Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The spam I've been getting for the past two months or so is really funny:

From: "Rewards Department" MyPreference@MyPreference.net
Subject: Get Diaper Costs covered for 1 Year ($1800 Value)

How do they know? Are they reading my blog?
Marta's had a blood test today: it went very smoothly, despite my mama's great fears.

The nurse came to our apartment at 8:30 a.m.; I had to hold Marta's arm and I didn't do it right because I wasn't completely awake yet; Marta cried just a little, and it was nothing compared to the way she almost always cries right before eating; two minutes later, she was smiling again at that favorite toy of hers, the yellow duck in a silly hat, who plays you a sad tune if you ask him to.

I'm glad Marta isn't old enough to make use of my mama's emotions and end up dramatizing such a harmless procedure.


The really tough part of it was getting some urine from Marta. They told me to put a little bit of cotton into her diaper and then squeeze it out into the container; no more than 20 mg is needed, the said. Well, that sounds easy, but it's not.

We had our first massage yesterday, and Marta peed it all out then, on the table. After the massage, she slept really well, which wasn't very helpful, either. Cotton is a very good absorbent - too good, I should say, for there was nothing to squeeze out really for the five or six times I checked throughout the evening and at night. At 6 a.m., I happened to have the container in my hands the moment Marta decided to pee, so I did catch a little, and - that was it. We fell asleep till 8:30 a.m. and I dreamed of a sufficient amount of Marta's urine, a very happy dream, but then, when the nurse arrived, I was quite disappointed that it had just been a dream. The nurse said the amount I'd collected was okay - not enough for just one part of the urine test. Right after she left, Marta peed happily on the changing table the moment I took off her diaper.

(Oh, and we don't have the 'changing table' - we change Marta on top of the washing machine. And the word 'container' isn't the best choice, either: a rather tall glass can, which used to have strawberry jam in it, with the label still on, is all we had, and I just sterilized it before using it. The nurse wasn't surprised, of course.)


The nicest part of it was that we didn't have to carry Marta to the shitty clinic on Ploshcha Tolstoho for the blood test - there's now a paid option, not related to the state clinic: a friendly, neat nurse comes over with all that's needed for the procedure. The test results will be delivered after 5 p.m. today. It costs 60 hryvnias (approximately $12). If I decided to wait till tomorrow evening, I would've saved 10 hryvnias ($2), but we have our monthly checkup tomorrow, so I was in a hurry.

(The massager is also a very sweet young woman - whose daughter is 9 years old, though - from the Orthopaedy Institute. She charges 50 hryvnias ($10) for a session that lasts about half an hour. Marta didn't love all of it, but was pleased overall.)


We need these tests to determine whether Marta can have her vaccinations. At least, this is what I assume they are for. My mama is terribly worried about the vaccinations, too, having read a few scary articles in the local papers. It's time for the DTaP shot (AKDS in Russian), and I hope it'll go well for all of us, including my mama.

Any advice and encouraging stories are very welcome.


As I was writing this, I was feeding Marta at the same time and listening to NPR.

Two pieces about mothers: an interview with a linguist who's written a book on "mother-daughter speak," and a very moving essay by Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center - There Is No Job More Important Than Parenting.

Monday, February 27, 2006

I've posted 47 photos Yulia Tymoshenko's day on Khreshchatyk today/yesterday.

I'll try to add a few more things to this post tomorrow.


I went out for a walk with Marta and was quite shocked to see the scale of Tymoshenko's campaign event - Khreshchatyk was completely hers.

I started taking pictures, and five minutes later a man came up to me and told me to move over to the sidewalk as there'd be cars driving here. As I stepped away, Tymoshenko arrived in a black Mercedes, accompanied by two jeeps. Miraculously - and very conveniently - my mother-in-law and her friend ran into me, so I passed Marta in the stroller to them and spent some time walking around on my own, taking pictures. Ran into the man I met during the 2004 Maidan - he was one of the guys blockading the presidential administration. It was very strange to see him, strange that he recognized me and even stranger that I recognized him. I ended up forgetting to take a picture of Marta in the stroller and all this craziness in the background...


One month before the election, Tymoshenko's focus is on spring and the feminine: "Spring Will Win" is the current slogan; during her brief address, she spoke of March 8 (International Women's Day). Also, Lent was mentioned, and Maslyanitsa, and free pancakes were being made by girls wearing Tymoshenko's scarves, and there was a line to get them. And people basically fought each other to get all those hats, scarves and ribbons with Tymoshenko's logo for free.

And Tymoshenko was presented with an incredibly beautiful shawl - if they were giving those away, instead of some silly campaign stuff, I'd probably even vote for Yulia!..

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Today's 11 years since Mishah and I met!!!

I somehow wandered off to FC Terek Grozny fan site again yesterday, to their Photo of Grozny On Request page.

A year ago, there were just a few requests and only a handful of photos. Now, there are eight pages of communication and nearly a hundred photos. Soon, hopefully, Photo of Grozny on Request will have a site of its own. For now, to see the pictures (those of you who don't read Russian), just scroll down the pages and look for the links, then open .zip files.

The photographs are shocking. The way Grozny looks is horrible. That there are people living like this is unbelievable. Nothing - absolutely nothing - justifies what's been done to this city and its people. And what continues to be done.

The guys who are taking these pictures - God bless them - aren't just helping some people relieve their homesickness. (What relief am I talking about? The pictures are nothing but heartbreaking.) They are also doing the media's job - the job that the media stopped doing a long time ago.


There's a thread with jokes there - the Chechen humor:

- Abdurahman, where's your son?
- He's gone to Moscow.
- You've let him go alone?
- Yes.
- Aren't you afraid?
- Why should I be afraid? I've heard that every Moscow's cop is looking after him - day and night, they aren't taking their eyes off him.


A Chechen terrorist has seized a bus full of Chechen terrorists.

[Chechenskiy terrorist zahvatil avtobus s chechenskimi terroristami.]


From the Terek Grozny site, I moved to a Russian-language forum of those who used to live in Grozny - and then I somehow ended up at a Russian-language site of the Mountain Jews living in Israel. Very, very interesting.

Here's more, in English.

And still more.


