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Hopes and frustrations — Ukraine on the Eve of Presidential Election
When this issue of our magazine goes to press, the presidential election in Ukraine will have been held. A couple of weeks before the election, Olha ANDRUSHCHAKEVYCH, a free-lance journalist, turned to various people of different age and from different walks of life with a request to answer two questions: How is life treating you these days? and What kind of future do you think awaits Ukraine?
Part of my life I lived in the soviet times and I think it was a bad idea to let the Soviet Union collapse. In the soviet times I had confidence in tomorrow, in the future, I knew that I would have a job, that I would be paid a pension on which I could survive after I retire. By contrast, today I have no confidence whether I’ll have money to buy bread tomorrow.
I’m apprehensive of the nationalistic tendencies in Ukraine. I have relatives in Russia and I don’t want Ukraine to drift away from Russia, all the more so that it depends economically so much on Russia. I find Yanukovych’s pro-Russian stance is close to my heart. Maybe he holds such views because he is from Donetsk, and this city and the whole area is both territorially and in mentality close to Russia. Ukraine needs a strong hand that will bring order and will control all the processes in this country.
In my opinion, Yanukovych is a good leader who knows what he wants to achieve and will not stop on the way to achieving it. Recently he said Ukraine would not join NATO and that he would stop America’s influence in Ukraine. I fully support him in this. He knows how to bring together a team of like-minded people and organize work well. I do hope that he will be able to earn the trust of the Ukrainian people in him and realize his plans.
89, a retired rustic
I worked for a kolhosp (collective farm) all my life. We lived through hard times, hunger, lack of things, but we had a faith in a better future, and we had inspiration and zeal. And we were confident that the next day will not bring something unexpected. The soviet power supported us and protected us, and taught our children, and gave us work. We had as many as ten tractors in our kolhosp, and a large cow barn and a big pigsty too! It used to be a very rich kolhosp. And what does it have now? Nothing! Everything’s been stolen, everything’s been ruined. What kind of life is that? If it were not for the help from the city, we all of us here in the village would have died of hunger. My children live in the city. They are medical doctors but they earn so little that they can hardly make ends meet. They survive only thanks to the potatoes they dig in my vegetable garden and those home preserves I make for winter. It was never like this in the soviet times! The soviets would not allow things like this to happen! My children will vote for Yushchenko, they believe in him. But I think he is as much a liar as those oligarchs are. I believe Symonenko, head of the Ukrainian communists, and will vote for him, no matter what you tell me!
Sashko Kulyk, 31,
a free-lance artist
The things that get me most are the soviet mentality that persists in our society, aggressiveness of people, mistrust, old ideological stereotypes and dead myths. There are other things that grieve me too — “many vectors in Ukrainian foreign policy,” for example, when today we integrate with Europe and tomorrow with Russia, and then again with the west, and then again with Russia. It’s so bad we have not managed to become a truly European country. And all of it happens because those in power are people who don’t care one bit about this country or what will become of it. The authorities are made up of the old party bosses and of the new “oligarchs.” Just look at their faces! Morally depraved freaks! All of them! They do their ugly worst to antagonize people to cause a rift between the western and eastern parts of this country, between the Orthodox and the Catholics, they want to see our society divided rather than being one, united nation.
There is a politician whom I deeply respect. It is Viktor Yushchenko who once said, “The people who are not united around a great goal and common ideals are easy to manipulate.” And the Kuchma-Yanukovych clan does exactly this — they manipulate the nation the way they want. It seems to me it should be clear to everyone that it’s either a great stupidity or the dirtiest of tricks to vote for Yanukovych.
71, retired pensioner
I’ve long realized that life cannot be without difficulties. It’s always necessary to struggle for your happiness and for your well-being. No matter how hard things get to be, I never complain, and I don’t want to complain. I’ve been working all my life, for more than 50 years I worked as an engineer. Now I receive a good pension that I’ve earned for all those years of work. I can say I live more or less normally.
