Archive for August, 2015


August 25, 2015

The water tap in our kitchen started leaking. My wife, who makes final decisions about what should be repaired or renovated in our apartment, has been putting off a call to a plumber for quite some time. The reason, she explained, was the irresponsibility and, more often than not, utter unwillingness of the plumber to provide the maintenance of the utility at an acceptable level (plumbers, electricians, yard-keepers, etc., are usually assigned by the local utilities service office, popularly known here as “zhek”, to each separate building in the area). Our plumber, Mykhailovych by name, was a stout man nearing his retirement age. He found it already problematic to bend his body or kneel down when he had to screw or unscrew some bolts in the bathroom, much less to replace a corroded water pipe. Knowing the professional qualities of Mykhailovich, my wife once called a private utility service to do some repairs, but the guy was no better professionally, though his service was much more expensive.

This time, when the leakage of the kitchen tap reached a degree which made it possible to also wash your hands and face while your original intention was only to fill a glass with water, my wife gave a ring to the “zhek.” After a few minutes of the phone talk she entered my room with her eyes shining. “I couldn’t believe my ears,” she said. “Before it was next to impossible to contact them in the morning. This time the answering machine told me I was a third in line to place my order. When my turn came, a pleasant young voice answered and apologized for the inconvenience caused – they had so many repair orders after the long weekend. Then the lady registered my request and asked when it would be better for the plumber to come – in the morning or in the afternoon… Could a talk like that be possible only a year ago? The plumber is coming at one o’clock in the afternoon. No, not Mykhailovych. Mykhailovych has retired. Our house has got a new plumber!“ My wife voice was energetic and young.

“It looks like they have begun introducing the long-promised reforms. Europe is getting closer,” I murmured.

The plumber came at a quarter to one. He was a young man wearing a baseball cap and an unbuttoned shirt. Instead of the usual kit with instruments he held only a spanner in his hand. And he was noticeably drunk. He staggered to the kitchen, gave a long stare at the tap and said that the thread “was kaput,” but he had no instruments at the moment, because he had left the kit at another building – the kit was too heavy to carry it from one place to another. But he would try (!) to come tomorrow, though he wasn’t sure because he had about fifty orders to do. If he did not come, we might call him. His name was Roman and his mobile number was…

After Roman had gone, my wife and I looked gloomily at each other and then at the note with Roman’s number. Luda was clearly downhearted. “Take it easy”, I said. “At least, that lady on the phone… she was polite…”



August 11, 2015

2015-08-11cThe police reform project in Ukraine is being implemented with the backing of the United States. Washington has provided training and money. Generally, the United States has contributed $15 million to the effort. Earlier this year 100 Ukrainian police instructors were trained by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Those instructors then went on to teach the new police course in Kyiv for the first class of officers. The U.S. influence is seen even in the U.S.-style uniforms with the kind of high-crowned, black-brimmed caps worn by the police in American cities.

The hybrid cars Toyota Prius used by the police now were bought for the money that Japan paid to Ukraine in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol – the amount is the price of Ukraine’s emission quota.

The organizational side of the reform was secured through hiring the Georgian Eka Zguladze as the supervisor of the project. Her experience of successfully overhauling (under then President Mikhail Saakashvili ) the previously corrupted police force in Georgia was taken into account.

It seems that the Ukrainian party is also doing its best by enrolling young people who possess higher moral standards, have better education and are, on the whole, more intelligent compared to the contingent of the “old militia.” The video with a policeman playing the instrumental version of One Republic international hit “Apologize” (he was doing it on the piano placed in one of Kyiv streets) became viral ( ). Personally, I know a young lady – a sincere believer, a devout Christian – who joined the new police corps here in Kyiv. The number of applicants for one vacancy varied from 7 to 10 people, depending on a city.