This is a little bit off-topic - but there are amazing pictures of Sarajevo on this photoblog - thank you, thank you, thank you, Seesaw! After I showed your photos to Mishah, he said he felt as if he had just visited the city.

(After Grozny photos, the beauty in Sarajevo pictures begins to obscure some of the sadness.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Saw this car on Khreshchatyk yesterday. The orange creature is a reproduction of a wonderful Ukrainian artist, Maria Pryimachenko (1908-1997). More on her - here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Too busy, too tired to write here...


Mariinsky Park yesterday:

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Via Global Voices Online, I've found out that Feb. 21 was UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day.

Good news is that UNESCO's Red Book of Endangered Languages lists Ukrainian as one of the "not endangered languages."

Bad news is that Crimean Tatar, one of the languages spoken in Ukraine, is considered a "seriously endangered" language.
I've posted 17 pictures from our Feb. 17 visit to the Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedy.

The institute is a horrible place.

Although the doctors we dealt with were very nice and, I guess, trustworthy, the rumor is the Institute's staff diagnose healthy babies with dysplasia and prescribe things like Pavlik Harness just to earn some money (commission from the harness producers). This, perhaps, explains why every second child in this city seems to have hip dysplasia.

The area where they have an ultrasound machine is being renovated, so it doesn't smell nice. The actual room is tiny, and a boy of about 18 had to take off his pants and lie on the bench to be examined, while mama, Marta and I - and a few other people - were still in the room. Very embarrassing and definitely not too safe for an infant, especially in winter, during the flu season. As we were leaving, an elderly man on a huge bed on wheels was waiting right in the hallway, surrounded by his relatives, for his turn to have an ultrasound exam.

While we were in the vestibule, two swollen, alcoholic-looking bums strolled by - I've no idea what they were doing in there and why no one prevented them from entering.

The vestibule is so cold that the women working there - buffet and wardrobe - were dressed as if they were outdoors.

A man dressed as a surgeon - in blue outfit - was buying a snack from this very buffet.

Oh, and a little room on the second floor in which, I guess, nurses change and have their lunch... Our doctor took us there after the ultrasound, to give us further recommendations - two women were clearing the table - salo and boiled eggs with mayo on separate plates. At some point, the doctor almost got sick because he could barely stand the smell of krovyanka, sausage made of blood, being fried on an electric stove next door. I had to dress Marta on the same table they had just had their lunch on. (Don't have any pictures from there - I was a bit dumbfounded by the look of it all.)

I hope we won't have to go to that place again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

To break the silence, here're a few pictures from our Sunday walk:

Monday, February 20, 2006

Marta is okay, thank God. We need to do exercises with her, as well as the massage, and she'll be totally fine soon. No hip dysplasia (this is what we feared - or were told to fear). Why is it that every second child here seems to have dysplasia, while if you google it in English, it seems like a canine condition, not human?


And here's another "disappeared" post from yesterday...


When I order a cab to take Marta to the clinic, I ask them to send me a non-smoking car. Today, the driver had this note on his glove compartment:

It says that you'll be charged 5 hryvnias ($1) extra for smoking in this car, and that this money will be spent on getting rid of the smell. Signed: the car's administration.

It's not as good in the translation, though: there is something so Odessa about it, something so in your face and yet so subtle.

I asked the driver if people did pay the smoking charge, and he replied, "Oh, yes!" and added that it was wrong to poison non-smoking drivers. A rare attitude here.
Here's what I kept trying to post yesterday - five times with no luck. Anyway, I still feel very good about winning - thank you all!


Ah, it feels so good to win! Thank you all who voted for me, thank you so much!!!

My mama, however, is very disappointed that I won't be getting a real satin pajama in the mail anytime soon. Reminds me of Alice: "What is the use of a book... without pictures or conversations?"

And Sasha, he asked me this in an email: "BTW, is the pajamas a teddy-bear size or a
breast-feeding mama size?"

But still, it feels wonderful to win.

Ogromnoye spasibo! Duje dyakuyu!


A later addition to this post: the list of winners in all categories at A Fistful of Euros:

Here are the winners of the 2nd Annual European Weblog Awards, also known as the Satin Pajamas:

Most Underappreciated Weblog: Metamorphism by Mig
Best Central European Weblog: All About Latvia by Aleks
Best Expat Weblog: Petite Anglaise by Petite
Best Personal Weblog: Petite Anglaise by Petite
Best French Weblog: Journal d’un avocat by Eolas
Best German Weblog: Atlantic Review by various
Best UK Weblog: A Welsh View by Robert Gale
Best CIS Blog: Neeka’s Backlog by Veronica Khokhlova
Best Southeastern European Blog: Argumente by Dragos Novac
Best Culture Weblog: Amateur d’art by Lunettes Rouges
Best Writing: Bric a blog by the widow Tarquine
Best New Weblog: La Poulette by Poulette
Best Humor Weblog: My Boyfriend Is A Twat by Zoe
Best Non-European Weblog: 3 Quarks Daily by various
Best Expert or Scholar Weblog: Early Modern Notes by Sharon Howard
Best Political Weblog: European Tribune by various
Life Time Achievement Award: Neil Gaiman

and finally (drumroll) …

Best Weblog: Neil Gaiman’s Journal by Neil Gaiman

Sunday, February 19, 2006

This is a test posting, but it should work now. I hope it does. Blogger's explanation of yesterday's problem is here.


Feb. 18

This is what I wrote in the morning - it disappeared then and it's likely to disappear again, but this is the only way to find out whether Blogger has fixed the problem...

I've no idea what's wrong with Blogger. I posted two entries between midnight and 1 am, and they disappeared; I found them through RSS, reposted them - and they vanished again; comments do get sent to my email address, but they don't show on the page.

Now, the craziest part of it is this: to post this entry, I'll have to do the Word Verification routine. Here's why:

Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. (What's a spam blog?) Since you're an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog. Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and we sincerely apologize for this false positive.

Before we can turn off mandatory word verification on your posts we'll need to have a human review your blog and verify that it is not a spam blog. Please fill out the form below to get a review.

Okay, so I've found the explanation for the disappearing posts and comments problem - it's here, in a thread on Blogger Support Group. Not an explanation, really, but at least I know that I'm not the only person this is happening to.

