In a Kiev that might as well have existed one thousand years ago

I realized that outside of time, the Kiev that exists today and the Kiev that existed a thousand years ago is the same.

I also realized the other day that you need a glimmer of happiness inside you to be able to tell sad stories – so that you have perspective.

The act of telling itself is dependent on timing. It’s the wrong time to tell the story I am about to tell you.

Of course, it helps that it isn’t really a story. It’s just another pattern stitched somewhere on the sleeve of the universe.

In this pattern, I am younger and I am a blonde instead of a redhead. There is a hand holding my blond ponytail. That hand is twisted away by another hand.

It’s summer in Kiev, it’s a national holiday (or there was just a concert downtown, or football – right away, there are parts I am no longer sure of), there is a fair amount of revelers downtown, some of them drunk, and these two security guards are particularly drunk and belligerent, and they’ve just graduated from verbal abuse to touching, and between encountering them and what is happening now no more than a minute has (probably) passed, and I am too stunned to do anything about it in that very moment, so in that very moment, a Berkut officer gets them off of me with such frightening efficiency that I am too scared to thank him at first, lest he is about to go after me next. Continue reading “In a Kiev that might as well have existed one thousand years ago”

Kiev without the politics

I was going to come home and write an epic, gif-laden post about Euromaidan.

Instead I got here, took a look at the New Year’s decorations glittering across the dark distances in this strangely warm winter, and suddenly remembered that I’m a human being.

So I took the time to eat actual meals, deep-condition my hair, and read books well into the afternoon. I had my toenails painted pink and paid a sports therapist who’s a friend of my fitness expert aunt to squeeze my flesh into jelly. I made gallons of raspberry tea for Lev and took him to church on Sunday.

In Buguruslan, my mother-in-law died. My husband and I lay on the couch together and listened to the sound of car tires hissing on the wet pavement. That day, I made a lot of sbiten with brown sugar and brandy. There was nothing comforting to say or to think, aside from the fact that Tatiana’s physical suffering is over.

I did see Euromaidan, and in general had some adventures – Kiev being Kiev means that adventures are inevitable. It was good to see old friends. Everyone is moving on, getting divorced, renovating their apartments, having their second children, hanging around art galleries and being up to no good.

Kiev wore a thick fog around its shoulders for most of the time. The broad expanse of the Dnepr was studded here and there with nearly transparent ice floes that seemed to have arrived from a different country altogether. When everyone went to bed at night, I stayed up with the gray cat in the kitchen, and thought hard about the future that is massing on the horizon now. And then, when I realized that thinking about it was useless, I went to bed and listened to the wind that blows in from the old cemetery at this time of year. I’m used to thinking about it as a dead place, but nowadays we see enormous red squirrels scurrying up and down the crooked trees, and so it’s important to note that even over there, life does go on.

Kiev is my Jerusalem. There are entire groups of people today who are driven nuts by its ragged splendor – and I’m not even sure that I can judge them for it. There is dark energy in the air here, in the water, in the meat and in the honey and milk. If you want to know about the mechanisms that drive Euromaidan – or the opposition to it here – all you have to do is stand very quietly on a street corner at night. Pretty soon, in the din of the city, you will hear the iron gears of history and the flapping of the avenging angels’ wings. Pretty soon, you will understand everything.


More EuroMaidan stupidity: concerned helicopter mom doesn’t like my tone

Ever since writing that post about stupid things people have been saying about the EuroMaidan protests in Ukraine, I felt like moving on from discussing stupidity – at least for a while. It’s not good for your blood pressure, for one thing.

But then the post started getting passed around – and some friends have e-mailed it to their friends – and as a byproduct of that, I ended up being very humbled. You see, I had arrogantly assumed that my anger at some people’s cluelessness wrt the situation in Ukraine would warn anyone off from trying to push more cluelessness on me.

Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

Dear Natalia, [name withheld to protect the guilty] gave me your e-mail address. I hope you don’t mind.

Well, I didn’t at first, but then…

I wanted to respond to you about the tone in which your post on Stupid Things Said About Euromaidan was written. I’m sure by now you are wondering “What does this strange woman have to tell me that I don’t already know?” And that’s fine. I completely understand that this is where you might be coming from. But the truth is, we don’t always know how our thoughts and writings can impact other human beings, do we?

