Archive for May, 2016


May 31, 2016

I’m having my balcony renovated. My apartment is on the top floor of a high-rise, and to get things done, I need to get an access to the technical floor right above the balcony. For this, I have to secure a key to the door that leads to the technical floor. The key is with the administrator of the local public utilities office (the office is known as ZHEK in Ukraine). The administrator has given the key to the chief engineer of ZHEK, who does not know where the key is: “Only in the morning it was hanging here, on this peg, and now it’s gone” (the voice is surprised, the eyes round and the mouth open). A phone call to an elevator-service dispatcher reveals that two people have got stuck in an elevator and a salvage van has been directed to my block of flats to release the unfortunate from their confinement. The key I’m after is with the rescuers because they also need an access to the technical floor to re-start the elevator…. I rush back home to discover that the “first-aid” elevator team has just freed the people from the elevator and may be now back on the way to ZHEK…

To cut a long story short, I held the most sought-after item in my sweated hand only four hours after I had started the “key-race.” “A key… the key… key…” I kept murmuring the word to myself…How pleasant the word “key” sounds. To use a quote from Oscar Wild, “it produces vibrations.” It’s extremely versatile in meaning and usage. It can help you gain entrance or deny it. “Key” explains riddles and provides solutions to problems, it generates musical tones and types your dissertation. At the end of test books it shows how good you are at math or foreign language grammar. It gives instructions on how to encipher or decipher messages, it identifies the intensity of colors or emotions (“high-key reds”, “low-key-speech”). Of late, the word has risen in its status to match the requirement of the times and is now functioning “electronically”: we use keycards (also: card keys) to open doors and withdraw money from an ATM. We also use key fobs to get an access to network services, which is more reliable than an access with a password…

The chief engineer told me I had to return the key by the end of the day. I certainly returned it, but not before I dropped in at a locksmith’s “while-you-wait” nearby to get a copy of the key made. The copy was made within five minutes and cost me 25 Hr. A mere nothing compared to the pleasure of permanently possessing it and mulling over it.


May 29, 2016

I have mixed emotions about Nadia Savchenko who was recently freed from captivity in Russia. On the one hand, like many Ukrainians, I admire her stamina and her straightforwardness, her uncompromising character and her love for her country. Those are the features rank-and-file Ukrainians would like to see in their politicians, but instead they see only underhanded maneuvring. On the other hand, I’m not sure whether a person who deliberately walks barefoot in Parliament is the best candidate for presidency. One more thing that made me skeptical about the new “political messiah” for Ukraine was Ms Savchenko’s speech she made at the Final Bell event in the Kyiv school she had once finished. Addressing class-2016 she said she had not particularly liked school, however, as she put it, she grew to be a “normal person.” I don’t think Nadia’s confession gave wings to many young people who were listening to her. For me it sounded as if President Yanukovych could have boasted about his staying in jail for criminal offences, but eventually becoming president. Or as if our today’s Prosecutor General were insisting that there was no need to get a degree in law to occupy his position (he had graduated from a university with a degree in electronic engineering but was forced through to his present position by the President who wanted to see his crony in it).

Last Friday, yours truly and his Class-1966 had a reunion meeting at their school No 32 in the city of Kirovohrad, still bearing the name of the communist leader (and Josef Stalin’s close associate) Kirov before this name is changed in accordance with the De-communization Law now being implemented.  My former classmates entrusted me to deliver a message to this year’s graduates. The naïve and humble retiree (as I turned out to be) addressed the school-leavers with the following quixotic message:

Dear graduates of our school 32, who are finishing this school in the 16th year of the 21st century,

I will probably use a hackneyed but classical comparison saying that  now you are stepping on board a ship which you have been building with your teachers for the last 11 years. We, who were standing at your place 50 years ago, hope that this ship will remain strong and steady, and that its masts will never break, and its sails will never be torn but a favorable wind will always blow into them.

We hope that on the ship you wil be not passengers but an enterprising crew. Don’t hesitate to take responsibilities upon yourselves. A person grows under the weight of duties in the same way as a tree grows by overcoming gravitation.

Remain always young. Being young doesn’t depend upon your physical age. It is believed that a person is young as long as he/she wants to learn. We are sure that our School 32 has charged you with the desire of further learning. We hope that you will not lose the ability to be surprised (the way only children may be surprised) whenever you discover anything or learn anything.

One more wish for you: please come to this school yard (come as many as you are now – without any “losses”) and take part in the Final Bell ceremony addressing Class -2066. Please, say the following words to them: “We remember those incorrigible and never-aging romantics of the 20th century who finished our School a hundred years ago. They were wishing us well before our take-off into Adult Life. Their wishes have materialised: our Life turned out to be long, at times not so simple, but interesting and happy.”