As for my blog being a spam blog - maybe someone has used a "flagging" option in the upper right corner of the blog and notified Blogger "about objectionable content"? Accidentally. Or deliberately. I'll have to find out.

I'll try to repost my two earlier, disappeared, posts later. Hope it'll work.

And no, it didn't work for those two posts from a night ago...


I'm still on their spam blog watch list, though. Funny, huh?

Friday, February 17, 2006


Feb. 18, 10:40 pm

I wonder if this is gonna work, if I update this post instead of creating a new one... Blogger is acting like crazy, keeps killing posts and comments, since yesterday night. Basically, this is something of an S.O.S. message... I feel like I've locked myself out of the house... been trying all day to get back in...


I was really sleep-deprived yesterday, so all I could force myself to do online was listen to NPR and do some roundups for Global Voices Online.


On NPR, I've finally managed to listen to the stories by one of my dearest friends, Sasha Kleimenov. Since there was always something wrong with my internet connection, I could never listen to them, and in a way it was like being friends with a writer whose work you've never bothered to read. The NPR archive isn't all he's got: there's more stuff by Sasha on Marketplace, The World and CBC Radio (some misspell his name, though, and it may be difficult to locate his stuff, he told me; and I guess I'm only making it worse by not calling him Alex, as he prefers to be called in English - I'm sorry, Sasha!).

Anyway, Sasha's 2003 NPR piece from Vladivostok - about a local cross-dresser/naval officer - is a real gem. I can't believe it took me three years to listen to it (and I can't believe it's been three years already...)!


My GVO roundups are, as always, here.

I've never been too interested in our neighbors' politics, but I'm pretty hooked by now.

Turns out ours isn't the only upcoming election in this part of the world. Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are having theirs as well soon, and some of the stories from those countries are really amusing:

- Two entries at Deleted by Tommorow: on how the party that was most eager to have an early election now most likely regrets it; and on how the Czech and Slovak Social Democrats have joined forces, despite the fact that it's been more than a decade since Czechoslovakia split into two.

- And the Retardo Politics series at the Hungarian Pestiside.hu: posts on one party's "miner problem" and another's "minor problem" are wonderful.


We're taking Marta to an orthopaedic clinic today, for an ultrasound exam - wish us good luck, pray for us, think positive thoughts our way, whatever works best for you... thanks!


And please vote some more to help me get that pajama! (Again, a huge thanks to all who've already voted for me!)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I'm only three votes ahead of Nathan Hamm now, and the polls are closing down tomorrow.

I need your help, people: this homebound mama-blogger wouldn't mind getting herself a nice pajama!

A huge thanks to all who've already voted for me - and those who haven't yet, please do! (I'm in the Best CIS Blog nomination.)

(Writing this was tough, you know. Maybe it'll teach me to have some sympathy for the politicians. I'm so happy I'm not one myself, though.)
Oleksandr at Messages From Canada has a post about ProFFessor Yanukovych talking poetry in Odesa.

It's hilarious. Totally hilarious.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hmm. Turns out the Soviet penal code had an article for offending the religious feelings of believers and worshippers, and for desecration of religious objects. It was there since 1961 and foresaw a sentence of up to three years. That in a country where most churches served as vegetable warehouses and gyms. One church in Kyiv's historical center, for example, had a tennis court in it in the 1970s (the cute wooden one near St. Michael's Cathedral; actually, it served as a canteen for the monks at first, then was turned into a gym with a tennis court, and now it's a church). So yes, that law was pretty useless, or else most of the party schmucks would've been jailed, too.

In Moscow, there's a mosque right next to that huge sports arena, Sport Complex Olympiysky - it's the main mosque, I guess. It's a little bit out of place there - or the sports arena is - and one Tatar cab driver told me a story of how they almost demolished the mosque on the eve of the 1980 Olympics, when it was probably the only mosque in Moscow: it would've happened if it hadn't been for the the Muslim states' leaders - they threatened to boycott the Olympics, and the threat worked.

The Tatar guy told me this story on Oct. 26, 2005: I was by the Dubrovka theater for the third anniversary, the weather was awful, my pants were sliding down my belly, I had just left some flowers there and was very sad, and when the cab stopped and I opened the door, the very first thing I noticed was that flat, round, green-and-gold souvenir thing hanging from the mirror, with the word 'Allah' written in Arabic and some of the Quranic calligraphy around it. I thought it was pretty strange to run into a Muslim driver there and then. Like, really weird. We didn't talk about the siege, though. It was the month of Ramadan, and the guy told me he was fasting and had managed to finally quit smoking. He said it was hard to follow all the rules - for example, he didn't want to get married yet but loved women. There was something really interesting about his native town near Nizhniy Novgorod - the number of mosques there, I guess, a great number of new mosques for a really small place - but I don't remember what it was now... Oh, and it was funny how the guy wanted to know what my religion was: "But what do you have in your passport?" he asked. Just think of it: there are people out there who think that your religion is mentioned in your passport.

Why am I writing this? Because Gazeta.ru (in Russian) mentioned that useless penal code article: some Russian legislators want to reintroduce it now.
I forgot to mention this in the previous entry: one thing that beats NPR is the audio version of Gerard Jones' book, Ginny Good.

Marta and I have been listening to it for a few weeks now (we've got it on disc), and I guess Marta will experience deja vu when she grows up and meets Gerard in person, hears his voice.

Thank you, Gerard!

P.S. For those who don't know, Ginny Good isn't a kids' book, far from it. But it'd be really silly to worry about Marta listening to it now. I'd rather not hear or read anything about our politicians or about that crazy fuck Ahmadinejad - because that stuff makes me really mad every once in a while and I'm sure Marta can feel it.

And Gerard's book - it's awesome.
Since Saturday, we've got adsl connection here - which seems to be faster than what we have in Moscow.

Among the many wonderful things I can do now is listen to NPR - really cool, especially when I'm carrying Marta around the room to help her fall asleep or when I have my right hand occupied by her. Besides being interesting and informative, NPR reminds me of the time when I had a car, in Iowa City. Too bad a car isn't part of this adsl/NPR deal... Ah well.

