Thursday, December 26, 2013

Focused emotions: In response to the assaults on Ukraine

By Michael

I am feeling restless. I have contradictory feelings--saddened by what the government is doing to Ukraine, but inspired by the people who are standing up to this destruction.

Here's what I am thinking about:

The government dispersed Euromaidan on November 30th, the day after the EU Vilnius Summit, by siccing Berkut on a couple of hundred protesters. Berkut beat the protesters and everybody saw what they did. People responded by coming out in droves that weekend, and they took back the Maidan.

On December 11th police tried to take back the Maidan and Kyiv City Hall from the protesters who had claimed the building as the "Headquarters of National Resistance." The police used relatively clean tactics (and even this is disputed) and they failed to achieve their goal.

It seems that now the Ukrainian government is trying to terrorize the Ukrainian people by
assaulting individuals instead of confronting the entire Maidan at once.

The government is trying to strike fear into the people of Ukraine. But nobody I know is scared. They are past being angry. They are fuming. But you wouldn't know this from just a superficial glance at the protesters.

Their self discipline and self organization is extraordinary. The protesters have forbidden drinking alcohol on the Maidan, for example. They have their own security and their own electricity. These are smart, coordinated, and focused people. Don't expect blind rage from them.

Here's how Kateryna Kruk responded to the Christmas Eve beatings in what I will call a "Twitter essay" (written on December 25th):

today was my worst day of .regime beaten not only Chornovol.they've beaten friend.everyone.1/4
every living person in Ukraine,'cause to live means to say truth and fight for better.regime hasn't attacked Chornovol.they attacked 2/4
our dignity and basic rights.from today I don't have pres.,gov.,I have bloody regime,from whom I,we,Ukrainians,need protection.3/4
democratic prodecures and rules of int.relations are important,but could they be more important than people,right to talk,right to live?4/4
This is probably the most poignant piece of writing I have read on Twitter yet. The Maidan movement is not about pure logic. It is about channeling intense feelings into a cause. This is deep and this is emotional. This is about everyday life and the rest of our lives. And that is more real than logic. The change that is happening in Ukraine can be called hyper reality.

That is why I'm writing to say that Yanukovych's regime literally beat my wife, Yulia, too, and I am pissed. As Kateryna says, "they've beaten me, my mother, my friend, everyone, every living person in Ukraine." She is absolutely right.

But her essay isn't only about the Yanukovych regime. Kateryna later writes, "democtratic procedure and rules of international relations are important, but could they be more important than people, right to talk, right to live?" Here she is referring to the response of the international community to the Maidan movement. The EU and the US have been following the situation here closely, but their responses have been merely rhetorical. The EU wrote a letter expressing their concern about the situation. US Secretary of State John Kerry said that attacks on protesters are "disgusting." But violence has been going on for quite some time now. The US has made conditional threats, but has not followed through with those threats when conditions are met. I have been documenting it myself here on this blog. On November 25th I wrote:
About two hours ago, there was a spike in tweets. I watched in real time as people called for help in a clash against riot police. They sent pictures and videos from Kyiv. Here is avideo that shows the scuffle unfold (fast forward to minute 43 for the fight). Police hit protesters with billy clubs and used tear gas to try and disperse the crowd
 November 30th:
The US government has vowed that the Ukrainian government will face serious repercussions if they use force against the protesters. Well, they already have as of four o'clock this morning. 
December 2nd:
Yesterday, however, the protests became violent at one point. There were clashes on Bankova Street as protesters attempted to storm the presidential residence. Using a bulldozer, protesters attacked riot police. The majority of protesters reacted valiantly, actually coming to the aid of the Berkut special forces police.
 And now Ukrainians are dealing with what happened on Christmas Eve. The EU wants the Ukrainian government to look into the stabbing, shooting, and beating, but they have missed one very big point--the Ukrainian government is one of the suspects!

It seems that the entire architecture of the political system on all sides in dysfunctional. No one doubts this architecture is important. As Kateryna says, "democratic procedures and rules of international relations are important." But something's obviously not working.

That is why the Maidan movement needs to be big. Ordinary Ukrainians must take on the problems they face themselves because nobody is going to do it for them. They need to re-form the system. That is why I am getting involved. This will be tough, with a steep learning curve, but at least it will be truly democratic with the people themselves forming a new kind of system and a new kind of country.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve assaults in Ukraine

By Michael

Yulia often teases me about my listening to my iPod so often. I have become accustomed to wearing headphones as I work. I wear them while doing the dishes and while gardening. I was wearing them yesterday while I was installing wood paneling on our veranda. I do not listen to music, but get my news through podcasts from sources like Milwaukee Public Radio or NPR. When we first moved to Ukraine, listening to the news really helped me bridge life in America to life in Ukraine.

But my beloved podcasts are breaking my heart. With a few exceptions (like "On Point," "Radio Times," "University of the Air," and "Here and Now") there has been silence about the Euromaidans in Ukraine. I feel like American news media are basically telling me, "We don't care about you, Ukraine, or your Ukrainian family." I realize this is hyperbole, and I am being a bit histrionic. American coverage of the situation has been OK.

But here is the stark contrast in the news that I woke up to this morning:

My favorite state public radio station (I'll be nice and not name names) is debating whether or not "whatever" is the most annoying word in the English language. Another show is pondering the future of shopping malls in America.

Here is what is happening in Ukraine:

Late last night the organizer of Euromaidan Kharkiv was stabbed.

Almost simultaneously, in Kyiv, Journalist Tatiana Chornovol was driving her car when she was cut off and then beaten severely. Article here.Video here.

And this is not all. Several days ago a journalist from "Road Control" was attacked in his car and shot. His car was burned. Luckily, he survived.

These attacks are not random. All three of these people have been critical of the Ukrainian government.

I fear that because of the big Christmas holiday these tragedies will get no attention. American journalists (again, I won't name names) have already fallen into the groove of pronouncing the dwindling of Euromaidan because of the holidays. One Washington based newspaper keeps insisting that Ukraine doesn't need another revolution. They ask: Why doesn't the political opposition just sit at a roundtable with the government (who just had men armed with machine guns storm opposition party offices) and work everything out?

As Kurt Vonnegut once said, "So it goes."


Merry Christmas to everyone. Our hearts are with all of our friends, family, and readers of this blog. Let's not let the holiday make us forget about all those who are fighting for freedom right now. It's not a cliche. It's a real fight.


Let us know when Fox News finds out if Santa Claus is white or African American.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Support "Permaculture in Ukraine!"

Last summer Yulia and I took a permaculture certification course and made friends with Pavlo Ardanov, one of the organizers. He is a very smart man and full of positive energy.

Pavlo is looking for financial support for "Permaculture in Ukraine," an NGO that he established. Please read his message below (in Ukrainian and English):

Шановний Пане / Шановна Пані,

Буду вам дуже вдячний за підтримку та поширення цієї інформації.
Мене звуть Павло, я голова Громадської спілки "Пермакультура в Україні". Ми ведемо інформаційно-освітню діяльність в галузях екології, сталого господарювання, органічного землеробства та інших пов'язаних з пермакультурою напрямах.
Пермакультурне планування є зручною схемою переходу українського села до органічного виробництва, підтримки дрібних та середніх господарств, досягнення сталості на регіональному рівні, а, отже, відродження українського села. Використання пермакультурного дизайну в містах дозволяє вирішувати актуальні екологічні проблеми на рівні місцевих громад та створювати екологічно стійкі перехідні міста, що є надзвичайно популярним в Європі та у світі. Я вважаю, що поширення знань про пермакультуру є одним з компонентом перебудови економіки України в бік меншої залежності від викопних енергоресурсів, економічної та культурної інтеграції з європейською спільнотою та виживання в умовах економічної кризи.
Тому нагальною місією нашої організації ми бачимо побудову вітчизняної школи пермакультури. Після проведення трьох сертифікаційних курсів пермакультурного дизайну в Україні, ми організуємо курс для першої генерації викладачів пермакультури. На цьому курсі ми планували пільгову ціну для українців за рахунок набору учасників з-за кордону за вищу платню. Нажаль, нам не вдалося знайти достатньо іноземців, частково через залученість до подій Євромайдану і частково через небажання іноземців відвідувати нашу країну в умовах політичної нестабільності.
Тому ми було б вам дуже вдячні за посильну допомогу в проведенні цього курсу. Закінчивши аспірантуру в Фінляндії, я повернувся в Україну щоб використати свої знання та досвід для розбудови громадянського суспільства. У вересні 2013 ми зареєстрували нашу неприбуткову організацію. Згуртованість українців по всьому світу допоможе нашій країні пережити ці важкі часи. І навіть невеликі внески сприятимуть продовженню нашої діяльності. Реквізити банківських рахунків нашої організації наведені нижче.

