Archive for February, 2016


February 16, 2016

Just a few school jokes from the Internet — some of them with a cross-cultural background.

  1. Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.
  2. My son is under a doctor’s care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him.
  3. Dear School: Please ekscuse John being absent on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33.
  4. Please excuse Gloria from Jim today. She is administrating.
  5. John has been absent because he had two teeth taken out of his face.
  6. Please excuse Jason for being absent yesterday. He had a cold and could not breed well.
  7. Please excuse Casey from school. It was Take Your Daughter to work day. I don’t have a job, so I made her stay home and do housework.
  8. I was rather late for school one day as I had gotten up precisely 15 minutes before I needed to be there. I live 20 minutes away even if I drive like a bat out of hell. When I got to school I told them, “I am late for religious reasons. I have recently converted to Hinduism and there was a cow in the road.” They bought it but I think that the attendance lady suspected.
  9. I didn’t come to school yesterday because I was feeling like I was going to be sick, but thankfully I wasn’t!
  10. Note from a parent: “Please excuse Bobby for not having his homework today, he didn’t have a pencil at home.” The note was written in pencil.




February 15, 2016

There are not so many articles in the foreign and local (Ukrainian) media that give a good view – both global and precise – of Ukraine’s current problems. I think the article below is one of those few. The author has put his finger on an aspect of Ukraine’s political and social life that brings to a standstill the country’s headway since the day it gained its independence in 1991. That’s why I made up my mind to re-post the article. The source is:


Rada deputy Oleg Barna removes Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk from the tribune, after presenting him a bouquet of roses, during the parliament session in Kiev, Ukraine, December 11, 2015. Fights in the country’s parliament have become so common, they only make the foreign news.VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS


Last December, anonymous billboards appeared in Kiev with the message “Run, Rabbit, Run”, to tell the youthful but bald Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, who some say resembles a rabbit, that his time was up. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was also in town the same month, delivering the contradictory message that Ukraine must not miss its last chance to reform, but in the name of stability shouldn’t get rid of the unpopular government that is holding back reform.

So what is going on in Kiev, two years after the would-be revolution that began in so much optimism and ended with the Russian annexation of Crimea and proxy war in the Donbas? It’s not just the war: In an opinion poll last summer, only 30.3 percent blamed the situation in the east for the lack of reform. It’s not just that Ukraine’s politicians are fighting amongst themselves. That happens all the time. Fist fights in parliament are so common they only make the foreign news—although the meeting of the National Reform Council in December that ended with insults and water being thrown was a new low.

It’s certainly not just that a reformist president is battling a cautious prime minister, despite the novel spectacle of two presidents ganging up on Yatseniuk. President Petro Poroshenko is destroying his reputation as a reformer by protecting the Chief Prosecutor Viktor Shokin and his attempts to sabotage the new Anti-Corruption Bureau. Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, has founded a Movement for the Purification of Ukraine to openly accuse leading cabinet members of corruption, but is himself allegedly backed by a billionaire oligarch.

The real problem is that there has yet to be a strong enough challenge to the old system, which stumbled but never quite fell two years ago, and is now reconstituting itself. Ukraine chose an evolutionary path to reform, but in the words of one MP, Serhiy Leshchenko: “The evolutionary approach isn’t working.”

The same old vicious circles spin round. Politics is all about money, and politics in Ukraine is expensive. Campaigning is largely based on TV—not just ads, but covert payments for favorable coverage and fixing Ukraine’s famous talk shows. The main TV channels are all owned by oligarchs, so only the well-funded can afford to compete, and oligarchs can sell their own parties and politicians on their channels. In the last local elections, several newer parties tried campaigning only on social media, but their impact was minimal outside the big cities.

Mainstream parties are therefore full of placemen. Some are entirely fake, so-called political technology parties set up to siphon off rival parties’ votes or as Trojan horses for corrupt interests. Cynical commentators note that Yatseniuk’s and Poroshenko’s problem is not just that they are unpopular, but they have yet to set up “life-raft” parties as the next home of convenience for their supporters. The worst types of fake parties are fake populists, who mimic popular anger at the system in order to defuse it and mouth anti-oligarch slogans paid for by their oligarch sponsors.

Politics is full of strange terminology—Ukrainians talk about “watchers” or “money bags”, who protect the financial interests of the corrupt. Once appointed to key positions in the still Byzantine bureaucracy or Ukraine’s murky state enterprise sector, they pay back their sponsors with state funds.