Marta is now exposed to good English - as well as some Bosnian/Serbian (I listened to the BBC in Serbian and VoA in Bosnian yesterday) and Turkish (BBC and VoA)!


Sasha, Julinka and the rest of you radio people - do send me links to the stuff you think I'll enjoy! (Somehow, I haven't able to listen to The World, but maybe I just didn't try hard enough.)


I liked this show today: Cut and Paste Plagiarism on Talk of the Nation.

When I was a student, plagiarism was never encouraged here, either - but this doesn't mean originality was a requirement for many classes. Most of the time, we were told to repeat what the textbooks said, as close to the original as possible, all that Communist bullshit, and that wasn't considered cheating. I'm not sure what it's like now, though I do hope a lot has changed in the past decade.

As for the way it's done in the States, the most amazing thing is that someone's found a way to make what must be good money preventing and detecting plagiarism - TurnItIn.com.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blogger says this is my 999th post here. Amazing.


A Fistful of Euros are holding their second Satin Pajama European Weblog Awards vote. Go vote for me, please - Neeka's Backlog has been nominated for the Best CIS Blog. Or just go there and look around - it's a good way to run into some very worthy blogs.

Marta, nearly 2 1/2 months old... She's smiling and laughing a lot now, and can spend longer periods of time in her crib, looking around and not crying!

Kyiv can be really ugly, too, especially this time of the year. And all the ugliness serves as a background for ads, political and regular.

This is Lvivska Ploshcha:

You can buy ad space on this ruin - hopefully, someone does soon and covers the ugly thing...

Marchuk's Bloc; Lytvyn's Bloc; "Oppostional Bloc 'Ne Tak!'" (NATO - no, Common Economic Space with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan - yes, Russian Language - yes). Also, non-political: Fishing and Hunting Exhibition...

Yulia's got herself a nicer spot...

Had to go outside without Marta yesterday, made a few shots...

Monday, February 13, 2006

It was bound to happen, sooner or later, somewhere: to revenge for the publication of the Danish cartoons, an Azeri paper, Yeni Haber, has published a cartoon depicting Jesus and Virgin Mary. According to Gazeta.ru, the latter was called a "fallen woman."

Iranian embassy in Azerbaijan has condemned the publication.


More on the Azeri cartoon here.

More on Isa ibn Maryam (aka Jesus Christ) here.
Keep forgetting to mention it here: I'm doing little summaries of what bloggers from our part of the world are saying - for Global Voices Online. Any tips are very welcome; please send them here: neeka.smetana [at] gmail [dot] com.

Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?

My Global Voices stuff is here.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Here's from today's New York Times, a piece on the Danish prime minister:

Mr. Rasmussen argued that the cartoon crisis had been hijacked by Middle Eastern interests using the caricatures for domestic ends.

He said Iran, isolated over its nuclear program, was using the cartoons to generate support in the Muslim world, while Syria, under investigation for the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, was trying to cause a distraction. The Palestinian Authority, divided over the recent election of Hamas, was exploiting the cartoon crisis to unite its disparate elements, he said.

It's interesting.

In Russia, the cartoon scandal seems to have allowed Ramzan Kadyrov to take the current backlash against NGOs to the local level.

In Ukraine, Mustafa Jemilev, the Crimean Tatar leader and candidate from Our Ukraine Bloc, said that the owners of the Ukrainian paper that had printed the cartoons had ties with Victor Yanukovych's "Party of the Regions" and intended to destabilize the situation in Ukraine (according to Korrespondent.net, in Russian).


I'm linking to the Korrespondent.net piece I've mentioned above here because, ironically, it contains one of the cartoons.

Newspaper Segodnya reproduced two cartoons. Also, there's a piece on the protests; a tiny item about a Ukrainian cartoonist who did draw Buddha and Jesus; another tiny item on the reaction of Olga Rustamova, deputy head of a Ukrainian Muslim women's organization "Maryam" (who seemed to be speaking for all Ukrainian Muslims, somehow); and quotes from the press secretary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchy (yes, not Moscow Patriarchy, which would've been logical given Mustafa Jemilev's statement about the paper's owners' political affiliation), the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, and the head of a Ukrainian Buddhist order.

Olga Rustamova said that even though Ukrainian Muslims feel safe and are respected in Ukraine, they ("we" in the text, must be Rustamova's organization) have sent a letter to the EU, demanding an apology from the Danish government.

The Orthodox priest, among other things, said that "it's sad when religious symbols that the believers consider sacred, become subject for ridicule."

The rabbi said that every religion should be treated with tolerance, but "when Palestinian terrorists carried out a pogrom of the Prophet Joseph's tomb in Shechem, burning Torah scrolls, no one was burning down Palestinian missions afterwards."

The Buddhist representative called the protests "overly hysterical." He also said that "there are plenty of Buddha cartoons in the Buddhist countries. No matter what people think of them, there's freedom of speech. When the Talibs were destroying Buddha statues in Afghanistan, no one was persecuting Afghans or Muslims all over the world."


Mustafa Jemilev said this (in Ukrainian): "It's more an issue of journalists' ethics and tactfulness. That's why I think that the reaction in certain countries was inadequate: the cartoons are unpleasant and mean, but it was counterproductive to respond with pogroms."

Friday, February 10, 2006

In Kyiv, over 1,500 people invested into what they thought would be new apartments in the new apartment buildings, but managers of the construction company they invested in grabbed the money - $100 million - and ran. The company's (idiotic) name is Elite Center (Elita-Tsentr) - or at least this is the (idiotic) name the crooks were hiding behind. Korrespondent.net has a story (in Russian) that explains the scheme, or is at least trying to, but I find it all too confusing.

An earlier Korrespondent.net story (in Russian) has quotes from the poor investors:

[...] Vladimir Kovalchuk says he sold his gostinka apartment [a really tiny place with a tiny kitchen], and " we ended with nothing in the street. We've invested all the money we got from the apartment sale into this construction."

Maria Vorkina paid 30 percent of the money for the apartment in July. "In August, I sold my apartment in another town and paid the rest of the amount, and I also got a bank loan for that. Now I don't have an apartment, I'm renting one, and at the same time I owe money to the bank."