З повагою, Павло.

Dear Sir / Madam,

I should be very grateful for your support and spreading this information.
My name is Pavlo, I am the Head of Non-governmental organization "Permaculture in Ukraine". We conduct informational and educational activities in the fields of ecology, sustainable development, organic farming and other areas related to permaculture.
Permaculture design is a convenient way for transition of Ukrainian villages towards organic production, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, achieving sustainability at the regional level and, consequently, the revival of the Ukrainian villages. In urban areas permaculture design allows solving existing environmental problems by the local communities and to increase resilience by initiating transition movement that is very popular in Europe and worldwide. I believe that spreading the knowledge of permaculture is an important component of transforming Ukrainian economy toward less dependence on fossil fuels, for economic and cultural integration with the European Community and survival amid the economic crisis.
Therefore we see the current mission of our organization in creation the national school of permaculture. After conducting three certified Permaculture Design Courses in Ukraine we are organizing the Permaculture Teacher's Training Course for the first generation of Ukrainian permaculture trainers. For this course we have offered a reduced price for Ukrainian participants which should be balanced by the higher registration fee payed by participants from abroad. Unfortunately, we were unable to attract enough foreigners to this course, partly because our involvement in Euromaidan protest movement and partly because many foreigners avoid visiting Ukraine during this time of political instability.
We would be very grateful for any help that allow us to conduct this course. After obtaining a PhD in Finland, I returned back to Ukraine to use my knowledge and experience for the development of civil society. In September 2013 we have registered our non-for-profit organization. Consolidation of Ukrainians around the World will help our country to outlive this difficult time. Even small contributions will help us to maintain our activities. Please, see our account requisites below.

Yours Sincerely, Pavlo.

The name of legal person: NGO "Permaculture in Ukraine"
Legal address: 11-а Petra Pancha str., appt. 23, Kyiv 04201, Ukraine
Identification number (EDRPOU): 38885682
Currency of account: EUR
Account number: 26006468364400
Bank name: Public Joint Stock Company "UkrSibbank"
Bank code (MFO): 351005
Beneficiary bank (JSK "UkrSibbank")
Moskovsky ave 60
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Intermediary bank (BNP Paribas SA)
Paris, France
Purpose of payment: "Irretrievable financial aid for statutory activities of NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine".


The name of legal person: NGO "Permaculture in Ukraine"
Legal address: 11-а Petra Pancha str., appt. 23, Kyiv 04201, Ukraine
Identification number (EDRPOU): 38885682
Currency of account: USD
Account number: 26006468364400
Bank name: Public Joint Stock Company "UkrSibbank"
Bank code (MFO): 351005
Beneficiary bank (JSK "UkrSibbank")
Moskovsky ave 60
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Intermediary bank (BNP Paribas U.S.A. - New York Branch)
New York, USA
Purpose of payment: "Irretrievable financial aid for statutory activity of NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine".


The name of legal person: NGO "Permaculture in Ukraine"
Legal address: 11-а Petra Pancha str., appt. 23, Kyiv 04201, Ukraine
Identification number (EDRPOU): 38885682
Currency of account: GBP
Account number: 26006468364400
Bank name: Public Joint Stock Company "UkrSibbank"
Bank code (MFO): 351005
Beneficiary bank (JSK "UkrSibbank")
Moskovsky ave 60
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Intermediary bank (Citibank NA)
London, Great Britain
SWIFT-code: CITIGB2L Purpose of payment: "Irretrievable financial aid for statutory activity of NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine".

Павло Арданов,, +380-96-947-1612, голова Громадської спілки "Пермакультура в Україні": Гугл група (новини): Вісник Спілки:!topic/permaukr/wGNZencpiCA

Pavlo Ardanov,, +380-96-947-1612, The head of the NGO "Permaculture in Ukraine": Google group (news): Information bulletin:!topic/permaukr/wGNZencpiCA

A Simple Desultory Update

By Michael

Our camera has been broken for a couple weeks now, but we should be getting a new one shortly. That explains why we have not been posting many pictures lately.

We've been working on many different projects here at our home. Several weeks ago, Yulia's dad helped us install a new floor on our veranda.

We lacquered it ourselves using Kreidezeit "hard wax oil." Kreidezeit is a German company that makes ecologically friendly paints.

Yulia lacquering our floor
We also just lacquered our wooden windows that we had custom made. Our friend, Yura, made them for us. The lacquer we used has a rich, honey color to it. They are beautiful! (Sorry for not having any photos of them!) We just ordered double paned glass for them at the Lviv Window Factory. They should be ready by midweek or so. Then Yura will come by to install them.

We're slowly getting used to our new dog, Тома. That's right, her name is now Toma! We had to change it when we learned that Тюльпан (Tulip) is a male name in Ukrainian!

Toma prancing through some morning frost

On a walk with Toma in the fields behind our house
We're still bathing outside, even in the below freezing temperatures! It's kind of nice, actually. Yulia described it well when she said that it makes your skin feel like a sponge because the warm water opens it up while the cold air shrinks it back down. I think it's like a spa treatment. No kidding! Try it!

I even have reflective moments when I am outside watching the steam from the water waft up to the stars. It's not too cold for me to look up at the sky and think about the ancient light which was created long before any of us were alive. The stars are at once so complicated and so simple. They are more fantastic than any machine people have created. Yet they are just dots of light to the naked eye. They stare down at us almost every night, but they also feel so separate from the darkened houses of our village. The built environment simply looks primitive below the perfection of celestial vastness. A gable here, a dutch hip with TV antenna there. It's all moot to the stars. They know they have existed long before us and will continue to exist. They ask us why we like such funny styles and why we believe such strange beliefs. 

I can't answer why us people like such funny styles and have such strange beliefs. But I know the stars have some kind of wisdom. It probably exists outside of language, so maybe I shouldn't try to put it into words. 

Post Script:

I stole the title for this post from the Simon and Garfunkel song, "A Simple Desultory Philippic."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Help us win the Expats Blog writing contest!

Yulia and I are part of the Expats Blog writing community. Expats Blog is a website that has a list of many different blogs written by expats all over the world.

Right now they are holding a writing contest, and Yulia and I are participating! To see our entry, please click on this link. It is a top ten list of why Ukraine is more environmentally friendly than the United States.

At the bottom of that page you can vote for our entry to win the contest. If you wouldn't mind, dear readers, we would be delighted if you took two minutes to vote for our entry by leaving a comment on that page and liking it on Facebook, Tweeting it, et cetera.

Thanks so much for reading our blog and voting for our entry!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The kind of revolution we want to see in Ukraine

By Michael

I woke up to beautiful, warm singing by honey voiced men several days ago. It was a funeral procession. Another one of our neighbors in our small village had died. This is the second death that Yulia and I have been present for since we moved into our house five months ago. This trend, unfortunately, will continue. Residents of our village are slowly dying off, and no one is replacing them. The houses and gardens left behind by the deceased are usually not tended by surviving family members. The houses slowly rot without anyone heating them in the winter and the gardens become overgrown.

