Sunday, March 29, 2015

My reflections on outsiders who don't understand what is happening in Ukraine

Living here in Ukraine, I look to America and am often confused by what I see. On the one hand, many people here think of the United States as a world leader. On the other, I hear many Americans say that the US should not be involved in international affairs at all. They want the US to stay away from Ukraine. They say this is Russia's backyard. They feel guilty for their country having started so many wars abroad in the past. To them, I have this to say: It's one thing to disagree with some things the American government does. It's another to disagree with absolutely everything about it. I suggest you try and help the government make what you think is the right choice, not prevent them from making any choices at all.

In 2003, for example, I was a cadet at an American military academy. I took interest in the news and was skeptical during the build up to and subsequent invasion of Iraq. It wasn't easy to be against the war in that environment. Many of my classmates never uttered a word about Iraq before March of that year, but they suddenly became war hawks after the invasion. I could not understand their reasoning, if they even had any.

I am glad that I thought for myself at the time. It was an important learning experience for my eighteen year old self. Twelve years later, I still think that it was wrong to go into Iraq and that America did so under false pretenses.

As an American living in Ukraine during a Russian invasion, I am shocked how few Americans care about what is happening. I hear many people say that it was wrong to get into Iraq, and we shouldn't get involved in any other countries because of that. I agree that America has made mistakes in its past, but does that justify doing absolutely nothing internationally because of that? Anyway, if you were against going into Iraq because of false pretenses, shouldn't you be against Russia invading Ukraine for similarly fabricated reasons?

As an example of the kind of people I'm talking about, take two blogs that I used to follow--those of James Howard Kunstler and John Michael Greer. The former blog is about American culture, and the latter is about cheap oil and the end of the industrial era. Neither of these writers is an expert on Ukraine, and I doubt if either of them have actually been here. But all of a sudden, they sure had a lot to say about the country.

Here's a particularly sloppy argument that Kunstler makes (and callers to talk radio make all the time):

"War hawk kibitzers on the sidelines (e.g. The New York Times) are making a big deal of the 40,000 Russian troops marshaled around the border of eastern Ukraine. So what? That’s just a few thousand more than the 33,000 US troops deployed to Afghanistan, America’s current “nation-building” project."

In short: America does bad things, why can't other countries do bad things? Inherent in Kunstler's argument is the idea that what Russia is doing is wrong, he just doesn't care. In another post, here's how he characterizes Ukraine:

"Really, the best outcome for western Europe would be a return to the prior condition of Ukraine as a mute bearskin rug with oil and gas pipelines running through it to the oil and gas starved West."
About a year ago, when I was still a reader of his blog, I suggested in the comments section that Kunstler was getting basic information about Ukraine wrong. I also saw little evidence of original ideas in his posts about Ukraine. Most of what he was saying was simply regurgitated from Kremlin propaganda. It was strange for me to have someone sitting in New York tell me what was happening in my own country.

I normally wouldn't write in the comments section of a blog so disconnected from reality, but I was a follower of the blog up until that point. I commented because I was disappointed to see someone who I respected as a thinker get so many things wrong about a subject I obviously knew more about. A couple people responded reasonably, but I was told by one person, "You people should watch out because Russia will take all of the country--even western Ukraine."

Of course, many Americans don't even think it's possible that Ukrainians were responsible for the revolution. John Michael Greer is against helping Ukraine in any way because America actually did all the work here:

"The current Ukrainian regime, installed by a US-sponsored coup and backed by NATO, means to Russia precisely what a hostile Canadian government installed by a Chinese-sponsored coup and backed by the People’s Liberation Army would mean to the United States." (source)
What a glib assessment of what happened here! Ukrainians didn't stand for months on end on the Maidan. They didn't get tortured, beaten and executed by the police. A hundred protesters weren't shot by snipers in the middle of the eighth most populated city in Europe. America did it! Where's our thank you, you good for nothing peasants??

Quite honestly, I'm so sick of the smug attitude many Americans have about Ukraine that I can't even think about it anymore. Here is how things appear to me. As the protests were heating up through the winter of 2013 into 2014, there was very little American news coverage of the protests (save for On Point with Tom Ashbrook, a daily radio news program from NPR and WBUR). When the revolution reached a crescendo, I was deafened by the silence of American media. I wrote to many of my favorite radio shows and asked, "Um, do you guys know there is a revolution happening in Europe right now? Are you not aware of it or are you purposefully ignoring the events?" To their credit, Wisconsin Public Radio did do a show on Ukraine a few days after I wrote to them. I'm not sure if it was because of me, but either way, I count that as a good thing.

