Archive for April, 2015


April 27, 2015

Antonina Andriyivna, an 80-year-old babushka, sits at the entrance to our high-rise for a few hours every afternoon. She lives alone, and asks a favour of her neighbours to help her down to the entrance each time when she wants to get a “gulp of fresh air.” A decrepit armchair stands on the ground floor by the lift, and a neighbour who accompanies the babushka down usually takes time to carry the armchair out of the entrance hall to the steps outside and to seat the babushka into it. She knows everyone who lives in our building. When she feels like finishing her “breathing session”, she asks any first dweller returning home to help her up – back into her apartment. It was not once that I also carried the armchair onto its old place in the lift hall and accompanied Antonina Andriyivna to her door on the tenth floor and then went up to floor sixteen where I live.

When I was getting out of our apartment house yesterday, the babushka was already in her armchair. I greeted her cheerfully, also adding that it was a wonderful day. However, the babushka did not smile back. “For me… for all of us… it’s a day of mourning”, she said. It’s was only then that I noticed a black shawl on her shoulders and sadness in her eyes… April 26… The date struck through my mind. How could I forget it? “Sorry, Antonina Andriyivna”, I said. This time she smiled – wanly and understandingly.

All those who live in our housing block like Antonina Andriyivna. But probably not enough to know what is behind the loneliness of her life and sadness in her eyes.

On April 28, 1986 – two days after the explosion – Moscow TV announced that an accident had occurred at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. “One person died, measures are being taken to eliminate consequences of the accident. Aid is being given to those affected. A government commission has been set up.” On April 30 the news agency TASS carried a government statement denying western reports on mass casualties. The first photos of the Chornobyl accident were censored by removing the smoke from the reactor before being printed in the newspapers.

Nowadays classified documents about the disaster are being made available. Of 600,000 ‘liquidators’ that were engaged in the Chornobyl clean-up, roughly 50,000 were required to work as ‘bio-robots’, in conditions of such extreme radiation that electronic robots ceased to operate. Most of them are prematurely aged and many have died, and leukaemia rates among them are substantially higher than in the wider population. Alik Kasyanenko, my classmate and my close friend, died in 1995. In May, 1986, he had stayed two weeks in the exclusion zone as part of a medical team – examining and treating the liquidators.

Twenty-nine years ago the official report soothingly said that only one person had died…

I think I know why Antonina Andriyivna’s eyes are so sorrowful.


April 12, 2015

All the major news media reported about the anti-communist laws adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament last Thursday. The bill is still to be signed by President, but there is little doubt that it will be signed. According to the bill, propaganda and symbols of the “totalitarian Communist and Nazi regimes” in the former Soviet republic are banned. The list of prohibited items includes street names, flags and monuments commemorating Communist leaders. Items prohibited under the bill include the Soviet flag and hymn as well as monuments and historical plaques commemorating Communist leaders.

In my opinion, these laws are far more important than they look or sound. The parliamentary voting cannot be overestimated: the change of ideological memes in Ukraine, which are widely understood as cultural analogues of the human organism’s genetic structure, results in a Ukrainian turned from Homo Sovieticus (“Soviet man) into Homo Dignus (“man of dignity”). In the future the process may spread to other post-USSR republics including Russia. In fact, that’s why the Russian propaganda machine is at the moment so hysterical in its unacceptance of the new Ukrainian legislation: they were able to keep Ukraine in the Russian orbit only by sticking to the Communist dogma of the Soviet people as a “new historical community” solidified by the common historical past and by what had been achieved under the “(Communist) Party leadership.”

Interestingly, it looks like the Russian leadership is afraid that the events of the Ukrainian “revolution of dignity” can replicate in their country just as genes or memes replicate.  From April 2 till April 9 the Russian Interior troops (40,000 police out of the total number 170,000) were trained in a drill named “Shield-2015.” The training was arranged in the whole of the European part of Russia – and also in the annexed Crimea – in the light of what had happened “in one of the neighbouring countries”, as the authorities put it (of course, Ukraine was meant). To create the situation close to reality all the attributes of “those events” were used – down to burning tyres and stones and Molotov cocktails being thrown at the police. And all that was done despite Vladimir Putin’s rating of approval reaching 85 per cent, despite the media in Russia being under total control, despite a disheartened opposition and the hysteria of patriotism sweeping the country. How insecure the regime must feel!

As I said in the beginning, the Ukrainian Parliament voted on the anti-communist laws last Thursday. The Thursday before Easter Sunday is called “Clean Thursday” in Ukraine, which corresponds to “Maundy Thursday”, or “Shear/Sheer Thursday” in Western religious terminology. Hopefully, the day will also become a spiritual meme symbolising that the country started shearing itself of its shameful past.

Happy Easter!


April 11, 2015

2015-04-11putins-dog-koniWe were the post-war generation. I remember myself as a kid living in a tiny wattle-and-daub hut until I was thirteen. The matter was that my grandparents’ house had been burnt when a bomb hit it during the Germans’ retreat from our village in 1943, so a hut was hastily built instead – in the hope that something more solid would shortly be built after the war was over, but neither my grandparents, nor parents could scrape any money for it. The charred remains of the pre-war home were dug out all the time as soon as we started working in our vegetable garden next to the hut.

Another thing that I remember from those days was the fear of a future war with America. Moscow crammed it into our heads that the “imperialists” were ready to drop nuclear bombs on us as they had dropped them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We, in the Soviet Union, would certainly strike back, and the whole of the world would burn in the atomic war, but we, being generally PEACEFUL, would never use the nuclear bomb first, because nothing could be worse than a war, because most families in the village had someone who had been injured or killed in the war, because half of the village had been burnt in the war, etc.

Of course, the peacefulness and non-aggressiveness of the state which had been Hitler’s ally some ten years before, and which had stolen the secret of the nuclear bomb right after the war – to arm itself in no time – could be doubted.  But the idea of using the Bomb was presented as the worst crime against humanity and it was firmly implanted in our brains that “we” (i.e. the USSR, or Russia) would not use it first. Actually, that attitude explains a much later uproar when President Reagan said facetiously into a live mike that he had signed legislation that would outlaw Russia forever and that bombing would begin in five minutes. A few days after the gaff the official news agency TASS declared that this kind of behavior was incompatible with the great responsibility “borne by heads of nuclear states for the destinies of their own people and mankind.”

When I hear now that Russian President Vladimir Putin is prepared to start a nuclear war against Ukraine, the Baltic States or Denmark to keep NATO out of his back yard, I ask myself where the Kremlin’s “great responsibility” has gone. One reason can be that the new Russia has thrown off its disguise and shown its true face. However, I also think that such a cavalier attitude about the likely nuclear war is explained generationally.  The Putinites, who are now in power, didn’t see the mass carnage Khrushchev or Brezhnev saw. A war for them was a thing of the past, or something that other people do. So, why not grab a part of a neighboring country and flex their nuclear muscles now? Nuclear blustering for Putin is very much like demonstrating his masculinity when he poses with his shirt off, or when he scares Chancellor Merkel by letting his hound attend their meeting.

The line between the nuclear intimidation and the real war may be thinner than political machos think it is.  Or is it understood only by those who, as kids, lived in mud-huts and dug out burnt bricks in their gardens for years after the war?

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