Things that have shocked me in the past two months

I might be exposing how naive I am but I really don’t care. I was raised in an amazing environment, one I appreciate more and more with each passing day, and the fact that I am shocked about these things only goes to show how great things can be and how horrible somethings really are.

I grew up in the nation’s capital and was surrounded by strong, purpose driven adults. My friend’s parents and my own were self-made successes. The majority of them were immigrants, and I believe that adds a certain distinction. People worked hard and honestly and, for the most part, were justly rewarded.

In school, we were taught to deplore racism, oppression, and corruption. Values of honesty, integrity, and compassion were ideals that received a lot of focus in the classroom. We were ingrained with a love for freedom, democracy, and America.

Someone was trying to explain to me what’s so amazing about the Ukrainian revolution. I thought it was amazing to see people from all walks of life gathering for a common cause, and he said it was more amazing that many of these people are educated working professionals. The significance of that was lost on me at first.

I did not understand because all my peers back home are activists and protesters in one way or another. Washington, DC has an endless supply of organizations and causes you can support and fight for. Youth in the surrounding area are taught to fundraise and promote causes from the moment we can hold a sign or donation jar. We hold demonstrations, walks, and charity events every other day.

The most amazing thing is it works. We raise thousands of dollars for Make A Wish Foundation, hundreds of feet of hair are donated to Locks for Love, gay marriage laws are changed, abortion laws are changed, and new clean energy programs are enacted. We voice our opinions and are heard with, largely, no negative repercussions to our way of life. This is something I have taken for granted.

Billions of people elsewhere in the world cannot do this. To protest means to risk everything and the more you have the more you have to lose. You could lose your job, be beaten, and thrown in jail. People who worked hard for what they achieved and the security they provide for their families could be demolished due to a corrupt system.

All the things I have mentioned are things we hear and know but are not things we truly understand and appreciate unless we see the alternative. We appreciate light more when we walk in the dark.

So, here are the things that have made my jaw drop in the last two months:

1. The President has bat-shit-cray amounts of power. I don’t believe the system of checks and balances exists here. Maybe it’s written in some constitution, but it’s a dud.

2. Bribery is RAMPANT.You don’t want to pay a bribe? Be prepared for a long and arduous bureaucratic process. Also, officials are more than ready to suggest you pay a bribe. An official at the airport, whose English was  limited at best, spent 15 minutes explaining to me the “not correct” way of paying for a penalty…

3. The Berkut, a special unit of the Ukrainian police force, attacked a Red Cross infirmary. A RED CROSS INFIRMARY. It violates a law of war, and even though it has only gone into print in modern times, even people from hundreds of years ago understood this principle.

4. Police cooperate with hired thugs to intimidate protesters. #dafuq

5. Journalists are attacked. I don’t know if this is written anywhere but I’m fairly certain it is a modern rule of war not to attack the press. You know who attacks journalists? People who need to hide their deeds… such as drug cartels, terrorists, and dictators…

6. Laws repressing civil rights are passed and then the government and anti-maidan/pro-government supporters call protesters facists.

7. The bursts of antisemitic comments being thrown around. I’ve only heard it from the more extreme ends of the camps, but still, stick a cork in it.

8. Water cannons being used in subzero weather.

9. Riot police targeting eyes. The riot police use rubber bullets which are not fatal but it can still cause a lot of damage. There were reports of police flashing a light on protester’s faces to spotlight them while another policeman took the shot.

10. So what happens when you lose an eye? That’s not a wound you can treat at home. You have to go to the hospital. Too bad it’s a TRAP. One of the protesters who died after being tortured and left in the forest was kidnapped from a hospital.

11. Kidnappings. Over 30 protestors have gone missing. The police deny arresting them.

12. Let’s go back to hired thugs, also known as titushky. These are paid men who travel in packs and beat up protesters. Please do not confuse the word protesters with the word radicals. These are not the same. The titushky beat up PEACEFUL protesters.

13. Being charged in absentia. You can get charged for a crime even if you are not in court and even if you are unaware of the charges brought against you.

14. Holding protesters as hostages. The Ukrainian government just passed an amnesty bill that will only grant amnesty to arrested protesters if the other protesters leave occupied buildings within the next 15 days. Many of those arrested were arrested under dubious charges.

