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Being young in Ukraine
Walking the streets of Kyiv, looking around and seeing young people, I always note with pleasure that we, young people that is, look different, behave differently, react to the world around in different ways.
Nowadays, these things are taken for granted, so much that you may even wonder why I mention them at all but in this country only fairly recently it was not like this. I still remember the Soviet times, though I was a child then — the rigid and strict regimentation in school, things you were supposed to do and wear, and things you were not supposed to do or wear; drab school uniforms, pathetic entertainment, "correct" behaviour. Now it's all gone, and the younger generations are free from these crippling limitations.
One of the recent polls conducted among the young people of Ukraine, showed that 70 percent of the young people would have voted “yes” for the independence of Ukraine had they been asked to do it back in 1991, when Ukraine did go independent, and only 6 percent would have voted “no” (however, 42 percent of the young people are pessimistic about the future, against 37 percent who look optimistically into the future). 70 percent of the young people regularly vote in the elections with only 8 percent who don’t as a matter of principle (characteristically, young women are more responsible citizens — the percentage of them regularly going to the polls is considerably higher than that of young men). Another poll asked the young respondents if they thought Ukraine needed an immediate turnabout in the course of economic reforms and return to the Soviet socialist way of running the economy, the young Ukrainians replied in the following manner:
19 % — difficult to say
13 % — yes, we should go back
10 % — don’t know
58 % — no, no going back
All these figures seem to indicate that the majority of the young people in Ukraine of today take Ukraine’s independence for granted and want their country to stay that way.
In spite of the fact that their parents and grandparents and other generations for three centuries back lived as subjects of the Russian Tsarist and then Soviet Empire, the young people do not share the conviction of the previous generations that Ukraine can exist only as part of an empire or be a subservient ally. The young people in their majority see Ukraine as completely independent, establishing relations with other countries, Russia in particular, on terms of full equality.
The results of a poll that probed into the attitude of the young people of Ukraine to Russia and relations with it:
Ukraine should be united with Russia in one state — 11 %
Relations with Russia should be a priority of strategic importance — 23 %
Ukraine should maintain relations of equal partnership, each side minding its own interests — 60 %
Ukraine should maintain only minimal contacts — 6 %
The young people definitely favour closer links with the European Union — only one in a hundred does not support the movement of Ukraine towards the European integration, with 57 percent strongly in favour of such integration. The range of responses practically did not differ depending on age or gender or ethnic background:
21 percent — don’t know, difficult to say
57 percent — yes, in favour of integration
14 percent — neither yes nor no
8 percent — against closer links with the European Union
The young people’s attitude towards joining NATO indicates a generally western orientation — about 40 percent of the young people agree that “Ukraine should take further steps to join NATO” with one in every four disagreeing.
Young people say
In order to supplement dry statistics with live opinions, I walked the streets of Kyiv and talked to young people, asking them what they thought about life and their place in it in today’s Ukraine. Below is a selection of some of the answers to my questions.
Lyonya the Roller Skater
On the weekends, the central street of Kyiv, Khreshchatyk, is closed for traffic and people are free to walk both on the sidewalks and on the road. Many young people move around at great speed on roller skates. One of them almost ran into me. While he was apologizing, I seized the opportunity to ask several questions.
Lyona (short of Leonid) is 18 and likes roller skating at break-neck speed, desirably downhill. He also performs all kinds of jumps and summersaults. He showed me what he could do and I was impressed — it takes a lot of training and daring to do all those stunts.
He told me he had been into it for the past four years, and now roller skating was an integral part of his life. “I go roller skating several times a week, for three or four hours every time. It feels so great to do a particularly difficult stunt. Young people should go in for sports of all kinds, you know, rather drink alcohol, or use drugs or hang around doing nothing, smoking. Sports burn your energy, get the adrenalin flowing, improve health. What else a youth needs? What do I think about the future of Ukraine? I don’t know, I don’t care about politics, but I think that if those politicians would care less about themselves and more about others, it’d be good. All that money they put into their own pockets could be used for developing sports and giving young people more opportunities.”
Fostering Ukrainian spirit
Vadym, 26, was wearing a T-shirt and pants, military style. The T-shirt was emblazoned with three words, ‘Volya abo smert’ (Freedom or Death). He is a member of a youth nationalist organization, Bandera Tryzub (Stepan Bandera, 1909–1959, one of the most prominent figures in the Ukrainian nationalist movement of the twentieth century; assassinated by a Soviet secret agent in Munich; Tryzub — trident — Ukrainian national symbol — tr).
Vadym grew up in a family with strong Ukrainian national traditions, with love of the native land being of a supreme value. His mother, a teacher of the Ukrainian language, and his father, a journalist, inculcated ideals of Ukrainian independence and national dignity in him, and Vadym was raised in the spirit of Ukrainian nationalism. Thus his joining a nationalist organization was not accidental. He quickly rose through the ranks and now he is an officer.
