30 November 2005

Kalyna Beats the System

Tato, lay with me” says Kalyna, 4, at bedtime. Ok, I lay down with her. All is quiet. Then, “Tato, don’t mess up my bed” she says.
“Ok, but why not Kalyna?” I ask.
“I don’t want to make the bed again tomorrow morning”
"You don’t want to get comfortable under the covers? It’s worth making your bed isn’t it?”
“If we move to another house you’ll have to make your bed again” I add.
“One time Tato. One time in each house.”
“Dobranich Kalyna”
“I mean it, Tato.”

27 November 2005

Parliamentary Election Campaign 2006: Day 1

By Ukrainian law, yesterday was the first day of the Parliamentary Election Campaign 2006. For the first time in Ukraine, the party-list proportional system will be used to determine how the 450 seats are distributed.

A few items of note:
1. From what I can tell, there will be a 3% barrier for a party to get any seats in teh VR. A party must achieve 3% of the popular vote to be part of the proportional distribution.
2. Yulia held a meeting of her "block" behind closed doors. What happened outside the closed doors was covered by UA Pravda.
3. Mykola Tomenko walked from PRP (Party of Reform and Poriadok - Pynzenyk) to go onto the BYT (Block Yuli Tymoshenko) deputy list where he says he will be fifth. He was one of the big figures in the OR, and another personal favorite of mine because his background is academic (history) not business. The PRP has not yet decided to become part of BYT, although unofficially it is widely believed they will do so.
4. Anatoliy Matvienko's (another one on my A-list) Sobor Party is split. Yesterday he signed a coalition agreement with Yushchenko's Nasha Ukraina. But Sobor is also shown as a part of BYT.

I wonder if there is a website out there that has a party list with block affiliations updated in real-time? Add some odds and we could have a new betting site.

Holodomor: To Inflict Death by Hunger

By Yushchenko's Presidential decree, yesterday, November 26th was deemed a national day of remembrance of the victims of the Holodomor and political repressions. A country-wide moment of silence was observed at 16:00. "Neeka's backlog" has a link to the Wikipedia entry for the Holodomor. I've been aware of the famine, of course, but it's been a long time since I read anything about it. Also when people talk about Walter Duranty I finally know the full story.

26 November 2005

Conversation with a Dream Opening Night!

Last night Ola's art exhibit opened to a full house at Gallery RA. In the photo above, Ola is standing with Andriy the owner of Gallery RA and sharing her thoughts on the work she presented and how it came to be. The guests warmed themselves after the icy cold outside by sipping cognac and red wine and the mood was festive and high-spirited. In one room visitors experienced the dream, which was mounted on the ceiling and illuminated by a black flourescent light. The discontinuous Jazz explorations of Dave Holland provided a good acoustical background to the exhibit. In another room paintings, mostly of faces, were mounted on the exposed, ancient brick walls which gave the whole painting exhibit a unique feel. More pictures here. The kids liked being part of Mama's big night as well:

24 November 2005

OR Anniversary, Maidan Clears Out

When Maidan clears out Damyan and I linger to talk to people. The camera is like a magnet. People want to be heard. We try to speak with individuals but inevitably small groups form around us with everyone adding their thoughts to the discourse. It is really difficult to get a “real” interview going. Both Yushchenko supporters and their opponents seem to be throwing out canned arguments.

Victor from Kyiv: "It takes time to fight such deep rooted corruption. It doesn’t happen overnight. We have a lot of work to do and we have to stay together. It’s up to each of us in our sphere of influence to stop bribing and stealing."

Oleh, a Donetsk native, explains what a great economist Yanukovych is and that his platform is the only viable future for Ukraine. He mirrors the Regions Party line almost verbatim – you know the one about the OR being a well-financed theatrical presentation that a minority of the country was behind, etc. It’s interesting how uniform the positions and arguments are: political rhetoric and posturing mimicking the speakers on the stage. I ask several onlookers the question “Do you think Ukraine could slide back to a repressive regime like the one under Kuchma?” The answer is a resounding "NO" in all cases: “If it starts to slide we’ll really come out to Maidan again.”
“You mean you are not on Maidan now?” I ask Franz, a Yushchenko supporter from Donbass.
“No. This is not Maidan. It’s a nice reminder. But it’s not Maidan.”
(more pictures here)

OR Anniversary, Maidan

Memories of last year flood in as I walk down the slushy sidewalk of Prorizna towards Khreschatyk. The weather is a perfect copy of revolution Day 1. A wet cold penetrates immediately into my boots and gloves. No matter, the adrenaline starts pumping when I see the orange clad throngs heading towards Maidan. The crowd is larger than I expected, given the level of disenchantment voiced by most Ukrainians I meet. Maidan is full and fairly densely packed. The flag quantity is out of control. I stand, sandwiched in the crowd, looking through a forest of fishing rod flag poles. Orange flags and Batkivshchyna flags (Yulia Tymoshenko’s) with the purple band across the bottom of a Ukrainian flag are out in full force.

