Ukraine Freedom Support

Nothing annoys me more than the way in which the war of Russia against Ukraine is described in the Western media. Here is one example:

Over the weekend, Congress passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, a bill which would impose stricter sanctions on key Russian sectors like weapons and energy, and which authorizes the President to provide lethal aid to Ukraine for the first time. . . President Obama so far appears to be holding back from signing the bill immediately, despite bipartisan pressure for him to put pen to paper. With the economic situation rapidly deteriorating in Russia, however, having the bill hanging over the Kremlin’s head, maximizing uncertainty and unease may not be the worst strategy.

Are you seeing the problem with this analysis? The journalist is discussing  a bill called “the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014.” Got it? Ukraine freedom support. But the analysis is all about how wonderful not signing the bill will be in the dealings with the Kremlin. How about Ukraine, though? The one whose freedom this bill is supposed to support? It’s not even mentioned in this analysis!

The idea that any of the pathetic “sanctions” introduced against Russia have had any effect is completely bizarre. The idea that the Kremlin is anything but overjoyed with news of this bill is even more bizarre. The fantasy of Putin cowering in “uncertainty and unease” is simply deluded. 

It’s high-time to stop trying to impress Putin. The West has proven itself to be signally incapable of that. The only people who have managed to thwart Putin in any way recently are Ukrainians. Instead of pretending that they don’t exist, it would be much smarter to help them keep thwarting him.

The value of Ukraine Freedom Support Act is symbolic a lot more than anything else. Ukrainians need to hear that they matter to the West, that their struggle is understood and supported. They need at least a tiny gesture of goodwill in their direction. And while the American President is mumbling and fumbling, Ukrainians are dying for the Western values that they alone in the world seem to recall and cherish.

Holodomor Deniers

My regular readers know that I don’t throw around the word “fascist” lightly. I hate it when people employ it in the meaning of “a person I dislike or disagree with.”

However, I absolutely insist that anybody who denies the horrible reality of the Holodomor, a famine organized by Stalin’s regime that claimed the lives of millions of Ukrainians in 1931-2, is no different from a Holocaust denier. And I will tell such people that they are fascists.

I also want to point out to the especially clueless that recognizing the very well-documented historical reality of Holodomor does not make one an anti-Semite. I first found out about the horrors of Holodomor from my father, a Jew. He told me this was one of the greatest tragedies of humankind. And it insults me that some jerks would equate being Jewish with being a Holodomor-denier.

I have talked to people who lived in Ukraine in 1931-2. They told me about corpses lying in the streets, people from the country-side coming to the city to beg for food for their starving children, and the military chasing them back to the country-side. You have to be a real animal to deny their stories.

Watch the following and, please, finally, shut the fuck up about the Holodomor.

How Horrible, Mean Americans Destroyed the Soviet Poultry

If you have had the misfortune of living in the Soviet Union, then the words “Soviet poultry” have already made you pee yourself with laughter. If you haven’t, then I promise you’ll get why it’s funny by the end of this post. You see, it isn’t that hard to find out things about the USSR. All you need is do some research, ask a few questions, talk to people. Unfortunately, Stephen Cohen, whose bizarre and ignorant article about the Soviet Union has been published in The Nation, didn’t take that route. Instead, he wrote a piece that hammers in two ridiculous ideas:

1. When a bear sneezes in the woods near Magadan, somebody in the US must be to blame.

2. Soviet Union equals Russia. The other fourteen republics that constituted the USSR deserve neither to be mentioned nor to be taken into account.

It’s one thing when my freshmen respond to the questions of who won World War II with “Russians!” Cohen, however, is supposed to be a professor of something. I’d expect him to be able to figure out the difference between the USSR and Russia (a hint: you can do that by looking at a map for 30 seconds) and to realize that not everything in the USSR and the FSU happens because of some gaffe by the president of the United States.

The entire article by Stephen Cohen is an exercise in mind-numbing ignorance and intellectual carelessness. And what really bothers me is that many people will read the article and maybe even buy this quack’s books and form their opinions about the USSR on the basis of the egregiously stupid statements he makes. Let me just give you a few examples:

Accordingly, most American specialists no longer asked, even in light of the large-scale human tragedies that followed in the 1990s, if a reforming Soviet Union might have been the best hope for the post-Communist future of Russia or any of the other former republics.

In Cohen’s warped mind, the people to ask this question are some mysterious “American specialists.” What does he care that in 1991, 84% of registered voters in Ukraine came to the polls to vote on whether they wanted their country to become independent. And out of those voters, 91% voted in favor of independence. I cannot recall either such a high turnout or such a degree of unanimity in any US elections recently. And this is just Ukraine. Have you heard about the Vilnius massacre? The conflicts in the Transcaucasus area? Does the word Chechnya ring a bell?

