Notes from Ukraine
Steven R. Van Hook

Santa Barbara, March 31, 1997  Note to Friends & Family

I take off on Wednesday or so for Kiev, creating & developing new educational programs for Ukrainian TV and radio networks across the country, under a contract with USAID. I've been given lots of creative control and opportunity to "create my own vision," working with a capable and committed Ukrainian team already in place. Well, that's their pitch going in. I'll let you know once I get there.

I'll be sending and receiving mail over AOL, one of the few connect options in Kiev. My personal mail address is

Please take a few moments whenever the urge strikes to send me some words from home.

Hope this finds you happy & well,  

Ukraine, April 6, 1997  Note to Home                                                               

I'm digging in and getting to know the top players in national TV, radio & print. We (i.e., you, me & the US government) give a sizable chunk of "grivna" to support the development of the media here. They in return (of course) cover the sort of news the US government likes (supporting pro-capitalist reforms).

Entrepreneurialism is on the rise. My first night here (April 3), my hotel phone rang twice offering me a "sweet, young pretty girl" as a comfort service -- the first call as an initial offer, the second to see if I'd changed my mind, I suppose. My curiosity as a newsman swelled for a moment: how much? how young? how pretty? Or perhaps it was just my curiosity as a man, period. I politely declined, as they politely offered. I recall a similar call at Moscow's Rossia Hotel: "Do you want SEX?" the caller asked, much more forceful and direct than the gentler Ukrainians.  

The biggest difference I've noticed between the Ukrainians and the Russians: in Kiev the natives actually laugh and smile, a lot. The Russians here find that odd. I find it charming. The Russians, no doubt, find me a little odd too, but I'm getting along great with the Ukrainians -- especially when I drop the few Ukrainian words that I know into my Russian (Russian by far is still the predominant language).  

I move out of the Dnipro Hotel into my own very comfortable and spacious apartment next week. No more late-night hooker calls, but I'll miss the great breakfast buffet featuring creamy & fine Ukrainian pastries.  

I miss Santa Barbara sunsets and kayaking in the harbor. I dare not paddle into the Dnepr River running through Kiev, which carries radioactive silt from Chernobyl just 60 miles upstream. They say the river glows in the dark, but it's just a joke, I hope.  

Please do write me a note and let me know ANY news from home. Keep in mind though that my AOL connection is VERY slow, and tends to drop & gobble messages midstream. Please keep them short, please keep in mind that I may not have received it if you get no response, but please do keep them coming.

April 11, 1997  Note to Jeanne  

Making lots of new friends, learning a bunch about Ukrainian politics, business & media (much of it not very good news), and -- thus far -- thoroughly enjoying myself.  

"Comfort calls" at the Dnipro Hotel aside (the incidence of AIDS here is one of the highest in Eastern Europe), I'm trying very hard not to take advantage of these young, beautiful Ukrainian girls looking for a one-way ticket to the USA. And believe me, visiting American women have the same temptations. Seems most of the ex-pats (bureaucratese for Americans) here skirt the problem by simply sleeping with each other.

Anyway, a new bulk mail "update" is on its way this weekend (more about work, living & politics in Ukraine).  

April 13, 1997  Note to Home  

Hello my family & friends in America!  

Besides coming from the USA, even better California, there's a distinct advantage in Kiev of having Santa Barbara as a hometown.  

"Santa Barbara" the soap opera airs nightly throughout Eastern Europe, so I find myself somewhat of a celebrity. I've never seen the show, but evidently it portrays that all Santa Barbarans are rich and hang out in beachside cafes the day long while hired help takes care of life's mundane chores.  

Here's a VERY often repeated joke (I politely laugh each time):

Official to migrating Ukrainian: "So why do you want to locate to Santa Barbara?"  
Migrant: "Because I know everyone there."  

I love the Ukrainians -- very warm, gentle, hospitable and kind.  

It's quite a contrast to the loud, rude, obnoxious Americans strutting through the country as great saviors from the West. We often offer misplaced and mistaken advice, while what the Ukrainians need most goes undelivered: a little respect. They settle instead for our generous per diem purchases and their salaries as support staff.  

I've settled in to a lovely remodeled apartment, the old high-ceilinged style building richly adorned with trim and chandeliers. Satellite TV with English news, space enough for two families, and my own water heater (a definite luxury here where centralized heating for entire sections of the city is periodically shut down for weeks at a time; then less fortunates have to boil water for baths and laundry -- as I did earlier in Moscow).  

Around the corner are several markets stocked with Western imports (steep prices keep down the crowds), and lots of street-side kiosks for the locals where I prefer to shop (my treasure find yesterday was imported Italian silk ties for 10 grivna each - about $5.00).  

I'll be hiring someone to do my laundry, shopping and weekend cooking for $100 or so per month, a nice sum considering even top professionals here earn less than that for full-time work. I rent my apartment from a research biologist (specializing in oncology) for $1,500 a month - more than ten times her take-home pay. She comes and cleans for me once a week, gladly.  

No wonder Americans become so cocky. I'm trying to fight the inclination. I know I wind up grating on the Americans with my tsk-tsking, and friendship with the Ukrainians is hard because of the stark difference in our lifestyles. I try to compensate with overly generous gifts that make them uncomfortable: I'm THEIR guest, and they want to give to ME. I hope to find the right approach soon.  

I'm starting a few new media programs, including a weekly radio talk show that could evolve into a simulcast on national television (a la Larry King or Howard Stern). That will be fun.  

Please keep the e-notes from home coming. Lots of love,  

April 15, 1997  Note to Betsy, Frank & Johnnie  

Here's some good news:  

I found a little pet food shop in my neighborhood underground metro station that sells bird seed. I sprinkled some of it in the planter off my third-floor balcony, and shortly several sparrows were happily feeding. I can watch them from the window by my bedroom desk, where I now write.  

