Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A young guy is giving an impromptu lecture on religion in Sultanahmet:

A black cat is relocating for more sun in Sultanahmet today:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I keep promising myself to write more often here, but then something always gets in the way.

Happy New Year to you all!

Kybele Hotel, Istanbul

Friday, December 25, 2009

Petya Bumper, yet another mock presidential candidate (in Ukrainian, with lots of beeps to cover the cursing):

He says it all, or most of it. Maybe it's just me, but I really don't understand why anyone would need any kind of serious commentary on Ukrainian politics ever again after this.

Happy holidays to you all!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One more note on Switzerland's minaret paranoia - a very telling passage from an article in Der Spiegel (two previous posts on the minaret ban are here and here):

[...] The quiet winner of this battle is Daniel Zingg, 53, a balding man with wire-rimmed glasses. He's sitting in a pizzeria across from the railway station in Langenthal and speaking in a hoarse whisper. The minarets, those "spearheads of the Sharia," those "signs of territory newly conquered by Islam," can no longer be built, he says, and thus the Swiss have solved a problem that has already become seemingly intractable elsewhere, such as in the large cities of England and France. It's a well-known fact that first come the minarets, then the muezzins, with their calls to prayer, the burqas and finally Sharia law, he says. According to Zingg, the ban is not directed against Muslims, although it is naturally true that "the Koran gives (people) the mission to Islamize the world, and the Muslims here have no other mission, otherwise they would not be Muslims."

For the past 15 years, Zingg has been giving lectures in support of Israel and against Islam. He's a politician with the ultraconservative Christian party, the Federal Democratic Union, which received 1.3 percent of the vote in the last election. He has never set foot in the mosque in his town because he has heard that anyone who walks barefoot in one becomes a Muslim. Zingg doesn't want to take that risk. [...]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

As I've just written on Twitter, Maximishin's post has reminded me of the time we were searching for papa: how the cops at a centrally-located Kyiv police station didn't have the paper to print the Missing posters on, and how my mother bought the paper for them, and how they then hand-delivered those posters to other police stations, possibly because they had no idea there was such a thing as a fax machine. Bastards.

Another things I've just written on Twitter is that I often catch myself thinking that many of those who are complaining about low salaries - cops, doctors, nurses, state employees - are not qualified to be paid at all. That's a generalization, of course - I know there are many people who are doing their jobs beautifully, and to them I apologize. But still.

And I also keep catching myself thinking that the easiest way to describe what's going on in Ukraine is by cursing. Not even cursing, but using just one curse word: суки. Or some other, similar, word. Fucking assholes.

I've used this word today in reaction to the news of the dubious sale of the Syayvo bookstore across the street from my place in Kyiv (there's another one, also across the street, which is still there - Znannya). Also on Twitter, I wrote this earlier today (well, yesterday, actually - on Friday):

Some people have just bought "Syayvo" bookstore; paid approx. UAH2.7mln ($340,000) for 364sq m (UKR)


Normally, 1sq m in that area would cost you from $4,000 to $15,000. Since 1991, some 70 bookstores have been shut down in Kyiv. Суки.

So yes, at this point I think it's a huge waste of time to attempt doing a serious-sounding analysis of the situation in Ukraine. I'm glad it isn't my job to analyze this crap, to pretend that there's anything in it that deserves being taken seriously. I'm furious, that's all. Not a good state of mind on the eve of yet another election, but who cares.
And here is my today's GV translation of a post by another Russian photographer, Sergei Maximishin, on the outrageous incompetence and mess at the Ukrainian defense ministry:

Ukraine: Bureaucracy and Incompetence at Defense Ministry

Sergei Maximishin (LJ user remetalk), an award-winning Russian photographer, has recently tried to get the Ukrainian defense ministry's assistance in doing a photo story on the Ukrainian navy and army for the German Stern. He and his colleague, Stern's correspondent Tilman Müller, ended up defeated by the Ukrainian bureaucratic monster. On his blog, Maximishin has posted a detailed account of the ordeal (RUS; the dialog parts of the post are in Ukrainian):

[Sergei Maximishin's photo from Sevastopol]

Spent two weeks working in Ukraine - together with Stern's correspondent Tilman Müller [who was doing the writing], we were working on a large overview story about the country. Politics, economy, the army, religion, culture, sports, Euro 2012, the upcoming election, the Russian fleet, swine flu, ultra-right forces, social issues, everyday life. St. Petersburg-Moscow-Donetsk-Kyiv-Lviv-Kyiv-Donetsk-Kyiv-Sevastopol-Kyiv-St. Petersburg.

Before we started working, we met with the editor of the English-language newspaper [Kyiv Post] - and asked for advice: how to get here, and how to get there. To the question on how we should go about shooting something about the Ukrainian army, this wise man recommended not wasting energy and time - it's not going to work anyway.

Overconfident, I neglected this advice and started calling Mr. Khalyavynsky - "head of the press service of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine." For three days, [he] wasn't there, and, asked how it was possible to get in touch with him, his secretary replied, "How would I know?" On the third day, the secretary had mercy on us and gave us his fax number. I wrote a letter in English, asking to help us with shooting on two objects: we were interested in the Ukrainian fleet based in Sevastopol and the Kyiv-based honor guard unit. Emailed the letter to Hamburg, asked to print it out, have the managers sign it and fax to Kyiv.