Actually, when strange people write me in order to discuss my “tone,” my initial thoughts tend to be way less polite, but whatever.

Because he is her older brother’s best friend, my daughter really looks up to [redacted]. He on the other hand looks up to you. In fact, this isn’t the first time [redacted] recommends your writing to us. We have always found it inspirational, until you lashed out against some of the misconceptions people have about the Ukraine.

simon cowell blinks at you

Also: “the Ukraine.”

I understand that misconceptions can be frustrating. But not everyone who is not completely informed is acting in bad faith. My daughter, for example, has been thinking about volunteering in the Ukraine. for a while Thankfully, your post did not deter her.


Also: “the Ukraine.”

But you may want to think about others your post might have affected. There are a lot of idealistic kids out there who may not get every single nuance of the situation in Ukraine. But they are enthusiastic and want to help. Would you really want to discourage them?

Why yes, I do think that people coming to an unstable country with a bunch of dangerous assumptions should be discouraged. Vigorously so. Sometimes, with yelling and screaming – and unladylike language and tone.

But at least she didn’t use “the Ukraine” in this paragraph.

From what I have read in the news, the Ukraine needs all the help it can get.

Nope, here it is again! “The Ukraine”!

And since you clearly happen to be a good writer, you may want to think about the impact your particular side of the story may have on others.

“I don’t think you bow and scrape enough in your posts. Think about that.”

I’m sure that should you ever become a mother…

You mean like that time in 2011 when I gave birth to my son?

…you will understand the importance of inspiring others first, rather than discouraging them right away.

YES. In fact, when my son wants to overturn a fruit stand at the supermarket, I don’t stop him or anything. Sure, what he’s doing may be dangerous to himself and to all of the people who will probably take a tumble after stepping in some slippery mango or whatever – BUT DISCOURAGING CHILDREN IS BAD.

That’s really all I wanted to say. Best of luck to you and to the Ukraine.

But seriously, with friends like there, why would “the Ukraine” require any luck?

… OK, you guys will have to give me some credit – I DID think this was a parody at first. I was convinced that someone read my original post and decided to REALLY make steam come out of my ears. But then I forwarded this to [redacted], and it turns out this lady is for real.

After everything that has happened in my neck of the woods lately (if you scroll down, you’ll know what I mean), my initial desire was to immediately reach for a beer. Then I thought better of it. Why let the idiots win? And so, with a smile on my face, I demanded the vintage cognac instead.

10 spectacularly stupid things that people have said to me since EuroMaidan started

EuroMaidan is the general name given to mass protests that erupted in Ukraine when the government backtracked on signing an EU association agreement. According to some folks, the government did this purely to appease Russia. According to other folks, association terms were not favorable enough. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle – as it usually is. I could be wrong, though.

Anyway, protests tend to bring out the stupid in people who are observing said protests from far away. Here is some of that stupid, for your reading (dis)pleasure. A lot of these comments are translated, some are paraphrases, but I’m not changing the meaning of anything here:

1. “Yeah, the Ukrainians are out there on the streets because being out on the streets is fun.” 

Here comes the clue train, last stop you: Ukrainians are ANGRY. Ukraine has basically been stuck in the 1990s for two decades now. There is lack of basic governance, social institutions barely exist, health care is a grim joke, corruption is so bad that it is unnoticeable, it’s as much a part of daily life as the weather. Now, Ukrainians act out their anger in different ways. Some Ukrainians are quietly angry, others are loudly angry. Some are resigned. Some are active. But to say that they are out there out of the desire to have “fun” is contemptible. Obviously, any kind of street protest inspires a feeling of community – which in itself is a warning sign. Ukraine so thoroughly lacks community today, that people must go out into the streets en masse to find it.

Let’s also not forget that protest was violently dispersed just last week. There is danger that the situation could get worse. This is about bigger things than “fun.”

go fuck yourself

2. “Oh, so you’re questioning the merits of the EU association agreement? Who’s paying you?”

Oh yeah, THE KREMLIN is showering me with cocaine and hundred-dollar bills right now, so that I specifically point out a very simple fact: the eurozone is in trouble – and Ukraine’s economy is in WORSE trouble – and while there are long-term prospects for this relationship, there are little short-term solutions for what Ukraine is going through. And all of the platitudes in the world about human rights and democracy won’t help right now.

