Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mykhailo Chovhan--Rendered Victim of Chornobyl by Soviet System

Mykhajlo Chovhan was a truck driver in the county of Pidhajtsi in 1986. He was back in his home village, having had completed military service--I do not remember where he was stationed, though I vaguely recall him saying something about Afghanistan. But my memory fails me on this point; I might be just making this detail up. Sometime in May he was called up and told that he would be sent to work elsewhere for a couple of weeks. Mykhajlo said that it was only en route that he and his fellows were told that they were on their way to Chornobyl.

Mykhajlo wears what must count as the thickest glasses ever worn by a human being--they should definitely find a place in a Museum of Strange and Unusual Medical Devices, such as we have here in Minneapolis. He told me that his eyes are slowly "melting." He said that he feels like his internal organs are slowly decaying, changing form, and becoming something like a moosh of organic flesh without distinctions. He is becoming a body without organs (but not in the liberating sort of way that certain poststructuralists have celebrated). He says that at some point his body will prematurely just stop working and become a body without organs and without a soul, without a life. It could be soon, or it could be in a while.

Mykhajlo says that he spent weeks driving materials out of the Chornobyl site on a flatbed truck. He gets a medical pension, which he receives though no doctor has ever told him for sure what his problem really is. He complains that the pension, of course, is meager and that in the early 1990s, it wasn't even paid.

He did not become sick right away, he says. It wasn't until years after the disaster that he started to feel ill. He says the effects have started to accelerate. He is a 40 something man who walks with a cane. He is tired all the time. He is a warm enough fellow, quite willing if not quite eager to talk about the issue. Though I have not spent much time talking with him--he is yet another of my father's cousins from the village of Sil'tse not far from the town of Pidhajtsi--he has never asked me for money, just for my understanding. Do I understand how many others like him there must be in Ukraine? He hoped that Yushchenko would make a difference in his situation. I wonder what Mykhajlo thinks now (I don't mean that as a cheapshot at Yushchenko, but rather, I really do wonder what he thinks now. . .).

He is angry about what happened to him, but not in an unhealthy kind of way, or, that is how it seemed to me. He has a very justifiable anger, but he doesn't hold it in that way that easts away at a person from the inside out, making worse an already-bad condition.

He says that they--the drivers--were told at the time that their job wasn't dangerous. They weren't hauling (radioactive) materials from the immediate site of the plant, afterall, but from one area to another within vicinity of the plant.

This is written for him, and for the many invisible victims of that disaster.

I hope I will be able to spend more time talking with him next time in Sil'tse.

UPDATE: Some Chornobyl articles:

RFE piece on other victims whose stories are similar to Mykhajlo's here.

RFE piece on reactions to a recent UN (IAEA) report on Chornobyl here.

About the Greenpeace report that claims that the UN (IAEA) report grossly underestimates the number of those effected here.

Ukraineblogger "Leopolis" has posted a bunch of interesting documents and pieces dealing with the disaster here.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Our Ukraine: Aloof and Stalling

I wrote to Oksana Kolodnytska, who's been featured a number of times on this blog, just after the elections to ask why she thought her home state carried Tymoshenko and why she thought that Ty did so well in the elections in general. She wrote (in English. . .these are her words):
"So, I think she had the image of a victim who was fighting against oligarchs, was betrayed, and as my dad said, many felt deceived by Yushchenko and so she seemed to be their last hope. One more reason why people voted for her, is that they didn't hear any firm promise from OUR Ukraine not to form a coalition with the Regions after the election. In fact, three days before the elections Yushchenko in an interview on 1 plus 1 was very evasive about the question of possible coalition withthe Regions. Tymoshenko's team did a good job of getting their message out about no compromise with Regions.

There were practically no ads for Tymoshenko on TV while we watched tons of shitty advertisements for Our Ukraine, Regions, Lytvyn, Vitrenko and others. Tymoshenko went to different cities and towns, gathered crowds of people, inspired them. Her voice became hoarse because of the constant shouting, talking. She's an energizer. She spent a lot of money on this campaign. . ."
End of quote.

This makes me recall that Yushchenko's star
didn't begin to fall just last
with the Gas Deal; no, it was the
Yanukovych that caused it to start falling from the sky.
since, people have been waiting
to see how far he was willing to
compromise on their ideals.
They saw no sign that gave them any
hope. Hence the vote.
Now all the stalling makes him appear as aloof as ever. . .

Which makes me recall somethin' else, the
following front page that
appeared just after
the memorandum last fall (on a pro-Tymoshenko paper whose
title I unfortunately clipped when scanning and
have now forgotten. . .)

(freakin' blogger absolutely sucks when you try to
cut and paste. . .fonts
and alignrment always get messed up. . .
no time to correct and deal with
html right now. . .)