A day later, I called the press service again:

- Good afternoon, my name is Serhiy Maksimishin, photographer with the Stern chronicle, Germany. I'd like to ask if there's been any reaction to our fax letter.
- What fax letter? There haven't been any fax letters from Germany.
- What do you mean there haven't been any? Our newsroom said they had sent one yesterday...
- They couldn't have sent anything, because we couldn't have received anything.
- How come???
- Because we've been out of fax paper for a week already.
- Oh God, when will you get it?
- Actually, we do have it, but the person who knows how to insert it isn't here.
- And when will this person appear?
- Call us back on Monday, maybe someone will show up...

I call them Monday. Fax paper has been inserted. I call the Germans, ask them to re-send the fax and confirm via phone. The Germans call back, say that everything has been sent. I call the press service.

- Ms. Svitlana, this is Serhiy Maksimishin again, photographer with the Stern chronicle, Germany. Tell me please, have you received our fax?
- Yeah, some kind of thing has come through...
- What do you mean, "some kind of thing"???
- Oh, but it's in a foreign language, so who can read it?..
- What, not a single person in the entire press service knows English??? Aren't you ashamed?
- Well... Hold on... I'll ask...

Five minutes later:

- No, the head [of the press service] said Stern should send a letter in Ukrainian.
- May I translate it myself?
- Hold on.

Five more minutes:

- Mr. Khalyavinsky says that, as an exception, you may come over to our office and translate it here.

Tilman and I take a ride across the city to the press service. We find ruins there: the impression is that they started doing renovations some two years ago, and ran out of money a year later. First of all, Svetlana the secretary demands to see our foreign affairs ministry accreditation cards. Tilman had left his at the hotel. The secretary says no one would bother talking to him without accreditation. I say that since I do have accreditation with me, let the boss speak with me. The secretary disappears behind her boss' door. Then comes back: the boss said that if you've come together, there should be two accreditation cards - otherwise, there'll be no conversation. Tilman calls the hotel, asks the receptionist to go up to his room, find the piece of paper and fax it to us. Fifteen minutes later, the accreditation gets out of the fax machine. The secretary asks us to show her our passports. Spends a long time comparing photographs to the originals. Finally, she hands the letter faxed from Stern to me, as well as two sheets of paper, and asks me to do a written translation of the text. I ask her where I could sit down. "Right here" - she brings a chair to the construction trestle in the hallway. She doesn't offer a seat to Tilman. I begin translating. [She] glances over my shoulder and protests: "Why are you translating into the Russian language? The boss said it should be in Ukrainian!" I start over, this time in Ukrainian. Who the hell knows what "honor guard unit" is in Ukrainian. At last, I give the fax letter and the hand-written translation to the secretary, she takes it behind the door covered with black fake leather. Ten minutes later, we are allowed to proceed to Mr. Khalyavinsky's office. Judging by how well-fed [he] is, his rank must be no lower than lieutenant colonel; he doesn't get up from his desk, is hiding his feet in blue rubber slippers under the table.

In English, Tilman delivers a ritual spiel about Stern and its 8 million readers. I translate it into the nightingale language [Ukrainian]. Khalyavinsky shines with friendliness. [He] barely speaks Ukrainian, gets the words mixed up. Apologizes for this, says that he has spent his whole life as a correspondent with the [Russian/Soviet] Northern Fleet newspaper, and now he is forced to learn Ukrainian anew. Says that he'd be happy to help us, but he's surprised why such experienced journalists of such an esteemed magazine don't know the basic things and have taken the wrong path. The right path, according to Khalyavinsky, is this: "Let the Germans talk to their military attache, who has to write a letter to Mr. Miroshnichenko, head of the defense ministry's committee for international cooperation, and Mr. Miroshnichenko has to issue a resolution and address it to the minister [of defense], and then the minister would give orders to Khalyavinsky, and then there'll be no problems whatsoever, work as you please."

Tilman called the German embassy right from [Khalyavinsky's] office, they spend five minutes looking for the attache, the German spends a long time explaining "the right path" to his compatriot, then hands over the phone to Khalyavinsky, who, once again, this time in Ukrainian, describes the trajectory of paperwork. The attache promises to help. As I say good-bye, I ask Khalyavinsky for [his] cell phone number and that of Mr. Miroshnichenko, whom I'm not acquainted with - "head of the committee for international cooperation." The attache calls the next day, says that he's sent the letter out, but doubts this will bring any results. One day later, I call Khalyavinsky - he says that "unfortunately, the minister [of defense] has fallen ill" and recommends calling Miroshnichenko. Miroshnichenko's phone is turned off. I call Khalyavinsky on his cell phone again: "The number you are trying to reach is unavailable at the moment." I call Svetlana on her landline phone:

- Mr. Khalyavinsky isn't there.
- When will he be in?
- How would I know?

All this, for an entire week.

We ended up deciding to fly to Sevastopol and shoot whatever's available. At the embankment, I hired a boat for 450 hryvnias [approx. $56] and, for 100 hryvnias [$12.50], two midshipmen of the Russian Navy, who promised to show us all the Russian ships, including the fleet's flagship cruiser Moskva, which is currently laid up at a floating dock. Already on the boat, I ask the midshipmen:

- And where is the Ukrainian fleet stationed?
- Ah, it's not here, they've all gone to Bulgaria for tomatoes, - the midshipmen laugh at their own joke.

P.S. If some of you think that the Russian defense ministry's press service employs a different type of people, you are mistaken.

As one of my acquaintances used to say, "we are working from inside a tight circle of [morons]."