There is no plan for the moldering villages of Ukraine. The Soviet era farms that dot the countryside are already in an advanced state of decay. They look like ancient Greek ruins--a column here, a doorway with nothing around it there. However, these ruins have only been around for 22 years. There are modern aspects to these ruins as well. I found an old weigh station and guard shack for vehicles leaving one of these farms. I imagined what the Ukrainian countryside was once like. My god, things happened here, I realized! There were farm hands, truck drivers, mechanics, guards, store clerks, and teachers working here.

Those people are still living in these rural villages. Their adult children are in the cities where the jobs are. The Ukrainian countryside is therefore a sort of vast retirement community. And they are in danger of becoming ghost towns. Yulia and I think they deserve a better future than this. That is why we are trying to keep our village strong. We want it to be a place where things happen.We want other young people to join us, and it does seem that there is a desire from others to do so. We also want to defend this land from being bought up by oligarch controlled agribusinesses who will exploit this land and eventually ruin it. This is a dramatic change from the status quo, but it is the kind of future we want to see for the Ukrainian countryside.

Yulia and I have been interested in the idea of dramatic change in Ukraine for quite some time now. When we first moved to Ukraine, Yulia made it clear to me that we were not moving here in order to assimilate. We were coming to create the kind of world we want to see. We view what we are doing as part of the greater change we see unfolding on the Maidan in Kyiv and, indeed, all over Ukraine right now.

A lot of people have been critical of the Euromaidan protests, claiming that they are not a real revolution. Sergei Mikheev, for example, has this to say about the current situation in Ukraine:
Calling the events “a revolution” is an exaggeration. There is no revolution, just like there was no revolution in 2004. Revolution is a change of the social and political system. There was no change of the social and political system in 2004; and it is not happening at the moment. Thus, the events are mostly “fake” and manipulations, even though many people sincerely believe that they protest against everything bad and for everything good.
His definition of "revolution" is appropriate, and it is the definition I will use here. He is also right in saying that the 2004 Orange Revolution was not a revolution. However, he is wrong in coming to the conclusion that there is no revolution happening at the moment.

The Orange Revolution was not a revolution because a new party was simply voted into office without the dramatic changes that are needed in order to make an actual revolution. There was a clear aim to the Orange Revolution, the overturning of a fraudulent election. When that happened, people concluded "mission accomplished." The political and social systems, as Mikheev states, were not changed (enough).

What is happening now is a revolution because protesters are demanding and creating political and social change. Their demands for political change are clear: the resignation of the president, prime minister, and others. They also want the Association Agreement signed with the EU. These are the political and economic aspects of the revolution. They have not happened yet, and it may take some time for these things to happen. The protesters are being peaceful, and, unfortunately, it takes time to create change in this way. People ask for evidence or examples of what, precisely should happen if the protesters are successful. They want a road map for the future. Those asking this have good questions, but they need to be patient. Events can unfold in a number of ways, and it is impossible to predict how. Ukraine will just need to deal with political change as it comes.

For those that want examples of a post revolution Ukraine, here is one that addresses a particular aspect of society: journalism. As far as I can tell, Euromaidan is about ordinary people taking control of the destiny of their country. Hromadske TV has emerged as a living example of this. Hromadske TV is an internet television station that has been broadcasting news about Euromaidan on the internet. They have a no frills sort of an approach. Their studio appears to be located in an attic in Kyiv. Their small newsroom is visible behind the news desk, while the anchors sit with laptops in front of them. The anchors have a flat screen monitor and "Hromadske TV banner behind them. They often have audio, video, and internet speed problems. But these superficial problems are made up for by substance. The quality of journalism they put out is professional and superb. These (mostly young) journalists have a bright future, and I certainly hope this will become the model to replace oligarch owned news companies in Ukraine.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Vladimir Lenin statue falls in Kyiv

By Michael

As I was publishing my last blog post yesterday, I heard the news that the Vladimir Lenin statue in Kyiv was taken down.

My initial reaction was similar to that of Brian Bonner, editor of the Kyiv Post:
Finally, the statue of Vladimir Lenin is gone from central Kyiv. It should have been taken down years ago, tucked away in a museum of Soviet-era relics. 
I was wondering why Kyiv didn't do what Lviv did with its statue in 1991. Upon gaining independence from the USSR, the city of Lviv took down Lenin and put him in a warehouse. The statue was not damaged and ordinary people didn't have to take it down, risking injury to themselves or the statue.

If other cities in Ukraine want to keep their Lenin statues, that is fine if a majority of people want it there. I personally don't understand why (they just seem creepy to me), but I'll do my best to remain open minded.

My family and Yulia's family directly suffered because of the Soviets. My great grandfather was shot at his doorstep by the NKVD while Yulia's great grandmother spent several years in a Gulag in Siberia. Her crime? Taking a loaf of bread from the bread factory she worked at to feed her hungry family. My grandmother's kid brother was blown up. He found an interesting device by the roadside, so, as any child might do, he examined it. It turned out to be a Soviet booby trap.

But I'll put aside my sour feelings for a moment. Here are my thoughts for the Soviet sympathizers of Ukraine and those who just want to remember Ukraine's Soviet history:

  • I would be much more sympathetic with the communist party if they showed a little more imagination. Instead of trying to resurrect the Soviet Union, maybe the communists could work at the level of city governments and try to get their party into the mayor's office. The city of Milwaukee in the US, for example, had socialist mayors for fifty years. Although I do not like the Soviets, I do respect Frank Zeidler and the other socialist mayors of Milwaukee. They genuinely cleaned up the corruption that plagued city hall  and helped stop the exploitation of and violence against immigrant factory workers. They allied with the blue collar workers of the city and helped them form successful labor unions.

  • Instead of erecting Lenin statues, why not put up a memorial to the Kronstadt Rebellion? The Kronstadt Rebellion was a rebellion started by sailors of the Russian Baltic Sea fleet. These sailors happened to help initiate the Russian Revolution itself. They were for workers' rights and real socialism and helped overthrow the monarchy. When Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik party brutally took power of the government, the Baltic sailors, former Red Army soldiers, and the people of Kronstadt cried foul and started a rebellion, which was suppressed by Lenin's forces. It seems to me that the Kronstadt Rebellion embodies the true values of the Russian Revolution, while Lenin symbolizes violence and dictatorship. 
But I am much more interested in what is happening in Ukraine right now as I write this than to talk about statues. Lenin seems like a bit of a red herring. The opposition has itself barricaded inside city hall, and the police have been authorized to use violence to get them to disperse. So far the police have stayed put. 

Praying for the safety of everybody involved...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A lesson from the youth of Ukraine: How to be selfless

Since last week there has been a flood of analysis about the protests in Ukraine. What is emerging is an interesting new division in the country that makes the situation here even more complicated. It is not so much of an east-west divide anymore. The division is between the older and younger generations. 

@kashasaltsova wrote an absolutely brilliant message on Twitter this week, and it aptly sums up the generation gap: 
Старше покоління виявилось готове обміняти Незалежність на стабільно бідну,але передбачувану старість.Мафія і бабусі заодне.
If I may translate: "The older generation appears to be ready to exchange independence for stable poverty, but predictable old age. The mafia and grannies are for the same thing." That "same thing" is the old way of thinking, an idea I will get to later in this post.

At the core of the generation gap is how older and younger people get their information. Mustafa Nayem, an active internet journalist during these times, talks about this in an interview with Deutsche Welle:
There are two different realities in Ukraine: in one of them, journalists exercise their right to write about and critically discuss pressing issues. That's the Internet reality - people can write and speak openly there...Many people, especially older people - who play a decisive role in elections, do not use the Internet as a source of information. 
Nayem goes on to say where older people do get their information from--the television:
Those who are loyal to state authorities or who are part of that system control the television media, which have a major impact on people.
What Nayem says is true. Internet news is generally more independent, while television is controlled by stakeholders such as government and big business. What emerges from this is how those media shape our thinking.