Cohen obviously is not aware of any of these powerful independence movements. Anybody who is at least marginally knowledgeable about the nationalist explosions of the late 1980ies and early 1990ies, would not have written the following:

Nor have any US policy-makers or mainstream media commentators asked if the survival of a democratically reconstituted Soviet Union—one with at least three or four fewer republics—would have been better for the world.

Yes, let’s forget the wishes of the Ukrainians, the deaths of the Lithuanians, the Armenians, the Georgians, the 300-year-long fight for independence by the people of Chechnya. Let’s pretend that none of these colonized peoples have any say in the matter of their own independence. Instead, let’s turn to the US media commentators. These commentators should decide which lucky three or four republics will be allowed finally to be independent and which will be drowned in blood to prevent their independence.

I lived in Ukraine in 1989, 1990, 1991. I saw the faces of the people when the Ukrainian flag was raised. I heard people sing “Ukraine hasn’t died yet” (our national anthem). Nothing short of an outright genocide could have stopped these folks from seeking independence. But what does Cohen care? For him, everything that happens in the world gets decided on the pages of the New York Times.

In support of his uninformed opinions, Cohen turns to manipulating the facts:

A majority of Russians, on the other hand, as they have repeatedly made clear in opinion surveys, still lament the end of the Soviet Union, not because they pine for “Communism” but because they lost a familiar state and secure way of life.

I have no doubt that a few years after India achieved its independence, many people in Great Britain still lamented the loss of the empire. No decent person, however, granted their suffering that they couldn’t abuse and exploit Indians more respect than they did to the joy of Indians who were finally free of the colonial overlords. It would be a lot more honest on Cohen’s part to include the opinions of people from newly independent Republics.

Now let’s turn to one of the most hilarious parts of Cohen’s rambling article:

 That kind of nihilism underlay the “shock therapy” so assiduously urged on Russia in the 1990s by the Clinton administration, which turned the country, as a columnist in the centrist Literary Gazette recently recalled, into “a zone of catastrophe.” None of the policy’s leading proponents, such as Larry Summers, Jeffrey Sachs and former President Clinton himself, have ever publicly regretted the near-destruction of essential consumer industries, from pharmaceuticals to poultry, or the mass poverty it caused.

I dislike Larry Summers profoundly. However, the destruction of “essential consumer industries” in the USSR is not his fault. It isn’t really anybody’s fault since those industries did not exist. By way of illustration, let me share with you a well-known Soviet joke about poultry:

An American chicken and a Soviet chicken are lying next to each other at the supermarket.

“Look at you,” the American chicken says. “You are so scrawny, ugly and pathetic. And your color is both yellow and blue at the same time. I, however, look beautiful. I’m plump, pink, and juicy.”

“Well,” the Soviet chicken responds, “at least I died a natural death.”

As anybody who lived in the USSR knows, finding a chicken to buy in the USSR was a rare feat, indeed. When you managed to find one, though, it looked exactly like the chicken in the joke. God, I’ll never forget those tortured-looking blue Soviet chickens. Seriously, blue was their color (after the feathers were removed.) They did look like they had died of horrible diseases. And those were the eighties. Which means that President Clinton was not the one who made them look that way.

In terms of poultry, the nineties were actually a great moment because American chickens started to get imported in the early nineties. They were abundant, plump, juicy and cheap. Many a poor family survived exclusively on those American chickens. But does Cohen care? Of course, not. The actual living reality of all those post-Soviet people is of no interest to him.

I could continue discussing other egregiously stupid statements this pseudo-academic makes in his insulting article but I don’t want this post to last forever. It really bothers me that many people are buying into the idiotic and uninformed opinions of this quack. It is very difficult to maintain an intelligent conversation about the Soviet Union nowadays because people glean their information from such unreliable sources.

Thank you, n8chz, for giving me this priceless link.

Ukrainian Feminists Are Brutalized in Byelorussia

There is this very scandalous group of Ukrainian feminists called FEMEN (I blogged about it here) that uses some very strange means to promote feminism. For some reason, women who belong to this organization believe it’s a good idea to run around half naked in support of feminism. I think they are clueless and their activism is counterproductive. However, now is the moment to stand in solidarity with these activists because they have been subjected to really horrible treatment by anti-feminist fanatics in Byelorussia. I’m not seeing any articles on this subject in the feminist blogosphere, which is why I decided to write about it and share what has been happening to feminists in Byelorussia.