In one of the comments to Maximishin's post, Kyiv-based LJ user vi_chanceux wrote (RUS) that he was ashamed for his country, which is "ruled" by such incompetent individuals. Maximishin responded:

You shouldn't be ashamed for the country: the country and the state are different things, but alas, not everyone understands this.
My yesterday's GV translation of a post written by Russian photojournalist Oleg Klimov - about extreme poverty in Russia:

Russia: Three Stories of Extreme Poverty

Russian photojournalist Oleg Klimov has recently spent two hours waiting for a train at the train station in Syzran, a city in Russia's Samara region. While there, he interacted with a few locals and then jotted down their stories of extreme poverty (RUS) on his blog.

Story #1:

[...] Mother, her daughter, and grandson, aged 5 or so. Have been living at the train station for two days. Are 400 rubles (approx. $13) short of [buying tickets] to get to their native village, not far from [Penza]. Are coming back from a funeral. Are waiting for a female relative to arrive and bring those 400 rubles. The relative isn't coming - possibly, because she is out of money, too. They asked [me] to send a text message [from my cell phone]. Ordinary village people. Maybe they aren't too clever and aren't too educated, but they are open-minded and ingenuous. Qualities of no small value nowadays. The mother's pension is 4,500 rubles [a month; approx. $148]. The daughter sometimes works in Penza, and sometimes doesn't. The son doesn't attend a kindergarten. [Because] there is no kindergarten. A female relative had died, they gathered all the money they had and set off to bury her. "How else? - One has to bid a decent human farewell..." [...]

Story #2:

[...] Four ethnic Tatar women commute weekly from their village to Syzran to earn some money. At best, they make a thousand [rubles; approx. $33] between the four of them, working as cleaning ladies at public facilities and anywhere else. There is no work whatsoever in the village. "There is work, but none of it pays." Sometimes they don't have enough money to simply buy bread. So they buy flour and bake their own bread. To save money. They have their own potatoes. And cucumbers, and cabbage. But they don't have money. "It's possible to survive, but very difficult. It's easier to die..." [...]

Story #3:

[...] A man, aged 55 or a little older. His children threw him out of his home. Just like that: "Get the hell out of here... Sometimes I stay with my acquaintances, and sometimes at the train station. Do random jobs, here and there..." Doesn't consider himself a hobo, because "there are no hobos in a small town. People do help." He's got cold tea in a plastic bottle. Bread and foul-smelling cutlets are wrapped in some piece of rag. He ate one cutlet with bread. Washed it down with tea and fell asleep on the train station bench right after that. Just lowered his head onto his chest and fell asleep. [...]

Klimov ends his post on an emotional note, writing that "it's horrible to watch all this," and that there is no shortage of such stories in the "sleek-looking 'Putin's Russia'":

[...] You can spend a couple more hours there and write a piece. With no comments. Just by listening and writing down things that people say to each other. It's that simple. Any journalist can do this. And no damn intellectual analysis is required. [...]

Friday, December 11, 2009

A very quick follow-up on the discussion about Switzerland's minaret construction ban in one of the previous posts here.

Genia, my Swiss friend and reader from the town of Sion, has taken this photo of a small paper minaret attached to the window of the local office of the consortium of architects - a lovely example of the ongoing grassroots protest:

And here's a related protest petition page:


Dear Genia, thank you so much for the photos and links! I do hope you'll send in more pictures later!

Monday, December 07, 2009

First, the train crash. Then, the deadly fire in Perm.

The weather is very gloomy, too.

So I've uploaded some flower photos - looking through them every now and then is a therapeutic exercise for me:

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Making any kind of comment on the Swiss vote to ban the construction of minarets seems to involve re-stating the obvious in one way or another, and yet it's hard not to.

So my comment is this: clocks is the next thing that the Swiss should ban.

Here's an opening passage from Kenneth Cragg's The Call of the Minaret (1956; quote from the 2000 third edition) - a re-statement of the obvious, of course:

The clock is an important item in the mosque. The muezzin must be punctual in announcing the call to prayer. His timepiece marks the points for Salāt, "prayer," between dawn and sunset. [...]

And here's a little excerpt on the history of the minarets, from Robert Irwin's Islamic Art (1997; pp. 63-64):

Minarets may now be seen as entirely characteristic of Muslim religious architecture, but the very first mosques had none. The call to prayer was customarily made from the roof of the mosque itself. Equally, while it is now widely taken for granted that the purpose of a minaret is to provide the muezzin, who gives the five daily calls to prayer, with an elevated platform from which to make them, it is not so clear that this was its original purpose. The word minaret is related to nur, the word for light, and it is possible that not only was the form of the minaret influenced by that of the ancient Pharos or Lighthouse of Alexandria, but also that many of the early minarets were not designed as places for making the call to prayer. Indeed, some were not attached to mosques at all [...]. Rather, they seem in some cases at least to have functioned as lighthouses, guiding travellers across both seas and deserts. Others served as watchtowers, and still others were put up as monuments to commemorate Muslim victories.

The earliest minaret attached to a mosque was allegedly put up at Basra in southern Iraq in the 660s, though it has not survived. Early mosques had only one minaret [...] - if any - but over the centuries there was a slow proliferation in their number. These additional minarets had a decorative rather than a functional purpose; in later centuries as minarets increased in height nad became more slender, they were to all intents and purposes useless as places from which to make the call to prayer. Since the minaret was unknown in the lifetime of the Prophet, some strict Muslims denounced (and continue to denounce) minarets as ostentatious and unnecessary innovations. [...]"

Finally, here's a passage on Don Quixote's well-known Adventure of the Windmills (1605; Part 1, Chapter 8):

[...] At this point they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that there are on plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, "Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God's good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth."

"What giants?" said Sancho Panza.

"Those thou seest there," answered his master, "with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long."

"Look, your worship," said Sancho; "what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the millstone go."

"It is easy to see," replied Don Quixote, "that thou art not used to this business of adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid, away with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat."