 (Our Class-1966 added a finishing line to my speech: “And don’t forget to invite us for greeting Class-2066 together with you too.” 🙂

 Yes, remembering what Ms Savchenko said, it looks that our times – with their rationality and practicality – have put a stop to the idealism of my youth. However, like Galileo under the pressure of the flightless world, I keep muttering unrepentingly: “AND YET IT MOVES…”


May 9, 2016

In Soviet times there circulated a story about the Russian traffic police trying to solve the problem of road accidents. The decision was made to look into how traffic is arranged in the country with the fewest number of such accidents – Britain. It turned out that in the UK they had left-hand traffic. “That may be the key to the solution,” thought the authorities and were about to introduce that system in Russia. However (better safe than sorry, they thought), they ordered that, as an experiment, only private cars and bikes should ride on the left side of the road. Lorries should keep running on the right side, as before.

The story popped up in my mind these days, when Ukraine is marking a double holiday: the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation on May 8, and the Day of Victory over Nazism in WWII on May 9. Having nothing against May 8th holiday, which is on the list of the UNO international days and which is formulated as Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation, I’m against the celebration of the Day of Victory. There are at least three reasons for that. First: only German Nazism was crushed in WWII. Soviet Nazism (or, fascism – I don’t see much difference between the two) was alive and kicking – with its reprisals and persecution of free thinking, its gulags and brinkmanship, with its “socialist camp” of East European countries, with its propaganda, brainwashing, isolationism, etc. Second: for Ukraine, as a Russian colony in those days, the end of WWII was no victory at all. And the poof of it was the self-sacrificing war waged by the Ukrainian Rebellion Army against the Soviets that continued in Western Ukraine into the early 1950s. Third: to celebrate the DAY OF VICTORY  NOW (I emphasize the “Day of 2016-05-09Hitler and Putin-bVictory” and “now”) means to dance to the music of the Russian Hitler. This morning, in a threatening military parade in Moscow, the latest nuclear weapons were on a boastful display. And this morning, in a number of Ukrainian cities the Russian fifth column was demonstrating with the chauvinistic St. George ribbons. Wasn’t that a consequence of the Ukrainian’s government’s left-right-hand-traffic schizophrenia?


2016-05-09-b-Remembrence and ReconciliationAs for the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation, I’d rather mention the forgiving spirit of the Ukrainian people again. I say “again”, because I described it in my very first blog entry, in September 2007, when I wrote about my uncle who had been a Soviet soldier and had been killed one day before the war in Europe finished. Soon afterwards, his wife married again and left her daughter Katya (my cousin) with her own parents (Katya’ grandfather and grandmother) . Katya, being actually an orphan, once told me that she had never felt any animosity towards the Germans, although the killed-in-action notice informing the family about her father’s death had always been with her.


May 7, 2016

two papersI pulled two local papers out of my mailbox downstairs in the entrance hall. No one subscribes to them – they are kind of ad leaflets, and are shoved into all mailboxes by some invisible carriers – to be thrown out later as wastepaper the moment the boxes are opened by mailbox owners. Usually I throw them out too, but this time I decided to peruse the periodicals. Yes, they are on the periphery of the informational mainstream, but very often sidelights turn to be no less important in our everyday lives than highlights.

Actually, the papers I picked up are mouthpieces of two deputies representing our constituency in the city parliament, and every other article in each of them contains words of thanks and praises for the “unceasing and hard work” done by the representatives.  One paper inserted even a deputy’s family photo in which he, as a baby, sits between his mother and deputy as a babyfather! April 26 saw the 30th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster, so a good part of the material is the information about the plight of the “liquidators” – clean-up workers who were removing the radioactive materials from the Chornobyl area in 1986. Their benefits have been reduced to the lowest level, the treatment of the ensuing diseases cost a pretty kopeck nowadays… Sad case… Naturally, the deputies in question are indignant over the decisions of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Similarly, the local community is concerned about the electromagnetic emission from mobile base stations, dozens of which are being built among apartment houses – next to kindergartens and children’s playgrounds. Late last year the government removed digital radio relay devices and mobile base stations from the Easter basketlist of increased ecological hazards, so at the moment these stations and devices are built and operated uncontrollably – profit-making is the only control. Residents are rebelling against another Chornobyl in their yards, deputies are giving promises.