A pensioner Tatyana Sukhina said that "in order to buy air behind the fence, we sold a three-room apartment. To have a place to live, we bought a gostinka apartment, and invested the rest ($35,000) into the one-room apartment that's being built." Now Tatyana, her two grown-up children and a granddaughter live in a gostinka. "They were bullshitting us and we, the fools, believed them." [...]

I don't see the logic of this last one - selling three rooms to buy one - but it doesn't change anything.

To make things even worse, most of the apartments in the yet unbuilt building have been sold at least twice.

It's like the 1990s are back...
This week's Taste and Sensitivity Award goes to the folks who came up with the cover of the Russian Expert magazine: one of the two small-type lines on the naked woman's hip announces a story on the "tragedy in Chelyabinsk," where an 18-year-old soldier lost his legs and genitalia as a result of a hazing incident in January.

The editorial that accompanies the text by Oleg Kashin - as well as parts of the text itself - are also not too easy to swallow, but that's a different story.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A very interesting piece in Slate about a Ukrainian private security contractor who spent a year working in Iraq - Kalashnikovs for Hire in Iraq, by Nathan Hodge:

[...] Alex's contract was not incredibly lucrative. In Iraq, he earned between $150 and $180 per day, sometimes $200. It puts Ukrainians in the same league as the "third-country nationals"—Nepalese, Filipinos, and Fijians—who work in the private security industry.

Earning $150 per day may not seem worth the risk—but it's a fortune in economically stagnant Ukraine. Assuming the average Ukrainian earns an official wage of $120 per month (estimates of real income are hard to come by, but that's the figure the IMF cites in a 2005 report), Alex was earning more in a day than most of his fellow countrymen earn in a month.

How much does an American make working on a private security detail in Iraq? Returning from a recent trip to Iraq, I met one U.S. security contractor in a transit hotel in Jordan. He was waiting for his baggage to arrive, and we got acquainted while waiting to check e-mail. He logged onto his account.

"Damn!" he said out loud. "I just got another job offer: $850 a day. Damn! That's a hell of a job offer." [...]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Via bad_kissinger's Journal - this:

World Religion Action Kit

In times of religious strife, BE READY!

This easy-to-use kit allows you to take a more active part in the present "Clash of Civilizations". No matter what your faith is, you can enjoy the flexibility offered by the four great religions – the Bible, Teachings of Buddha, Koran and Talmud in one handy box. Use them as you see fit: study them, choose sides, employ Parts A, B and C to demonstrate your loyalty to the advancing enemy troops.

Coming soon: Polytheistic Extension Kit

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Once a dissident, always a dissident...

Via LaurenceJarvikOnline, this UPI story:

Moscow museum to exhibit Mohammed cartoons

MOSCOW, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- A Moscow museum has announced it will exhibit the entire series of cartoons of Mohammed that have caused riots throughout the Islamic world.

Yury Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Museum and Public Center, said on Russian television that the center was ready to organize a public exhibition of the cartoons satirizing the founder of Islam that originally were published in a Danish newspaper, Pravda.ru reported Monday.

"We must show the whole world that Russia goes along with Europe, that the freedom of expression is much more important for us than the dogmas of religious fanatics," Samodurov said.

The exhibition reportedly will open in March. Lawyer Yury Shmidt has said he will invite French philosopher Andre Glucksmann and French novelist Michel Houellebecq to the opening ceremony to read lectures about the threat of Islamic fundamentalism.

In 2003 the Sakharov Museum outraged many Russian Orthodox believers with the art exhibit "Be Careful -- Religion," which many felt was insulting to their beliefs.

This is likely to piss off not just some 20 million Russian Muslims, but president Putin as well, now that he has condemned the publication of the Danish cartoons.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the acting premier of Chechnya, is being emotional and irrational, too. And pretty independent:

We've banned everything that's coming from [Denmark] and they won't be in our republic. [...] As for Danish organizations present here, we won't grant them access anymore because of this.

One of these organizations is the Danish Refugee Council, which, according to RFE/RL, has been in the Caucasus region for seven years and "says it distributes food to 250,000 people in the region each month."

Here's the reaction of the Russian Duma folks:

[...] Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said he believed Acting Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov was expressing his personal opinion, noting that the Chechen government has made no official decision as yet.

"I think such statements should be at least passed through an official governing body first," Gryzlov said. "I view it only as a personal statement."

Pavel Krasheninnikov, the head of the Duma's legislative committee, said the ban would run counter to Russian legislation. [...]

I wonder whose side those hungry 250,000 refugees are on and what they are saying on the issue in the privacy of whatever it is they live in.
I haven't really watched TV since last year: the TV set's in the other room, and if I want noise, I can always wake Marta up and then refuse to feed her. So I'm only aware of the Danish cartoons scandal thanks to the media headlines and blogs. Reading beyond headlines is something I often choose to skip; as for my reading of the blogs, I read them selectively, and the ones I do read often supply me with a distorted view of the world: right now, it appears as if there are only sane people on both sides of the controversy.

Below is what my world sounds like, sort of. (I don't want reality checks, so I often skip comment sections, if I don't like what's there.)

Haroon Moghul of avari/nameh in the United States:

sour danish

[...] The cartoons that are being celebrated by a certain segment of Europe go to the heart of a cultural and social clash: European secularists of a certain variety want Muslims to accept that their religion can be insulted; until Muslims accept what is sacred about Europe... which is the right to insult what is sacred about Islam... You see, I think, the dilemma.

Let us also not forget that tens of thousands of Muslims were butchered in Bosnia about a dozen years ago, and that many of the European nations that chastise the United States for its double standards, failed to act to try to contain the violence; indeed, some European leaders even associated then-President of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic, with fundamentalism, which is egregiously wrong, but also egregiously immoral: That doesn't justify permitting genocide to happen under one's nose. So, while I agree that Muslims certainly should not turn to violence, threats of violence, and the like, in their protesting these caricatures, one must also keep in mind that many Muslims probably feel like there is a great European double-standard when it comes to the lives and values of Muslims, and here is just one more instance of Muslim values being stepped on.

