Rainy First Day in Kyiv
My mind couldn’t process it. Three languages I understand in varying degrees all together: Ukrainian, English, and Indonesian. Was I really seeing this?
I was in a bit of a daze. Here’s the back-story: At 6 p.m. I woke up from a fever (my body inevitably breaks down at the end of any final exam period). By 8:30 p.m. (thanks to Victor’s help) I was packed and moved out of my NYC apartment. By 11:00 p.m. I’d gotten my boarding pass for my Ukraine International flight.
And there I was at 30,000 plus feet reading a sign telling me not to smoke in the airplane restroom in three very different languages that I’d never seen together before. My guess? The Ukrainians must have bought the Boeing I was on from the Indonesians. Global trade at its finest.
After a long eight-hour flight that involved a lot of chanting from Hasidic Jews that were connecting through Kyiv to Tel Aviv, I landed. I was expecting immigration to be a bit difficult with the current situation in Eastern Ukraine. Nope. I didn’t fill out a single form, I wasn’t asked for a bank statement like the State Department warned, no one asked how long my stay was for or what I was planning to do in Ukraine. Maybe it’s my last name or the fact that the immigration officer saw the previous Ukraine stamps – who knows.
After a bowl of borsch (courtesy of Victor’s wonderful aunt) in central Kyiv I slept for hours. It rained all day today and is currently pouring, so I took it easy hoping this cold will quickly disappear.
This evening I went to hear Professor Timothy Snyder speak at Kyiv Mohyla Academy. Snyder is a historian at Yale and he helped organize a conference called “Ukraine: Thinking Together.”
Snyder said a few words in Ukrainian before switching to English and saying, “It’s controversial where I come from, but you all know Ukraine has a European history.” He traced Ukrainian history and its interactions in, and during the Soviet period with, Europe. He focused a lot on WWII, a period his book Bloodlands covers extremely well, and how Hitler and Stalin viewed Ukraine as an important regional colony that both needed in order to feed their respective sides. (Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe). Snyder also traced the roots of the term fascism and pointed out that this label was being applied to Ukraine and Ukrainians even before WWII. He called the Russians “the best propagandists in the world” who aren’t afraid to look at and use history as a grab bag, no matter how contradictory different pieces may seem.
As for Putin’s goal in the current situation? For the first time the EU has an enemy that is undermining its control and narration of WWII history. More importantly, however, Snyder sees Putin as maneuvering to establish a coherent alternative to the EU with a Eurasian Union. As the American ambassador to Ukraine listened, Snyder went on to say that the US had forgotten the importance of Eastern Europe, its history, its crimes, and its languages, since the end of the Cold War and that recent events had revealed for both the US and EU crises in political thought.
He said another thing that really struck me — that a return to nationhood as a political tool and ideal, which proved to be a “foolish self-destructive utopia” in Europe’s history, was no longer a possibility. The way forward is an integrated European future — countries are far too interconnected and dependent on each other these days. Something about Indonesian language on a Ukrainian plane made that strike a chord.
Here’s a billboard from Transparency International that I saw today that reads “Corruption robs.”
More to come soon.