If I ignore certain things, like the large police presence and the occasional staggering drunk walking by, I initially feel like I did a year ago immersing myself in the positive vibe which I wouldn’t exactly call “subdued” like the AP reported. It’s actually quite festive. But then it hits me that a certain “bonding” is missing in the crowd. We’re packed like sardines in the crowd and I see a guy grab someone’s umbrella and rip it up. The umbrella owner had refused to take it down when informed that it was blocking people’s view. In another incident, after the crowd swayed back and forth to the closing song “Ukraina”, a fist-fight broke out in front of the stage. It’s possible that I idealize everything about the OR in my brain, but I have no recollection of anything like that happening. Was it PORA policing the crowd last year that helped prevent these situations?

Maybe it’s the absence of the element of fear that we shared a year ago. Things we feared: the electricity being cut, authorities clearing out Maidan by force, Russia making a move, and Channel 5 being taken off the air. (Last year thousands of people gasped in unison when Channel 5 blinked and then went off the air…followed by sighs of relief when it came back a few minutes later).
Lutsenko’s speech is a highlight of the activity on the stage. His animated appeal to keep the faith and stay the course is well received by the crowd. Sidenote: earlier in the day, our film-making cousin Damyan bumped into Lutsenko randomly on the street and snagged an interview. Here’s Damyan (with Ola):

He filmed many hours on Maidan last year (and the AvtoProbih around Ukraine) and he’s here to film the anniversary to include in his unique documentary: Orange Chronicles.

Yushchenko’s and Tymoshenko’s speeches are too long and rambling. An opportunity to show Ukraine a new unity is not taken advantage of. Yulia does a better job speaking, compared to Yushchenko and his flipping through stacks of notes and papers. What else is new? Yushchenko enumerates the achievements of the new government, many of which seem plausible and true (keep in mind I am a Yushchenko believer) but the audience isn’t exactly the model of attentiveness given the way he was speaking and the poor amplification. Both Y and Y go on and on about the need to be united and that they are willing to do anything it takes to be united, but neither does any sort of gesture towards the other one. The people I speak with are annoyed at the lack of unity on stage. They think the division is silly and not good for Ukraine.

OR Anniversary, 15:30 Here’s the Orange

Just after leaving my house, heading toward Maidan on the Zhytomyrska highway into Kyiv I am surprised to see a group of men on a pedestrian bridge overhead proudly waving orange flags. Beyond the bridge eight buses from Rivne were pulled over to the side of the road waiting for the rest of their convoy before continuing to Maidan.

This group, barely stopping to breathe between sentences, explained that they came from Rivne to celebrate a great victory. The victory of freedom. Smiles, flag waving, cars and trucks with horns blaring in acknowledgement -- a good start to the day.

22 November 2005

OR Anniversary, 08:30 No Orange In Sight

Only two things differentiated the ride to the kid's school this morning. First, a PORA poster hanging from the pedestrian bridge over the highway when entering the city limits. It had the faces of Yushchenko and Timoshenko and the text "Pora Jikh Spytaty". Second, a woman, one of dozens of people at the marshutka stop was wearing an orange bandana on her arm. By the time I got to work I probably passed a few hundred commuters walking on the sidewalks and waiting at bus stops. No orange in sight. No orange on any of the cars on the road either.

A year ago we were glued to Channel 5 in our apartment (most of Ukraine had no access to this channel) when around 2am, Yushchenko and Timoshenko asked everyone to come out to Maidan to protest against massive (mashtabny) falsifications. We kept the kids home from school and headed out to Maidan. I remember how taken aback I was at the numbers already assembled there before 9am. People were enthusiastically greeting one another and exchanging stories about how hard it was to get out of work for the day. Many explained to me that their bosses had said that going to Maidan would cost them their jobs. Their attitude was "Screw the boss, we're not kozly". Others related that their bosses had shut down the office and urged (practically required) the employees to go home, dress warmly, and come to Maidan. Still others were discussing how their friends and families from all over Ukraine were mobilizing to come to Kyiv. We waited for Yushchenko to come on stage. It was a morning of firsts for me. The first time I heard the historic chant "Yush-chen-ko". The first time I heard the Ukrainian language spoken by so many people in Kyiv, even before the Western Ukrainians arrived. The first time I heard "Shche Ne Vmerla Ukraina" sung in Kyiv with such passion and heartfelt pride. (Prior to that I had heard it sung at sold-out soccer matches by only a few people in the crowd. The majority looking on indifferently). Emails and photos from last year on Maidan here.