So saying, he gave the spur to his steed Rocinante, heedless of the cries his squire Sancho sent after him, warning him that most certainly they were windmills and not giants he was going to attack. He, however, was so positive they were giants that he neither heard the cries of Sancho, nor perceived, near as he was, what they were, but made at them shouting, "Fly not, cowards and vile beings, for a single knight attacks you." [...]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Three pictures from Maidan five years ago - Nov. 22, 2004...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I know a person here in Moscow who, while having a casual conversation, always pauses before saying the word 'Ukrainians' - and never says it. He says the word 'khokhly" instead, always. He once asked me why 'khokhly' are getting so emotional about being called 'khokhly.' I had a question of my own instead of an answer: what is is that makes an otherwise normal, educated person, who's wasted half his life voting for Yavlinsky's Yabloko and cursing Putin, substitute a totally legit word for the one that, as he himself admits, is making somebody nervous? How does his mind work? I can't imagine myself substituting the word 'Russians' for 'katsapy' every time I talk to a Russian, I told this guy. Let me try, though, I added. And then I spent five minutes or so pausing and saying 'katsapy' instead of 'Russians' whenever that word came up. It wasn't a fun exercise. I felt like shit. And the guy grew visibly uncomfortable in those five minutes or so, too, which was kind of funny. He didn't admit feeling uncomfortable, though, and moved on to another subject instead: the origin of the word 'Ukraine' - okraina, outskirts, borderland and all that, the usual crap. I told him I had better things to do than having a discussion on this subject and left. I haven't spoken to him ever since. He admitted being a senile ass to another person right away, apologized through that other person, which was somewhat poignant, but I really do have better things to occupy myself with than having those silly conversations with him ever again.

Writing about Putin's sense of humor isn't one of those 'better' things, and I thought one tweet about it would be enough: "Putin trying to impress Tymoshenko with his cab driver sense of humor (RUS)"

But then a former colleague posted a response on my Facebook page today, which made me realize that my description of Putin's sense of humor was a bit misleading - and offensive towards cab drivers. Basically, there are too many cab drivers who are way cooler than Putin, even though he once considered becoming one, too, and it's unfair and rude to generalize like this. My sincere apologies to cab drivers.

Also today, I was forced to dodge the guy obsessed with the 'khokhly' word - our paths do cross every now and then - and it got me thinking in analogies again. What if Yulia had followed up on Putin's jokes about Yushchenko and Saakashvili with a bunch of her own - say, about Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, his ridiculous leather caps and his inane attempts to do geopolitics stuff in Crimea instead of just keeping Moscow clean and happy. Like Putin's jokes, that wouldn't have sounded funny, and Yulia is a good girl, too, so she just giggled along with everyone else and played the femininity card, making one awkward joke of her own, about not wearing a tie - unlike Saakashvili. Would have been counterproductive of her, of course, to ruin that lovely endorsement that she'd just received from her Russian colleague.

Speaking of Yulia, Putin and Luzhkov, I've recently stumbled on an item (RUS) about Konstantin Korolevsky, the brother of one of Yulia's most prominent teammates, Natalya Korolevskaya (I wrote briefly about the two of them at the end of this lengthy post). This guy used to be the first deputy head of the department of urban construction policy, development and reconstruction of the city of Moscow, but this past summer he was transferred to Putin's "government apparatus," following rumors of Luzhkov's displeasure at the results of Korolevsky's work and some allegations of major corruption. So who knows, maybe Yulia and Putin are cracking jokes about Luzhkov during their private meetings. Because, all things considered, it's hard to imagine the two of them discussing Anton Pavlovich Chekhov: Putin must have been joking when he said they would.

Our foreign affairs ministry, via the deputy foreign minister, announced that the joking episode had been taken out of context by some media and politicians, and that the Tymoshenko-Putin meeting had been quite productive at many levels. Among other things, what really hurts here is the fact that Yulia and the current foreign affairs minister Petro Poroshenko appear to have finally made it up, just in time for the 2010 election. Had they not been fighting ever since Yushchenko's 2004 victory, causing the mess of Sept. 2005, who knows, maybe Ukraine wouldn't have ranked #146 (out of 180) on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index now. This, of course, isn't exclusively their fault, and Russia, too, is #146, while Georgia, led by the butt of Putin's jokes, Saakashvili, since 2003, is currently at #66, but still.

Another reason why I decided to apologize to cab drivers is because of a guy who drove me home today. An ethnic Georgian, born and raised in Moscow, with family in Batumi, he was telling me of how much things have changed in Georgia in the past few years. It used to take months to get through bureaucracy while getting registered as the owner of real estate, and now you can have it all done in a single day, without running around from one office to another, bribing everyone along the way - now you just submit all the paperwork at one office, and they don't even want to take a box of candies from the grateful you. Traffic cops are not taking bribes, either - they are not stopping cars indiscriminately in order to demand a bribe. In the Soviet times, he said, Georgia was considered to be the most corrupt republic, and people used to think that it was impossible to change anything, took corruption for granted, but it turns out that if the authorities start doing something to stop corruption, things do change for the better eventually. Funny, but we didn't really mention Saakashvili in the course of this conversation - but, obviously, much if not all of the credit went to him.