“Tryzub for me is just like a family, a large family of like-minded people. Tryzub is a brotherhood, and I can’t imagine my life without it.
Some people say that being a nationalist is being narrow-minded, that nationalists are like zombies. Absolutely wrong! To be a nationalist is to be a patriot of your native land, to know its history, traditions, culture. What’s wrong with that? In Tryzub, we do a lot of sports, we take part in competitions. Incidentally, the Tryzub boys are excellent in dancing Hopak, a traditional Ukrainian dance.
You cannot walk in and say, I want to become a member of Tryzub. First, you have to pass several exams — Ukraine’s history, geography, current political situation. No, not only boys are admitted, girls too. Some come to stay, some come and leave, but all learn something new for themselves, get new experience. I’m sure the memory of having been a Tryzub member will stay long with them. The more young people know of history, traditions and values of their native land, the bigger are the chances for positive changes to take place in the political situation in Ukraine.
Do we take part in political actions? Yes, sure. Private life? Of course I have my own private life! I’m married, my wife is also nationalistically minded. I met her at a get-together of young people supporting nationalist ideas. We had a church wedding. There’s a very nice old church in the village of Pyrohovo, not far from Kyiv where a museum of traditional Ukrainian architecture is situated. We were dressed in national costumes, of course, and all our relatives and guests as well.
Incidentally, my wife’s brother, Dmytro, was among those young people from a nationalist cell, Samostiyna Ukrayina (Independent Ukraine) who some time ago seized the central office of the Communist Party of Ukraine in Kyiv. It was done in protest against the communists and their ideology which is totally anti-Ukrainian.”
Knock them off and take their money to give to the poor
When I began talking to a girl with greenish hair, wearing a faded black T-shirt, frayed jeans all in holes, and hair pins sticking out of an ear instead of an earring, I did not think she would be willing to speak with me, but to my surprise, she did. “I’m Pakost (Nasty), and I’m sixteen. That’s my nickname, Pakost, because I do like doing nasty things. Like what? Oh like throwing stones into windowpanes, overturning trash cans, beating the shit out of someone. Who in particular? Those hopas. Who are the hopas? Well, those square characters, sort of f…g commies, who, you know keep telling you that you ain’t no good, you know, who are mad at your coloured hair, tattoos, and everything. We tell them, All right, just shut your traps, or give us some dough. What you need dough for, they ask. And we go, What you mean, what for? To buy beer and things, and they go, You go and earn money yourself. And we tell them, why should we work, it’s you, geezers, who should work. If they get aggressive, we sort of give them a coupla good ones in the mug, take their money and go booze up.
Yeah, I’m a sort of a punk. Yeah, I like Six Pistols. Why do I like wearing all them duds like this? “Cause I like them that way. No, my old folks don’t like it, but who cares? Yes, they are normal, but they don’t dig me.
School? Who cares about school? They threw me out for bad behaviour and skipping classes anyway.
Politics? No, I don’t care, but I know that all those buggers in the government are packed with dough that they’ve stolen from people, they ride in those fancy cars, have summer houses in fancy places, and those regular folks break their backs at factories and get nothing for it! They have to go round begging or gathering empty bottles to sell and buy food. It’d be so much better to knock those government bastards off and give their money to the ordinary people.
What do we usually do? Oh, lot’s of things — booze up, sing, have fun, fight. We don’t care a f..k about anything.
There are all kinds of buggers who have money and that sort of thing, but they don’t have what we have — we are free to do what we want and they are not. I hate people.
No, not all of them. I hate mazhory, mostly. They’ve got their mobile phones, they get good grub, they despise us, they call us scum. It’s them who are scum, they are so square, and we do what we wanna do. If I feel like it, I can walk around stark naked, and they, those mazhory, they do only what they were told to do when they were kids. They do everything by the book, and we do as we please.
I don’t care if I die young. It’s better to live like I’m living, and then it’s all right if you crap out — I’d know I’ve had some fun in this life.
No, I wouldn’t care to get married, I’ve got a boyfriend, he’s twenty three, he’s like me.
Do you read books? Yeah, sure I do. I like Dostoyevsky and Bulgakov, that kind of high-brow stuff (she saw my brows going up in surprise). You thought I’m just a plain stupid uneducated kid? I know a coupla things too. I’m not uncultured.
Do I want to study? Study what? At school? No schools for me. Besides, what’s the point of studying? You study and study, and then what do you get out of it? Even Ph.D.’s in this country are in the hole.
I hate this country, they don’t care for us, we don’t care for them. Who they? The state, the government. At the elections these buggers promise, Vote for me, I’ll make you rich. Rich my ass. He gets elected and then what he does is grab and grab and grab, all for himself.
The Independence Day? It’s fun, it’s good we got rid of these f…g commies but who came instead of them? Those buggers who call themselves democrats.”
Pakost spoke freely and earnestly, using obscenities and slang (which is difficult to render in translation — tr.). But I felt there was a good soul beneath the vulgarity and pretense and young intolerance. By the way, she had very beautiful eyes and she admitted, somewhat shyly, that her real name was Natalka.