Traditional television news in Ukraine has a top-down structure. There is a boss that calls the shots at the company. The news is made the way the boss wants, and that information is disseminated to a mass audience. 

Internet news is more horizontal. On Twitter, for example, Yulia and I follow several big wigs like Victor Yanukovych (the Ukrainian president), Arseniy Yatsenyiuk (a political opposition leader), and Brian Bonner (editor of the Kyiv Post). The first two are prominent politicians, while the latter is one of the bosses of a traditional media outlet--a newspaper. But along with their tweets, we get messages from ordinary people too--our friends and strangers protesting on the Maidan right now. We therefore get a different picture of what is going on, one that is arguably more well rounded. 

In my interactions with people, what I see emerging are two different approaches to problem solving, and they diverge according to age. The younger generation wants to take matters into its own hands. They want ordinary people to take on the problems that civil society faces. Gathering information via the internet is one way they propose to do this. They are not trying to kick out traditional media or the big wigs, but, rather, they want to work with them. What has been most encouraging about these protests is that the protesters do not hope for the European Union to swoop into Ukraine and save the day. Rather, they see the EU as a facilitator that will help create the necessary conditions for ordinary people to get involved in civic life. 

Older people prefer large, formal institutions to get the job done. This goes for the news media as well as agriculture and other aspects of creating a functional society. I've already discussed our opinions about the media, and you could probably guess for yourself our views on farming (We prefer small farms, if you are curious). 

Obviously, this is not a clean divide. There are many older people who use internet media and vice versa. Perhaps a better, more diplomatic way of putting this would be to say the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things. 

This brings me to my thesis. We all need to learn a big lesson from these protests. What makes the protests a true revolution is that they are not about personal comfort or money. That is the old way of doing things. They are about eliminating corruption and government ineffectiveness to create a better future for Ukraine. In order to do this, we need to stop thinking about ourselves and our petty needs and think about the greater good. Everybody--large institutions and ordinary people alike--need to get involved. This is the new way of doing things. Thinking like this is truly revolutionary for Ukraine.

For anyone that does not understand how such a bad government could be elected in the first place, here's how. Firstly, there's flat out election fraud. The vlada (Remember that word from last week? It means the party in power.) pays election commission members to destroy or lose opposition votes. If anyone catches them doing this and demands a revote (which happened is Mykolayiv and other parts of Ukraine last year), the vlada will stall the revote. By having so many undecided elections, they can ensure fewer victories in fewer districts for the opposition. The vlada also bribes the electorate. Last year there were stories of votes being bought with sacks of buckwheat. It's sad, but true. The Party of Regions (currently the vlada) also keeps its base, senior citizens, happy by raising pensions by 100 hryvnias or so. What the seniors don't realize is that the government then simply raises the price of staples like bread accordingly, so that the extra money they are getting in their pensions doesn't even help. When the Party of Regions needs people to protest or agitate protests, they will pay people to go to the streets. 

There is one common thread that the vlada uses to maintain control: greed. It counts on people's greed to get what it wants. What they don't realize about these protesters is that they are revolutionizing how "the system" works. They cannot be bought, and they cannot be intimidated. When Berkut police beat protesters on the morning of November 30th, Yanukovych was hoping that this move would strike fear into his opponents. It had the opposite effect, in fact. People flooded the streets that weekend. People were chanting that they were not afraid anymore. On December 5th, a Kyiv court decided to hold Andriy Dzyndzya, a journalist, in custody for two months. People were furious, and no one was frightened away. The protesters have even been bringing food to police officers who are standing ready to beat them upon order all this week. 

The vlada also threatens Ukraine that unless the masses start behaving, the country's economy will face a downturn. I happen to think this is a complete bluff, but it is an effective scare tactic. Regular people that do have a sincere interest in the well being of Ukraine would not risk such a problem. I think the vlada is speaking in code. What they are really saying is that they will lose lots of their own money if they give in to the protester's demands and start being responsible politicians. Ukraine has been in a recession for quite some time now, so obviously the status quo is not working for ordinary people. Only the vlada has become fabulously wealthy since it was elected. 

The protesters are willing to take short term pain for long term progress. They do not care if they are physically hurt, and they do not care if they have less money. The president and his cronies, because they cannot understand this, do not know how to counter this. They are being egged on by Vladimir Putin. They think the protests have been engineered by "the West." Because all they know is self preservation and their own greed, they do not understand what it is like to believe in something dearly and fight for it.

They have an old way of thinking, and it looks like it is going out the door.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Euro Revolution

By Michael

In my last post I discussed how the president and the "vlada" (Ukrainian for those who hold political power) was quickly losing its legitimacy. After the events of yesterday (December 1st), I think it is safe to say that they have lost their last remaining shreds of power.

The turnout to the protests yesterday was impressive. I heard that as many as 1.6 million people turned out on the streets of Kyiv. I was in downtown Lviv yesterday and it was quite large as well. People are still pouring into Kyiv. By the end of the day, 20 more buses had left from Lviv for the nation's capital. In the face of such numbers, it is hard to see how the vlada can still claim popular support.

Early yesterday morning I was going over various outcomes for Ukraine in my head. One of them involved a split of the country. It is well known that Ukraine is divided politically and linguistically. That was obvious after the Orange Revolution 9 years ago. Western and central Ukraine overwhelmingly voted for the opposition while the south and east voted for Yanukovych.

It does not look like the country is similarly divided this time around. The crowd in downtown Lviv was voicing its support for the rest of the country, especially eastern and southern Ukraine. The host of the rally read that Ukrainians came out to the streets in protest against the vlada in cities like Kharkiv and Donetsk (the president's home city). We watched video of similar protests in Luhansk and Crimea. Several days ago university students from Donetsk wrote a letter to the students of Lviv (some of the most fervent and active of the protesters) saying that they support them. So the country has not been split. It is actually united against the vlada.

However, the vlada may still have one very significant source of power: money. They have stolen great sums of cash from the Ukrainian people over the years through nepotism, corrupt business practices, and illegal seizures of capital. The president, for example, wrote a book that allegedly brought him an income of millions of dollars, though it is impossible to find on bookshelves anywhere. It appears that the book was just one big money laundering operation.

The United States government may soon be helping to put an end to the monetary power of the Ukrainian vlada. It has already made a list of those whose US banks accounts will be frozen (I wanted to include a video of a reading of that list, but I am having problems uploading it right now).

As of this writing, opposition politicians and other protesters are meeting to discuss further steps. They will be demanding resignations from the president, prime minister, and others in the vlada. They are also aware that a systematic change is needed in the government. Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the leaders of the opposition, has already called for a "reboot" of the entire criminal justice system. They will have to get down to the hard work of creating a new way of doing things, whatever that may be. Lastly, new elections will be held.

This is a precarious situation, but things seem to be going well, considering the circumstances. Here is my take on the protests and Ukraine's future:

The protests must remain peaceful at all costs--this includes losing ground to the police. The beating and subsequent dispersal of protesters on Saturday morning was a terrible thing, but it mobilized people, and they came out in droves yesterday. It was clear who was right and who was wrong.

The peaceful protesters won a victory here. The vlada was embarrassed and the opposition was able to unite in support of the victims. If the protesters had turned violent, then the police have the right to declare a state of emergency and impose even more draconian measures.

Yesterday, however, the protests became violent at one point. There were clashes on Bankova Street as protesters attempted to storm the presidential residence. Using a bulldozer, protesters attacked riot police. The majority of protesters reacted valiantly, actually coming to the aid of the Berkut special forces police.

They confronted the unknown agitators using the bulldozers, thus showing that the protests are about peace and non-violence. It is still unclear who the agitators were, though there is speculation that they were paid provocateurs.