15. How awesome Euromaidan is. I live right around the block and it is the most impressive man-made structure I have ever seen. An entire functioning tent city went up in the span of a few days. It stretches over 3 huge city blocks and has barricades several meters high. Everything is organized and tents are set up for donations. People are calm and polite. Many of these people hold multiple degrees and speak multiple languages. There has been no looting and many of the stores are open and operating successfully. Western media only likes to show the exciting bits so it looks like Ukraine is a medieval battlefield, but that’s only a small area. You can read more about what the protests actually look like here Anatomy of Maidan.

And that’s my rant for the day.

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Update Feb. 3, 2014: Today, my friend and I got lost in tent city while we were going to the bank, and one of the older gentleman promptly noticed our lost faces, asked us where we needed to go, and gave us excellent directions. Kind, organized, and thoughtful. By the way, this does not happen anywhere else in Kyiv.

Day 5 of Violent Revolution in Ukraine

I heard two loud bangs but at this point, with all the constant noise and yelling, I barely flinch.

I just read on BBC that Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Mykola Avarov, said, “People should not think that the government lacks available resources to put an end to this. It is our constitutional right and obligation to restore order in the country.”

Let’s talk about constitutional rights, shall we? A constitutional right is primarily a legal right given to the citizens of a nation, state or social group. You pretty much made it impossible for these people to protest peacefully by infringing on their civil rights and now you want to discuss constitutional rights!?! The very rights that you manipulate for your own needs?

I don’t condone violence but I understand why these people are discontent. There is a reason why freedom of speech is America’s first amendment. George Washington said it best, “For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

Also, awesome job – the government threatening the people…

And there goes bang number 3 and 4… and 5 and 6… and 7

Day 4 of Violent Revolution in Ukraine

The body count is officially up to four but there are unofficial reports of another.

I can see black smoke rising from the other side of city hall as it continues to snow this morning.

My apartment has become a temporary recovery point for protestors. My roommate’s father is the leader of one of the opposing factions in his hometown and many protestors have filtered in since yesterday, stopping by to eat dinner, drink hot tea, or wash up.

The main opposition leaders delivered an ultimatum for snap elections by the end of the day. I am afraid there will be even more violence tonight.

Update: This has been on my mind all day so even if it’s not a true update, here it goes. Yesterday, while leaving work, an elderly Ukrainian man handed my employer a blue medical mask. As he outstretched his hand I glimpsed three old stumps where his fingers used to be. My boss responded “слава украïni” (glory to Ukraine) and the old man smiled. As he turned to leave, I saw his other hand, red and inflamed from pepper spray.

They are not just rebellious young men overdosed on testosterone and the immortality of youth but seasoned veterans as well who have seen their country go through decades of hardship. They have lived through the World Wars and the Soviet Union and still they have not been bowed. They stand proud for what they believe in.

Day 3 of Violent Revolution in Ukraine

I live and work in the city center of Kyiv. Today was the first day I came home from work before 9:45pm.

All businesses and schools surrounding the revolution were asked to shut down and vacate the premises by 5pm. The protests became violent late on Sunday and fade in and out with the night.

I am a bit perplexed by the attitudes of people I see on the street. My office is about 4 blocks away from the violence and my apartment is even closer. I can hear explosions and the sounds of the revolution have been filtering into my bedroom for the last 2 months. Most of the people I encounter on my way to and from the office are heading to or coming from the protests. I am expecting grim determination or worry but instead everyone is going about business as usual. At times, I come across youthful groups carrying flags and making jokes.

I guess this is good in a sense because it means that they have not been broken yet.

Not Being Brave

I left DC on the 14th of August. The last phone call I made while boarding the plane was to my father. He never picked up.

In my father’s mind, I have always been and always will be his little girl. Any information that would disprove that has been dutifully ignored – from boyfriends to grown up accomplishments and this was no different.

A compliment I have often received since coming to Ukraine has been, “you’re so brave”. What people do not understand is that it had nothing to do with bravery. I just walked onto a plane and kept going. You might argue that it is brave to leave everything you love and move to a foreign country where you don’t know anyone or the language, but that’s not how I view it.

I lived in a static zone. No matter how hard I pushed or protested, no matter what I changed, certain things stayed the same. The stuff and people I love and cherish stayed the same but the other stuff stayed the same as well. This, ultimately, led me to the conclusion that, no matter where I went, the stuff I love and cherish would always be back at home waiting for me.

The language barrier is no different than the barrier of hearing but not listening. In some ways, it’s even easier to overcome since I can learn a new language, but I can’t force someone who really doesn’t want to listen to actually listen.

