Memories of Ukraine
After Linda and I settled in and washed up a little, we sat down with our hosts for a get-acquainted dinner of sausage, potatoes, cheese, and salad tastefully prepared with pretty herbs and subtle spices. We started with champagne toasts to America, Ukraine, Russia, and our new-found friendship. We worked our way to a vodka contest after midnight with Andrew translating between English and Russian. ( The Ukrainian language is mutually intelligible with Russian.)
Andrew’s parents, Lev and Mila, are Russians who emigrated to Ukraine early in their lives. Lev served in the Soviet Army on the Chinese border during the Korean Conflict, became a welder, a hard worker, and a dedicated Communist. He was a leader of the Propaganda Committee and did what he was told. He admitted to us that he believed in Lenin and Marx and thought their ideas would change the world for the better. However, he became disillusioned, sad, and angry. “I feel I was cheated and lied to by my leaders,” he said, “Now we don’t know who to believe or what to do.”
As the vodka flowed, so did the feelings. And the humor. Lev told story after story ridiculing the government and gave us an understanding of what it is like to be living in a nation that is crumbling…and no one knows what to do.
Lev offered me another glass of vodka saying, “Gorbachev decided to impress the west by ending alcoholism in the Soviet Union, so he closed all the vodka factories. The Russian people need their vodka, so we all turned to making our own homemade vodka using anything we could find – potatoes, beets, tomatoes – and just added sugar. Now Gorbachev is gone, and there is no more sugar, but we still have our vodka.”
There was also a shortage of ball point pens. This was particularly felt by Andrew because he is a teacher and a scholar. He had to cut down on his writing because he had nothing to write with.
I tried to stay with Lev, story for story, glass for glass. I followed his Russian bear story with an Aunt Minnie story, his Gorbachev jokes with George Bush jokes. I wasn’t going to let him out profane me or out drink me. America’s reputation was at stake.
Linda got the biggest laugh, however, when she told them our dog’s name was Gorby. That they could identify with.
Before the vodka deadened my brain cells, I began to get a picture of what they were having to deal with. It’s not as simple as recession and inflation, yet more complex than economic disaster. For example, Andrew took a round trip on Aeroflot (the Soviet airline) from Odessa to Moscow. It cost him 200 rubles. That would be the same as flying from Columbia to Chicago and back for $1.50. The government absorbed the cost, and went broke (1992).
For 70 years the policies of socialism put in place by Ukraine’s Communist government raped the natural resources of the nation and destroyed the initiative of the people. The people were promised everything, and then there was nothing. They were sad and justifiably angry.
Continued next week