Another show I wrote to, On the Media, also finally ended up covering Ukraine for a few minutes of their hour long program. However, most of what they said focused on "right wing" groups involved in the protests. Again, as someone living here, I was confused. They only gave a few minutes to Ukraine and when they did, they talked about the right wing in Ukraine?? In the elections that followed the revolution, neither of the right wing parties got the 5% of the vote they needed to pass the threshold and gain seats in Ukraine's parliament. On the other hand, France, the darling of many American liberals, has been moving in a much different direction. The leader of France's xenophobic right wing party, Marine Le Pen, would win the country's presidential elections if recent polls are correct.

To sum up, I watched the American news media largely ignore Ukraine for as long as they could. When Americans finally started talking about the events, they got basic information wrong, insulted the country, and made bad arguments.

I look at Americans, the people I used to live among on a daily basis, much differently now. I wonder what they think of Yulia and I as Ukrainians. What kind of crazy, misinformed notions do they have of us? How many people have we known who would rather Ukraine just be crushed under Putin's heel? It's a strange feeling, but like I mentioned earlier, I read and respected the thoughts of two intellectuals (even linked to their blogs on our page here) only to find that they could care less about the place we call home.

Thankfully, not all Americans are so clueless. In my opinion, Timothy Snyder, an American historian, is forming a new way of thinking about the changes happening in Europe--both in the EU and outside of it. Here's what he had to say at a recent conference in Germany (He starts speaking at 17:05):

"The propaganda which has been loosed upon you, and, with which the German press and German intellectuals have so earnestly engaged in the last year, is meant to be contradictory. It's meant to make it impossible to think. If I say, as Russian propaganda has said, that there is no Ukrainian state, but the Ukrainian state is oppressive; there's no Ukrainian nation, but all Ukrainians are nationalists; there's no Ukrainian language, but Russians are being forced to speak it; and if I'm a pro-fascist anti-fascist, I am filling your minds with things that contradict, and the worrying thing is how little we have noticed this."
I think Snyder is out ahead of the pack here, and it may be some time until everybody else catches up. To hit the point home, he concludes by pointing out just how successful the Kremlin has been in the EU and what an utter failure it has had in Ukraine itself:

"In the last year--and now I believe I'm speaking from the Kremlin's point of view...things have gone much worse than expected. Kharkiv is still in Ukraine. Odessa is still in Ukraine. Even a good deal of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are still in Ukraine. There's no way the Russian offensive was about getting bits of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and the Crimea. It was much, much more ambitious than that. Things have gone, for the Russians, worse in Ukraine than they've expected. But the propaganda tactics that were applied to you, that were applied to Europe, these have worked much better than expected...So Europe has proven to be a softer target than Ukraine."
It's been a while now since I've been in the US. And it's been even longer since I've been to western Europe. But from my perspective here in Ukraine, I do get the sense that the West has been had. I get the sense that Ukraine is a much more exciting place to be living right now. I think it's at the forefront of some big changes that will effect not only it, but all of Europe as well. The West still has its money and comfort, but it has taken on a sluggish complacency along with it. I look forward to positive change on the horizon for us in Ukraine, and we will know that it has been hard fought. It may even lead the way for the rest of Europe in the future.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