From RFE newsline:

AMBASSADOR SAYS RUSSIA WILL 'NEVER GIVE UP' INTERESTS INTRANSDNIESTER. Russian Ambassador to Moldova Nikolai Ryabov said onApril 12 that Moscow "will never give up its interests" in thebreakaway Transdniester region, "where it has been present for morethan a century," Interfax reported the same day. Ryabov said inTransdniester's capital Tiraspol that Russians "rest in thecemeteries there. A huge part of our history belongs to this region."Ryabov also said that Moscow plans to push for an end to new customsregulations on the Transdniester section of the Moldovan-Ukrainianborder. Moldova and Ukraine implemented the new rules in March aspart of an effort to combat smuggling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March6, 7, and 8, 2006). "We will certainly be able to find a way out ofthe crisis through joint efforts. Moscow will push for the end of theeconomic blockade of [Transdniester]," he said. "Russia will notallow anybody to dictate terms in the [Transdniester] settlementprocess. Moscow will demand that those standing behind this economicblockade abandon their policies." BW

Friday, April 14, 2006

Photos of Immigrant Rights Rally; Another Blog

Nothing about Ukraine in this post:

I have posted photos of last Sunday's Immigrant Rights Rally in St. Paul (capital of MN) at my foto pages here.

I have been writing another blog on culture and society from an anti-war and left perspective you can check out here.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Whose Revolution Was It?

I am not given permission to name names, so I will not. Nor can I give the background information on either of these fellows, so you will just have to take my word for it that these are the words of credible characters that had something to do with the pre-OR, OR and post-OR politics. They are words that came up in the course of conversations last fall in Ukraine about the role of people's power and foreign governments in the making of the OR:

To paraphrase one guy:

“It is ridiculous, these people who think that the OR was orchestrated by US money. Some US NGOs are. . .terribly inefficient and ineffective. Do you know where a lot of that money (State Department money that was supposed to be channeled to election efforst in Ukraine) went that was supposed to help Ukrainians? To the salaries and lifestyles of the Americans working in the NGOs and living there in Kyiv! They were also disorganized. These guys could never have been responsible for pulling off a revolution. . .”

Translation: If there was a Western conspiracy behind the OR, it was carried out in a haphazard and disorganized manner in which a lot of the money for revolution was lost on bureaucracy and spent on lifestyles, and which succeeded in spite of itself. At least, that's the story according to this one fellow.

I can’t believe I never posted about this. It just came up in a conversation that I was having tonight with one of my favorite debaters, my Tato. I brought it up as a point of agreement between us, the right wing father and left wing son.

Something someone else had to say also came up tonight:

“You know the American movie the Matrix? Ok, we can say this: the OR did not escape the matrix (of global capitalism) but extended it. There is no doubt about that and I am critical of it because of this, too (like the Western Left wing critics). However, I must also say that I demonstrated and that the joy I felt there, in the streets with the masses of Ukrainians, is inexplicable. It is important that the OR happened for Ukrainians, for our culture and heritage, even if there are the negative aspects (that are formidable).”

If Ukrainians with progressive Left sympathies can have a nuanced and sophisticated analysis of what happened in their country, why can’t the Left in the West as well?

Then to conclude with a quote from Petro Hrytsak, son of one of Ukraine's more prominent historians, Yaroslav Hrytsak:

"It (the OR) was, in addition to the coming of age of a Ukrainian civil society, also the true coming of age of a Ukrainian youth culture."

Ukraine Appears in NPR Program Speaking of Faith

This week on NPR's Speaking of Faith program is a conversation with Adrian Ivakhiv, a professor of environmental studies who is Ukrainian-Canadian that you can listen to here. Though the program is focused on a discussion about the persistence and spread of paganism and neopaganism in the world today in general, he talks a bit about Ukraine and its pagan heritage.

From the site's description:
An environmentalist who pursued the ecological impulse of Paganism, from its ancient roots to its modern revival in Europe and North America, discusses his observations about the spirit of Paganism and its influence on everyday Western culture — and even on old-time religion.

Ivakhiv is assistant professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont and author of Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona.
This is great to my mind for two reasons:

1) Ukraine gets mentioned in mainstream media in a positive light (insofar as you find a revival of paganism positive, I suppose);

2) My daughter Julija was given a Latvian pagan "baptism." Zinta, her mama, was never baptized Xtian and comes from a family that has been extremely active in the neopagan movement in the Latvian world. Hence, there was no talk of original sin nor of a vengeful God that one must fear at Julija's baptism; rather, there was talk of a beautiful, creative new life entering the world and of a benevolent, universal energy or God. Thus, it was not really a "baptism" (no washing away of sin) but a presentation to Julija of the community that will nourish and nurture her, and a presentation to the community of the new life--Julija--within it.

All of which are elements, no doubt, of Xtian baptism as well, which I mention in all fairness. . .