The slang term for the gilded youth in Ukraine is “mazhory” some of whom do conform to the stereotype of young glitterati with fancy cars and mobile phones who spend most of their time talking over the cellphones and hanging out in expensive restaurants and night clubs, spending their parents’ money. But as it is usual with stereotypes and generalizations, often enough they do not apply to individual members of a group, in our case, the smart set.
Mykyta, 18, was born into an opulent family; he graduated from a prestigious high school and now he is a law student of an ivy league university, Kyiv Mohyla (“Mohylyanka”) Academy. He speaks four languages — or so he claims — and spends his time free of studies helping his parents run a chain of opticians’ stores, their family business. Mykyta works as an assistant manager at one of the stores.
“Maybe it’s cynical to say that our society is highly stratified with so many people in dire straits, but it’s a fact of life, isn’t it? Yes, many are poor, some are rich. Who are the people I usually spend time with? Well, mostly mazhory. It takes me hours to choose what to put on before I go out. I’ve got to be very careful about what I wear, and it should never be something that I had on the previous day. For a change, I attend gatherings of a hobby group of what we call “Tolkienists” (after J.R.R. Tolkien whose novels have become very popular and even engendered of “back to natural way of life” movement-tr.). We are trained to fence with medieval swords, that sort of thing. Who are the members of such groups? Young people whom we call “neformaly,” that is who do not conform to any particular social stratum, and who wear whatever they like or whatever takes their fancy. I would never dream of appearing in the company of mazhory in what I wear when I attend the gatherings of Tolkienists who are much more easygoing, liberal, flexible and tolerant.
What do we talk about when we, mazhory, get together? Oh, all kinds of things — who hangs out where, who dates who, who wears what, which DJ is cooler, things like that. Small talk, it used to be called.
What’s mazhory’s attitude to money? It’s good to have it but hardly anyone cares to know where it comes from — you just ask your parents and they give you. How much? Well, it depends but it’s enough to have a good time, you know. But having money to spend does not mean that the people who have it are bad or something. You just have the money, that’s all.
Do we think of the future? Well, most of mazhory are sure that the money source will never run dry, and when the old man kicks the bucket he’ll leave enough for his kid to go on living like he did before. Some do care to learn a trade though, or receive a good education to go into business and make more money and stay at the upper rungs of the social ladder. It sometimes happens though that we are broke for on a particular evening.
My studies? Yes, I like being a student. At first I thought I’d study for a couple of years at Mohylyanka and go study abroad, but now that I’ve learnt so much my views have changed. It’s like from President Kennedy’s inaugural address, Think not of what this country can do for you, think of what you can do for this country. So, I’m thinking. I want to do something for my country, to help change things for the better. And I want earn money by myself, rather than to live off my parents”
God ordains but we have a free will to choose
Mykola, 20, came to Kyiv from Ivano-Frankivshchyna in the west of Ukraine to study at a religious seminary and then at the Academy of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Mykhaylivsky Zlatoverkhy Cathedral. He said that he went to church as long as he remembered himself and began reading the Bible at an early age. Then he began helping the local priest in church during the service and otherwise, and in his late teens he made a conscious decision to devote himself to church.
“I found the truth of Christ in the Orthodox teaching and my faith is strong. I sought the meaning of existence and I found it in faith. The destitute and cripples and outcasts and downtrodden, of whom we see so many around, also have their chance of salvation.
God shows everyone his or her own way to salvation but not everyone understands what God wants of them. When I saw people crippled by disease I asked myself why is that God allowed such things to happen and could not find an answer, but then I turned to carefully reading the Bible and writings of the Holy Fathers, and I began to see things differently. I began to understand. In every heart there is a sparkle of love, and this sparkle can be turned in a powerful fire, the fire of great love. I want to help turn these sparkles into spiritual fires. I want to help people come to church, accept Christ into their hearts and thus open the way to salvation. Without church salvation is unattainable. Holy Writ provides answers to so many questions.
Did I ever go to parties, dance in discotheques? Yes, I did, but now I do not because what was acceptable in the civilian life is not appropriate for a cleric. The discipline in the religious school is rather strict, but I fully accept obedience, meekness and humility as necessary. I do what is required of me. The regimen in the religious school is almost as rigid as in the army.
Do I have some free time? Yes, but not much. I read a lot, mostly religious literature. Sometimes I go for walks or attend concerts of classical music. No more discotheques for me. Young people go to discotheques to find someone they could be with, to dance, to have a good time, but quite often they find alcohol, drugs, fights and other Satanic provocations instead. And later they are very sorry.
Yes, Orthodox priests are allowed, in fact, encouraged, to marry but where and when I shall find a wife, ‘the other half’ of me, I don’t know. Everything happens as God ordains but we possess a free will and always have a choice.”
Nataliya Rudnichenko, 25,
shares her impressions and findings about Ukrainian young people.[Prev][Contents][Next]