The protests at this point were enormous. There was no need to confront the police in such a fashion. Protesters were able to retake Independence Square and other strongholds peacefully, for example.

My prayers are for continued peace. I hope the vlada sees that their criminal ways are no longer tolerated by the Ukrainian people. They should resign their positions and be tried in an unbiased, apolitical court (a right they denied their enemies).

So far the vlada has remained quiet. They are either too frightened to raise their heads or thinking up a counter strategy (or both). The next few days and weeks are crucial. We all need to be sober, focused, and strong in order to follow through with the positive changes that the protesters have demanded.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


There is a LIVE broadcast of what is happening in Ukraine right now (Kyiv, Ukraine):

Heroes and Cowards

By Michael

In my last post I discussed how the peaceful protests in Kyiv yesterday were put to a stop by police brutality. "Berkut" (that is, special forces) police officers beat protesters to get them to disperse from Independence Square, the location of the protests up until that point. In some cases they chased down protesters who were fleeing in order to beat them.

I realized something while watching these videos. The police officers, all decked out in helmets, shields, and body armor, just look like cowards. They indiscriminately attack people without any defensive equipment or weapons.

The reason for the gratuitous violence? A Christmas tree was to be put up in Independence Square and the protesters were in the way!

This happened at four o'clock yesterday morning. It took Victor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, all day to respond. When he finally made a statement, all he said was that he was outraged and that those responsible will be punished. Note that I did not say that he did something. He merely said that he might do something.

Yanukovych has clearly lost sense of what is actually happening in his country. He thinks he can continue business as usual, making statements that he has no intention of following through on. He did this for months with the EU Association Agreement, and he is doing it now. He is wrong.

I just came home from the Euro Maidan in downtown Lviv, and I've seen the situation that is unfolding. As far as I can tell, the Ukrainian government has lost all legitimacy. The leader of the protests in Kyiv, Ruslana, stated that she does not consider Yanukovich the president of Ukraine any longer. In Lviv, bands of teenagers and twenty-somethings are running around the streets, practicing how to defend the Maidan in case Berkut shows up. Essentially, they named themselves the de facto security force there.

The young men practicing anti riot police maneuvers eventually calmed down and dispersed.
At the main stage, the protesters urged the boys to stop, calling them provocateurs. But they too are demanding a complete change of the Ukrainian government.

Local Berkut in Lviv was ordered to be on stand by, but the police officers changed out of their uniforms and joined the protesters, completely disobeying direct orders.

After seeing this, I'm not sure why Yanukovych thinks he can continue doing nothing. Business as usual is not the answer to these problems. From children to elite police squads, everyone seems sick of business as usual. Most likely there is probably something that the president knows that I don't know, which guides him to make these decisions, so I won't act like I completely know better than he does. But knowing what I know, this is a really confusing response.

Even if Yanukovych did not order the beatings, his authoritarian style of governing over the past few years makes everybody think that he is behind every move the government makes. Since he controls parts of government that he shouldn't, like the judiciary and law enforcement, people just assume that he is responsible for everything they do. This is a problem of his own making.

It'll be interesting to see what happens in the near future. There are so many different people involved that there are many variables to account for. The one really positive and reassuring thing that I saw at the Maidan tonight is the sense of pride and optimism that the protesters have. Though angry, they have control of themselves and their emotions. Here's to hoping that they keep it up.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Peaceful protests in Ukraine met with violence

Yulia and I traveled to Lviv yesterday to take part in the human chain that would connect Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, with the Polish border.
Yulia and her dad upon arrival at the chain

At the chain
The chain was supposed to be a sign of support for the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement at the summit in Vilnius yesterday. It was a pretty big deal considering that the Associate Agreement would not even guarantee Ukrainian membership into the EU. The agreement was, unfortunately, not signed.

Since we got back home from the human chain last night a lot has happened in Ukraine. "Shuster Live," a Russian language news program that has a pro-government slant, aired its last episode last night. The show was supposed to feature the three leaders of the united opposition. But when it came time to broadcast the politicians and their opinions on the Association Agreement not being signed the TV channel suddenly played a serial drama instead. "According to lawmaker Iryna Herashchenko’s Facebook page, when lawmakers from the ruling Party of Regions learned that the opposition leaders had entered the studio, they blocked the doors from opening, saying that they weren’t on the list of guests tonight," says the Kyiv Post

This is exactly the kind of antics that the protests are about. Instead of being sure in their positions, the government and its puppet journalists instead censor all opinions other than their own. 

We also learned that the opposition will be holding a rally on Sunday (tomorrow). According to the Kyiv Post, they want to:
1. Form a coordinating committee to communicate with the European community.
2. To state that the president, parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers aren’t capable of carrying out a geopolitically strategic course of development for the state and calls on Yanukovych’s resignation.
3. Demand the cessation of political repressions against EuroMaidan activists, students, civic activists and opposition leaders.
 But this morning we heard very disturbing news coming out of Kyiv. At four in the morning, police starting beating protesters and journalists to disperse the Euro Maidan site.

And see this video by Reuters:

The US government has vowed that the Ukrainian government will face serious repercussions if they use force against the protesters. Well, they already have as of four o'clock this morning. 

Please help us try and right the wrong that the Ukrainian government has done to its own people. We love Ukraine and want to see it have a bright future. 

To help, please sign the petition to US President Barack Obama to impose sanctions against the Ukrainian government. There are other petitions as well. Please see our Twitter feed on our blog for those and other updates about the developing situation here. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Євромайдан: The pro-EU protests in Ukraine

In an earlier post, I wrote about the transformative power of art. I argued that Ukrainian society, specifically, needs a complete reset if the country is going to change for the better. I didn't know how prescient I was being. It seems that Ukrainians have realized that the only path to meaningful change is through a reboot--that is, a revolution.

Last week, the Ukrainian president suddenly reversed his pro-EU speech. He had a mysterious meeting with Vladimir Putin. No one knows what was discussed during that meeting. All anyone knows is that when he came back to Ukraine he was no longer sure he wanted to sign the Associate Agreement with the EU.

That was evidently the last straw for Ukrainian citizens. It seems that they have had enough of other countries dictating what Ukraine should do. Since Thursday night, there have been protests all across the country--and all across the world, in fact! People have been protesting in countries like India, Canada, South Korea, Great Britain, the United States, and the Czech Republic. These protests are called Євромайдани or "Eurosquares" (as in town square). The aim of these protests is to show the government and the whole world that Ukrainian citizens want to integrate into the EU. Ukrainians seem to have realized that deep change is needed in order to do this.

Yulia and I agree, and we attended the Євромайдан in Lviv yesterday. It seemed to be less of a protest and more of a rally. The local government is on the side of the protesters. Lviv is generally a pro European city (a European city is probably more accurate). Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor, even spoke at the meeting. See our video, an excerpt from his speech, on YouTube.  

"The EU is in Ukraine," is what this sign on city hall seems to be saying.

The goddess Diana is also pro-EU

Yulia and I just signed up for Twitter, and we have noticed what a big role it has played in these protests. Since Thusday, Twitter has been flooded with messages about Євромайдани across Ukraine and the world.

About two hours ago, there was a spike in tweets. I watched in real time as people called for help in a clash against riot police. They sent pictures and videos from Kyiv. Here is a video that shows the scuffle unfold (fast forward to minute 43 for the fight). Police hit protesters with billy clubs and used tear gas to try and disperse the crowd. The protesters are serious though, and they stood their ground. I am proud to write that the police ended up retreating.

The police, in fact, have been acting against the interests of the citizens they are supposed to be protecting. I read an article in the Kyiv Post that describes how they protected the statue of Vladimir Lenin in Kyiv. Protesters tore down a tent that is manned by the Communist Party of Ukraine. Representatives from the communist party have been keeping watch by the statue 24 hours a day since it was vandalized in 2009. The protesters then attempted to destroy the monument, but the police protected it.