And the circle goes round again. When the current government was formed, it was therefore thought to be a good idea to parachute in foreigners like the Lithuanian Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius. On February 3, he resigned, saying, “Neither I nor my team have any desire to be a cover for open corruption, or to be a marionette of those who want to establish control over state money.”

Many good things have been done, but they don’t break these circles. The budget has been reformed; a deal with creditors has saved Ukraine billions; the gas sector, Ukraine’s biggest single source of corruption in the past, is being cleaned up.

But more needs to be done at the heart of the problem. Ukraine needs state financing of political parties. The fledgling public broadcaster, the National Public Television and Radio Company of Ukraine (NSTU), needs people and resources. The state enterprise sector needs transparency and privatization. Tentative steps towards e-government need to be vastly expanded, so the state bureaucracy becomes a service, not a means of raising revenue.

People want change, but they can’t vote for it. There are a few reformers in parliament and government, but not yet enough to make a difference. Almost two-thirds, 73 percent, blame the “corruption of power” for the lack of reform—48.4 percent think the government has done “nothing” and another 24.6 percent think it has only “done 10 percent” of what needed to be done. The war in the east has been quiet since September; but instead of re-concentrating on the domestic front, Kiev has picked fights with Russia over Crimea. There is nothing wrong with reminding the world about the annexation, but it looks like the same kind of diversionary politics as in Russia.

What next? As is often said, Ukraine has a strong civic sector, but activists and journalists cannot reform the system on their own if politicians are constantly trying to stop them. Elements of civil society—militias, populists and even protestors—can be used as cover for the politicians to carry on as usual. New elections won’t necessarily work either, if the same old vicious circles are still in place. The one thing that does work is what locals calls the “sandwich”—Ukrainian politicians grudgingly reform when they are subject to twin pressures from society at home and donors abroad.

So part of the job of the civil sector in Ukraine is to convince the West that change is possible and financial support is not just disappearing down a black hole. The job of the West is to keep paying attention, when they are so many other diversions, from Syria to the refugee crisis.

Andrew Wilson is professor of Ukrainian Studies at University College London and the author of Ukraine Crisis and The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation.  


February 14, 2016

On February 12 Pope Francis and Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met in Havana, Cuba. The spokesmen of the two churches insist that the meeting is “apolitical.” I have read the joined declaration signed after the meeting and dare say that it is politically charged, at least at some points. It couldn’t have been otherwise – considering the facts that 1)Russia’s Orthodoxy is an instrument of the Russian state, 2) Kirill speaks of Putin as a “miracle from God”, 3) Putin and Kirill are actually “colleagues” – with Putin being a former KGB officer and Kirill being earlier on the KGB’s payroll for years (although I may be not right using the words “former” and “earlier”. It is generally recognized that “once a KGB man is always a KGB man”), 4) he meeting was arranged on the Russian church’s initiative. The decision to hold the meeting was agreed upon as early as last autumn, but Russia’s church wanted to keep it under wraps for several months, a Vatican source said. Putin and Kirill had been waiting for a proper moment to start extricating themselves from the political and economic isolation in the wake of western sanctions.

Ukraine is mentioned in the Declaration three times: regarding a) the situation in the Donbas, b) the position of the Greek Catholic community and c) the split in the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. In all three cases Putin’s viewpoint is being confirmed. The Pope and the Patriarch do not see WHO is the culprit that caused the war in the East of Ukraine when they call on BOTH sides to restrain from any hostilities: “…We invite all the parties involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity, and to action aimed at concluding peace…” (does the Pope think that Russia is as innocent as a lamb?). As far as the Ukrainian Greek Catholics are concerned the statement (if translated from the religious “speak”) runs as follows: Do not try to expand, stay where you are. The Declaration also refers to the Ukrainian Patriarchate emphasizing its non-canonical status: “…The schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms.”

The “Ukrainian” items were formulated in the Declaration without the Ukrainian believers’ participation. It reminds me of how the Soviet Union and Germany were deciding on destinies of Ukraine in 1939 over Ukraine’s head.

There were other aspects of social life mentioned in the Declaration: marriage, family, abortions, anti-Christian persecutions, religious freedoms, euthanasia, immigrants, wealthy industrial nations versus poor developing states, the Christian roots of Europe. But… having read what the two “marshals” said about Ukraine, how can you embrace the rest?