We didn't mention the Putin-Tymoshenko joking episode, either, and we didn't have the time to discuss the Aug. 2008 war. And, at one point, the guy said he was a "pro-Russian person" - because he grew up here and cared about things - and, at another point, he said that he liked Yushchenko, but thought that, unfortunately, he was a weak leader. He also told me of how he had lost his driver's license once and then drove some 400 km across Georgia, and the police didn't stop him once - because he didn't violate any traffic rules, he said. To all this, part of me wants to say, Go figure, and another part of me thinks that it all makes perfect sense. Life, after all, is a crazy mess, full of contradictions and halftones.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The 5th anniversary of Maidan is almost there (or is already here, depending on when you start counting from, the first round of voting or the second), and every now and then I re-read what I was writing in Nov. 2004. Today, I ran into this post, about my father, his best childhood friend and the politics that got between them in the early 1990s. Papa's friend, Dima, died of cancer just a few months ahead of papa, in early 2007. We didn't tell papa about Dima's passing. It hurts terribly to re-read that post, to be reminded of how intense and positive everything was back then, of how idealistic we all were, and of how quickly it all turned into crap, and of how it all ended for Dima and for my father. When we were searching for papa, I stopped by at the hospital where Dima had died and was directed to a so-called hospice for the elderly located nearby - the conditions there shocked me then, and this is still a very vivid memory - a horrible memory. I guess one of the things I'm trying to say here is that politics and reality do not seem to overlap much in Ukraine, and even though back in 2004 it appeared briefly that such an overlap was possible, I don't think many people hold on to this illusion anymore. Yushchenko calling Tymoshenko 'a bum' and Tymoshenko calling Yushchenko 'a terrorist' - this so undignified, and so irrelevant.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

This NPR story about corruption in Romania broke my heart today. This part of it (and I didn't listen or read to the end, can't bear it):

[...] A Corruption-Linked Tragedy

In their small Bucharest flat in a big, drab Soviet-era apartment complex, Elena and Nansi Lungu look at photos of their 2-year-old son, Sebastian, who is asleep in the next room.

During Elena's pregnancy, she bribed the gynecologist and the nurses, which is a common practice. It was a normal, healthy pregnancy. But on delivery day during the final stage of labor, Elena says she was left alone for long stretches. Then Elena's main nurse suddenly told her she was done with her shift — and left.

"Imagine a nurse who told me she could see the head of the baby but she must go home because her shift is finished — 'My time, it's over,' " Elena says.

When another nurse finally showed up — some 45 minutes later — Elena says that nurse was in a panic about what she saw: The umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around the baby's head several times, restricting the oxygen flow.

After 25 minutes, Sebastian was born — but he was nearly dead.

"He didn't scream; he didn't move. He was blue. We try to accept that he will never be like a normal child, healthy. But with every step, we have to improve, a little bit, his life," Elena says.

Each day is a struggle, she says. At 2 years of age, Sebastian can't crawl, can't sit or hold up his head; he doesn't talk.

"We feed him through a tube inserted directly into his stomach and give him food via a syringe," she says.

Now, the Lungus are suing the Romanian Health Ministry and the hospital for criminal negligence and grievous bodily harm, charging that a culture of corruption in Romania has bred incompetence in the health system. [...]

It has reminded me of my father. Of how a nurse at the Obukhiv hospital allowed him to leave just because she didn't know there was someone out there looking for him. An elderly man who had spent two nights at a bus stop without food or water, and who couldn't have looked healthy then, even though he was able to identify himself. And she yelled at my mother when she was trying to justify her actions. Yelled at my mother after my father's body had just been found in a nearby forest. I'm glad I don't know the nurse's name, I don't want to know it, it's safer that way.

It has also reminded me of a nurse at a centrally-located Kyiv hospital, where my father was being treated following his fourth stroke, some seven months before his death. I've just re-read my post about it - here - and I don't have it in me to re-post it here.

Anyway. This kind of attitude does have a lot to do with poverty, corruption, impunity. They aren't getting paid enough, they expect to be bribed, they act so savagely because they know they can get away with it. And we do allow them to get away with it. We pay them because that's the only way to get the most basic things done - and, in many cases, the most basic things help keep someone alive, no less, and, under certain circumstances, there is no time to think whether paying someone who is supposed to be paid by the state is right or wrong. And once something is being done, we feel grateful, and, again, we pay them. In some cases, we may consider it charity. And we rarely press charges - because it is futile.

I hope the Romanian couple will win that lawsuit. And I admire them for having the strength to fight.

But I still do not understand why our hospitals are filled with cruel people. Is it because the majority of us are cruel, and there's nothing extraordinary about being cruel? Or is it because too many of those who aren't cruel - which seems like a prerequisite for becoming a health care professional - have moved elsewhere a long time ago: to other countries, to private hospitals, to other jobs? I know it's not good thinking this way, and normally I hate to generalize, but when I do allow myself to think about it long enough, these two are the only explanations I can come up with.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It was amusing to read what Yushchenko said about himself yesterday (RUS):

I'm an economist, I'm a financier. I think I'm one of the world's top 5 bankers.

Very funny, considering the crazy banking mess that we've seen in Ukraine this year, among other things.

But his words have also reminded me of what I thought of him back in 2004: I voted for him not only because I didn't want to vote for Yanukovych, but because I genuinely believed he was more of an economist/banker than a politician - and because I also believed that the country had too many of the latter, but needed more of the former. Yushchenko, of course, turned out to be one of those countless pure politicians. Full of bullshit.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

I translated that internet joke about pedophiles and flu madness yesterday - and then felt a bit guilty. Because what's taking place in Ukraine now isn't funny. And I'm not writing anything about it here, but it doesn't mean I'm not following the situation, and it doesn't mean I'm not worried. I am. Even though I'm in Moscow, not in Kyiv, now. It all started just a few days after we left, and it feels really surreal to see all the pictures of people in masks, etc. Here in Moscow, pharmacies are out of masks, too, and there are plenty of people - especially kids - wearing masks on the subway, I've been told. But they aren't having an election here in two months.

