Sunday, February 23, 2014

Euromaidan not totally victorious yet

Euromaidans in many cities around Ukraine are celebrating a victory.Yesterday brought uplifting news that Yanukovych was impeached and that a more level headed Parliament was working. However, the above video suggests to me that the fight for Ukrainian freedom may not yet be over. The maidan in Kerch, Crimea was attacked by pro-Russian separatists yesterday suggesting that not everyone is in favor of a liberal democratic Ukraine.

During the playing of the Ukrainian national anthem at the maidan in Kerch a crowd throws things at the people at the podium, hitting one woman in the face. People then trash the area and throw the Ukrainian flag to the ground calling the activists fascists. The anti-Ukrainian mob then chases a man down the street and attacks him, kicking him in the head and face. They then celebrate victory, raising the Russian flag while burning an American one amidst chants of "Russia!"

One positive thing I see is that police defend the maidan activists from the angry mob. It's almost strange seeing police actually defending Ukrainian patriots. Nice to see that they understand the responsibilities that come along with their jobs. Hopefully, we'll see more and not less of this in the future (Pretty pathetic I actually have to say that, huh?).

I don't know what to say about this video other than my realization how backwards some parts of Ukraine are. The people calling the maidan activists fascists seem antiquated, more like subjects of a Stalinist Soviet Union rather than modern, enlightened citizens of an independent Ukraine.

Although secession from Ukraine is unconstitutional, if people in Kerch and other areas of Ukraine want to leave and become part of Russia or form their own country and remain in a state of post-Soviet limbo I think they should be allowed to. Too many people have died and been maimed and tortured in the name of improving our country. It's not worth it anymore. If these people want to go, then they should be allowed to. Let the rest of us live in the kind of country we want to have.

Simple thoughts on the not so simple revolutionary events in Ukraine

"There is a party that kills people." That is the simple statement that I saw posted on a billboard while I was in Lviv this morning. The party this billboard refers to is the Party of Regions, the (until today) pro-presidential party.

Yulia and I went into the city yesterday, and these are the things we noticed in a revolutionary Lviv. Upon entering the city, our bus went through a checkpoint of sorts. Basically, the Maidan self defense team stacked tires to narrow the lanes and made a speed bump to slow traffic down. They did not stop us. My thoughts are that they are simply on the lookout for military or police vehicles or titushky (if they could spot them).

As we read in the news, many ATMs are not working, out of money, or have a limit to how much cash they dispense. One of my main objectives in going to the city was to buy roof shingles for our house, so the lack of working ATMs made it difficult to get enough cash for what I needed. It's alright though. As Yulia and I see it, it's worth going through some inconveniences now for what we hope will be a better future.

And really, that's all I noticed in terms of big changes in the city. I had to return home to bring back the supplies I got for ремонт (home renovations) and take care of the animals. Yulia stayed behind and went to Lviv Euromaidan today, so I'm sure she has a more comprehensive picture of what's going on.

Here at our village we've had spotty electric and internet service all week. It may or may not be related to the larger nationwide crisis. Our church rang its bell in mourning after mass casualties on Wednesday and Thursday. I also heard them today after news came out that Yanukovych (sort of) resigned. Many of our neighbors have Ukrainian flags accompanied by black ribbons hung up on their houses, and our neighbors across the street put a candle in their window to mirror the candle I put in ours in remembrance of the lives lost this week.

While the situation in most Ukrainian cities was hot this week, life in the countryside remained relatively unchanged. We're just far enough from any major urban areas that our sky was so dark that it was bright, electrified with stars. After watching the turmoil on the news it was surreal to step outdoors and be enveloped by the calm.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dark forces at work in Ukraine

"One person has seized power and is commanding you to turn on your fellow citizens. Dark forces are behind these orders! Do not follow them while you still have a chance."

While not a direct translation, this is what Yulia and I remember a woman saying as she pleaded with police to not attack Euromaidan on February 18th. While we cannot find a video of this speech, it happened right before the explosions and fighting seen in the above video. This woman's speech was by far the most moving one we have heard so far. It gets right to the heart of the issue with no embellishments, no circumlocution, and no frills in her rhetoric. What we see the authorities doing in Ukraine right now represents the darkest of places in a human's soul. It is the nefarious energy that motivates people to kill, maim, and torture defenseless people.

Yulia was in tears as we watched the events seen in the above video. While I am prone to tears, I held them back so as not to bring extra negative energy into our space.

But I wonder how many people died that night listening to thousands of people singing the Ukrainian national anthem amidst explosions of guns, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks. These are the people that will henceforth be the heroes that future generations remember. We will always be grateful to them.

Слава Україні.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Beyond left and right: A multidimensional, vibrant picture of Ukraine

I view this blog that Yulia and I write as an alternative window into everyday life in Ukraine. We try to reveal a side of the country that is hard to find in the larger media portrayal of the place.

We feel that much of what we read about our country is fine, but hearing the same kind of people all the time can make Ukraine out to be quite two dimensional. Politicians, economists and other experts are often quite knowledgeable about the place, but they have one very big weak spot--a lack of imagination.

What Yulia and I have become increasingly drawn to in the news are interviews with artists about the events in Ukraine. We find that we relate much more to artists than to formal analysts. It's gotten to the point where Yulia has me turn off the news whenever most experts are on. They can't teach us anything new she reasons. She's right.