Ola's cousin Roman, a father in his thirties who tragically passed away last Spring, received a call from his mother.
"It's dangerous out there. There's talk of drunk hooligans from Donestk in buses. There will be provokatsiyi. Come home." said Teta Halya.
"I'd rather die out here, Mama, than spend another day on my knees. If anything happens to me tell my son that I stood out here, on Maidan, for his future. Tell him I love him."

21 November 2005

The Pleasures & Perils of Chucky Cheese Now in Kyiv

Yep. It's here. One floor up from the new skating rink at Karavan Mall, and it's called "Igroland". Take a Chucky Cheese, add a mini bowling alley section, an airgun battle area (where your kids can shoot foam balls at you), and a show theater area with live actors instead of robots and you have Igroland. Be sure to bring a supply of Hryvnias, because it's going to cost you. The place was packed with locals. I challenge anyone who claims the middle class is not yet developed in Ukraine (at least here in Kyiv of course) to visit Igroland.

20 November 2005

Deconstructing a McDonald's Receipt

The anniversary of the OR is imminent and most folks here are focused on more philosophical issues than anything that might happen at McDonald's, but not me. Standing in line at the Lukianivska McD's counter with my son the other day, a homeless guy politely asked if he could have my receipt once I finished my transaction. I agreed to give it to him, but apparently he was in a hurry and didn't want to wait. When the cashier handed me the coveted receipt I couldn't help but read it to try to understand what the value in it was. In the process I was amazed to find a phone number and e-mail address for feedback among other items of interest:

A. How does one translate the real meaning of "I'm Lovin' It"? "Ya Tse Lublu" doesn't quite capture it, does it? I should be glad it's in Ukrainian.
B. "FishMac" for $1.60. How much is a fish sandwich in the U.S. nowadays? FYI - there is a lot of money being spent at McDonald's. I remember a few years back the big sellers were ice cream cones, tea, and other small stuff. Now Ukrainians are buying the full gamut of McDonald's cuisine. I guess no one here has seen the movie "Super Size It". You can't super size anything here. Yet.
C. McLavash - Georgian Lavash sandwich. I bet this item isn't available back in America... is it?
D. Although it says it's the "dressing room code", it's actually a code for the bathroom. Simply punch the number into the keypad by the door and the lock opens. I guess that explains why the homeless guy wanted the receipt.

First Snow!

The first snowfall occurred almost exactly like last year. It started on the first day of the OR. The kids welcomed the snow suddenly asking questions regarding how many days left until Christmas. (The view is from the back of our house)

17 November 2005

Conversation With a Dream

Ola will be exhibiting her work in the Gallery RA on Khmelnytskoho, opening on Friday, November 25, 2005 at 18:30. Details here. Join us!

16 November 2005

OR Commemoration Schedule

Finally on ProUA we have some information about the celebration of the anniversary of the OR.  

November 22nd:
12:00-16:00 Tents and Field Kitchen Setup
16:00 Concert (Tartak, VV, Okean Elzy, Mandry, Burmaka, Petrynenko)
17:30-18:00 Opening of the meeting: “Maidan of Freedom” with a prayer for Ukraine.
18:00-18:30 Speeches by Bezsmertnyj, Stetskiv, Lutsenko, and Tomenko
18:30-20:00 Other Politicians
20:00-20:20 President’s Speech
20:30 Closing of meeting with singing of Ukrainian national anthem.

15 November 2005

It's Not a Suburb

We just moved to a village on the outskirts of Kyiv. A village where the old men and women sit on benches made of planks and inverted metal buckets. They sit silently with their heads at a slight angle watching their world change around them. The flow of newly imported cars, the old dachas being replaced by immense monstrosities and the flood of people at the marshutka stop all part of a new world that has been involuntarily thrust upon them. To add to their sense of disorientation here we com, this pack of loud Americans, moving into one of these architectural caricatures of a house. Never mind their amazement during our move into the house what with truck after truck hauling in 19 tons of strollers, hockey sticks, books, vases, and other crap we accumulated at our apartment in the center. The villagers peer in sometimes after we pull in to our driveway and before our automatic, remote controlled gates totally swing shut separating US from THEM. The scene must, no doubt, be horrific to them. Or maybe bizarrely fascinating is more accurate, as if a UFO has landed. The oversize doors of the SUV fly open. Empty juicy-juice boxes and lollipop sticks fly out to the ground followed by the footfalls of three….um…enthusiastic, simultaneously speaking children. And to think their coats are not zipped and its 13 Celsius out here? What’s that over there? Can it be the little girl has her coat off and she’s swinging it around above her head on the way up the stone stairs? And did the father just look at us and say something in Ukrainian? What the hell is going on here?
In light of all this it’s hard to agree with my friends who claim I live in the suburbs. It’s not really a suburb, more like a surreal version of a subdivision. A pack of huge funky (some may say ugly) houses built close together on top of old dachas and farm land. The kids love it. I think we’re staying for a while.