BBCD of British Born Confused Desi in Britain:

Danish bullshit

This whole thing with the Danish paper, *sigh* being a Muslim I get that side of the argument, I understand why Muslims are deeply offended as the man we believe to be our Prophet and messenger of God had been depicted in a disgusting and degrading way. What I don’t understand is why non Muslims want to do that? So apparently its about freedom of press..umm ok, with you so far…. And what? Freedom of press for what purpose? What are you achieving or trying to ascertain by printing something like that? Freedom of press is a feeble excuse to hide behind. Ok so we live in a democracy (ish).. but surely the point of a democracy is not to use it to subjugate others to mental torment and suffering. Isn’t that what dictators do, create an environment which is highly basis and unwelcoming to “others”. [...]

Allison Kaplan Sommer of An Unsealed Room in Israel:

Hand the Israelis a Danish

Following Danish cartoon flap -- and with so many European countries reprinting them to show solidarity -- let us remember that there is one western democracy which has a solid legal record of keeping Mohammed's image sacred.

So if offended Moslems want a country that truly understands them -- they should come to Israel.

Does anyone remember Tatiana Soskin? She went to jail for drawing an offensive cartoon depicting the prophet (and posting it on the door of an Arab's shop)

In 1997, Tatiana Soskin was convicted by the Jerusalem District Court of offending religious sensitivities and sentenced to two years in jail and a one-year suspended sentence. Soskin was apprehended in Hebron while carrying a flyer depicting a pig wrapped in a kaffiyeh treading on an open book. The word, "Mohammed," was written on the pig and "Koran" was written on the book.

Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or rejected Soskin's appeal despite the ostensible blow to freedom of expression, ruling that "a position whereby every expression that has the potential to offend religious sensitivities will be considered a crime according to this law undermines the basic right to freedom of expression."

Or decided to apply the section banning offending religious sensitivities, but limited it. He ruled that not every serious offense is to be considered prohibited, rather only one that causes damage to the "interests of the members of that particular religion as a whole, as opposed to damage to the religious sensitivities of a given individual or another."


The excerpt above comes from an article in Ha'aretz that is very interesting to read over in wake of the whole Denmark controversy.

It is a summary of a session at a Comics, Caricatures and Animation Festival that was held in Tel Aviv. The session was called "God on the Line" and participants discussed whether and to what extent cartoonists should take on religion.

After the Soskin incident, there were no calls for an Arab boycott of Israel.

Oops, that's because there already was.

Well, it's a good thing that Moslem countries don't have a record of publishing offensive cartoons.

Oops again.


Now Here's An Appropriate Response

What's the appropriate response when someone publishes cartoons that offend you?

Why, by publishing cartoons that offend someone else!

That'll show 'em, right?

A Belgian-Dutch Islamic political organization posted anti-Jewish cartoons on its website in response to the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that appeared in Danish papers last year and offended many Muslims.

The cartoons were posted on the Arab European League's site on Saturday. It was not working Sunday morning because of exceeded bandwidth.

The site carried a disclaimer saying the images were being shown as part of an exercise in free speech rather than to endorse their content - just as European newspapers have reprinted the Danish cartoons.

One of the AEL cartoons displayed an image of famed Dutch Holocaust victim Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler, and another questioned whether the Holocaust actually occurred.


The point? To decry what they see as a double standard, where denying the Holocaust is illegal under most European hate speech laws, but that everyone is defending and reprinting the Danish cartoons. Never mind that the hate speech laws are very rarely enforced. It's not as if people are getting sent to jail every year for Holocaust denial.

It's not very surprising that the Jews are getting dragged into it, despite the decision of the Israeli Foreign Ministry to stay neutral on the issue.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry, which over the years has often protested anti-Semitic political cartoons in the Islamic world, stayed true to its policy regarding the Danish newspaper cartoon controversy and refused to issue a response.

One ministry official said that the "cartoon wars" were not Israel's battle, and that it did not want to get dragged into it. If Israel would react to the whole controversy, the official said, the Islamic world would eventually blame Israel for being behind the whole incident.


As if they won't figure out a way to blame us anyway....

Qatar Cat of Life in Qatar, or When everything else fails... in Qatar:

Political post #2

I swear I was going to stay out of it. I said to myself that this is not my problem, not my call, not my issue. But I was drawn into it and now I just can't remain silent. Yes, it's about those infamous Danish cartoons. I am sure that “Danish cartoons” is a household expression now in many places around the world.

Now before I go any further, I want to declare for my personal safety and for my friends' peace of mind that I DO NOT SUPPORT those cartoons. Nor would I agree with anyone who uses the right of free speech to insult others in any way. Therefore I will not publish or link to them or any such material on my blog, ever. I am a very tolerant, understanding and willing to learn white western infidel if there ever was one. So please save the cheers of support and the death threats.

How come I am writing about it now?

Today I went shopping for groceries (a rather rare occurrence) and I discovered that Danish and Norwegian products are now banned from the shelves of a leading supermarket! I stood there dumbstruck. Why am I being punished? What have I done to be denied my favourite brands? And most importantly, what have the producers of these brands in Denmark and Norway done to be treated like that?

What happened to allocating the blame and punishment where appropriate? I am yet to hear the King of Saudi apologising for the actions of Saudi suicide bombers. I am yet to hear the apologies of Mr. Bush over there, and Mr. Osama over here. Why then would someone expect the Queen of Denmark to apologise for the actions of some cartoonists and one editor?? Aren't their (the cartoonists and the newspaper in general) apologies enough? And who is going to apologise to me personally for denying me my Royal Danish?

When 9/11 happened, I heard from many Muslim friends of mine that we shouldn't judge the whole religion and all the Islamic world for the actions of select few individuals. That Islam is the religion of tolerance and peace. So how come the whole nations of Denmark and Norway are now being judged for the actions of less than 20 people? Scores of these innocent people have already lost their jobs due to the products boycott in the Muslim countries. Some were assaulted and threatened. Is this the right approach? What do Muslims around the world expect to get in return? That the West acknowledges the mistake and learns the lesson? I somehow doubt it. I doubt it because the means to achieve it are wrong. You don't teach such a lesson by spreading death threats right, left and centre. Yes, the newspaper people might have apologised, but they did not necessarily understand your reasons why they were forced to do it in the first place. [...]

Mahmood Al Yousif of Mahmoud's Den in Bahrain:

Time to boycott France!

