Winter on Fire

Everyone should watch Winter on Fire. This documentary uses contemporary footage to tell the story of Euromaidan, the Ukrainian movement that dislodged Viktor Yanukovich from power.

The film is from the point of view of the protesters at Kyiv’s Independence Square. There are many things going on behind the scenes that are outside the film’s purview.

1. Our shitty winter in North America helped make Euromaidan possible. Kyiv can have brutal winters. Winter 2013/2014 featured a shifted jetstream which forced colder air to North American and milder air over Europe. I doubt the students would have left even with worse weather, but everything would have been more difficult.

2. The film shows some of the retired soldiers who came to the aid of the students. These men came to the students’ aid after seeing the brutality of the Berkut. These soldiers, often veterans of the Soviet Union’s adventure in Afghanistan, saw that these kids were being being beaten for peacefully protesting. That they were the same age as their own children made it hard for them to stay uninvolved.

3. There was really only one leader in Ukraine who stood up in support of the protesters: Petro Poroshenko. Yulia Tymoshenko was in jail. None of the past presidents had sufficient political strength (or perhaps willpower) to do anything. Poroshenko was on television talking about the issues in English for an international audience. This is how he became president. However, it’s arguable whether any Euromaidaners support him. You will see in the film that they have little use for do-nothing politicians or the bad agreements they might broker.

I am sure I will have follow-up comments, but these are the things in my head after watching the film last night.

Online Train Booking in Ukraine

There have been some complaints aimed at the Ukrainian’s train authority over their new online booking system.  The system is freshly launched and Ukrzaliznytsia says updates are coming to help those without a working knowledge of a Kyrilic-based language.  Wondering what was happening, I decided to give the new system a look.  You can too by pointing your browser of choice to “http://booking.uz.gov.ua/”.

The first thing I noticed was that it has no idea how to spell things in English.  I checked the schedule for a ticket to Bakhchisaray, the town I lived in for two years.  The system looks at what you are typing and offers destinations as you input each letter.  I had no luck finding Bakhchisaray in English.  It’s simply never an option.

For fun, I switched to the Russian version of the page and swapped my keyboard over.  “Б…а…х…ч”  Eureka!  After typing four Kyrilic characters, there was Bakhchisary.  From there, I could easily buy a ticket.

Ukraine has a distinct and profound English problem.  There are many fine examples of Ukrainians speaking outstanding English.  Unfortunately they are not the ones working on these projects, or if they are, they are completely overwhelmed.

Let me repeat this:  If you don’t have a working knowledge of a Kyrilic-based language, don’t go to Ukraine and expect to function independently.

Demo footage

Eskender is an amazing young person I met this summer while working in Crimea.  He is recently married and works making headstones for the cemetery.  That isn’t the craft he learned in school, though.

This video doesn’t include any of the excellent interview he gave me, it does show a tremendously talented you man.

The Disabled in the Developing World

The Guardian has a piece written by a disabled person in Africa about the challenges living there.

It’s especially timely after what I witnessed last Saturday. I had traveled to Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine with a friend and we were waiting on a bus back to Bakhchisaray where I am staying. While we waited, we witnessed an altercation between a woman and a bus driver. The woman was traveling with a disabled companion. Their argument was over whether the children’s bicycle her companion used in lieu of a wheelchair required an extra fee.

The bus driver said that it was clearly a bicycle and she needed to pay. The woman said it was her companion’s mobility device and should be counted as such. The bus driver was a bit of an asshole, to be sure, but the woman refused to let someone else pay the surcharge when an onlooker offered. Eventually the woman brought her companion out of the bus in an attempt to prove that she was disabled.

The woman was seized into a sitting position making it clear how the bicycle was used, but it didn’t sway the bus driver. Eventually someone from the bus station came and sided with the bus driver. As we left, the disabled woman was pleading with them to stop their argument, as it had become quite heated.

It highlights a couple of problems. First, wheelchairs are expensive and a bit of a luxury item in Ukraine. People who are disabled often rely on crutches that are too short or improvisational mobility devices a la this bicycle. The ingenuity behind using the bicycle should be commended. While her friend didn’t appear capable of peddling it, it did allow her to move about with limited freedom. Still, the wheelchair price problem should be addressed. The second thing is that given that people must improvise for their friends and family that are disabled, there should be considerations made to them when traveling. Maybe on another day, the driver wouldn’t have put up so much of a fight. Maybe the woman went too far in arguing. Really those are symptoms, not the problem. The problem is that this woman likely had the same argument many times on her trip to Yalta and now was repeating them all on the way back.

In the end there is no simple solution. The discrepancy between the ideal and reality is too great to be addressed without the involvement of local, regional and national governmental agencies. Still, the disabled should be allowed to travel, even if they have nontraditional substitutes for wheelchairs.