Sometimes I just want to shout to these people, "People are being kidnapped from hospitals and tortured and killed! The government doesn't feel that it has to follow the law and selectively uses that same law to lock people up who simply disagree with them. No one from the government or police has had to face any consequences for the illegal and violent stuff they have been doing. They don't care about your diplomatic procedures! They don't care about calls for peace! You can't just keep doing and saying the same things as if things were normal! Be creative. Be clever. Give us some new ideas finally!" As Michael Shchur says in his new song (which I will discuss below), "We're going to call black, black. We're going to call white, white."

This is why we were refreshed yesterday morning to watch an interview with Oleksa Mann.

He talked a bit about his artwork, but also talked about being on the Maidan, not as an artist, but as a citizen. Towards the end of the interview I was even relieved to hear his criticism of foreign journalists who continue to repeat the same old story--that Ukraine is being taken over by fascists who want to establish some kind of right wing state here. They superimpose right and left wing politics from their own countries onto Ukraine, a problem I have noticed for quite some time now. The left in Ukraine, Mann says, are historically the communists, while the right are liberals. To take the American left or right, for example, and force that onto Ukraine distorts the nature of things here.

But to stay focused on right and left only, no matter how careful and accurate one is, still simplifies Ukraine too much. It approaches the world as if there were only two dimensions.

Lately, we've seen some wonderful artistic performances responding to current events in Ukraine. They do the best job, in our opinion, of expressing the depth and complexity society here.

Take Michael Shchur's most recent video.

Shchur, for those of you unfamiliar with him, is a fictional character created by a Ukrainian journalist. He pretends to be a journalist from the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada and usually makes comedic videos spoofing Ukrainian society. But his most recent release is actually a song. It is called, "We'll arm ourselves with t-shirts." The song confronts present and former authorities of Ukraine: "You've paid off thousands. We're familiar with millions of those that you've killed. Who do you think you demeaned?" The lyrics demand an end to this period of Ukrainian history and give an ultimatum--"We're going to burn this epoch. This is our first demand." The lyrics seem to be directed at the present and past foes of Ukraine. The millions of deaths are, I presume, made up of those who died in the Holodomor and gulag through to those killed last month in the violence in Kyiv. Mykhaylo Hrushevskyi's portrait on the t-shirt in the video represents the Ukrainian revolutionary spirit and the epicenter of the current fighting in the country's capital. Hrushevskyi helped form and govern Ukraine during a brief period of independence in 1917. Most of the current fighting has taken place on a street named after him.

Okean Elzy's Euromaidan concert in December was also moving. It had touching moments. I'll never forget when the tens of thousands of people in the audience took out their flashlights in unison. I'll let the hour long concert do the talking. What a spectacle:

Then there's Ot Vinta, who made a curious music video filmed in front of a line of police on the streets of Kyiv. The burly (all male) members of the band appear dressed in yellow skirts. They play a banjo, ukulele, and drum. The bass has a deer head on it for some reason. After it aired on Hromadske TV, all the host could ask the singer was, "What was this?" Unfortunately, I can't remember his response. Yulia thinks the way they sound is kind of annoying. I think they are a hoot! 

Are they left or right wingers? Would they be in the American Tea Party or the British Labour Party? I'm not sure. I just know they are dressed in yellow skirts. :)

The song "Rozy/Donbass" by the Dakh Daughters is equally bewildering to me, though the song is sung in English. Donbass is the area of eastern Ukraine where the president and many oligarchs are from. Perhaps there is a political message in there somewhere, but whenever I watch this song and video I am overwhelmed by all that is going on musically and visually. The song starts out rather harsh, but is a lot of fun towards the end. The Dakh Daughters are quite versatile. Yulia and I have seen them perform pretty traditional folk songs on TV as well. But here is "Rozy/Donbass:"

Hopefully these performances and videos were a breath of fresh Ukrainian air to you, our dear matter how strange that breath of fresh air was!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

You have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time.

In the depths of February Yulia and I are slowly working away on renovating and, more importantly, beautifying our home. The work we've been doing has lifted our spirits. Moving around so much also keeps us warm!

We hope this simple blog post will be a source of pleasure and inspiration for you, our readers, as well!

Yesterday we finished installing a new ceiling in our dining room. We have a few small details to add, like molding around the edges. But we are excited to have the big part done--the ceiling!

We also added wood paneling to the base of the walls. The old clay walls were uneven, so we couldn't just put molding between the wall and floor. The wood paneling helped straighten things out (and looks sharp too!).
Our darling banana passion fruits are staying warm in those yellow pots in our dining room. As you can see, we still have to install a windowsill and trimming around our new windows.
How we attached the wood panels.
This is what we started with in our dining room:

Quite a difference, huh?

Upon first moving in all we could do to beautify the room was to keep incense and jars of dried herbs on the pichka. At the time we thought they really helped soften the brutal space. The mirror in the above photo also shows the significant work that was needed on the opposite wall.

After putting in the hard work yesterday to finish the ceiling, this morning Yulia and I took advantage of the warm weather and took a walk to the spring. What a beautiful morning it was! Warm--8 degrees Celsius (almost 50 Fahrenheit)--but with lingering snow on the ground.

We took Toma on a maiden walk with her newest leash--a metal one this time. Since she arrived in November, she has chewed up two of her leashes that we mistakenly left outside with her. Her nylon leash had three incarnations. It started out as 3 meters long. Then Miss Toma shortened it to 2 meters. Then to one. Then she destroyed it.

On the way to the spring Toma started barking at a tree stump. Haunted perhaps? Enchanted? Only Toma knows.


And here's our spring! How enchanting it is! (Though we do our best to refrain from barking at it!)