The well-being of people is measured these days also by the value of their “Easter baskets” – the total price of food products people traditionally take to church to get the food consecrated by the priest. As compared to the previous year, the price of each product in the basket (the Easter bun, sausage, eggs, cheese, wine, butter, apples, cucumbers) has risen by about 25 per cent, so Basket-2016 costs UAH 560 against UAH 455 of Basket-2015. Incidentally, old age pensions have been reduced by about 10-15 per cent – as a result of the “war tax.” The new prime minister promises to cancel the war tax starting this month. Who knows… promises are like pie-crust – they are made to be broken.

It was still interesting to read about a woman deputy who graduated from Kyiv linguistic university in 2001 and who, at the moment, is a student at the University of Sheffield (no idea how she manages to be both a student there and a deputy here – at the same time being the CEO of a company).

AzovetsA youth camp “Azovets” announces the enrollment of children aged 7 – 18 for the summer period. It looks very much like a scout camp. As it is mentioned, the aim of the project is to form a citizen of the future – a patriot, who will be ready to build and defend the new Ukraine. Incidentally, the battalion “Azov” is one of the strongest volunteer battalions involved in the war against the separatists in the East of the country.

There were two pages of the TV program. No use for me: I threw out my TV set two years ago.

And lastly, there came a crossword puzzle (with questions of the type: “an article crosswordof furniture with a slab on four legs, used for taking meals at it – 5 letters”). However, one question was interesting:  the name of a European country the origin of which is linked to the name of another country’s capital (Romania). Another was a harder nut to crack: a part of a tree stem from the root to the crown. The answer: Ukr. штамб, Engl. bole, or bolus – the  find which may prove useful one day. You never know 🙂



May 4, 2016

2016-05-04Monstration-8Monstrations (shortening of “demonstrations”) are the only thing I have liked about Russia  in the last 30 years. Launched in 2004 in Novosibirsk, monstrations gained popularity and were held in a dozen other cities of Russia. I like them for at least three reasons. First of all, the participants mock official demonstrations and slogans by making a travesty of them. It is done in witty way: on the surface a “monstrated” slogan may look quite innocent, apolitical, and not prosecutable at all, but the implied meaning ridicules the stupidity and insolence of the officialdom.  In Putin’s retro-Soviet Russia party functionaries and other bureaucrats are rather sensitive as regards any gibes directed at their god-like status.

Second of all, I like young people (and monstrators are mostly young) maintaining their right to look and to sound  absurd. In an authoritarian country, which Russia undeniably is, absurdism is a kind of social protest.

2016-05-04Monstration-12Lastly, many slogans exploit red-hot topics of Russian life and are built on a play of words, which makes them cross-culturally and linguistically attractive.

Here are a few “translatable” slogans and some pictures – to give an idea of this event held annually on May 1. The last picture presents a mock flag of the United States of Siberia, which is a reference to official statements that the U.S. “conspires” to break Siberia away from Russia.

1. Monstrators Go For Mocracy!

  1. Hell is Ours (the association with the annexation of the Crimea, which was accompanied by the motto “Crimea is Ours”)
  2. Spring Has Come –Monstrators Are Back (reference to the painting by the 19th -century Russian artist Aleksey Savrasov “Rooks Are Back.” The picture is known to every Russian. Once all of them had to write a high school essay “Rooks Are 2016-05-04Monstration-15Back” with Savrasov’s work mounted on a classroom blackboard).
  3. Were Were Made To Attend The Monstration. (this slogan scoffs at the mandatory attendance of communist civil parades in Soviet times.)
  4. “My Dad Makes Me Eat Porridge” (the banner is carried by a six-year-old boy)
  5. “Onwards – To The Dark Future!” (the bureaucratic cliché has always been: ”… bright future.”)
  6. I’m bored by our smooth roads (roads in Russia are far from being smooth)
  7. Don’t’ Tell The Keepers that I’m Here (the guy is wearing a straightjacket).
  8. Forbid to Ban!
  9. “Lift Up The Black Square: Malevich Is Our Elder Brother (the slogan is rhymed, which attributes more power to it.)

2016-05-04Monstration-13bSome banners are absolutely empty, but are still  being carried by the monstrators. On one of such banners you may read: “I had no time to write anything.”

Incidentally, an absurdist approach was used by a guy in Moscow who wore a Putin mask and had a sign “War Criminal” on his chest. Eventually he was detained by the police:


May 3, 2016

DSC05667The word EASTER, standing for the most important Christian holiday, developed from Anglo-Saxon EASTERDAEG which, in turn,  goes back to Proto-Germanic AUSTRON (“dawn, sunrise”). However, “Easter” is used only in three Germanic languages: English, German and Icelandic. All neighboring languages use a variant of Latin “Pascha” to name the holiday.  “Eastre” was also the name of a goddess of fertility and spring whose feast was celebrated at the spring equinox.

