Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Manning the Snowy Barricades

I have several friends who are Ukrainians, Russians and Caucasians, living here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I love spending time with my Soviet expatriate friends. Every so often they throw together a party that goes late into the night. I get invited as the only native-born American to these gatherings, to drink the most insane vodka I have ever had, all the while eating roasted potatoes and preserved herring served on newspaper. These parties are impromptu, ending at three in the morning with one of the women playing guitar, lustily singing sad music. The other guests sit around and hum along, or listen enraptured. You'd never believe they drank so much vodka.

In my mingling, I have noticed there are two kinds of Soviet expatriates when it comes to politics. The first kind of expat is politically animated. I've had countless intense conversations---no, debates---with these people, who are genuinely interested in the world. They want to know what I think as an American, and tell me what they think as new U.S. citizens. The other kind of expat shuns politics, pushing it away as far as possible. That kind of attitude is probably a holdover of the hopelessness of the Soviet political mindset. They're usually a little older, and remember the Soviet era---it was pointless to talk politics, because you could affect nothing anyway. "Have another shot of vodka, you crazy Amerikanyitz, and be quiet about war and Boosh. Poidyom!" The little glasses slam down on the counter. Oof---this stuff would kill me if it weren't for the spuds and butter in between.

I mention all of this because I have been getting forwarded email from their friends who are trading protester shifts at Independence Square in Kiev. It is quite inspiring to read how confident they are, and that any predilection they might have for hopelessness is supplanted with optimistic expectation.

I can't help but wonder about the tragedy here that might be in the making---not just the possibility of armed conflict, but what happens if either side wins over the other. Ukraine's best hope is to be more aligned with the EU, spinning away from Russia's orbit. My feeling is that this would be best since Russia appears to be moving towards autocracy. And yet, a firmer alliance with the EU offers statism for my Ukrainian friends, for better or for worse. There is so much optimism in the emails from the freezing cold in Independence Square---I hope what they want is what they can get: freedom from autocracy and outside interference. Ukraine seems to be caught in the middle of the evolving relationship between Russia and the West; I wish them well.

Here's a few snippets from a series of emails from Kiev, from people at the barricades:
Thank you for you care and prayers. People are still strong and are determined to fight till the victory. The situation is very very complicated and becoming dangerous every day. Today the Supreme Court is to meet to (hopefully) admit the elections falsified. However, the latest news is that the judges were let in the building but the police is blocking their ways to the room where they should start the meeting. Can you imagine this? Oh, no, as I am writing this, the Supreme Court has started the meeting. Good!

The situation is very dangerous in the East, especially worsened by Russia's interference. Yesterday Yanukovych held a forum in Donetsk in his support where he was screaming and calling to forming armed troops to fight with us. And Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow along with Chernomyrdin (Russia's Ambassador) is participating in all this. They say that if we are having repeated elections they will hold referendum on the same day to vote for a separate Eastern autonomy. This is way too much!

- - -

Last night at 10 p.m. we started an ultimatum to Kuchma - he is given 24 hours to get rid of Yanukovych as a prime minister and all his cabinet of ministers, as well as to fire three governors of the Eastern oblasts who are calling for getting separated. If he does not do this, then the opposition together with people starts blocking all the roads to and from Kiev, so Kuchma will not be able to make a step.

The last night was very momentous and dangerous - there were supposed to be many provocations against people who are in tents on the square and in front of the presidential administration and cabinets of ministers. So every one was very alert, no one slept and no one left the streets and it didn't happen. Thank God! Our people are so strong. They came from all over. Some of them came from far Western villages having spent the last money on getting here and having left their families at home without money either. They sleep in tents for 6 days and they are not going home till victory!

Our nation got so united! We probably had to go through this to realize this. I am going to the street now again. I spend all my time there. All days of the week have mingled into one for me, I lose track of time, I do not remember when I rested last time or read a book or watched a movie. But this all does not matter now - all that matters today is my nation who stood up and is not going to step back! God is with us and we will win, even if it takes all we have!

- - -

The elections were totally falsified! The whole world does not recognize the elections! A million of people is in the streets of Kiev and more and more people are coming from the regions. It is very cold, it snowing and the temperature is below zero.

Central Election Commission announced the official results yesterday according to which of course Yanukovych is a winner! Yuschenko announced a national strike and no one is going to accept the results of the CEC. No one is working and students do not study. The opposition got one huge building in Khreschatik yesterday - the former Lenin's museum - now there is sort of a revolution headquarter there and people have a chance to come and eat and get warm and sleep there.

One more legal (if this word may be used in my country) way out we have - Yuschenko is appealing to the Supreme Court today, so the Supreme Court is our last hope. If it does not help, then I really do not see a way out, especially that Russian troops are hidden in Kiev. Just think about it - this is an intervention! This is way too much! i think if the Supreme Court does not help, then NATO should bring in troops here. Considering all this, Yanukovych yesterday said: :"Nothing special is taking place in the country!" Can you imagine this?!!!

I stood yesterday in a very front row in front of the presidential administration looking straight in the eyes of the policemen and there were so many of them. I had no fear but felt only pride for my people! This is terrible and I have no words to describe how people feel!

What also is very dangerous is that thousands and thousands of people are coming here from Donetsk and Lugansk to "pay us back". They all are very well paid to do this and given lots of alcohol.

It is very scary, honestly if I think about what may happen. God help us!

- - -

You wouldn't believe what the Donetsk people have to go through--there are reports from some friends who have families in Donetsk--they are being shoved by police into buses without warm clothes or even a warning and bullied into going to Kyiv. They arrive disoriented and disorganized and hide in the bushes at first. Then the demonstrators start talking to them and they often join us.

I feel sorry for them, because they have been deceived even worse than we have been--they had no access to information we had access to and were brainwashed into believing that we are fascists and hate them, also that a few hysterical people gathered in Kyiv and are causing disturbance. When they arrive and see so many of us, obviously not causing any disturbance, and being so friendly to them they are shocked (positively).

The other type of "Yanukovych protesters" arrive drunk or high on drugs, probably on opiates. Also, interesting that almost no women arrive with Donetsk 'protesters. 'They also hide, and appear only at night and try to cause disturbance, but are gently led away by police. There are not many policemen around generally but enough to take care of these episodes. Also, Alfa special forces (some teams) have joined us and are watching out for provocateurs.

We are out there on the streets. We are happy and we feel proud. We are safe. It is the best crowd ever: polite and positive people. It is cold, but it doesn't matter. My father came from Lviv and was with us for 2 days as well. We are all much stronger now.

People are finally friendly on the street, strangers talk and smile to each other, and cars are polite. People offer you food, and hot tea, some even invite over to their homes to warm up and take shower. I am sure this is the Kyiv, that you wanted to see. Stay with us.
God bless these people. Their history has been a long series of tragedies; I hope they can finally find the sun, even if it is partially obscured by a few clouds.