It's odd to me that they protect a piece of rock, but beat living people. And this isn't even a statue of a Ukrainian. It makes the police (and the president, for that matter) seem like they are foreign occupiers. The statue is in a public space. If the public does not want it there, then it should be taken down. It should not be imposed on Ukrainians in their own capital.

I'll hold off on making any conclusive comments just yet. I'm sure there's more news to come. We'll have to wait and see how this all ends.

If you are interested in seeing a live video feed from the protests in Kyiv, see this site.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Сьогодні не забудьте!! Свічка пам'яті жертвам голодомору 1932-1933рр. 


Today don't forget!! Candle for Holodomor Victims 1932-1933.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Images of America: Our visit from Ukraine

Yulia and I have been living in Ukraine since the summer of 2011. About a year ago (November of 2012), we decided to go back to America to spend the winter and spring there. We decided to work on several farms while in the States in order to get more experience with gardening and to spend the winter in a warmer place than Ukraine. We wanted to get this experience before moving into our own home, which we planned to do in the spring of 2013.

I'd like to devote this post to discussing our experience of America during those months. As you may already know, I was born in America, and Yulia lived there for 11 years. We intimately know what life is like in the US. We went to school there, worked there, and got married there. But after spending a year and a half in Ukraine, we visited America and saw it with new eyes.

We'd like to reflect on this experience before our memories become too distant. Seeing America from a Ukrainian's perspective was enlightening for us. Most people in Ukraine have an unrealistically positive image of the US. They think that life there is better, that everything is just easier. We came to Ukraine with an image of America that we had developed from first hand experience. But after living in Ukraine for over a year, the life is so much better "over there" mantra of Ukrainians started to seep into our psyche. We began to question ourselves: Did we actually make the right decision in moving to Ukraine?

Our trip to America gave us our answer. We realized that we had made the right decision in moving to Ukraine.

That does not mean that we totally hate America. In fact, there are some aspects of America that we want to bring to Ukraine.We'll write about that and our trip to the US in general through a series of textual snapshots or images. These are our reflections on America:

"Hi, how are you?" a cashier at a small organic grocery store asked me.

I hesitated for a second as I walked into the store.  "Is he actually curious as to how I am feeling?" I wondered. I then remembered that "How are you?" means "Hello" in America. I said, "Great," and smiled. That also means "Hello." At this moment I realized that I was seeing America from the eyes of an outsider. What was once commonplace had become foreign.

The first shock Yulia and I experienced after arriving in the US was the grass. Instead of gardens of flowers and vegetables and fruit bearing trees planted everywhere, we saw grass. It encompassed all the land around people's houses in some cases. The grass was neat, shortly trimmed and green, but it seemed to be merely a filler. No one used the grass for any purpose. We didn't see families having picnics on it or children playing American football here. It is just the next best thing to bare earth.

This is saddening. It shows a total lack of imagination and care for outdoor space. Each household has a plethora of space between it and the road-- and between it and other houses. However, this space is void of anything at all (besides grass) so that the effect is that each house is plainly visible from just about everywhere. The ample setback from the street accomplishes nothing. The noise of cars speeding by is not softened by anything. The neighbor's house a quarter of a mile away is clearly visible. Nothing to fill the empty space here either. So why the setbacks and enormous lawns?

In Ukraine, if there is a field of grass, either cows graze on it or children play soccer here. Empty space by the roadside is dedicated to rosehips, hawthorn, and fruit trees. The land around someone's house is planted with fruits and vegetables. At its worst it is planted with monocultures of potatoes and corn, but it is not left idle. 

We spent several months on the west coast, in California and Oregon. Here we were overwhelmed by a plethora of another kind of grass--the kind you smoke. Pot seemed to permeate the very culture there. We had not heard so much talk about pot since high school. Yulia and I do not smoke, and we don't feel we have the right to tell others what to do (just as we dislike others telling us what to do), so we won't prate on the reasons not to smoke.

Our main question is (and this is for the establishment as much as it is for the pot counter culture); why is growing medical marijuana legal while the growing of industrial hemp is illegal? Industrial hemp is not a drug. It will only give you a headache if you smoke it. It is sort of a wonder plant though. It is easy to grow. The seeds are really nutritious--and tasty too! They can be eaten whole or made into an oil. Hemp can also be used as a fiber for textile purposes or used to make paper. It doesn't destroy the soil like cotton and it doesn't take as long as a tree to grow to maturity.

One thing Americans can learn from Ukrainians is how to dress in public. One does not need to wear a top hat and cane, but some sense of decorum should be established while in public in America.

The first store we went to was Wal Mart. It was a complete shock. Here we are back in the richest country in the world. The roads, even in the countryside, might as well be made of glass they are so smooth. Most houses must have running water by law. Horses and wagons can only be found in Amish country.

One would think that in such a highly "developed" society (as Americans like to describe it), people would be immaculately dressed too. This is not the case. As Yulia describes it, people go to the store dressed like Ukrainians do when they dig potatoes.

I have my theories on this. Poor dress may be a misplaced way of displaying how modest and humble people are. The reasoning goes, they must wear sweatpants in public to show that they are just "average Joes." Putting on a clean pair of trousers would unnecessarily elevate them in the eyes of others.

It may also be a product of Americans' extreme reliance on cars to transport them from place to place. You do not have to walk through mud puddles in a car. You do not have to brave the weather in a car. Therefore, the clothes you wear do not matter. You are eternally in a climate controlled environment.

It must be said, this is specific to location. We found that the best dressed people were in New York City. They were not Wall Street bankers, but "average" people on the subway. The well dressed people were of all ages and races. In New York City one usually does not use a car. One has to walk on muddy sidewalks and through the rain and snow to get from place to place. It wouldn't make sense to wear pajama pants while waiting for the bus because those pajama pants would be completely infused with automobile fumes by the end of the day. Best to have a separate outfit for going outdoors.

Yulia and I were very excited to go to New York City's "Green Market." The Green Market is a very large farmers market located at Union Square. I first learned about the Green Market through John McPhee's piece, "Giving Good Weight." The article, written in the 1970s, describes the market as a place where farmers come to the city to people watch. He makes the social dynamic seem very interesting. The farmers seem to be self assured and full of common sense while the city slicker customers come off as naive and inexperienced in the ways of the world. Having fallen in love with Ukrainian bazaars I wanted to see this famous market and what it had to offer.

Yulia doublefisting smoothies at the Green Market

It was a rather large market with lots of fresh vegetables even in November, which was nice! But it became a bit odd when Yulia had bagged up some sweet potatoes and was looking for the seller. He or she was nowhere to be seen. She meandered around the tables, looking for someone with a scale and cash box. No one presented themselves. She said a man surreptitiously took some pictures of her. She didn't know what to think of that. When she finally found a seller, he informed us that those veggies were not his. He sent us over to a man sitting off to the side. He was the man taking the pictures! He didn't say anything, but weighed the potatoes and that was it.

It was very odd. It was as if he was trying to catch Yulia shoplifting. Wouldn't it have made more sense to just say, "You can pay for that over here." These were not the folksy and down to earth farmers that McPhee portrays. I realized that they were just smug.

The rest of the market was like this too--with mystery produce sellers. One would think that at such a large and famous market the sellers would have a better system down for payment. Yulia and I have been to farmers markets all across the country and we didn't see anything else so confusing.

We met a lot of people in America who had a close connection to the land around them. My parents and their friends have serious gardens, orchards, and apiaries at their homes in Pennsylvania. They live in an old Ukrainian community where wild strawberries and mulberries grow by the roadside and where houses once occupied by old Ukrainian immigrants have orchards. We also met and lived with many farmers who have a similar connection to the land. In South Carolina we saw a culture that was seriously into hunting. Before we left for Ukraine (the first time) we took a course at the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon. They use local materials like clay, sand, and wood in their architecture.