I want Ukraine to be a prosperous country. Ukraine does deserve a better destiny and I wish it would climb out of the hole it is in now. The economic laws should start working at last, and then things will improve. But I am indignant at the inconsistence of those in power. They keep deceiving us, they do not fulfill their promises, corruption is rampant. They can’t get rid of the stereotypes of the times that are long gone, they stick to the discredited ideas. In the soviet times, it was “Motherland is above everything” to the detriment of an individual, and now it is “Your personal well-being is above everything” which is also no good. It’s not the way out. Both slogans should be somehow combined — Give to your country what’s due to your country and give to yourself what’s due to you — and in this sense I’m on the side of the healthy forces of the opposition.
8, a schoolboy
I study English and ballet dancing. If at the end of the quarter, my grades are good, my parents will buy me a rabbit or a cat for a present. I want the pet to be white. I’m just dying to have it. I promised I’ll take a good care of it and will keep it always clean.
I’m looking forward to reading the next book about Harry Potter. I’ve reread all the previous books about several times each, and now I know them almost by heart, so I want to read a new one. Recently we went to the movies to see a Harry Potter film which is based on the third book about him. I liked the film but a lot of things which are in the book were not shown in the film. That is why it is more interesting to read the book.
In our family we are talking only about the presidential election. I asked my mother’s permission to put a tick in the ballot instead of her and she agreed to allow me to do it. My parents and all my relatives support Yushchenko, and so do I. All the more so that he has little children who are younger than me. I have an orange scarf with words on it that say i‡I, u?AIIO! (Yes, Yushchenko). I almost never take it off. Also, I follow the news about Yushchenko. When during a news show on TV I see that they begin showing and telling something about Yushchenko, I call everybody to join me and watch the news. We share the joy when it’s good news, and we are saddened when it’s bad news.
20, a student
I’m a fifth-year student, studying international law. I’m glad that I determined what I wanted to study in college when I was in high school. Now I see that I’ve made the right choice. When I was in the second year of studies, I started working part-time. I learn not only theory but I get a practical training too. By the time I finish my studies, I’ll have gained considerable experience in addition to theoretical knowledge. I’ve had some theoretical and practical training in Germany.
Life in Ukraine differs a lot from life in Western European countries, and one of the differences is that in Ukraine you have to start thinking about your future quite early in life. Say, by age sixteen you should determine what you would want to do in life; by twenty one you should finish your studies and look for a steady job, so that by the age of thirty you are able to earn a lot of money. There’s no time to relax or slacken your efforts because if you do, you may easily find yourself thrown overboard, as the saying goes.
In general, at the time when Europe is living through a period of some decline — stability is fraught with regress, since those who do not move, drop by the wayside, Ukraine has a chance of attaining a great upsurge in economy. Things are only starting to be developed in this country, nature and the laws of economic development are on our side. But Ukraine at the moment is at a turning point. Never before we faced such a clear choice — either we choose ignorance, soviet principles at their worst, brutality, corruption and rule of criminal elements, or we choose enlightenment, intellectualism, Western European traditions, decency and patriotism. It is too clear which choice should be made, but it’s a shame we are facing such a choice. It is even worse that there are people who still think what they should choose. And what is still worse — I’m afraid that the choice has been made for us. If our people make their choice themselves, it will be our own choice, not engineered for us, and we shall deserve what we have chosen. If the choice is made for us — then we will find ourselves in a hopeless situation. I don’t want to feel myself a third-rate citizen in a country which is potentially not worse if not better, than the rest of Europe.
Kyrychenko Valentyna Mykolayivna,
45, a high-school teacher
How do I live? I live with a hope for a better future. I have to help my mother and a better future will mean that I’ll be able to help her better.
What kind of things are worrying me? My salary. I earn much below of what I should considering the amount of work I do. I’m worried about the future of our children. I’d like them to have a good education and good work.
Are there things that give me joy? Yes, there are. I’m happy my children are so good. I’m glad that I’ve gathered a good harvest from my plot of land in the country. I enjoy looking at the flowers that grow in my mother’s garden.