3. “Russia wants to offer Ukraine brotherhood – and ungrateful Ukrainians are rejecting that!!!”

So when Gazprom sits down at the negotiations table with Ukraine, what is on Gazprom’s mind? Brotherhood? Or business? Don’t get me wrong, Ukraine and Russia are close, they have always been close, even the disdain for Russia in Western Ukraine is a kind of symptom of that closeness (we tend to actively despise that which, on some fundamental level, greatly affects us) – but politically speaking, Russia quite obviously looks out for itself. Of course, there are moments of grace in that relationship. Under Yeltsin, in the early days of chaos, there WERE discussions about attacking Ukraine. It was brotherhood that prevailed then – perhaps brotherhood will, in the future, spare these two countries more trouble (I hope).

4. “Please don’t try to smear the Ukrainian protest movement. It is a progressive movement. The Ukrainian right is tolerant of gays, for example. It’s not like the Russian right.”


Look, pointing out that the protest movement is DIVERSE and full of DIFFERENT people with DIFFERENT interests is not the same as smearing it. Instead, it’s called “being in touch with reality.”

I’m sorry, but there are some really unpleasant people in the protest movement. There are unpleasant people in EVERY protest movement. That’s just the way the world works.

5. [I quote some sad fact from Ukrainian history] [Some idiot who’s never even been to Ukraine does not believe said historic fact – and FREAKS RIGHT OUT, accusing me of using Ukraine’s messy past to somehow paint Ukraine as a “bad” country]

Look, I enjoy talking about Ukrainian history, because it is also, in part, my history. I prefer to do it with people who are also from Ukraine/have some cursory knowledge of Ukraine/are not brain-dead. This should be simple enough. It never is, for some reason.

6. “Stop trying to spread disinformation. We KNOW you can’t speak Russian in Kiev. Not even on the streets.”

I love this. This is great. This is beautiful. This is random people trying to tell me, a Russian-speaker who’s originally from Kiev, whose relatives still live there, how things REALLY are.

7. “Oh, so you’re sympathetic to the protesters? You must be a fan of the Ukrainian neo-Nazis!” vs. “Oh, so you have serious reservations about the protest? You must be a fan of Russian imperialism!”

superman is done

I realize that times of trouble force some people to abandon nuance, while many others don’t even know what the word “nuance” means. But some really have no excuse.

8. “These Ukrainians who are protesting HATE the Russians.”

No, most of them are simply fed up with the Kremlin’s policies (particularly the gas issue) – and even more fed up with chaos and corruption at home. It’s not ALL ABOUT RUSSIA ALL THE TIME, you know. And it must be said that the Ukrainian protest class has even welcomed Russian opposition activists who have come down to Kiev to see what’s happening for themselves. Once again, as I already mentioned, there ARE some scary people in this protest. And as history has repeatedly taught us, even a small group of scary people can unleash hell. And some of those scary people are also provocateurs, which further complicates things. But of course, accepting the notion that the Ukrainian protest is actually kinda complicated is too much for people who have the intellectual capacity of a catatonic hamster. 

What stands out at EuroMaidan right now are not messages of hate – it’s messages of love and hope. It’s the kind of love and hope that makes you wonder if the phrase “candle in the wind” was wasted on famous blond women.

9. “Ukrainians are UNITED.”

Ukrainians are divided. No point in trying to ignore this. In fact, ignoring this is downright dangerous. Also, Ukrainians themselves know about the division in their country. People are aware of it. They talk about it and try to bridge it. Whether they’ll succeed remains to be seen.

10. “Lenin’s statue being destroyed is a great thing for democracy.”

I don’t like Lenin and I’m glad his statue is gone. HOWEVER, even I can admit that statues being smashed to bits is not a sign of a healthy society. In a healthy society, there would have been a referendum on the thing. We’re far from referendums and debates, however. We are in a different territory altogether. A lot of people were sick of that statue – but destruction and removal are fundamentally different things. Think about it.

In a functioning democracy, people aim for consensus. Taking up hammers is a last resort.

I can say “fuck Lenin and his statue” and mean it – but can still wish for a better way.