The inside of the library at the Cob Cottage Company. I don't think the lumber used for the ceiling was purchased at Lowe's!

But many other times we felt completely disconnected from the land (that is, nature) around us. On more than a few occasions we went to a beautiful place only to be greeted by the dreaded sign: "Fee Area." While driving in Arizona, bored by monotony, we were thrilled to find that we were near Meteor Crater. After driving off the highway for fifteen minutes we arrived in the parking lot to learn that we had to pay $18 to see the crater.

The visitors center that blocks the view of Meteor Crater

The vast emptiness that drove us to exit the freeway and see something interesting
On occasion we did pay the fee whenever we planned a trip somewhere, but this eliminates spontaneity. It makes it difficult to just come across something and discover it. If we did "discover" someplace it usually turned out to be private property where we were not supposed to be. To us, making nature into a fee area or private property creates a sense of separation from the world around us. Nature becomes something apart from everyday life, compartmentalized in an invisible box.

Boxes seem to be a major theme in the American imagination. The big boxes, in fact, have taken over the American landscape. To anybody who has not seen America, this is what it looks like regardless of the state you are in:

Notice the "Best Buy" electronics store. That is what a big box store looks like. Although it is on the horizon, it is actually only two doors down from the hotel we were staying at (where the picture was taken from).

This was not a new discovery for us, but we have noticed that this pattern of building is being adopted in Ukraine too. There are now places in Lviv that look just like this American moonscape.

So this is my message to those living in America: please, please, please think about the kind of places you are creating. They are not only being replicated across the country, but across the world. Other countries, like Ukraine, unquestioningly use all things American as an example to follow. That goes from mundane strip malls to the corrupt banking practices of the "too big to fail" banks. Make sure the American example you create is a good one. It has worldwide ramifications.


We saw some wonderful things in America too.

A few days after arriving back in Ukraine and moving into our new home, our friend Taras brought his family and some new friends to see our house. They were interested in the experience we had working on small farms in the States and inquired about the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business model. A CSA, for those who are unfamiliar, is a practice whereby customers buy products directly from the farm. The customers usually pay a sum of money before the season starts to help the farmer with start up costs. Then, during the growing season, the customer receives a box of fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs--I've even heard of fish CSAs in Massachusetts--every week.

Our friends wondered if this was true. Do customers in America really trust farmers enough to pay them up front for vegetables? We assured them that this was true. It was wonderful to realize that this system of trust exists in the States. It is something that we take for granted. We hope that this mentality is eventually exported and adopted by skeptical Ukrainians.

American friendliness is, in our opinion, one of the treasures of the country. We also would like to see this American export in Ukraine.

The best example of American amiability that we saw was in South Carolina. Descending from the Smoky Mountains into the hills of Upcountry South Carolina, we stopped by a roadside produce stand by the highway. Here we bought ourselves some wonderful local pecans and fudge (candy is a rare purchase for us) that were the epitome of real ingredients and authenticity. The shopkeeper was an older man with suspenders. "Come on back now," was the only thing he said after we made our purchase.

We worked on a small farm near Greenville, South Carolina. The city itself is making wonderful renovations to the city. It has revitalized its main street, making it super pedestrian friendly. Traditional American main streets, though a bit of a nostalgic cliche, are one of the best inventions of American city planning. We were heartened to see one thriving so well.

How Greenville is rehabilitating bad city planning. They have created a garden space free of automobiles under the elevated highway that cuts through the heart of the city.
The character of the people in Greenville matches the warmth of the city's revitalization. I was in a grocery store there where a man needed to get by me. "Excuse me, sir. Thank you, sir," is what he said. He was twice my age. The "sirs" were not a sign that he thought I was old, but simply a gesture of respect towards a stranger.

Ukrainians remain very closed off towards strangers until they know who they are. This is bad if you are a stranger, but good if you are not. Once a Ukrainian knows that you are a friend or family--watch out! Expect a table full of a family's finest foods and plenty of cheerful conversation. Ukrainian hospitality rivals that of Southerners, though it is not meted out as freely.

We met many new and interesting people during our trip to America. To write about them all would be too much for this post. One person, however, stood out to us as an inspiration for the kind of people Yulia and I want to be.

We only spent a few hours with this man, but we were able to see the good life he was trying to lead despite his limitations. His name is Eugene, and he worked for a date farmer in the desert of southern California. We met him while working on this farm.

We were rather isolated where we were in Imperial County, the poorest county in California. We were a two hour drive from the affluence (and natural grocery stores) of Palm Springs. Although he did not have a car and had little income, Eugene was able to live a remarkably healthy lifestyle. He had much experience as a raw food chef and knew what he was doing. He was quite the resourceful person, in fact. Eugene used the supply of dates he had access to in order to make a fermented beverage similar to kombucha. He had a mini fridge full of these drinks. Although the soil here was too sandy and the climate too harsh for a conventional vegetable garden, he grew his own micro greens. He sprouted sunflower seeds and made wonderful salads with them. He made up his own salad dressing too using the limited ingredients he had access to (like oranges and flax seeds (see post script)).

It was wonderful to see someone who did not have access to easy money or resources able to make such fine foods. In America, healthy eaters are often stigmatized as overly privileged, disconnected, and fussy people. Eugene was nothing of the sort. He had a warm heart and shared much of what he made with us although he had little for even himself. He wrote up several of his recipes for us so that we could make similar food for ourselves.

Too often, Ukrainians think that life is better "over there," meaning in the US or other rich countries. What Yulia and I want to adopt and show through example is Eugene's perspective--that you create the kind of life you want to live despite external circumstances.

When Ukrainians ask me if life is better "over there"--just as Myron, a seventeen year old boy from our village, asked me a few days ago--I say that sometimes I think it is and sometimes I think it is not. It's an honest answer. Understanding both cultures (and others as well) will only help create the kind of world we want to live in--regardless of where we are.

PS: Eugene's Orange Flax Dressing

  • 3 peeled oranges
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1.5 cups olive oil (1 cup is enough)
  • 0.5 cup gold flax soaked in 1 cup water (do not drain)
  • 0.5 cup blanched almonds
  • 0.5 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
  • 1 tablespoon Celtic salt
  • Handful of fresh herbs--parsley/dill or parsley/tarragon
  • Black pepper to taste medium grind
Blend all ingredients holding back the oil, herbs, and black pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil--turn off blender. Add herbs and pepper--pulse in. Do not over blend. Bottle and refrigerate.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Moral obligations to animals, shame, and our reflections on finding an abandoned dog

Written on Sunday, November 3rd

Yulia and I were traveling through Mount Shasta, California early this spring. While we were there we took a ride up the majestic mountain and found ourselves in a fairy tale wonderland.

Mount Shasta

The view from Mount Shasta

Yulia, in her unceasing ability to convert beauty to action, said that the whole world once looked this way and that we can make it be that way again. She's right.

We drove up the road that winds up the 14,000 foot mountain. We made it up to Bunny Flat before the road became impassible due to snow. Here is a view from Bunny Flat. There's still a long way to go to the summit!

Bunny Flat

We stopped here to use the public restrooms and discovered an injured bird flying around the entrance to the building. We found it in a miserable state. It could not fly.

Yulia immediately said that we needed to take the bird with us. I was not so sure. I reasoned that it's a wild animal. It may have a family in the area. Blah, blah, blah. The usual excuses.

We were debating what to do when a man walked out of the restroom. The bird was sitting helpless on the ground in front of the doorway. We watched in horror as the man stepped not two inches from crushing this little animal. Both the man and the bird had no idea what almost happened!

That decided it for us. We took the bird and put it in a box. We took it to the base of the mountain where there was an animal shelter. The people at the shelter informed us that they were closed and to come back later. We told them that we had an injured bird with us and that it needed help. Without hesitation they invited us inside. A receptionist did some quick paperwork with us and a couple vets came from the back room into the lobby. Everyone seemed genuinely concerned about this little bird!

