Saturday, March 22, 2014

Going back outside

At the end of December, right before the new year, Yulia and I got started working on our veranda. The exposed clay walls and old ceiling needed to be covered, and three out of the four doors and a window between the veranda and living room needed to be replaced

Yesterday I finished nearly all I could do. Here are the results:

The door and window to the living room. The living room is north facing, which is why we included a window in the door and kept a window going to that room instead of doing away with it. The inclusion of these windows will help bring extra light into the otherwise dark room on the other side.

A close up of the window. Our "TV screen without a TV."

The yellow door will lead to what will eventually be the bathroom. The white doors lead to our dining room and kitchen.

Here is a step by step of how I replaced the interior doors:

Take off the old door. Use a crowbar to rip out the old frame.

Realize that doors from 50 years ago were shorter than contemporary doors. I had to use a hammer and pick to bore through the clay. I also had to saw through a thick beam of oak that was embedded in the clay. As I was sawing I prayed that the wooden beam was not load bearing.

Install a new frame

Add the door. Make 87 minor adjustments until everything is level.

Cover everything with wood paneling.

The front door still needs to be replaced, but I must wait for help from Yulia's dad with that. If I couldn't finish an interior door in one day it was no big deal. I could take my time and finish it another day. If I don't install the front door in a day, we'll have to go to sleep that night with a hole in our wall.

The frightful old front door (I boarded up the windows in the winter to help the room stay warm) with the new red door waiting next to it.

Can't finish the ceiling until the front door is replaced.
The big picture.

 I hate to say it, but just as we're finishing up our veranda it almost doesn't matter anymore. Our attention is shifting from interior renovations to the world outside.

Yulia made some sun tea yesterday with rose hips and fruits.

Before (Will the weak March sunshine be enough to brew tea??)):

After (Yup!):

Our garden is still kinda bare, but we see the potential in it!

But not everything is bare. Look at these edibles that overwintered:

Mache (Corn salad)
The flowers bring the first rush of color to a bleak landscape. They bring us outside like little bees.


Yesterday I took Toma on a bike ride to the forest and we brought some blooming wildflowers back home with us.

Lungwort "Медунка" (Bees love these)

"Анемона дібровна"

And we're planning another trip to the forest tomorrow. Curious what we will find this time...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


By Michael

Things in Ukraine have been surreal lately. I feel it most right before I go to sleep and right when I wake up. I'm often not sure if it is a dream or not. Is this really happening in the country I live in, I think? Looking out the bedroom window I can't tell. The honking geese on our quiet street continue to wake me every morning like they've been doing since we moved here in July. Daily life is as it always has been around here.

But according to our computer Russia really has invaded Ukraine. Conversations with other people confirm what I read on the screen.

I turn over the events in my head. It's just bizarre.

A couple weeks ago former members of Berkut riot police in Crimea forcefully took over the Crimean parliament and raised a Russian flag. OK. So the former Ukrainian government was essentially employing a fifth column? Did they not know about this or were they themselves part of that fifth column? Rhetorical questions. Of course they were a fifth column. I may not be a political consultant, but it might be a good idea for Ukraine to have actual supporters of the Ukrainian state working for the government in the future.

Recently, many Ukrainian news broadcasts have converted to the use of the Russian language at times. This, I assume, is to try and disseminate truthful information to Russians and Russian speakers who only have access to the propaganda and outright lies on Russian state TV. I support their efforts, though I must turn to other sources when they switch to Russian (I only know Ukrainian. Yulia knows both Russian and Ukrainian.).

But this is the kind of absurdity I've encountered. Last night I wanted to watch Hromadske TV. They were broadcasting in Russian. I switch to Channel 5. Also Russian. So I turn to an American radio show about Ukraine and a guest calls in and says that the Russian language has been outlawed in Ukraine. Dumbfounded.

If you have not heard the news, Crimea voted to become part of Russia yesterday. 123% of the population of Sevastopol voted yes. I'm not making a joke here. The falsification of the election was that sloppy.

The "referendum" was a sham to begin with though. One could not even select to keep Crimea part of Ukraine. The options were to join Russia or become autonomous.

However, there are things that revive me from the dream like state I feel I've been in. I sober up when I see things like this:

"Tartars get out of Crimea"

As residents of mainland Ukraine, we cannot say "good riddance" to the referendum. There is a population of people, the Crimean Tartars, who are indigenous to this area, and they are terrified of Russian rule. During the mid twentieth century they were deported from their ancestral home by Stalin and the Soviet government. About half the Tartar population lost their lives in the mass deportation and genocide. They once made up a majority of the population in Crimea. After their deportation and genocide there is now an ethnic Russian majority there. Seeing their Russian neighbors waving hammer and sickle flags must not be a welcome sight for the Tartars. If you want to know more about this group of people, I recommend this article from the New Yorker: "Who will protect the Crimean Tartars?"