I’m sad to see my parents grow older. I’m sad that age brings with it so many ailments and diseases. I’m saddened by failures of my friend. I’m grieved to hear Yanukovych promise quite unrealistic things which will plunge the country into a new spiral of inflation.
Our country is like this — on top we have a handful of the Kuchma clan and the rest are unhappy, miserable and deceived people.
It is difficult to say what future I see for Ukraine. Simply because I just do not know what life is like in any other state but ours. It turns out that all the things I’ve seen being done in this country are not something one should be striving for. But mustn’t there be a state in which God’s commandments rule supreme?
I accept the principles of the communist ideology because it is more just to an ordinary person. The soviet society was much better morally and much more decent than what we have now. I mean on the level of ordinary people. But the communist ideas were not realized in actual life. I don’t care for all those political parties and movements of today.
I expect the forthcoming election to bring about a change for the better; I’m afraid of revolutions of any kind.
They say that evolutional development moves on an ascending spiral and I hope the changes will bring better life. I hope the prestige of teachers will rise. Teachers not only disseminate knowledge — they are “carriers” of moral values.
I do have a dream. I dream that the people around me, the authorities and state leaders have a much higher level of morality. I wish they would live in accordance with God’s commandments and not just display their false religiosity by coming to church on Christmas or Easter, empty in heart, and publicly light candles, just for the show of it and not because they have any piety.
15, a high-school student
I’m in the tenth grade; I live together with my parents and my elder sister. In my free time I do what I like best — dancing, socializing with friends, listening to music. I do some sports — bicycling in summer and snowboarding in winter. It’s not just riding that I like — I enjoy doing all kinds of stunts. But dancing is what I like best. In fact, I just love dancing. Dancing makes it possible for me to show my physical and psychological abilities to their full advantage, to feel my body to the full. Hip-hop gives me the opportunity to reveal myself to myself and to the world, and I’ve been doing it for four years now. I take part in contests and tournaments, even at the international level. I meet like-minded kids from other cities and other countries.
I feel great when the leading places at the international contests are won by contestants from Ukraine. I feel proud of my country and her citizens. In general, I wish I could always feel proud that I am a citizen of Ukraine when I go to other countries. I wish others would feel respect for my country; I wish I could feel pride in our leaders; I wish that Ukraine would at last have a positive image abroad; I wish Europe would not look at Ukraine with consternation and amazement which are caused by the fact that the Ukrainian prime-minister is a semiliterate person with two criminal convictions.
For some reason I hope that after the forthcoming presidential election cardinal changes will take place in my country, and we at long last will become a civilized European state in which the rule of law and human rights are respected. I shudder even to think what will happen with this country if the wrong candidate is elected.
77, a retired researcher
Many people think that once you retire, your life becomes gray and dull. They think that all the good things in life have been left behind. But I’m of a different opinion. Everything depends on your attitude to things. My life has not become duller — the other way round, it has grown richer. Of course, the retired people in this country face similar problems — small pensions and high prices for food and medicines. The authorities declared that medical care would remain free but to get a proper treatment you have to pay…
I hope that even in this semi-totalitarian regime the shoots of democracy will gradually grow. Of course, in Europe, all these processes of democratization were developing gradually, in stages over the centuries. One can easily understand how it happens in this country — people who find their way to power want to grab as much as possible. They get richer and richer and the people get poorer and poorer. We, in this country, were not psychologically prepared to make that move to market economy and to democracy. Also, I see a very serious problem — the absence of the strong spiritual core for the people and the country to rely on. Earlier, we had the communist idea, which was not that bad, you should agree. The soviet society was more moral and more decent. But this communist idea was discredited. In Europe they have religion which supports the high moral spirit of people and of their leaders. They have age-long traditions. In this country, religion had been persecuted for decades. That is why we are in an ideological vacuum now. And that’s a great loss. I think we should elect the head of state having this in mind. Viktor Yushchenko is a highly moral and religious person and I’ll support him.