February 13, 2016

DSC05584I noticed that Kirovohrad businesses are obsessed with the word “Imperia” (імперія/империя = Engl: an empire).  This name has been given to a bus company, an agricultural complex, a brewery, a chain of pizza shops, a dance school, a night club. “Artemida”, a company making alcohol drinks, was unofficially called “vodka empire” too. Anything can be “imperia” in Kirovohrad: yesterday I saw an advert of a beauty salon: Empire of Beauty.

My explanation is that Kirovohrad’s business elite, trying to get stronger, finds a pivotal point in the greatness of an empire, which in this case can be only the Russian empire – no other empire has ever been present in central Ukraine. Hence their infatuation for everything that is Russian – including czar Nicolas II DSC05574(his portraits Russian Orthodox believers were carrying during their manifestation) and the name “Elisavetgrad” as the city name.

Another explanation is the Stockholm syndrome(viewed historically). The Ukrainians had suffered so much and so long under the Russian occupation that they (as victims) started to feel with, and even to love, their oppressors.


February 12, 2016

DSC05560As a pupil, I was taught that Kirovohrad was a “town” because it was too small to be a “city.” Later I came to know that the city/town concept varied depending on traditions, geography, history, etc. In early Britain any town, no matter what its size was, could be a “city” if there was a cathedral and/or university in it. On the other hand, there are so-called “cathedral towns” in Britain too. In the US, a city enjoyed legal powers, which a town didn’t. How about the ancient Greek city of Troy, which was hardly bigger than the “town” of Kirovohrad? That’s why, as regards Kirovohrad, I have personally decided on a “city”, even “the City” (capital C), very much like the City of London – small, but tremendously important.

Kirovohrad is the city where I grew, went to school, studied to be a teacher and DSC05569worked. I know every street and every lane in it. Because Ukrainian high schools go by numbers, they may seem nondescript to a foreigner, but our “number 32” had character: ours was the first enrollment in what was in those days a very modern school with laboratories and the latest technical aids. On the other hand, the school was next to the ruins of an 18th century fortress, so we didn’t have to travel far to feel the touch of history 🙂 It was also important that the school had the status of a specialized school, which meant that English was taught there intensively from the first year, when pupils were 7, to the last year when they received their diplomas at the age of 17. There weren’t many specialized schools in those days. It may not be uninteresting that in that school I met the most beautiful DSC05554girl in the world who later became my wife and the mother of our children, and that our former classmates remain our best friends until this moment. It takes no longer than half an hour to get to any of them now (I can reach any address with my eyes closed), press the bell at the gate, see him/her (our friend) going out of the house to meet us and discuss the re-union meeting of class-66 this year.

Another half hour and you are downtown (don’t say “down-city” this time :-)). Big colourful adverts all over the place. Streets have different names than they had before. Monuments and memorial plaques to communist leaders have been either pulled down or spattered with graffiti. No big deal. What you really may be sorry for is bookshops, libraries, cinemas. Before they were real cultural centers. Out of seven bookshops DSC05567there remain only two and there’s only one cinema left out of four. I understand that now there are other channels of aesthetic information, but I’m afraid the atmosphere of reaching out for those aesthetic values has been lost. As a pupil, I had reader’s cards from six different libraries. My friend and I made an appointment with the director of the central city library to get permission to borrow books from there, because at that time we were too young to join the “library for adults.”

My alma mater, the pedagogical university, is a few blocks down. I could write volumes about it.  Some other time, perhaps.  Army barracks are across the street. I did my military service as a paratrooper here. When we had night jumps DSC05562some twenty kilometers away from Kirovohrad, and when I was hanging between the starry sky up and the black earth down, I could see a flood of lights far in the darkness and knew it was my City.

Yesterday it was raining all day long. Today the weather is spring-like – foggy and warm. The snow is melting and there’s lots of water. Bare branches of the catalpa tree knock on my window, and the sun gets from behind the clouds now and then. The City is saying good-bye DSC05547DSC05546to me, and I’m saying good-bye to the City.