The new police are better paid too. Average monthly pay for the new officers in Kyiv ranges from 7,000 to 10,000 hryvnyas ($320 -$450), a cut above the average Kyiv salary of 6,000 hryvnyas. It must be admitted, though, that many of those enrolled come to the capital city from provincial towns and have to rent apartments, which eats away a noticeable amount of their earnings. The average monthly rent of a one-room apartment in Kyiv is at the moment as high as 4,000 hryvnyas. Considering that the real value of the consumer basket in Kyiv in 2015 equals more than 3,000 hryvnyas, it becomes clear that the new police can hardly be placed into the bon-vivant category.

What is particularly unique for Ukraine is the style of communication between the new police and the TOs, or “typical offenders.” The police speak too much, which, in my opinion, is an indicator of their inexperience. They try to explain to an offender what wrong has been done, instead of proceeding from the position of immediate law-enforcement. This expostulatory approach is unfortunately interpreted by many wrong-doers as a sign of weakness. On the other hand, quite a number of perpetrators keep thinking that they are above the law and, as a result, conflicts arise. While it is easier to cope with a guy who is driving under the influence ( ), it is already more difficult to withstand a hysterical blond who is coming up with threats saying that her husband is a militiaman, and who attempts to run over the policeman before her car is blocked by two other cars – one in the front and the other in the back – to prevent a much heavier crime ( ). I think the new police should undergo another course of American training to learn how to deal with the offenders, regardless of how high-positioned they may be, or what kind of cover or protection they may enjoy ( ).

The police reform project is considered experimental. I do wish for it to succeed. For me the project is no less important than the educational reform, which is under a fierce attack now on the part of those who are used to manipulating laws by pushing the buttons of their cell-phones (see my blog entry of July 23). If implemented, both projects would make people believe that ideas defended on the Maidan in the winter of 2013-2014 have started to materialize.


August 1, 2015

2015-08-01vocabularyA few days ago I heard a discussion on the Internet about the latest developments in Ukraine. The participants (all Americans) were positively disposed toward my country. One of the observers commented on Victoria Nuland’s last visit to Kyiv when she had attended a session of the Ukrainian parliament at which the future status of the Donbas was being discussed. The political observer didn’t like her “supervision” saying it was “bad optics.”  The word combination sounded somewhat strange, and I browsed the Web to find out its definition. It turned out to be a comparatively recent buzzword meaning “the way a situation looks to the general public.” A quote from The Economist says: “A scenario in which NATO starts bombing the very forces they previously helped would have “bad optics”, as they say in Washington” (1st April 2011).

Another issue in the discussion was whether Ukraine has been put on the back burner by the U.S. Administration –what with Iran’s nuclear program, ISIS and Europe’s economy.  An expert on Eastern Europe remembered some politician’s words: “In no way are we going to dilute our concerns for Ukraine.”

While directing the debate the moderator, as he himself put it, “segued” from one topic to another. However, the spelling of “segue”may be different, because I only heard the word and didn’t see it in print. It looks that it can be re-spelt  for the scooter “Segway” – as in the example: “I think it’s time to just Segway into that issue a little” – with the meaning “to change the direction of a conversation.” An older word “segue” in its original usage meant  “to proceed without pause from one musical number or theme to another.

There’s many a slip between a nonce usage of a word and its being registered by the Oxford Dictionary or Merriam-Webster. In my student’s years a key-word for the topic of the day was “MIRV” (a multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicle, in simpler words: “a missile with two or more warheads designed to strike separate enemy targets”). Though the word has been preserved in Merriam-Webster, it is outdated. As for its metaphoric derivative “to mirv” <“When in the hotel, the friends “mirved” to their rooms”>, it’s out of use, I guess. At least I have never come across it since the 1980s.

By and large, it pays off to follow new vocabulary coinages, even though they may be short-lived. For me it’s the poetry of language and its music. The main thing is not to miss the most interesting lexical units, not to “sleep on life.” I picked up the verbal phrase “to sleep on life” from a talk between two friends: “You haven’t heard this song? Everybody knows this song, bro, you sleep on life.”

As for Victoria Nuland… I don’t think her presence was decisive for the voting in the Rada. The Ukrainians have their own “supervisors” – less conspicuous and more powerful…

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