Byelorussia is one of the former republics of the Soviet Union. It suffered horribly during World War II. I think it was probably the area of the USSR that sustained the greatest damage during the war. When the Chernobyl catastrophe took place, the wind blew most of the radiation towards Byelorussia. The entire population has been affected by the nuclear tragedy.

As if all this suffering wasn’t enough, this miserable republic has been cursed with a dictator of well-known fascist leanings. Since 1994, Lukashenko, a great admirer of Hitler, has ruled Byelorussia. International observers state that there has never been a single even marginally fair election in the country. Candidates who tried to run against the dictator have been brutalized by the police and arrested. Journalists who tried to publish even mild criticisms of Lukashenko have been found murdered. Or not found at all.

The Ukrainian feminists went to Byelorussia on Monday to protest the mistreatment of the country’s numerous political prisoners. After they conducted their peaceful protest, they left and headed to the bus station to take a bus home. There, they were approached by a group of men (it is obvious from a variety of details that these men worked for the Byelorussian KGB), taken into the woods, stripped naked, and beaten. Then, the attackers cut off their hair and doused them with a sticky bright green substance that is very hard to remove and that leaves long-lasting stains. After that, the women were feathered. They were forced to hold slogans with swastikas. All of this was recorded with a camcorder.

After the Ukrainian feminists made their ordeal public, the leader of the Byelorussian KGB stated that “they react to everything like women” and refused to take the matter seriously.

I have noticed that my posts about the violations of human rights in the FSU are very unpopular. I understand that the reason why people don’t want to read them is not indifference. It is, rather, a sense of impotence. Nobody knows how the situation can be helped. I believe, however, that knowledge and awareness are the best – and the only – ways to help. If people in other countries know what’s going on, if they are aware of the facts, they are already doing a lot.

Sorry for spoiling the pre-Christmas mood, but this is important. I was going to promise only to write about happy things during the Christmas festivities, but there is another huge protest against the Putin regime planned in Moscow for tomorrow and I can’t avoid blogging about that.


A customs officer stops a Ukrainian at the border.

“Are you carrying any drugs?”


“Let me see them. Wait this isn’t drugs. This is salo.”

“Yes, it makes me high,” says the Ukrainian with a beatific smile.

I shared this joke so that people understand how important salo is to Ukrainian people. So if you feel like saying, “Ewww, gross!”, please remember that you are hurting the feelings of a Ukrainian person.

Salo is the most traditional Ukrainian foodstuff. It is salted pork fat, which scares most non-Ukrainian people. For Ukrainians, though, it’s sacred. Many people use it to cook (fried potatoes, borscht, all kinds of soups.) The best way to eat it, however, is frozen and cut into very thin strips.

I hadn’t had a chance to eat salo for over 10 years until we discovered it at a Global Foods store in St. Louis. N. says that he finds seeing me eat salo disturbing because I look like I’m participating in some kind of an erotic activity when I do it.

My Intellectual Journey, Part I

When I was 20 years old,  all I did was read CosmoElle and Marie Claire. I also believed that studying was useless and stooooopid and that the only worthy pursuit was to make lots of money to help one become a true Cosmo girl.

I didn’t arrive at this worldview by accident. It was a product of my experiences in the Ukraine of late eighties and early nineties. The years between 1986 and 1990 were a moment of a great intellectual awakening in the Soviet Union. This was the era when intellectuals had their long-awaited opportunity to read, think, debate, and feel very appreciated for doing so.

Every day brought new publications of authors that had been censored before perestroika. My parents subscribed to so many magazines and newspapers that it was weary work to drag them all out of the mailbox every day. Earth-shattering revelations about our history awaited us each morning. People gathered in the streets to discuss a new novel, film, or article. I remember many occasions on which I would be walking down the street with either of my parents only to have them stop and start delivering an impassioned speech on politics, literature, economy, etc. to admiring crowds. The Soviet intellectuals finally felt completely relevant and appreciated. They believed that now they would get an opportunity to have a say in where our country – or, hopefully, our many new independent republics – were heading.

And then all that came to an end. The nineties brought us bandit wars, organized crime, violence, fear, hunger, and insecurity. Most of the intellectuals never managed to find ways to inscribe themselves into the new economic reality. The hunger for material goods that everybody (except the Communist party leaders and their lackeys) had experienced during the Soviet era proved stronger than the need for intellectual nourishment. A veritable orgy of materialism overpowered the FSU countries. You either could inscribe yourself onto this really scary version of out-of-control, wild capitalism or you couldn’t.