How do I explain to a stranger that back home I was slowly being smothered? Wrapped so tightly in the comforts of home that I couldn’t take breaths large enough to actually thrive instead of just exist? Taboo personal subjects. Taboo not because it’ll be hurtful to the speaker but taboo because you’ll give the listener much more than they bargained for.

I’m glad people think so highly of me and that is why I smile and respond, “It’s an exciting adventure!”, because it truly is. And for now that is all they really need to know.

Courting

My second night here I received a pleasant surprise. A white rose was thrust into my face.

My first reaction was an expletive since the rose was so close to my face my eyes couldn’t focus on it, but the shock soon wore off. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the poor fellow looked like but I do appreciate the gesture.

I like to think of it as a gift from Kiev. The first awkward entanglement of a metal mouth kiss that soon gives way to pleasant surprise. I think I’m going to love it here.

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Enchanté

I spot something dark under the kitchen table and I hesitantly creep up to investigate. It’s the largest cockroach I have ever seen. It is even larger than the inch long dead one that I had thrown out earlier this morning and this one is flipped over on it’s back. I nuke the crap out of it with some raid and leave it to die. All this is accomplished with nary a peep. This is my first apartment and I LOVE IT even if it has a few uninvited guests.

I live in a pre-Stalin era apartment. It has ridiculously high (13ft+) ceilings that slope in and old wooden herringbone parquet floors. The kitchen cabinets are falling apart but there is a gorgeous window that opens up to an enclosed balcony entangled in vines. I have claimed the living room which also has a balcony that overlooks a densely forested courtyard. One thing that I LOVE about Kiev is the amount of greenery that decorates the city. You can find pockets of grass and trees EVERYWHERE. You walk down an alleyway and suddenly you’re in a secret forest. It’s almost like the overgrown ruins of some ancient Hayao Miyazaki city.

Not only do I love my apartment for its old world charm but it’s also one block over from Khreshchatyk, the central road of Kiev. Every weekend they block the road to prevent cars from entering and you can find all manner of stalls and entertainers there. I can even hear the concerts from my balcony.

The landlord has promised a renovated kitchen so it’s pretty much non-functioning at the moment but I’m happy as a clam snuggled up on my sofa bed with a slice of pumpernickel smeared in some sort of meat paste that I spread using my hot pink tactical survival knife. I refuse to buy more stuff for the kitchen until renovations are complete so I’m making do. Who knew my bamf-ing survival knife was also good for the urban jungle?

View of the blacony

Edit: So I’ve been told that my apartment is actually much older than Stalin-era. It’s actually well over 100 years old. Teaches me to listen to my students

-_-

Goodbye, America!!!

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It’s raining outside and there’s jazz playing… Could my departure be anymore cliché? But it’s super romantic and I am enjoying some down time by myself. That’s myself and my potbelly sandwich. Unfortunately, it’s being interrupted right now by a young man who decided to sit way too close and play the show on his phone obnoxiously loud.

For some reason this reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love. I never made it through the whole book. I cavorted through Eat and came to a screeching halt at Pray. Food is for sharing and introspection is private. Probably why I had no desire to navigate her spiritual journey. Not hating on the book. Either way I never finished it so I can’t fullyp relate it to this experience.

I’m not on a journey of introspection. It might happen but my priorities are to experience new things and have an awesome time. You only live around 75 years and I intend to jam as much living into those years as possible.

Also, can I just say I LOVE departing and arriving at night? I have an obsession with the view. I know it’s all light pollution, but there’s something magical about the way cities twinkle in the dark, a glittering beacon in the quiet night.

Little Girls & Tutus

As I prepare to leave, I’ve been arranging a lot of gifts for events that will be occurring while I’m gone. For example, weddings and baby showers.

My boss, the pharmacist, has always been incredibly supportive and helpful so I wanted to make her a really nice gift for her baby “sprinkle”. It’s her second child so the usual useful stuff has already been done and this one’s a girl so I thought something a bit more frivolous would be appropriate.

What little girl doesn’t need a tutu? I followed vermillion rule’s tutorial since I thought it was more of an actual tutorial. I hate it when sites say it’s a tutorial but it’s so blasé. I get the general concept – just tell me how much tulle to buy!!

The only adjustment I made was when I connected the two ends of the band. I don’t own a sewing machine, so I hand stitched it. I don’t know what this is called,
but I think it’s the most secure way to stitch two ends together.

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Here’s my attempt.

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I also attached fabric flowers to give it a little extra pizazz.