(I myself am not a complete adherent of Zinta's neopagan beliefs, as I have for over ten years been an avowed Zen Buddhist; however, insofar as one's neopaganism leads one to believe in a benevolent life force and the notion that all things are connected so that it is necessary to seek harmony and peace with all human
(not just fellow co-religionists and co-nationals) as well as nonhuman Others, I am quite sympathetic. And the distinction between a presentation (of an already beautiful baby) and a baptism (washing of sin) is to me very important. . .)

It is great that NPR did a program that treats modern neopaganism as serious and real thing; there is a great deal of creativity and fulfillment for many in the rebirth of paganism, though there are problems within the movement itself. . . For example, the RUNVira of Ukraine promote an ideology of xenophobic nationalism and hatred mixed in with their paganism (for them, Xtianity came as an imposition of northern, proto-Russian East Slavs upon southern, proto-Ukrainian East Slavs, and Jews are a foreign scourge from which Ukraine must be purified in order that Ukrainians can reclaim their ancient faith in full, blah, blah, blah).

Such are not the beliefs of every, contemporary neopagan. Though in the mid-XXth century much neopaganism was caught up with fascism, xenophobic nationalism, and anti-Semtitism, most of the neopaganism practiced in Europe and America today is caught up with countercultural currents that emphasize harmony with nature, human and nonhuman alike--and hopefully, this spirit will influence the all-too-prevalent xenophobia of far too many neopagans in Eastern European countries as well. But the point is , xenophobia and anti-Semitism are not products of the faith in itself.

And one further point: In countries like Latvia, which were among the last nations to be Xtianized in Europe, there is something of an unbroken stream between past and present in terms of its paganism. That is, there are families and individuals who never were baptized and who never ceased to practice and follow some of their people's pre-Xtian ways--and this is added on top of the fact that so many elements of pagan belief and practice already penetrated the later Christian and then modern cultures of most European countries, including the ones that were more thoroughly Christianized or that were less conducive to the incorporation of pagan elements into Xtianity than those countries whose form of Christianity was Eastern Rite. Thus, the "neo" side of their paganism is not all that new or reinvented (though in many respects, it most certainly is).

Update: After listening to the show again, here are 4 things I found important about what Ivakhiv said:

1) Though in the show he did not delve into this matter more than just asserting that a distinction exists, Ivakhiv did say that one should not conflate New Age with sincere neopaganism (perhaps he talked more about this distinction in segments of his interview with the show's producer that did not make it into the show; I certainly would like to hear more on this issue!).

2) He addressed what to his mind (and I agree with him) draws many people to this form of spiritual practice; here's the gist of what he said
as filtered though my way of putting it:

a) A desire to erase the modern seperation between a religion and a way of life, or to put it positively, a desire for an integrated way of life and religion that is more consciously founded upon harmonious relations with nature and society (which is also the reason, btw, that many people, including myself, find Buddhism appealing);

b) A desire for a religious practice that is more firmly rooted in performance and participation (i.e., egalitarianism, though he did not say it), symoblism and music, rather than guided contemplation and prayer alone.

3) He mentioned the sediment of paganism buried within Christian practices and briefly mentioned how a dual kind of faith has evolved in many Eastern European countries such as Ukraine, whereby paganism has remained a vital force even within Christianity (though, I would add and doubt he would disagree, often not recognized thusly).

4) He criticizes RUNVira and other neopagan organizations in Ukraine, and by extension elsewhere, for their xenophobic nationalism, while mentioning what he finds positive about their beliefs.

Final Update:

In all fairness, I feel I should mention here that all I said above about what can be found redeeming in some people’s approaches to paganism can also be found redeeming about some people’s approach to Xtianity.

I have met numerous folks and have friends for whom Xtianity is a message of universal love (not merely of co-religionists and co-nationals) and of real care and stewardship of the Earth. For a great example of an American Xtian of this variety, one should look to the prose and poetry of Wendell Berry, one of contemporary America’s best critics, essayists and poets.

That is, the ideology of original sin and all the hellfire and damnation of a supposedly vengeful God is either a minor element of their beliefs, or even more adamantly for some friends, all that stuff is merely the ideology of the Old Testament that was Negated by the Teaching of Jesus, whose emphasis was love, harmony, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek. These are Christians whose beliefs I deeply respect.

My own adherence to Buddhism is rooted in my belief that Zen (of all the varieties of Buddhism) presents the universal message of all religion in its purest or most abstract form: the fact of our deep, mutual interdependence and the need to cultivate a peaceful and harmonious way of life within one’s self, and to cultivate this way among others. In Buddhism, there is no God in the sense of a creator God that carries out its Vengeance on feeble, sinning people; Buddha is not a God but the image of a perfected and happy one that we all should strive to become. And the most powerful thing about Zen among all religions is, to my mind, its prescription of a method and its traditions for reaching that harmonious place in thought and practice, body and mind.

After Buddhism would porbably come, for me, neopaganism of Zinta's or of others like her's sort.