A French newspaper reprinted on Wednesday a series of 12 Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad that have sparked protests in the Muslim world and prompted Saudi Arabia to recall its ambassador from Denmark.

The France Soir daily said it had published the cartoons in the name of freedom of expression and to fight religious intolerance, saying a secular country like France could not be bound by the precepts of any religion.


Now what? You're going to boycott the F1 because Renault takes part in it? Stop buying French cars, technology, cheese? All of the above? Any one particular product? Wine boycott maybe?

Well, before you go jump off a cliff, I hope you realise that France Soir is owned by an Egyptian: Ramy Lakah, so we might as well boycott Egypt too! But as Egypt has no product to call its own, other than oil in the Sinai, reeds and some stones which belonged to the Kuffar of old, then I have no problem lumping it in the same pot as Norway, Denmark, and France.

So my prediction has come true! Don't play with fire guys, let it go, for goodness' sake let it go. This is not doing us as a nation any good at all. It just demonstrates our intolerance... but that's nothing new now is it.


This last one - just like the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis - shows how interconnected everything is.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I've just posted an overview of the Russian blogosphere on Global Voices Online and am totally wiped out.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

One of those rare cases when I have to make a huge effort in order not to cry over a New York Times story. A travel story.

Emerging From the Shadow of War, Sarajevo Slowly Reclaims Its Lost Innocence, by Christopher Solomon:


Fikret Kahrovic was in the militia defending the city, but he does not offer much about the war, in a way that makes me think he could say plenty. He used to be angry all the time, he says, but not anymore.

"It was," he says, "like a very old and very bad movie that you watched once upon a time." His voice seems flat, affectless.


And ordnance. From the countless shells that had rained on Sarajevo, the craftsman had stamped flower vases. Bullets had become ballpoint pens that read "Bosnia."


Among the war's many small cruelties was how it forced residents to loathe their beloved hills; the snipers watched from those hills.

Now the city has its views back.

Sometimes, rounding a corner on a snowy afternoon, I would look up to catch a shard of sunshine passing over white roofs on the steep, snow-covered hillsides above the city, and black pines disappearing into low clouds — a glimpse of Switzerland strung between minaret and bullet-pocked cornice. [...]


I wanted to run away to Sarajevo a year ago, but instead I got pregnant and now I have Marta.
Wow, this is cool: via Global Voices Online, I've just found a whole bunch of blogs from Antarctica!
Suddenly, I want valenki.

Last time I wore them was, like, a quarter of a century ago, in kindergarten. Last time I paid attention to someone wearing them was in 1995, in the slush of one Kyiv market, where I saw an old village woman who must've been so poor she couldn't afford rubber galoshi, so she wrapped her feet in plastic bags instead, a very sad sight.

But today I saw a small item in Moscow's Afisha - about a store called Russkiye Valenki, on Varshavskoye Shosse, where you can buy valenki of all kinds, from the simplest traditional to the cute ones with embroidery, and even with tiny bells on them. Kids' valenki, too, for 6-month-olds and older. Prices range from 200 to 700 rubles (roughly $5 to $25).

Then I ran into this English-language site, Valenkis'Rus, where you can buy traditional-style valenki for $70.

This valenki-mania reminds me of how shalwar kameez suddenly became popular after Princess Diana had been seen wearing one sometime in 1995 or 1996. Even more, it reminds me of how I unexpectedly fell in love with Ukrainian embroidered blouses, vyshyvanky, also in 1995.

Finally, it may sound crazy, but you can wear valenki indoors - when it's cold. I wrote Mishah about it, and he laughed at me, but that's okay, because he was in our hot Moscow apartment when I was freezing here in Kyiv, so what does he know. Even a wonderful Soviet actress Rufina Nifontova (1931-1994) used to wear valenki at home sometimes. Valenki and a striped sailor's shirt.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Somehow, I feel that everyone should know about it: Marta has allowed me five hours of sleep in a row for the first time in two months today!!! She woke me up at 5:20 am, and I feel so rested, I can write a novel now!

Also, I think I forgot to mention it earlier: she's smiling more and more now, and her smiles no longer look accidental!


Marta and I had our longest walk Feb. 2: an hour and 45 minutes.

Mariinsky Park has turned into a protest site again and reminded me of both 2004 (because it is cold) and of 2005 (because there're too few protesters, and though they're visible and extremely loud, they don't look too genuine, just like Yanukovych supporters didn't back in May 2005).

A boy by the tents told me they were from a group called the Veterans of Maidan and were protesting the gas deal with Russia. He didn't look like someone who'd know much about the subject, though - and he was obviously very, very cold.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Marta is 2 months old - hard to believe, isn't it?

So we went to see the doctors today/yesterday, and everything's okay, more or less. Marta's grown (5 kilos and 56 centimeters; last time, on Jan. 4, she was 4.3 kilos and 53 centimeters), but there's a tiny problem with her left eye and a potentially serious problem with her left hip. Or there aren't any problems and the doctors are just trying to sell us certain medicines and medical devices to get a commission. You never know here. I'll seek second opinion and, possibly, third and fourth and fifth opinions. I don't want to get into it here and now, because it's making me terribly nervous.

Mishah's in Moscow, so I was aided by my mama. I took some pictures at the clinic again - they are here.

Our doctor examining Marta and our nurse sitting at her desk:

And this is my favorite photo, from the ortopedicians' room:

The New York Times runs another piece on the newly-published wartime collection by Vasily Grossman, A Writer at War (my post on the first review is here):


As a journalist, he is not embedded — to use the contemporary phrase — among soldiers as a representative of a free press in a civilian society. There is no free press. Civilians are only those who will be killed without weapons in their hands, and who have already been brutalized by Stalin before the war. Grossman is not free himself. He is all but a soldier under orders. Yet he is forced to sustain the consciousness needed to record everything he sees around him. His survival, after four years of war, is as miraculous as the survival of Kuznechik, the Bactrian camel that accompanied the 308th Rifle Division from Stalingrad to Berlin, where it spat on the Reichstag.


