Make do and mend

home-made road sign, Ukraine

home-made road sign, Ukraine

I’m always impressed by Ukrainians’ ability to mend things that are broken. Cars, computers, clothes, washing machines, shoes, toys… if they can’t fix it personally, for sure they will know where to go to get it fixed. A British friend of mine in Kiev complains that they mend things – cars, for instance – that shouldn’t be mended, and that end up being a danger to all concerned. Being myself less than a fan of Western throw-away culture, I prefer to concentrate on how they fix things that theoretically can’t be fixed, somehow heroically overcoming the modern curse of built-in obsolescence.

Ukrainians are master menders. So why is it, I wonder, that they are unable to mend their country? Ukraine seems to go on lurching from crisis to crisis, somehow not quite collapsing but never being fixed, and the Ukrainians I know are just throwing up their hands, rolling their eyes, shrugging – or not even bothering to do that anymore; just keeping their heads down and suffering.

I suppose you could say Ukraine is like one of those cars my British friend complains about, that should have been scrapped years ago but that somehow keeps going, cobbled together with wire and string and God knows what else, presenting a danger to its menders and to everyone else.

Or you could say that Ukrainians have been stuck with some factors of built-in obsolescence – a bloody history of endless invasion, occupation and repression, a problematic geographical location between Europe and Russia, a confused cultural identity – and have achieved the impossible with them, fixing something that theoretically can’t be fixed. It might not work quite as well as a new model briefly would, but that it works at all is a testament to the heroic perseverance and ingenuity of the master menders.

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