As of lately ~ in pictures

Last week we had some special guests here in Ukraine. It was our family ;) (Hello! O&Z) They were in Lviv for a short time, but wanted to see and do as much as possible. We suggested the Lviv Opera Theater, since they've never been there. We ended up seeing Die Fledermaus (The Bat) or летюча миша in Ukrainian. The operetta was funny! Everyone did a marvelous job. After seeing this operetta, Michael and I decided that we need to go to the Opera theater more often. Once we have more time, we definitely will. Our family also enjoyed it and wanted to go back there the next day!
At the entrance hall of the Opera Theater. People always take pictures there. I don't blame them, it's a beautiful space!
Dining out was another thing we did a lot of while our family was here. Michael and I don't get to do it very often and having them here gave us an excuse to go out for lunch or dinner, or maybe even both. We visited our regular spots, such as Green and Veronica's. We like going to those places, because we are confident in finding delicious and nutritious plant based dishes there. However, we think we discovered yet another favorite -- Amadeus. It has the same owners as Veronica's. The decor and the menus were, indeed, very similar. Our family had been there before. They stumbled upon it on their last trip to Lviv and had nothing but good things to say about it. We are happy to have agreed to visit it with them this time. We feasted on delicious green salads with sunflower sprouts and pea shoots, green curry and poppy seed varenyky.
The picture above is of the panting that hung by our table at Amadeus. Her name is Anna D'Austria Regina Gatta IX and she has a cat babe? Bizarre and cute! 
This year nature gifted us with another early and warm spring. Therefore, I happily started planting in our vegetable garden. It feels soooo good to dip my hands in the soil and dream of all the veggies we will soon have :) Pictured above are two of our small seabuckthorn beds. We have 12 of them lined up. We built these by encircling our seabuckthorn trees with some rocks we found around the property and adding compost. These two have been planted with mache salad, turnips, lettuce, garlic chives and more. I had to put some branches/sticks around the beds to keep cats and chickens out. Our cats love using fresh soil as their toilet. And although we don't own any chickens, the adventurous chicken from next door always finds her way into our garden. Later, it's a big drama trying to get her out. She always seems to forget her way back home. 
This long bed was planted with fava beans, carrots, beets, spinach, different lettuces, greens, and dill. We have four such beds in the veggie garden.
Two more composting bins were added. The way we garden requires a lot of compost and our household also produces a lot of organic waste--kitchen scraps, garden clippings, other organic materials etc., so having large composting bins is a must for us. (or any gardener, for that matter)
Our pond is still waiting to be be finished. The previous owner dug it up (by-hand!) and started lining it with rocks. He was hoping to connect it to the natural spring, which runs not too far from us. However, one of the neighbors didn't want the pipe to go through his property, so he put a stop to the project. We will have to figure something out in the near future and turn this into a nice water feature. 
Home remodeling continues. Work is being done in our last room. We are dividing our bedroom in half, in order to have enough room for a bathroom and a closet. This shot shows the future bathroom area.
Michael working hard, as always. 
And the wall is up. Drywall was used to construct it. Although, not our kind of building material, but the previous owner had bought it, so we decided to put it to good use. 
Spring is moving forward. We're discovering more flowers, like this Liverwort (Hepatica nobilis).
It's time to gather medicinal herbs again. It is my first year harvesting coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) flowers. We have a small patch of  them growing on our property. These are some of the earliest flowers in the spring. The flowers come up first and the bees love to visit them. Later, once the flowers are done blooming, the leaves appear. I will collect those also and combine them with the blooms to make tea. 
And more crocuses. These are quite large in comparison to the other ones. Also, beloved by our bees. 
There is also some flowering happening inside the house, Bright red flowers add cheer to our veranda.

We hope you're enjoying spring as much as we are!


Monday, March 16, 2015

DIY Home Repair Videos

If you are new to home repair and need a place to find instruction and how-to videos, I have found this site useful: The host, Dominick Amorosso, makes short videos that focus on one aspect of a job at a time.

For example, Yulia and I have some drywall that was already in the house when we moved in. We may have never thought of using it before we came here. But since it is here, we figured we might as well put it to use.

Since I don't know left from right when it comes to drywall, I found Amorosso's videos really helpful. In this one, he talks about how to install a corner bead:

I'll keep this one short. Just thought I'd share this in case there's anyone else out there taking on similar projects.

Monday, March 9, 2015

There's daylight at the end of the tunnel

Yulia and I would like to have running water in our house someday, and to accomplish that, we must first install sewage pipes that will take waste water from our house to a septic tank. In order to get the pipes from our house to the outside, we recently dug a tunnel under the foundation of our home.

I started inside, in the corner of our bedroom. I pulled up the floorboards and then started digging. 

 After digging for a while I went outside, approximated where I was digging inside, and began to dig another tunnel.

I dug both tunnels for two days hoping that they would connect at some point. I teach English on the internet, so I had to go inside (or through the corridor to the living room), unvictorious, on a few occasions. Self doubt began to grow.

On the second day, the hole in our bedroom was quite deep. Using the measuring tape I knew the bottom of the hole was at least even with the bottom of the foundation. But I needed to go deeper. I tried probing with a metal rod to try and find the other tunnel, but I had no luck. Were my tunnels not even going to meet?

By the end of the second day I was annoyed. I had made a lot of progress on the horizontal tunnel from the outside. It was about half a shovel length in--surely deeper than the thickness of our wall. 

I had a bad headache from the constant bending over and lifting of dirt. I was sick and tired of this job. Was it worth all this effort just to be able to put in a sewage pipe?

I summoned my energy.

On the third day I measured. Dug. Measured again. Dug from the inside. Dug from the outside. I asked Yulia if she could see or hear anything on the other end when I probed with the rod. Nothing.

I took a break. Then gathered my energy, pulled up yet another floorboard, and started to dig again.

I took out two more wheelbarrows of dirt.The hole in the bedroom was twice as wide at this point.  I was able to stand in it. The bedroom's floorboards came up to my chest. I was covered with sand and dirt and so was the bedroom and corridor.

Finally, I probed with the rod just to the side of a big rock that was in the way, and success! I moved the rock and was able to create a nice, big hole to daylight with little more effort! 