For most of the intellectuals, this was a truly tragic moment. The new reality had arrived but there was no place for them in it. They had no tools that would enable them to deal with the demands of the free market. Looking for a job, starting a business, competing with others, being rejected when you apply for positions – these were skills that neither they nor their parents and grandparents ever had to develop. And it’s not an easy task to learn to adapt to this way of being from scratch.

(To be continued. . .)

Sunflower Seeds and Meditation

Do you know why Ukrainians are always so happy, relaxed, laid-back, and stress-free?

Because we eat a lot of sunflower seeds. Getting them out of their shells requires such intense concentration that it becomes a great meditation technique. And the seeds themselves lower blood pressure. (Of course, the seeds should be bought as nature created them, in shells and unsalted.)

Just try it. It’s a road to nirvana.

IMF Promotes the Cause of Feminism in Ukraine

There are many gender inequities in Ukraine, the most glaring of which has always been a significant difference in retirement age for men and women. While women can retire at the age of 55, men have to wait until the age of 60 to be able to do the same. Taking into account that life expectancy for women is 12 years longer than for men and that many men don’t even get to live until the age of sixty, this difference in the age of retirement is nothing but sexist.

If you believe that such sexist differences in retirement age somehow benefit women, you couldn’t be more mistaken. For one, women are considered hopelessly old and useless by the time they reach 55. On the other hand, they still work because one can’t live on the meager pensions. The problem is that, once they pass the retirement age, nobody will hire them for good, well-paying positions. They have to content themselves with working in unofficial capacities, plagued with fear that the fact they still work is about to come out.

Now, however, the IMF has forced Ukraine to bring the retirement age for men and women into sync. People will now retire at 60, irrespective of their gender. In Russia, where the IMF holds no sway, the gender-skewed attitude to retirement inherited from the USSR still persists.

It’s great to see the IMF do something good for a change. Obviously, the IMF isn’t making Ukraine do this because it cares about feminism. This, however, is completely unimportant, given that the result of these policies will benefit the cause of gender equality immediately.

A Ukrainian Alternative to a Barbecue

Since I just criticized the American barbecue parties in my previous post, I want to show you what we, the Ukrainians, do instead. We had this kind of garden party in Montreal a couple of weeks ago. Of course, the weather was pretty cool, otherwise we wouldn’t have done it.

The huge black pan you can see on the photo contains my favorite food ever. We call it “a soldier’s pottage” (the clumsy translation is all mine.) As I shared before, my maternal grandfather fought in World War II. He started the war as a teenage kid on the very first day of Hitler’s invasion of Ukraine and ended it in Berlin, on may 9, 1945 when he wrote his (and, eventually, mine) last name on the walls of the defeated Reichstag. This soldier’s pottage is what he and his comrades ate during the war.

The point of the pottage is that you place every kind of foodstuff you have available in the pot, add some water, and let it brew. Obviously, food is much easier to find in Montreal today than in the swamps of Polesie or the forests of Bayern during a war. So our soldier’s pottage ends up being far richer than the original.

This time, we added chicken, potatoes, carrots, millet, and poured in some eggs. In the past, we have used rabbit instead of chicken, canned meat (which made the pottage more like what it was originally), or no meat at all. Barley can be used instead of millet. After the pottage is left brewing for a couple of hours, you can eat it. It isn’t only delicious, it also offers us an opportunity to experience an emotional connection with the history of our family and of the entire world.

Ukrainian Secretary of National Security and Defense Plagiarizes From Steve Jobs

In a Ukrainian university, the way to get a good grade is to find several sources, copy paragraphs or pages from them, and hand the entire thing in. The way to get a bad grade is to develop your own argument. “Nobody cares about your ideas! Can’t you find a few authorities and copy them, like all normal students do?” my professors in Ukraine kept exclaiming.

This is why I’m not surprised that Ukrainian Secretary of National Security and Defense, Raisa Bogatyreva, plagiarized a speech that Steve Jobs gave to the students at Stanford in 2005.

For centuries, any original thought coming from a Ukrainian was punished first by the officials of the Russian Empire and then by their Soviet heirs. The result is that now it is commonly accepted that parroting somebody else’s ideas – hopefully, as close to the original text as possible – is the best way to proceed. In political terms, the main issue that Ukraine has been trying to resolve for a long time now is whether to imitate the Russians and allow them to guide the country or whether it’s best to follow the lead of the Western Europeans. The possibility of looking for one’s own way of doing things never even gets mentioned.

I am not excusing Bogatyreva’s plagiarism, of course. I’m simply explaining what the consequences of eradicating original thinking in a country are. The case of a bureaucrat plagiarizing Steve Jobs’s speech sounds funny at first. It is a lot less entertaining, though, if you see it in terms of what it says about the future of a country whose population is 1,5 times greater than that of Canada.