Anyway, that Tymoshenko joke, it reminded me of a Bosnian boy I talked to back in 1998 - and of something he told me about life at a refugee camp:

[...] Many people in the camp thought the Bosnian boy and his friends were the happiest among the refugees – because they always had something to laugh about: “We were so strong because we made jokes all the time. One year we spent in a joke. We didn’t even think of anything, just lived for today and tomorrow. We made jokes about politics. We made jokes about people without a leg, like myself. We made fun of each other because we could understand each other. We made jokes because refugee camp was hard.” [...]

Thursday, November 05, 2009

One dear Kyiv friend keeps emailing me those more or less funny little stories and jokes that are circling the web at the moment, and here's my quick translation of the one I've received this morning.

It's about how PM Yulia Tymoshenko looked out of the window and found a way to save the asses of Victor Ukolov, Serhiy Teryokhin and Ruslan Bohdan, the three MPs from Yulia's faction who were accused of pedophilia in mid-October.

Hilarious, relevant, and says a lot about how people are taking all this... :)

One day, MPs Ukolov, Bohdan and Teryokhin came to Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko. Disgusted, Yulia Volodymyrivna hid her hand behind her back and asked:

- What do you want, perverts?

- Well, Yulia Volodymyrivna, - mumbled Ukolov. - They are writing all these ugly things about us.

- You shouldn't have hired a lawyer for a pedophile - serves you well, - said Yulia Volodymyrivna angrily.

- Oh, and you, too, are saying this! - said Ukolov, obviously hurt. - It's a smear campaign against us, that's all!

- Yes, - interfered Teryokhin. - Me, I'm drawn only to blacks, so I couldn't have done it. No way I could!

- And I don't even know these two! - yelled Bohdan bravely.

- Are you saying the truth? - asked Yulia Volodymyrivna sternly.

- I swear on my mother! - replied Ukolov.

- Fuck, yes! - confirmed Teryokhin.

- May I not see 'Artek' forever if I'm lying! - swore Bohdan but stopped short of finishing the oath.

- Okay, I'll think of some way out, - promised Yulia Volodymyrivna.

When the three MPs left, she looked out of the window and saw a big poster that read: "CHILDREN ARE SCARED OF INJECTIONS." ['scared of injections'='boyatsa ukolov' - a pun on Ukolov's name]

- Ukolov... - said Yulia Volodymyrivna quietly. - [Scared of] injections and vaccinations... Hmmm...

She dialed the number of the Health Ministry and said:

- Hello! Knyazevych? Vasya, listen, by any chance, do we have some epidemic going on right now? ... Swine flu? Is that dangerous? ... No, Vasya, no dear, it is very dangerous! ... And I'm saying it is extremely dangerous, deadly! For everyone! ... Why? Because flu is more dangerous than pedophilia! Let them urgently store up on masks and anti-viral drugs! Only the ones who get to the pharmacies first will get a chance to buy this stuff! ... Do we have lung plague by any chance as well? No? What a pity. Well, for three days you should be saying it on every TV channel - that there is no lung plague in Ukraine whatsoever. And show movies about pandemics! ... Oh, it's not your area but the culture minister's? Okay. Start working!

Yulia Volodymyrivna made a few more calls, recorded an address to the people and leaned back in her armchair, tired:

- Here you go, my darlings! Better worry about your health, and keep your hands off my MPs.

I'm not sure where this lovely, silly little text was published first - possibly, here - but dozens of blogs have republished it by now. Here's the original, in Russian:

Однажды к Юлии Владимировне Тимошенко пришли народные депутаты Уколов, Богдан и Терехин. Юлия Владимировна брезгливо спрятала руки за спину и спросила:

- Чего надо, извращенцы?

- Такое дело, Юлия Владимировна! - промямлил Уколов.

- Про нас тут всякие гадости пишут.

- А нечего было для педофила адвоката нанимать! - сварливо сказала Юлия Владимировна.

- Вот, и Вы туда же! - обиделся Уколов. - А ведь на нас клевещут!

- Да! - вмешался Терехин. - Мне вообще только чернокожие нравятся. Так что не мог я. Никак не мог!

- А я вообще этих двоих не знаю! - храбро закричал Богдан.

- Честно? - строго спросила Юлия Владимировна.

- Мамой клянусь! - ответил Уколов.

- Бля буду! - подтвердил Терехин.

- Да век "Артека" не видать! - побожился Богдан и осекся.

- Ладно, я что-нибудь придумаю. - пообещала Юлия Владимировна.

Когда трое ушли, она выглянула в окно и увидела большой плакат, на котором было написано: "ДЕТИ БОЯТСЯ УКОЛОВ".

- Уколов... - про себя сказала Юлия Владимировна. - Прививок и вакцинаций... Хм...

Она набрала номер Министерства охраны здоровья и сказала:- Алло! Князевич? Вася, слушай, у нас никакой эпидемии, часом, нет?... Свиной грипп? А это опасно?... Нет, Васенька, это очень опасно!... А я сказала, смертельно опасно! Для всех! Почему? Потому что грипп опаснее педофилии! Пусть срочно запасаются масками и противовирусными препаратами! Кто первый добежит, тот и купит!... А легочной чумы у нас нету? Жаль: Ну так в течение трех дней по всем каналам рассказывайте, что никакой легочной чумы нету. И кино про эпидемии крутите!.. А, это не к Вам, это к министру культуры? Ок, работайте!

