Pale Orange Revolution
Life in Ukraine 9 months after the bloodless revolution
September 10, 2005
Two weeks ago Ukranians celebrated their first Independence Day after the Orange Revolution. Days before, around Maidan Nezalezhnesti (Independence Square) in center of Kiev, you could find many retailers selling caps, t-shirts and scarves with writings about the cherished memory of the bloodless revolution. Nearly nine months ago this was the place where Yushchenko's supporters gathered and chanted against Yanukovich's alleged unfair election as president.
Fortunately that revolution ended and Yushchenko was elected president without bloodshed. If you compare this with Iran's revolution, what happened in Kiev was like a joke. It looked more like a mass protest against a false election. No one was executed or detained or even fled from the country. You could see normal life was undisturbed and only two or three main streets were barricaded by protesters.
You should not forget that what was taking place in Kiev it was not a solid protest all around the country. In the east, where there are strong relations with Russia, people supported Yanukovich who was backed by Putin too. The country was divided but amazingly these problems did not create social unrest and made whispers of autonomy to solidarity. Funnily some media organizations try to make a template from what happened in Ukraine for Iran but it only shows their lack of knowledge of Iran's paradoxical and intricate society.
President Yushchenko has said he will do his best to improve the standard of life in Ukraine and make people feel closer to the civilized world. But realistically, there is a long way to fulfill these promises. Ukraine's population is second in Europe after Germany (not including Russia). The government hopes to reduce the rate of alcoholism and corruption and if Yushchenko can fulfill most of his promises, there is hope they can be accepted and integrated in the EU in the near future.
If you walk further from prosperous downtown to other wards of Kiev, you can see many Babooshkas, or grandmothers, who are selling what they have farmed in their Kalkhoz collective farm, like apples, beans, tomatoes, and potatoes. You can find them more in underpasses, which are very common), standing long hours. Most of them live on small sums of governmental pensions and are desperate for a few extra dollars.
When you talk to them and other old-timers they joyfully remember the Soviet Union in its heydays when there was no unemployment and the crime rate was low. Before the fall of the USSR, they had been living under the surveillance of Big Brother, as security services gazed at them everywhere. But they were proud of their country as one of the two leaders of the world.
So, it is hard for the older generation to see such poverty and high rate of prostitution, crime and corruption and believe that the old system was false. That is why they often complain about Westernization and claim that Gorbachev betrayed them. But the young people disagree. The young people in Ukraine yearned for a different future.
The fact is that not only in this particular matter, but in all matters they had serious problems. Even 14 years after the fall of the Soviet Union the medical services are really far from standards here. John, one of my American friends, was complaining of lacking IV in the medical center where his 5-year-old son was hospitalized because of pneumonia. Officially, medication in Ukraine is free but in fact you should pay some money even to nurse in ambulance.
The situation of roads and communications is not better. Lacking proper highways is a real problem for drivers. There is, however, a good railway system and even better than that is Kiev's subway, what Ukrainians are very proud of. It is clean, fast and reliable. Built very deep under ground, in some stations you need take an escalator more than 2 minutes to get to the surface.
Ukraine is a paradise for alcoholics. Good beer and vodka are really cheap here. You can buy beer every 10 meters in streets, and of course you are permitted to drink it in public. There is a law that sipping vodka in public is prohibited but nothing can stop Ukrainians from drinking vodka in parks or similar places. What is interesting to me is how much they drink they do not shout or disturb women in streets (very unlike what is going on in Iran). Women easily can walk late night without any fear.
Ukraine is a matriarchal country. The founder of Kiev was a woman and her two brothers. Maybe this is one of the reasons women are more active than men. Women feel more responsible about the economics of family and their children. They think Ukrainian men can not be trusted because most of them drink too much and are lazy.
Besides that, you hear some bad news about girls. There are rumors that more than 3,000 Ukrainian women are prostitutes working in Thailand and Southeast Asia. You should think about another huge number of them who legally or illegally live and work in Arab countries, Turkey and Western Europe. This and very open attitudes about sex caused Ukraine to have a high rate of AIDS in the world.
Like all other former USSR' states, Ukraine is an Orthodox country but Catholics and Protestants have been very active in recent years. For example, the Greek Catholic Church has moved its headquarters from Lviv in west to Kiev. Interesting that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church warned them that this movement is a bad idea and might cause social unrest -- they still try to dictate their words to former states.
Visitors and tourists do not want to miss some great churches as well as the Museum of War in the center of Kiev. But above all of (in my opinion) is watching great opera or ballet performances in the main theatre of Kiev. You can enjoy the performance of Swan Lake, for example, for only six dollars.
Ukraine's education system in higher levels really depends on foreign students, mostly from China, Vietnam, and a few Arab countries as well as Iran. Amazingly both sides complain about each other. Students say that the level of education is not as high as they expected and on the other hand teachers and officials believe that most of the students coming to Ukraine are not very good.
When you introduce yourself as an Iranian, Ukranians usually talk about what they have heard like 1979 Revolution, Allah, Khomeini, Shah and ban of drinking alcohol. (They prefer flogging and lashing as punishment or mandatory hijab but not the last one).But one thing that really hurts (at least for me) is that they usually assume that Iran and Iraq are similar country (language and nation), so I usually say that I am from Persia.