I want to have this book.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Political analyst Volodymyr Polokhalo gets quoted everywhere all the time. Most recently I've seen him in a Korrespondent.net piece (in Russian): he was citing "three strategic mistakes" that led Yushchenko to lose much of his credibility. According to Polokhalo, the first mistake was giving Petro Poroshenko too much power, the second was firing Yulia Tymoshenko's government, and the third was signing a memorandum with Victor Yanukovych. Additionally, he noted the inconsistency of Yushchenko's foreign policy - "...he aspires to be in Europe, but makes his first visit to Russia" - and called the appointment of Yuri Yekhanurov's government "a conspiracy between Yushchenko and the oligarchs."

Polokhalo also appears a few times in the recent New York Times Magazine piece about Tymoshenko:

[...] Volodymyr Polokhalo, a political analyst in Kiev, gives Tymoshenko an even chance of again becoming prime minister this spring. And if she doesn't, he gives her a 70 percent chance of becoming Ukraine's next president in 2009.


By her mid-30's, the daughter of a single mother who had toiled on Dnipropetrovsk's trolley system had become Eastern Europe's one and only "lady oligarch." Whether UESU dealings were "illegal" by the Wild East standards of the ex-Soviet Union in the 1990's - the political analyst Volodymyr Polokhalo speaks of the "total corruption" of the era - is a difficult question.


Because she knew its tricks, Tymoshenko proved an effective reformer of Ukraine's lucrative and filthy energy sector - perhaps too effective. Her brash reforms brought a huge tranche of Ukraine's shadow economy into the light. But her assaults on the prerogatives of Ukraine's crooked energy titans, her former peers, made her an irritant to the regime. She had to go. In mid-January 2001, Ukraine's top prosecutor accused her of having engaged in extortion, money laundering and other crimes while heading UESU. The charges, Polokhalo, the analyst, says, had an obvious "political character." "You could bring such charges against all the big businessmen of the 1990's," he explains. Kuchma fired her that same month.


At home, too, she has until recently been dogged by what Polokhalo calls politically motivated investigations into long-past supposed misdeeds. The last of the investigations were closed only six weeks ago, when a Kiev court dismissed them for lack of evidence. [...]

It's all very nice, and I do agree with some of what Polokhalo says about Yushchenko's mistakes, but there is one little thing that both the New York Times and Korrespondent.net keep silent about: that Volodymyr Polokhalo isn't just a political analyst, but candidate #50 with Yulia Tymoshenko's Bloc.

All political analysts seem to have biases and preferences - but running for parliament makes Polokhalo a politician, and it's really annoying when he's not identified as such.


Another well-known political analyst turned politician is Dmytro Vydrin: he's #92 on Yulia Tymoshenko's Bloc's list.
Mustafa Jemilev, leader of the Crimean Tatars, is #45 on the list of candidates from the "Our Ukraine" Bloc. In his brief bio on the Central Election Commission site, it says he resides in Kyiv.

Yulia Tymoshenko, on the other hand, lives in Dnipropetrovsk, according to the same source.

Go figure.
One of my favorite books has been translated into English: Kornei Chukovsky's Diary, 1901-1969 (a huge thanks for the tip to Languor Management).

Here's an Amazon.com description:

A perceptive literary critic, a world-famous writer of witty and playful verses for children, a leading authority on children’s linguistic creativity, and a highly skilled translator, Kornei Chukovsky was a complete man of letters. As benefactor to many writers including Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky, he stood for several decades at the center of the Russian literary milieu. It is no exaggeration to claim that Chukovsky knew everyone involved in shaping the course of twentieth-century Russian literature. His voluminous diary, here translated into English for the first time, begins in prerevolutionary Russia and spans nearly the entire Soviet era. It is the candid commentary of a brilliant observer who documents fifty years of Soviet literary activity and the personal predicament of the writer under a totalitarian regime.

From descriptions of friendship with such major literary figures as Anna Akhmatova and Isaac Babel to accounts of the struggle with obtuse and hostile censorship, from the heartbreaking story of the death of the daughter who had inspired so many stories to candid political statements, the extraordinary diary of Kornei Chukovsky is a unique account of the twentieth-century Russian experience.

There are several editions of the diary in Russian, and I've got one and a half: the older one is missing the second volume - they were being sold separately, I guess - and I've been told that the one I've got is harder to find than the one I haven't. Excerpts from the diary were published in several issues of Novyi Mir in the early 1990s - I've got those somewhere as well. Actually, I was digging through the old magazines in 2001, ran into the diary in Novyi Mir, got hooked and suddenly remembered we had a hardcover edition somewhere on the shelves, found it and couldn't stop reading,

I only acquired the full two-volume edition a year or two ago, but didn't have the heart to finish the second volume: it begins with the suffering and death of Chukovsky's little daughter, and it gets sadder and sadder as Chukovsky is getting older. Not that the first volume is full of cheerful stuff: Chukovsky's notes on the early 1920s - horrible, hungry and cold - are among the most shocking and unforgettable.


This past summer, Mishah and I went to Peredelkino, where Chukovsky had a dacha (while in St. Pete, I tried to find his other dacha in Komarovo, but no one seemed to know where it used to be). The dacha is a museum now, tiny and wonderful, very well-kept: it seems as if Chukovsky just stepped outside for a minute and would return shortly. All his books (or many of them) are there, and there's an impressive English-language collection.

The tour of the house wasn't extremely interesting, however, partly because the woman working there as a guide was too used to showing kids around: she simplified things, there was much to add to what she was saying, and she sounded somewhat too patronizing, especially toward Mishah and me (kept saying something about the 'younger generation' while looking at us, even though she was probably my age and definitely not older than Mishah). Two women who were on this tour with us didn't know anything about Chukovsky beyond all the wonderful kids' stuff he's written, and it was quite a revelation to be reminded of how obscure Chukovsky's adult side was. These two women hadn't been aware of the museum's existence and ran into it accidentally on the way back from Boris Pasternak's dacha-museum, also located in Peredelkino (but not as interesting as Chukovsky's dacha, we were told).


Then there's Lidiya Chukovskaya, of course, Kornei Chukovsky's elder daughter, a Soviet dissident, author of Sofya Petrovna, one of the earliest fictional accounts of Stalin's purges, written in 1940, shortly after Chukovskaya's husband had been persecuted.