Юлия Владимировна сделала еще несколько звонков, записала обращение к народу и устало откинулась в кресло:

- Вот так, мои хорошие! О своем здоровье лучше заботьтесь, а моих депутатов не трогайте.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Two videos - one of Marta and one of myself.

Marta is making up some weird and pretty gloomy stories that she calls poems, songs and fairy tales, which involve fallen trees, bespectacled people and napkins. She mentions drowning a few times - but that's because we were sitting by the lake when I shot this video. Maybe one day I'll translate some of it and add subtitles :)

And here's me, talking to David Sasaki, my wonderful colleague at Global Voices/Rising Voices, who is currently in Ukraine - and who describes me this way on his blog:

[...] ...the once mysterious Central and Eastern European Editor for Global Voices. (No one had met Veronica and there were vicious rumors that she was in fact a cyborg replicant planted by Google to demonstrate that a few good scripts could curate the world’s online conversations even better than humble human beings.) [...]


Anyway, here's the video - thank you so much, David!!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Two recent pictures of Marta that I am somehow very fond of - Marta in the context of Kyiv and Ukraine, so to say... :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sat next to some American expats at a bar tonight, reading up on the child rape scandal, while they were talking about Ukraine and Russia this and Ukraine and Russia that: Ukraine stealing Russia's gas, Ukraine pissing Russia off with its pro-NATO stance, etc. Not that these issues don't matter - they do, in many ways. But somehow this reminded me of how surprised I was once by the amount of local coverage in the Washington Post - drugs, crime, etc.: a universe away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other hot topics of the time. As for Ukraine's child rape story - I wish I had access to more info and were able to figure out what and who to believe. But I also wish I didn't know anything about it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oct. 4 wedding at the sanatoriy:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gorenka locals:

Monday, October 12, 2009

I was tuning in to random radio stations today, and caught the following exchange (RUS) about Ukraine on Radio Echo of Moscow:

К. ЛАРИНА: Юрий Иванович, большое Вам спасибо. Напомним ещё раз. Это Юрий Иванович Шаповал, наш гость из Украины. Видите, как я себя веду! Когда Вас тут нет, я говорю «на Украине». А когда Вы пришли, мне неудобно так говорить.

Ю. ШАПОВАЛ: Вы почаще меня приглашайте.

В. ДЫМАРСКИЙ: Кстати говоря, здесь единственный упрёк Юрию Ивановичу могу сделать – то, что я считаю, что не должны мы менять русский язык в угоду, извините, соседнему…

К. ЛАРИНА: Должны! Надо уважать друг друга! Что, тебе жалко, что ли? Ну-ка скажи – в Украину!

В. ДЫМАРСКИЙ: Ну, мы же Париж…

К. ЛАРИНА: Скажи – в Украину!

Ю. ШАПОВАЛ: Но заметьте, я на вас не давлю. Разговаривайте, как хотите.

К. ЛАРИНА: Спасибо большое, Юрий Иванович.

It's a wrap-up of a rather interesting talk about Crimea, and the hosts and their Ukrainian guest are suddenly discussing the correct way of saying 'in/to Ukraine' in Russian - 'на Украине/Украину' vs. 'в Украине/Украину.' We use the latter, they prefer the former. It's a bit like the English usage debate: Ukraine with or without the definite article.

Ksenia Larina, one of the hosts, tells Yuri Shapoval, a Ukrainian historian, that in his presence she doesn't feel comfortable saying it the Russian way, while the other host, Vitali Dymarsky, says that he doesn't think they should be changing the Russian language to please the neighbor - that's his "only criticism" of his Ukrainian guest. Larina tells Dymarsky we should respect one another and teasingly urges him to say it the Ukrainian way. Shapoval, however, doesn't really care how they say it: "But please note, I'm not pressuring you. Talk in whatever way you like."

It's a very telling little exchange, I guess.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Mood swings.
Can't get away from this song - been playing it non-stop for two days, and hearing it in my head, too...

It's a 1968 Ukrainian love song, performed by Kvitka Cisyk, lyrics and music by Volodymyr Ivasyuk:

«Я піду в далекі гори»

Я піду в далекі гори
На широкі полонини,
І попрошу вітру зворів,
Аби він не спав до днини.

Щоб летів на вільних крилах
На кичери і в діброви
І дізнавсь, де моя мила —
Карі очі, чорні брови.


Мила моя, люба моя,
Світе ясен-цвіт,
Я несу в очах до тебе
Весь блакитний світ.

Я несу любов-зажуру,
Мрію молоду,
І сади цвітуть для мене,
Як до тебе йду.

А як вітер з полонини
Полетіти не захоче,
Все одно знайду дівчину —
Чорні брови, карі очі.

Перейду я бистрі ріки,
І бескиди, і діброви,
І шляхи мені покажуть
Карі очі, чорні брови.

While I'm at it, here's a Ukrainian poem I also can't get out of my mind - by Ivan Malkovych (1992):


Краєм світу, уночі,
при Господній при свічі
хтось бреде собі самотньо
із янголом на плечі.

Йде в ніде, в невороття,
йде лелійно, як дитя,
і жене його у спину
сірий маятник життя, —

щоб не вештав уночі
при Господній при свічі,
щоб по світі не тинявся
із янголом на плечі.

