Posts Tagged 'Zelensky'

The more things change

Ended up walking from Ukrainian president elect Zelensky’s glitzy, fashionable and ecstatic election HQ (in former president Yanukovych’s helicopter landing spot, symbol of Ukraine’s corruption) through busy downtown Kyiv and then past the ‘memory wall’ to soldiers and volunteer fighters killed in the war in east Ukraine. The only people there were a group of foreigners; someone was explaining in approximate English that it was a monument to “police and people on Maidan.”

kyiv memory wall

I keep reading that Ukrainians voted for Zelensky (or against incumbent Poroshenko) because they are ‘sick of the war’. But as a friend pointed out to me this week, most Ukrainians are practically unaware of the war these days. It’s never on the news. It never really reached beyond the army and the confines of half of two regions in the east where no one ever went anyway unless they absolutely had to. On the way though central Kyiv to this wall I’d passed Ukrainians out with their kids in nice pushchairs or riding scooters; people in cool expensive clothes hanging out in great bars. It’s unrecognisable from Kyiv twenty or even ten years ago. It’s unrecognisable from Kyiv in 2014, when the air still smelled of smoke and shops had collecting boxes for bullet-proof vests for soldiers and there were newly painted ‘bomb shelter’ signs everywhere.

Kyiv is a bubble of course, a world within Ukraine. But the friend who said this to me doesn’t live in Kyiv, she lives in a village. Her neighbour still lugs out her old Soviet twin tub to the garden to do the washing once a week because there’s no running water in the house. On the other side the neighbour recently drank himself to death. The body was taken away for a post-mortem; when it was brought back in an old bus the driver refused to unload it until his family, alcoholics all, paid for the services of the morgue with money they didn’t have. My friend and other neighbours had to run along the street collecting contributions to get the body back. The Ukrainian Orthodox priest wouldn’t bury it without being paid. The evangelical pastor, who most of the village despises, did it for free.

The street was recently renamed for another neighbour who was killed fighting in east Ukraine. No one calls it by the new name; the only sign that indicates it is on the house of the bereaved family.

The other thing I keep reading is that Ukrainians are ‘desperate for change’. The village is a decentralised ‘hromada’ (amalgamated community) now, with its own budget and decision-making powers. It’s not so easy for a hromada to blame corrupt distant oligarchs and politicians and the president for everything that’s wrong. The roads in this village are still awful. The (awful) hospital has closed down. The school has been rebuilt though, and got indoor toilets for the first time in history. There are new gates, house repairs, even new houses everywhere. Even new bird houses.

bird houses

The east Ukraine war has cost about 13,000 lives over five years – the vast majority in 2014 – and has settled into an intractable, dreary, utterly miserable low-level conflict a long way away from most of the country. Over 4000 Ukrainians died preventable deaths in road accidents in 2017. More than 3,700 people in Ukraine die annually of tuberculosis, also preventable. About 8000 people each year die alcohol-related deaths. All this is largely independent of east and west, Ukrainian and Russian, peremoha or zrada. It’s largely invisible – you don’t see monuments to any of the victims. They don’t feature in presidential election campaigns. Neither did decentralisation, or the number of families in Kyiv who can now afford to hang out in nice bars and buy scooters for their kids to ride around on.

The East Ukraine war memorial wall is out of date; the last deaths it records are from June 2018.

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