Thursday, 15 November 2018

Ukraine according to my grandmother

Years ago, when my grandmother was still alive, I had a terrible image of what life in Ukraine should be. Grandmother would use Ukraine as a synonym to a terrible place where you would not want to go, let alone live. In the months before my deployment in Ukraine I was making jokes about this, but when the departure date would come closer, I realized I might better not mock this. 

After arriving here in Severodonetsk I was relieved. It is true that in this grey Sovietic city the street scene is dominated by many sterotypes. The iconic Lada cars and the sweet buchanka's (a little van in the form of a square bread, in Russian called buchanka) aren't rare at all. The condition of the roads in general is terrible. Our driver and colleague André luckily is a professional in avoding the holes, but anyway needs to repair his car almost every week.  Someone told me that the level of corruption of a certain region can be measured by the condition of the roads. The more money is taken away, the less is left to maintain among other the roads. This theory does not promise any good for our region, but I try not to think to much about this. 

In the meantime everbody is awaiting the big day that the heater will be switched on. This is centrally organized and cannot be switched on by the inhabitants themselves. The fifteenth of October was appointed to be the day, but due to high gasprices and relatively high temperatures for October, two weeks later the heater stil isn't on. That makes home a bit cold, but thanks to the warm and friendly inhabitants of Severodonetsk, this city is still pleasent to live. 

It was last week that I got to see the Ukraine that my grandmother probably was referring to. Together with my colleagues we went to visit babushka Katya. There - like 6 kilometres from the frontline - it looks like time stood still. Old and decayed houses, no running water and a toilet in the backyard. Hunchbacked babushka Katya is suffering from thyroid cancer and her overcoat looks like a patchwork blanket. She tells us she is seventy five years old, but looks like she is ninety. Mentally she seems to have everything in order. She lives from her pension and what she grows in her kitchengarden. 

Even though her house is located close to the front line, her village was spared the fightings. Her poor living conditions are no result of the ongoing conflict. People like babushka Katya, that you will find in every Ukrainian village, were already forgotten long before the conflict started... 

And there you go with your humanitarian aid package with clothes and food. It feels like a drop in the ocean, but babushka Katya is very grateful and gives us her last melon of the season. Besides the fact that I do not feel comfortable to accept this gift, it even upsets me more that I am not able to make a real difference here. Although, my chance to make a difference might be there in the classroom when I teach and implement other activities. Then, the new Ukrainian generation is sitting in front of me and hopefully during these classes I can create some awareness. This thought eases me a bit. And it is surely is a pity that my grandmother is no longer among us. I would have loved to tell her about my own experience in Ukraine.... 

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