Віє вітер вировий,
виє Ірод моровий,
маятник все дужче бухка,
стогне янгол ледь живий…

А він йде і йде, хоча
вже й не дихає свіча,
лиш вуста дрижать гарячі:

янголе, не впадь з плеча.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Two villages right next to Kyiv - Gorenka (pop. 5,358) and Moshchun (pop. 794). The first one is adjacent to Pushcha Vodytsya, which is officially part of Kyiv's Obolon District. The second one is some 3 km away from Gorenka. Both still have streets named after Lenin - unrenamed streets. This is embarrassing. The usual excuse - lack of funding - doesn't seem convincing: in the past five years, we've seen tons of money wasted on too many election campaigns, and I'd rather see some new street signs on the fences, among many other things, than the faces of those idiots and their promises of change and what not. It is different, of course, if it's the locals who prefer to keep the old street names. Different, but no less embarrassing.

Here is Gorenka's Lenin St.:

And here's Moshchun - Lenin St., Lenin Lane, and Zhovtneva - October - Street, named after the 1917 revolution:

This one is my favorite - extremely schizophrenic...

P.S. Some info on Gorenka & Moshchun - here (UKR). Soviet-time info mostly: lots of cow-milking kolkhoz stats, for example... :)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'm reading Roksolyana by Osyp Nazaruk, a fictional account of Hürrem Sultan's life, written circa 1929 (UKR, available online in .txt format).

Interesting to learn that Crimean Tatars' female slave trade didn't really affect Ukrainian nuns:

[...] For even the wild Tatars respected the nuns and stepped out of their way with reverence, calling them "the girls of the wondrous [gâvur] Prophet who died on the cross." [...]

Also, interesting to learn that Ukrainians back then believed that Tatars - "the dirty monsters" - were "born blind, like dogs."

On a different note, Marta has a friend here whose dad happens to hate Turkey and the Turks - possibly, because he's very patriotic or something, he sort of explained to me today. We were talking about real estate in Istanbul, and, for some reason, he felt it necessary to make this disclosure. At the same time, he spoke of Moscow with awe, so I guess he meant some kind of a Pan-Slavic patriotic feeling, not exclusively Ukrainian. Then again, he spoke of Greece with awe, too, so maybe it's the Orthodox Christian thing. Or both. I didn't bother asking him to explain some more, because people who believe that "patriotism" is about hatred really bore me. It's kind of funny, though, that his daughter is spending much of her life with a nanny who is half-Uzbek, quarter-Tatar and quarter-Bulgarian, and whose son's father is Jewish and daughter's father is German.

Anyway, while I was writing all this, I got reminded of this story:

Customers help stamp out Turkey's sex slaves

By Meriel Beattie in Ankara
December 28, 2005
The Independent

An unlikely hero has emerged in Turkey to rescue victims of forced prostitution: the brothel customer.

While the country's security forces are hardly renowned for their attention to human rights or sympathetic treatment of women, they have been chalking up impressive successes in finding and freeing trafficked women from brothels.

In the past six months, 100 women - mostly from Ukraine, Moldova, Romania or Russia - have been rescued from sex slavery and Turkish police have broken up 10 trafficking networks.

There are two reasons for these results. A charge-free hotline was set up in May by the UN's International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for women to call for help. It is staffed by multi-lingual operators who try to pinpoint where the women are - and then send in the police.

But the second, more unexpected, factor is the chivalry of the Turkish brothel client. Since the hotline started, 74 per cent of tip-offs have come from men: customers who have learned to spot the difference between a professional prostitute, and someone who's been forced into it. [...]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More sanatoriy interiors:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Misha's father was buried on Wednesday - may his soul rest in peace.........

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Marta and a really tall cactus :)

Pushcha Vodytsya has this dreamy feel about it that's been somewhat hard to find elsewhere in Kyiv lately.

As anywhere else, you have to be in a dreamy mood to sense it, of course. If you aren't, you'll end up seeing little else but garbage and neglect - just like anywhere else.

The downside of this dreaminess is that there doesn't seem to be a single decent place to have coffee or beer here.
Some more sanatoriy interiors:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Self-portrait :)

...taken in a marshrutka at the edge of the village of Moshchun... :)
A public bathroom at the sanatoriy:

And a detail of a Ukrainian-made hand dryer there - called Rushnychok, "a little towel":

Might take a while to figure out how it works: it is so not automatic, you actually have to move a tiny sort of a lever to the left to switch it on and then to the right to switch it off...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I've accumulated too many pictures from Pushcha, Gorenka, and a village called Moshchun, but, as always, don't have enough time to post them. Didn't have internet yesterday, too...

Here's another random Gorenka pic:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A well in Gorenka:

P.S. Here's the same well - and the same house behind it - three years ago:


P.P.S. Looked through my 2006 Pushcha Vodytsya and Gorenka pics, decided to make this post slightly longer - because, like the house and the well, some things are getting better and some are getting worse...


This building had burzhuy - 'a rich bastard', more or less - written on it in 2006 (I probably do have a picture of it somewhere, but not on Flickr). I'm not going to transliterate the newer message here, the one above burzhuy - a rough translation is enough: "You're a dickhead." It sounds harsher in Russian, of course. Hundreds of people, including kids, are passing this centrally-located building every single day as they walk and ride to and from Gorenka in marshrutkas and in their own cars. It's kind of funny that many of them would probably act offended if you used the word zhopa ('ass') in front of them, and yet they seem capable of tolerating this derivative of the famous Russian three-letter curse. Also, imagine having to pass this building every day with a kid who has just learned to read...


Speaking of kids and reading, and things that are improving - sort of, kind of - here's a picture of the gates of the Gorenka school in 2006:

And in 2009 (please note that the school is located a kilometer or so away from the cursing building):

Here's my quick translation:

You should love the book - it's a source of knowledge.


Only those nations that have their own national schools can be strong in spirit. - Kyrylo Stetsenko


Study, and read, and learn from foreigners, and do not disdain your own. - Taras Shevchenko