On the bottom right you can see my foot.
Yes, I dug this hole in my sandals! On the first day I tried wearing boots, but realized I would have to take them off every time I went outside to dump a bucket of dirt. The balls of my feet are feeling it at this point!
I'm not sure if this is a very good story. My feeling is that it's not. It's about a rather mundane subject--a sewage pipe. Who doesn't have a sewage pipe in their house? (We didn't until recently) The protagonists are dirt and a shovel. The antagonists are rocks, a deep foundation, and a thick wall. My photos are mostly brown. Everything is covered in dirt. The scene looks bare and dreadful. The denouement was expected. 

Why do I think it is worth telling?

I tell this story because it's a snapshot of our lives. Yulia and I have many such stories, but we don't always get the chance to share them. Every day brings us challenges, but every day also brings us victories. If you think your end goal is worth it, then the labor and pain that some days bring are put into perspective. They make up your life just like joy and pleasure. 

Our goal in life is not to be comfortable as often as possible. We think there are things in this world more important than pleasure and comfort. But this does not mean we are masochists either. It's important for us to rest and relax for both health and sanity. 

I tell this story to convey some of the texture of our lives. We write about taking walks through flower filled fields. We write about eating delicious foods. And we write about this just because it is another part of our everyday lives. Yulia and I try to learn and grow everyday. That is why we feel we are here. 

We hope you find this little tale useful as well. Yulia and I have found that the greatest challenges we have faced as do-it-yourselfers are rarely written about. It is easy to find information on how to install a sewage pipe in your house. It's easy to find information about gardening and healthy eating. It's less common (though not impossible) to find how other people have struggled with something like installing a sewage pipe in their old house. Building materials don't usually come with emotional directions. We hope this helps fill that gap just a little bit.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lately in our household...

Looking to the south from the top of our roof on a cloudy day

We are working on the last room in our house - the bedroom. The walls have been painted and now it's time to install the ceiling.
The ceiling is almost done! (Notice the huge citrus tree in the middle of the room, it's a mandarin. My grandparents gave it to us in the fall. It is 30 years old and was grown by them from seed.)
Looking through some old things found in the house. There are a lot of beautifully embroidered traditional Ukrainian towels, table runners and such. They are all thick and sturdy,  made out of  homespun linen and hemp. I'm not sure what to do with them yet, but there were two linen towels/table runners that looked like they would make perfect pillow cases. So I did just that! What do you think?
Last week the weather was very nice  here. We had a few sunny days with temperatures going up to 15 degrees Celcius. I decided to use that opportunity and do something productive outside. I'm a big fan of  having stairs and large rocks in the landscape, so I decided to give it a shot and build a walkway/stairs using concrete urbanite that we have scattered around the property. I used sand to level out the surface and to fill in the cracks between the stones. It is not finished yet, but we are liking the result so far. 
The spring is near!
Stocking up more wood for the early spring and the next winter.

Michael cutting wood from the old/broken/fallen trees we found on and around the property. (And Toma is always nearby.)

Also stocking up on smaller branches and twigs. These are great for starting a fire.

For the past two weeks we've been trimming our trees. We have over 30 apple trees alone. A few of them are very old, most of them are overgrown and  a lot of them have dry or damaged branches.
Some curious fungus growing on the shady side of  our old wooden fence. Can anyone tell us what it is?

It's taken me nearly forever to finish this post! Well...enough time for the first flowers outside to stat blooming, like these yellow crocuses.
Can you spot the tiny snowdrops? They are popping up all over our apple orchard. 

Looks like the spring is almost here...

Til next time,


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Voices of the Cherokee People

Yulia introduced me to an interesting show the other day called, Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People. It is a new TV show made by the Cherokee about their own culture. The show discusses news and history.

One of the interviews that caught Yulia's attention the most was an interview with Roy Boney Jr, an artist. He explains how many people often question his artwork. "If you're a native person, you need to do this kind of art," they say, giving him a picture of an Indian in a head dress on a horse. Instead he paints in his own style and infuses his paintings with traditional themes and the Cherokee language itself.

Yulia said she can relate to this. She also paints and doesn't like to feel that she has to conform to any school or style that already exists. When it comes to our being Ukrainian, you may have already guessed from other posts we have written that we also try to resist Ukrainian stereotypes like the vyshyvanka (the traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt) and the whiskered kozak on horseback. Yulia and I like these aspects of our culture, but we also don't think they should be the beginning and the end of it.

Being from Ukraine, Yulia feels a certain connection with American Indians. For her, it was always easier to connect with them than with Americans with European ancestry. I'm also interested in their culture, but perhaps on a different level. Either way, we both enjoyed watching the first episode of this new series. It helped take our minds away from war, terrorism, and politics (which dominates Ukrainian news right now) for just a little bit.