Mykola Azarov, a man generally considered an asshole by many, formerly head of the tax administration, vice premier in the Yanukovych government and acting prime minister during the Orange Revolution, decided to respond to Zhirinovsky:

Vladimir Wolfovich, it is hard to imagine anything more harmful to the Ukrainian-Russian relations than your words. I used to be a parliamentarian, too, and am currently taking part in the parliamentary campaign, and I would like to ask you, deputy speaker of the State Duma, to cut down on your absolutely hostile, anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. It offends me as a Russian person, Vladimir Wolfovich. So please let's be tactful, simply tactful.

Azarov graduated from the Moscow State University and worked in Russia for quite a while; his Ukrainian is notoriously awful. Last year, someone decided to bring him to Maidan to stand next to Yushchenko and other victors during the New Year's celebration - and the crowd booed him, rightly so. This past Friday, the students in the audience - many of whom were, no doubt, at Maidan or even in the tents in 2004 - applauded Azarov after he brushed Zhirinovsky off. An important development in Ukrainian politics - "My razom, nas bahato, i nas ne podolaty," almost.

There were two Ukraines for Russia last year, a good one (pro-Yanukovych) and a bad one (pro-Yushchenko). This year, there's only one, and it's all bad, and deserves to be punished, as a whole. Do they expect those who voted for Yanukovych to get really mad at those who voted for Yushchenko - for aren't we the ones who've made Russia furious - and blind in its fury to distinguish between the bad and the good ones anymore, punishing us all with those gas prices? But Azarov's unlikely retort to Zhirinovsky shows that if they push too far, the good ones - pro-Yanukovych, or Russian, or Russian-speaking, or East Ukrainian, whatever - take the bad ones' side, and then they all begin to look the same: Ukrainians.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Ukraine's back in the news:

The New York Times Magazine sets off into the new year with a profile of Yulia Tymoshenko - Bitter Orange, by Andrey Slivka. (I haven't read it yet.)

And there's also the fight over gas prices with Russia, being covered all over the place by now.