23, an economist
I graduated from the Donetsk National University and now I work as an economist in an engineering company. I decided to become an economist when I was still in high school. To a certain extent my choice of occupation was influenced by my elder sister who also graduated from the same department I did. Having worked for some time I can say I am not sorry I’ve chosen this occupation. I do my best to learn and gain as much experience as I can so that in the future I’ll be able to work for a prestigious company and earn a good salary. In my free time, I socialize with my friends, spend time with my family. We talk about all kinds of things, including the problems we have to face and deal with. My mother is worried about being paid such a small pension, and my friends are worried about getting good jobs. We also discuss politics, and the problems Ukraine is facing are our problems too.
I was born and raised in Donetsk, one of the most Russinaized cities in Ukraine. But I consider myself to be a great patriot of Ukraine, of Ukrainian culture and of the Ukrainian people. Looking back at the time that Ukraine has been independent, I can’t say my reaction to what has been going on is very positive. Frankly speaking, there was little positive element in it. I wish today’s Ukraine were a prosperous, great state; I wish it enjoyed prestige and authority in Europe and in the world. I think that Ukraine should have achieved much more than she did in many spheres. There are all conditions available for greater achievements. So what hinders us? To my mind, Ukraine has never had yet such leaders who would be able to use Ukraine’s great potential and raise it to the level of the developed countries. There is a hope things will change in the future. I do believe a leader will come who will be able to change the life of Ukrainians for the better. Only a very decent and honest person can do it. I share many of the ideas of the Socialist Party of Ukraine. The people and their well-being, society and humanitarian values are the top priorities in their ideology. Mr Moroz, head of the Socialist Party, is a good example for all of us. I think he is a paragon of virtue and decency. He, for example, takes a very good care of his disabled wife, and if a person does not abandon another person in trouble, then it means you can trust such a person, you can rely on him.
Also, I think that every Ukrainian should not only rely on the president to do good for their country, but they should themselves contribute their efforts, their mental and other abilities, to the development of Ukraine, to its becoming a great state.
59, a translator
In the soviet times, my friends and I, we lived in a shell of our interests little caring for what was going on in “the world of politics.” We — the people I socialized with were mostly poets, artists and art historians, musicians and philologists — disdained and even hated the soviet regime but only very few of us had the courage to rise in open protest, to become active dissidents — and go to the gulag to spend years in inhuman conditions of soviet concentration camps. We were “inner emigrants,” cosmopolitans, we pretended to ignore the regime — and the regime ignored us. We supported the lofty ideals and humanistic values — but did not do anything to make the then society accept these ideals too. Even when at the end of the nineteen-eighties the tsunami of the national liberation movement rocked this country, I remained if not indifferent but distrustful — I wanted to remain in my ivory tower of books, art, music and logophilia. I was even sort of surprised that the soviet regime did collapse after all.
Later I was somewhat sorry I had not taken a more active part in contributing to its collapse but these vague regrets were not something that would trouble my conscience too much.
The new regime was led by former soviet communist party bosses and apparatchiks and I did not have any trust in them but they allowed me to read American and British papers on the internet whenever I wanted to, to go abroad when I wanted to, to buy such food and clothes in stores which in the soviet times could be purchased only abroad. They let me be and it was what I wanted. I despised them but paid little attention to them. But starting from the end of the nineteen-nineties, I felt anger and frustration rising in me — how come a country so richly endowed by nature remains so poorly developed? When I realized that those in power were robbing the country shamelessly and mercilessly, becoming enormously rich themselves and turning most of the population into paupers, my disdain turned into hatred. I felt I was back in the soviet times. As years passed, the situation grew even worse, and in addition to hatred I felt a great shame — to have former criminals as leaders of the country I lived in was the final humiliation. I am disgusted with the way things are run in this country — and yet I feel I’m powerless to change anything. I will not vote for anybody — they are all the same, those presidential candidates. All they want is to come to power and enrich themselves. They have no culture, no morals — how can I say “yes” to any of them? But it’s so sad — and so hopeless.