February 11, 2016

DSC05543The appeal on the billboard in one of Kirovohrad streets “Let’s give a Christian name to the Christian city” may sound attractive due to its reference to Christianity. Attractive are the national flag and the Ukrainian language of the appeal. The suggested Christian name is “Elisavetgrad”, and it was once the name of what is now the city of Kirovohrad. However, “Elisavetgrad” (allegedly from the name of the biblical Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist) was actually given to the city to honor czarina Elisaveta (Elisabeth) at the time of her reign (1741-1762). Elisavetgrad was founded in 1754, and if Elisaveta hadn’t ruled Russia in those days, the city would definitely have received another name. At that time Russia was slowly strangling Ukraine by driving out the Cossacks from the Ukrainian steppe and enslaving the peasants there.  To advocate “Elisavetgrad” as  the name for substituting the odious “Kirovohrad” (Kirov was Stalin’s comrade) would mean to immortalize the historical presence of the  imperial colonizers in Ukraine and play into the hands of the Russian fifth column, a part of which is the Russian Orthodox church. Yes, Putin and his religious instrument – the Russian patriarch Kirill – go out of their way to establish the “Russian World” on the territory of the deceased USSR. The Russian church in Ukraine does not recognize the Ukrainian language as the language of worship (that’s why the Ukrainian wording of the appeal on the billboard is nothing but hypocrisy to me), it prays for Kirill’s health every Sunday and, also hypocritically, it calls to stop the war between “brothers in Christ” addressing this call to both Russian and Ukrainian sides and intentionally “forgetting” that it was Putin (the Russian side) who started the war and who is going on with it.

The gatherings and rallies organized by the pro-Russian groups in Kirovohrad in October-December last year were generously financed and supported by the local money bags. The most vociferous and fanatical at all these meetings were Russian Orthodox believers. You could hear anti-Ukrainian shouts from them, and they abused the Ukrainian soldiers who tried to speak to them. I watched those verbal (and not only verbal) clashes on the Internet, and I must say the scenes reminded me of how the events in the Donbas had started in March 2014. It’s not a mere coincidence that the Russian television immediately started saying then that the people of Kirovograd were rising “against the Kyiv junta.”

It’s a pity that the name “Elisavetgrad” sounds attractive to thousands of other inhabitants, who are not so war-mongering, but who, in a short-sighted way, are romanticizing the history of their city. If to follow their logic, they should – in the same blindish way – romanticize the name “Malorossiya” (Little Russia) as that name was used in czarist Russia in relation to Ukraine. The question of re-naming Kirovohrad is crystal-clear to me: you are either FOR the Ukrainian identity and see in these steppes your freedom-loving Ukrainian ancestors who had been here long before the Russian invaders founded their fortress, or you are FOR the Russian World and help Putin and his religious comrades, headed by Kirill, mark Ukraine as their territory with their symbols here.


February 10, 2016

DSC05514Today I was travelling by bus for about six hours from Kyiv to Kirovohrad, a regional center some 190 miles further to the south. The British people would rather use the word “coach” for an intercity bus, but I’m afraid I may be misunderstood by my American friends if I say that I was “traveling by coach”, which could evoke an image of a kind of transport rather exotic for the 21 century 🙂 Grey colors behind the window were gradually changing to grey and white (there’s more snow in Central Ukraine) and the steppe zone closer to Kirovohrad looked at times like the Antarctic snow desert – monotonous and disconsolate. With a long drooping moustache, our driver looked more like a Ukrainian Cossack. A small blue-and-yellow flag that he fixed on his dashboard and the Ukrainian songs that sounded from the FM radio somewhere under the ceiling made quite clear what the driver’s DSC05533affiliations were. That was very different from the situation several years ago when Russia-produced films glorifying the deeds of the Russian troops in Chechnya had been shoved down your throat whenever you used this bus company.

Another positive feature was that all the monuments to Lenin (and, earlier, there had been a few of them on that route) had been pulled down by this time– only the pedestals remained, sometimes bearing the name of the leader of the world proletariat. In the center of Kirovograd the monument is preserved, but the reason for the preservation might be to demonstrate who Lenin really was: the word “executioner” is graffiti-ed in Ukrainian on the monument.

DSC05513What is sad, however, is the pessimistic look in people’s eyes. People don’t smile. They even don’t talk. And if they talk, they do it in some sluggish way, as if professing Murphy’s Law: if anything can go wrong, it will. The service all along the route is far from vigorous: the symbol of the service-in-the-travel business could be a cat sitting on the door-mat at the entrance to the hall for transit passengers (see my photo). At times the road is so full of potholes that you may think it’s cratered by meteorites: our bus, as well as the oncoming transport, was slowly zig-zagging from the left side of the road to the right to avoid the “yamas” (potholes).

In Kirovohrad several tents are set up in the central square. As I was told later, the tents had been put up by the former soldiers who had returned from the front in the Donbas and hadn’t been allotted plots of land promised by the government. Incidentally, the government faces a problem with recruiting the next group of inductees for military service: young men don’t want to serve as targets for rebels’ bombardment since they are not allowed to shoot back following the Minsk agreement. Trying to find the way out as regards the call up of DSC05529troops for active duty, the government offers the soldiers who are now in the army to sign a contract and continue to serve as contract soldiers. However, men don’t believe that the promised  UAH12,000 monthly (almost USD 500, a big sum of money by Ukrainian standards) will be paid.