They thanked us for bringing it and said that they would return it to Bunny Flat after treating it. The receptionist gave us a big smile, clasped her hands together, and gave us a namaste bow of the head.

Everything worked in this situation. Ordinary people (Yulia and I) had the means (a car) to take this animal to safety. This small mountain town had an institution (an animal shelter) already in place to help the bird.

It was easy to do the right thing.

I am sorry to now write that we were not so helpful to a dog recently. It's not easy for me to write about this. I feel sadness. I feel shame. But it's important. I won't let my pride stop me from writing.

On November 1st Yulia woke me up to tell me that there was a dog in our back yard. I got out of bed and met her outside. Sure enough there was a dog. It had its tail between its legs. It was shivering. It was scared of us.

We reasoned that she came in through the only opening in our fence. The gate in back has been broken since we moved in.

We did not immediately coax her into going through the gate and back to where she presumably came from. She seemed in too sorry a state to simply chase her away. I brought her some cat food and placed it about 15 feet away from her. She did not go for it. I moved it a few feet closer. Still no. So I moved it to almost right under her nose. Nothing.

We left. Ten minutes later we came back to an empty bowl. She was running around beyond our fence. Problem solved, I thought. The food gave her the boost of energy she needed to go home.

Around midday we noticed that she had not left. Rather, she was milling around by our front door. I opened our front gate to let her out onto the street. I called to her. She did not budge. I tried to herd her through the gate. She went sideways instead of straight out the opening.

My neighbor across the street asked me who I was talking to. I showed him the dog and asked if he knew whose it was. He said he had never seen it before. It probably wasn't from around here. He said that it is cute and that he would take it, but he just took in an abandoned dog a few weeks ago.

He encouraged the dog to leave: "Come on out, doggy. Michael and Yulia can't keep you. They go to the city often. You wouldn't want them to leave you alone like that, would you?" Our neighbor was right. We're getting ready to go to Lviv for the next few days, in fact. We have two cats and set them up with plenty of food and a huge bowl of water when we leave. They catch mice and go potty outside. But leaving cats for a few days is one thing. Leaving a dog that we don't know all alone in our house is completely different. It would be irresponsible I think.

So I took some old oatmeal cookies and put them by the road. I figured she would take the bait and then find her way home when on the familiar street. I left the gate open for her and went about my business.

Yulia and I were sitting inside when it started to get dark out. The dog had not left. She ate the cookies and had settled onto our front stoop. I noticed that she was absolutely covered with fleas.

I do not like fleas. Two years ago, when our cats were kittens, they had a bad flea problem. We could not get a handle on it. No matter how many times we bathed them with flea shampoo we could not kick the infestation. Then fleas started appearing everywhere. In the bathroom. In the kitchen. On our bed. Yulia started getting bitten by them too. It was miserable for everybody. There was no one thing that kicked the problem finally. Ointments, shampoo, essential oils, washing the bedding, and several months eventually solved the problem.

So when I saw that this dog had a bad flea problem (she was actually whimpering because of all the little bugs), I gave her some flea ointment for cats.

I didn't have the heart to force her onto the street. It was dark out and getting cold. The dog was shivering and crying. My compassion got the best of me. I gave her some newspapers, a towel, and a box to sleep in and some warm food.

The dog slept all through the night. The next morning she woke up wagging her tail. There was a massive die off of fleas. Her bedding was covered with hundreds of them! They were on our front stoop too and on our shoes and sandals that we keep by the door. She was still scratching and biting at her legs though. They had not all died.

We led her out onto the road and closed the gate behind us. She did not leave, but sat crying in front of our house. We tried ignoring her for several hours. She did not leave. We saw our neighbor, Maria, leading her cows out to graze. I heard the dog bark at them and saw one rear up in fright. There is one stray dog in our village. When she came around, this dog and the stray started viciously barking at each other.

I told Yulia that I didn't think that this would work out. The dog was not going anywhere. If the dog hurt herself or someone else we'd have an even bigger problem. We decided to search the internet for an animal shelter in the area. The only one we could find was in Lviv. Their website says that they basically fix stray animals and then let them go. This wouldn't fix the problem of finding a home for this dog though. And who would drive an hour out from the city to pick up a dog? There are many strays in the villages around Lviv. Why would they come out for this particular one?

I decided to take a walk to the spring. If the dog followed me, I thought, maybe she would recognize her home and go there. Or maybe someone would recognize the dog, and we would find its owner. The dog followed me to the spring and back. She did not leave me. No one recognized her. This just served to break my heart more. The dog followed me like a true companion. I've never seen anyone (or anything) offer so much loyalty for so little!

But we continued to leave her on the street. Yulia and I exchanged uncertain looks with intermittent tears in our eyes the rest of the afternoon and evening.

The story doesn't end well. When it started to get dark out I went to the well to get some water for washing. I heard our neighbor yelling. He was whipping something--I'm not sure if it was an actual whip or a tree branch--at the dog. The dog frantically barked at him and ran in defense. That's the last time I saw the dog.


I am left with only uncertainty after this experience.

I don't know if our neighbor actually whipped the dog or if he whipped near the dog. They were on the other side of the fence, and I couldn't see much in the half light. I ran out to talk with him when I heard the commotion, but the neighbor ran after the dog by the time I got to the street. I might still ask him about it, though he might not want to talk about it. He called the dog cute yesterday. He has his own abandoned dog that he took in. He obviously likes the animals, so I imagine that it was hard for him to chase this one away. I'm not sure what prompted him to whip at the dog. Maybe she attacked his dog. Maybe she attacked his granddaughter who was playing out on the street. But talking about it with me might be too emotionally difficult for him. We'll see.

He was wrong to be violent though, and I'm not sure if I want to talk with him after seeing what he did. Sure, it's a means to an end. He got the dog to go when I couldn't. But that does not make it OK.

Written on Friday, November 8th

I was writing the above post last Sunday morning while Yulia was still sleeping. I was planning on writing a homily about animal cruelty. I wanted to know what you, our readers, thought about the situation.Although I consider myself a defender of animal rights, I genuinely did not know the right thing to do. Keeping the dog and ignoring it both seemed to be bad solutions.

But when Yulia woke up she asked me how the dog got back onto our property. I asked her what she was talking about, and she showed me.

The front gate was ajar and the dog was back!

I'll keep the remaining story short. We vacillated back on forth on what to do on Sunday. In the evening a neighbor came and said that he would take the dog on Monday and give it to his sister. His was a bit drunk (he even told us that he had been drinking), so we didn't know if we could trust his word.

We waited around most of Monday and left on the 3:30 bus, with regret, for our planned trip to the city. The dog was still faithfully waiting by our front gate as we drove away on the bus. The neighbor never came by.

The guilt and uncertainty was too much for me. It started raining and pouring on Monday night and I broke down in tears. I told Yulia that I couldn't take it anymore. We decided to take the dog in.

On Tuesday, armed with a collar, leash, flea shampoo, and super healthy dog food, I went back by myself to our house. The dog was no longer at the gate. I didn't feel optimistic about either scenario: either she ran away or the drunk man had taken her. I went into our back yard, teary eyed yet again, when the dog showed herself, wagging tail and all.

Friday--that is, today--she is free of fleas, has a hand made dog house and a belly full of food (and lots of high calorie butter). I constantly reassure her that she will never be cold or hungry again. We decided to name her Tulip. She faithfully sleeps by the front door every night.

Tulip--she might be part German shepherd. What do you think?

Her dog house. We expect her to get big, so we built it with plenty of growing room.

This is one heck of a smart dog! I have been able to teach her how to sit already. She likes to jump on us a lot though. Any advice on how to get a puppy to not jump on people? Can you teach us any tricks to teach her?

Tulip licking her lips. I wonder if she knows that she has a life full of lots of yummy food to look forward to?