The word combination “Easter egg” appeared in English only in 1825, “Easter rabbit” in 1888 and “Easter bunny” in 1904. That was the result of the paganish customs of Easter growing popular at the end of the 19th century. Before, such customs were limited to German immigrants. “Egg hunting”, “egg cracking” and “church clipping” came into English about this time too. Incidentally, the Easter vocabulary varies considerably from country to country and from confession to confession. For example, Orthodox Christians consider the utterance “Christ is Risen” (with the reply “He is Risen Indeed”) a required greeting on Easter days. Although the same paschal formula is known to believers in Western countries, they will sooner say “Happy Easter!”

Different cultures have their own proverbs and sayings about Easter. Some of such lexical units are humorous. The richest, in this respect, is Ukrainian: He’s such a good farmer that even his hens lay Easter eggs (Такий вдатний ґазда, що й кури крашанками несуться), or: Keep on grunting, little pig, Easter hasn’t arrived yet (Рохкай, пацю, рохкай, іще не Великдень), or: The egg is older than the hen because it’s consecrated (А яйце від курки старше, бо воно свячене), or: Help yourself to the sausage before Easter is over (Їж ковбаску, поки Паска). The same may be observed in German: Every year Easter makes life difficult for rabbits (Es ist das Osterfest alljährlich – für den Hasen recht beschwerlich).

English proverbs dealing with Easter are less casual and have a connotation of “instructive wisdom”, e.g. Easter so longed for is gone in a day. It took me some time to “decipher” the English proverb dating back to the year 1614: When Easter day lies in our Lady’s lap, then, O England, beware of a clap (other variants: ” …then England shall have a great mishap,” and “…then let the clergyman look to his cap”). In fact, the proverb is about the case when Easter (the date of which is flexible) comes close to (or, on) the day of Annunciation observed on the fixed date of March 25 (Lady Day). Apocryphally it was believed in those days that Jesus’s mother (Lady, the Blessed Virgin) would be taking revenge on people for crucifying her son when she saw the day of his death so close to her own day (Lady’s Day, or Lady Day). Consequently, all social or any other upheavals and calamities that could strike the country in that “special” year could be explained by the “unhappy” coincidence of the dates. Of course, now we understand that such an interpretation is nothing but prejudice. However, that was the case and it was registered by the language.

Once I came upon a question: what book would you take with you to read on a deserted island (along with the Bible and Shakespeare’s work)? I’d probably choose the Book of Word Histories, which is a breath-taking chronicle of human errors and achievements.


May 1, 2016

DSC05628bThis morning when I sat down to table, as it is seen in the picture, I said to my wife: “BUdu ros-hovlyAtysya.” Instinctively following my translator’s habit, I started formulating this phrase in my mind in English – “I’m going to…”  And here I stopped… I wasn’t sure about the right word for “roz-hovlyAtysya.” I wasn’t sure even about the Ukrainian meaning of this word. I think I heard it last when my granny used to come from church on Easter mornings with a basketful of consecrated victuals and she used to say to us, her grandchildren: “BUdemo roz-hovlyAtysya.” So, this time I rushed from the table, picked up the Ukrainian Etymological Dictionary and found that “roz-hovlyatysya” is very close to the expression “to break fast”  (“fast” defined as “eating very little or abstaining from certain foods, as a spiritual discipline”). In modern Ukrainian we mostly use the word “pist” (“fast”). Formerly, the word “hovinnya” (a noun) and “hovity” (a verb “to fast”) were also frequently used. That’s how the word was used by my grandmother. She actually said, “We’ll break ‘hovinnya.”

The most interesting  thing for me, however, was that the Indo-Germanic word “gowity” (also found in various forms in Czech, Slovak, Old Slavonic, Latvian, Lithuanian and even Gothic languages) meant more than just “to fast.” It had accompanying components “to be kind, to please, to serve, to respect, to bless.” So, it turns out that the old Ukrainian word “hovity” contains essential qualities of fasting as they are emphasized in Christianity. Unfortunately (according to my observation), the present-day word “postyty” (to keep fast) is understood mostly as “voluntary limiting of one’s food” and does not differ much from “keeping diet.”  What may be worse is that the earlier lofty word (a church term) “roz-hovlyatysya” is jocularly used – usually when people, being rather  hungry, look forward to a square meal. That was exactly my case when I was sitting down to my breakfast this morning. Now I will know better.

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