Many Tartars have been fleeing Crimea since the Russian invasion. They are heading to Lviv. Our friend Taras has been taking part in finding housing for the refugees.

The irony is (and here we go back to the land of imagination), if you read the news, you would think that Lviv is the last place a small group of oppressed Muslims would want to go. According to Russian state TV and the occasional Western journalist, Lviv is a city of xenophobic fascists. Why are they coming to our city then? Because the world isn't the land of imagination.

Yulia and I may be biased because we are residents of Lviv, but we happen to think that Lviv, and Ukrainians in general, are quite tolerant people. We see outsiders welcomed here quite often. And we ourselves embrace other languages and cultures. Yulia plays American Indian, Latin American, Russian, and Ukrainian folk music at home for us, for example.

However, we also realize that no one will defend Ukraine and Ukrainian language and culture for us. So we must be its proponents and defenders. Yulia and I have been talking about this, and we plan to discuss that in an upcoming post.

Until next time!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Russian invasion of Ukraine

If you are somewhere outside of Ukraine, watching and reading about the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the news, you probably feel a lot like Yulia and me.

These are eerie sights for us indeed.

But we feel distant from the invasion. Unlike Euromaidan, not much is happening in western Ukraine. The currency is devaluing, of course, but it was devaluing before the invasion. During the past three months we had a very good feel for what was happening in Ukraine. We live here and completely understand the protesters. We were the protesters on many occasions. But what Putin and the Russian government are thinking is now totally beyond us. We certainly don't have the same kind of feel of the situation. Unlike Euromaidan, this is being imposed on Ukraine.

Some people may point to the residents in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and say that they are for being a part of Russia, but this is suspect. It seems that many pro-Russia protesters are actually just Russian citizens visiting Ukraine. For example, the man who put the Russian flag up on the regional government building in Kharkiv was from Moscow.

No doubt there are some pro-Russian Ukrainians. But their numbers are distorted by Russians pretending to be Ukrainians.

There is a massive disinformation campaign being waged. Timothy Snyder does a good job addressing it in his article titled, "Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda." If you have not read it yet, please do. Snyder accomplishes many things in one article. He summarizes the situation, giving a comprehensive overview of the events in Ukraine. He talks about the wide diversity of people involved in Euromaidan and the new government. A Ukrainian of Afghani descent first called for people to take to the streets in November, starting Euromaidan. The first protester killed was Armenian. The second was Belorussian. Not everybody's ethnic Ukrainian and Christian, but they are all for Ukrainian democracy. He addresses the propaganda being disseminated by the Kremlin and former president Viktor Yanukovych, and takes on American and Western misperceptions of Ukraine:

The Russian press presented the protest as part of a larger gay conspiracy. The Ukrainian regime instructed its riot police that the opposition was led by a larger Jewish conspiracy. Meanwhile, both regimes informed the outside world that the protestors were Nazis. Almost nobody in the West seemed to notice this contradiction.
Yulia and I moved to Ukraine from the United States, and we know about the sheer ignorance related to anything Ukrainian. When we were buying seeds in California last year, the cashier asked where we were going to be planting our garden. We said Ukraine. She said, "So, a South American climate?"

Yulia had to live with this more than I had to, of course. In America I am just another white guy. Yulia has told me stories how people insist that Ukraine has no cities. It is a country made up entirely of villages they tell her. A coworker once told my father in law that the Soviet Union was just like the United States. Ukraine was just another state like Virginia or Arizona. It does not have a separate identity, language, religion, or culture.

My family is from Ukraine and no one in my lineage has ever lived under Russian domination. My grandparents left before western Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. When they lived here this was part of Poland, and before World War One this was part of Austria for 300 years. My grandparents are all from Ukraine, but none of them spoke Russian.

During World War Two the Poles asked if anyone in Yulia's grandparents' village spoke Russian. They needed a translator. Someone told Yulia's great grandfather that Russian is the same as Ukrainian. Since he spoke Ukrainian, he said he could translate Russian. When the time came for him to translate, he had no idea what the Russians were saying.

Yulia's grandmother is from Cherkasy (which is pretty far east of here), and she never spoke Russian before the Soviet Union.

For us personally, ties with Russia are new and tenuous. Any ties are due to what we consider to be the Soviet occupation of Ukraine. Please keep this in mind when you hear people say that Ukraine and Russia have deep connections with each other or are the same nation. In some cases this is true, but in other ways it is not.

Either way, what is happening now has the distinct feel of a foreign invasion. We're not cool with it, and we do not welcome the Russian army.