You can learn something during a day of travel, can’t you?

A REPOST from The Daily Vertical: Putin Smells Blood

February 9, 2016

by Brian Whitmore


As the shaky Minsk cease-fire agreement nears its first anniversary, Russia clearly smells blood in Ukraine.

Pro-Moscow separatists have increased their attacks in Donbas in recent weeks. Kyiv officials are reporting 71 attacks a day in the vicinity of Donetsk, Horlivka, and Mariupol.

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin ordered snap military drills involving ground troops and airborne forces near the Ukrainian borders.

And according to a report in Novaya Gazeta, separatists in eastern Ukraine are threatening to execute prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, a government crisis in Kyiv has paralyzed decision making and the military is struggling to find replacements for 40,000 soldiers who will be decommissioned in March.

And to top is all off, Western resolve to continue supporting Ukraine is clearly fading.

Denmark’s Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen told Reuters last week that it would be difficult for Europe to maintain unity on extending sanctions against Russia if Ukraine doesn’t step up reforms.

This, of course, all plays right into Putin’s hands.

Putin’s strategy in Ukraine has long been to keep the conflict simmering, wait for political dysfunction to set in in Kyiv, and hope for the onset of Ukraine fatigue in the West.

The Kremlin leader has been ruthless. He’s been duplicitous. And he’s been patient.

And it appears that his strategy is finally working.


February 8, 2016

Nestor-the-ChroniclerIn his Tale of Bygone Years, written in the 12th century and describing the events that took place a few hundred years earlier, Nestor the Chronicler told about how the Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichs, and the Vesps had invited the Rus (another name for the Vikings, or the Varangians) to rule over them: “Our land is great, but there is no order in it. Come and reign as princes, rule over us. Three brothers with their kinfolk were selected. They brought with them all the Rus… Later they … created the Kyivan Rus.”

However, the Varangians didn’t manage to make the country orderly. They simply got diluted in the Slavonic sea leaving only a few Nordic proper names for the posterity not to forget their failed effort: Helgi, Helga, Ingvar, Sveinald, who were transformed respectively to Oleg, Olga, Igor and Sviatoslav. The Mongolian nomads from the East drove the final nail in the coffin of the Rus statehood.

Almost a millennium later a political troika from Kyiv (the President, the Premier and the Speaker) invited a reform task force from abroad to put their country in order: “Our land is great, but there is much corruption in it. Come and root it out for us.” The Varangians from the U.S.A., Georgia, Lithuania were selected. But the troika planted their appointees round the new Varangians, and the Varangians started being diluted among the local cadres, and the sea of the Slavonic corruption remained as endless as it always was.  Ironically, the mongolized hordes are again in the country’s east as they were several centuries before.

Who said that Time is linear? It is, in a modernistic way, cyclic. And with Ukraine, it goes round in circles. Round and round. Millennium after millennium.


February 7, 2016

Having the Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs within easy reach on my shelf, and being competitive and perfectionistic by nature, I wondered what the English people have been saying about the word “better” throughout centuries. There follow a number of the proverbs I picked up (some of which are integrated in a context):

  1. Better a castle of bones than of stones (where strength and courage of valiant men are to help us).
  2. Better a finger off than aye wagging (the idea: Better put an end to a troublesome business than to be always vexed with it).
  3. Better a mischief than an inconvenience (= Better a present mischief that is soon over, than a constant grief and disturbance).
  4. Better an apple given than eaten (The Ukrainians say, “If you even eat the whole of the ox, you won’t become better in the eyes of other people”. The idea: if you have more food than you can consume, share the food with others);
  5. Better are small fish than empty dish.
  6. Better be first in a village than second in Rome (a variant: Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion).
  7. Better be envied than pitied.
  8. Better be sure than sorry.
  9. Better be unmannerly than troublesome.
  10. Better fill a man’s belly than his eye.
  11. Better give than take.
  12. Better go to bed supperless than to rise in debt.
  13. Better go to bed in rags than to hell in embroidery.
  14. Better lost than found.
  15. Better the foot slip than the tongue.
  16. Better untaught than ill taught.
  17. Better unborn than unbred (untaught).
  18. Better to have than wish.
  19. Better to wear out than to rust out.
  20. Better to be a martyr than a confessor.



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