It makes me really feel at home, having familiar friends drop by.    

April 15, 1997  Note to Betty H.  

Life here is quite harsh for most of the people, and the road ahead is rough. The political terrain changes from day to day, and it's hard from any vantage point to see where it will lead. Whenever I wonder how to make it through another day of frustrating obstacles, I just walk the street and marvel at the mothers & fathers & children & old folks struggling for the basics of survival. What a remarkable people! They certainly deserve better. I feel fortunate for every opportunity I find to help.  

Thank you so much for your notes. I can't tell you how much it means to hear from my friends back home. Please pass my e-mail address on to anyone who cares to drop me a few words.    

Mid-Week of Mid April   

My television department staff and puppet-show crew were celebrating a worker’s birthday with a lunchtime champagne toast, when someone asked why I would give up Santa Barbara for their harsh life.  It was a sincere, probing question.  I decided to be equally sincere, and explained how long I’ve felt an affinity with the people in this part of the world.  How I loved the language from my very first class more than 15 years ago.  How once, as part of my counseling psychology studies in hypnotherapy, we had done a pass-life regression, and I had seen myself as a Russian peasant fighting the oppressive land owners.  What interesting expressions on their typically masked faces!  “Oh!” said one kiddingly. “So you are the person responsible for our present mess!”  “Forgive me!” I replied, in one of the lightest yet closest moments of my stay to date.  

April 17, 1997 Note to Betsy  

Betsy! (Greetings here tend to end in !!!)  

Dyakuyu is Ukrainian for Spasibo. I always get a grin when I toss out a Ukrainian word or two -- everyone in Kiev (Kyiv) speaks primarily Russian, but Ukrainian is now the official state language, and they are teaching it in schools. Some seem flattered I try; others amused; others seem to feel I've patronized them (or it could be simply the omnipresent stoically Slavic shrug that says "so what" to such attempts at friendliness). I've heard it should be the common tongue within five years. I better get studying.    

Saturday, April 19   

A little minibike track had been set up on a large parking lot, offering rides at 3 grivna for 4 minutes (about $1.50), not a small fee for your average Ukrainian kid. A group of four boys, about 10-years old each, stood longingly by the gate. One boy offered the ticket man a trade of some small something from his pocket for a ride, but was denied. I thought to buy them tickets, and the small intuitive kid (a survival trait, I’m sure) quickly read my intention with a sharp appraising glance. His raised eyebrow said, “what?” He saw me slip the ticket man the fare for all the boys, and came up to me. “Tell your friends they can all ride,” I told him. They wasted no time getting in the gate, and with a few sideways wondering -- suspicious perhaps -- glances, hopped on their tiny motorbikes as I sauntered away.  

April 19, 1997 Note to Amy B.   

Saying hello in Ukrainian and Russian demonstrates the subtle differences between the languages -- in Russian it's "Pree-vyet"; in Ukrainian it's "pre-VEET." It carries a lot of meaning, which word you use -- like saying "Ore-gone" instead of "Ore-gun." People can tell just where you're coming from.  

The equipment we're using is fairly state-of-the-art digital beta gear. We subcontract with a local production company, and also use the less modern gear at the state broadcast facilities (television and radio).  

My satellite feed includes NBC, so I get to watch Brokaw first thing in the morning at 7:30, followed by the Today Show. But, as you know, broadcast offers a superficial look at the news, so if you see an interesting tidbit you think I might appreciate, please send it on.  

I do get a full day off on Sundays, so I'm working my way farther & farther from the center of the city, in concentric circles as my travel confidence waxes. I'm figuring out the metro system, and my Ukrainian friends are eager to show me some sights, once I get more solid footing with the work load.    

April 21, 1997 Note to Betsy  

<< From Betsy: I wonder if it is possible to get that sense of fulfillment, that feeling of contribution anywhere but in a society where so much is needed. Is the aim to create a society like Santa Barbara (well, one more equalized in wealth) where the pleasures are shopping, touring, gossiping, getting exercised about homeless or young folk sitting on the street or unmarried people living together? I think it is, but when that society arrives, as it has here, what is there for challenge and intellectual stimulation? >>  

Ironic, isn't it?, that we are at our best when things are at their worst. 

Saturday, April 26

I was walking in my neighborhood shopping district, when I came upon an elderly man sprawled on the sidewalk, his face oozing into a pool of blood. A young angel-faced Ukrainian woman was gently talking to him. Can I help?” I asked in my broken Russian/Ukrainian. “I think someone called an ambulance,” she replied. She rolled him onto his back, and he looked up in my face, with a familiar look I recall from my dying father. "Konets” he said (“It’s the end”).  He still had lots of light in his eyes. “No, it’s not the end,” I said, sure of it.  She, I and a passing kind-looking fellow helped him to a bus stop bench, and my two helpers quickly fled.  The old man asked me to Please, Please help him to his home, just up the street.  Not a good idea, I thought.  Just wait for the ambulance (I’ve seen them before -- they look more like a police paddy wagon), if one should ever arrive. His face was a mess of blood, all over his arms and hands, his stance was very unsteady, but his plea moved me.  

Grasping him firmly under the arm, I helped him wobble down the street.  Fortunately his home was indeed just a block away, behind a large apartment building, he crumbling to the walkway once along the way for a rest -- me hefting his corpulent bulk back to his feet after a few moments.  We made it to the elevator for his 6th floor home.  “Where are you from?” he asked as we rode in the small Soviet-era lift.  “I’m an American.”  “Indeed?!?!”  “Yes, I’m an American ... from Santa Barbara.”  “Really?!?  An American?  I love America.”  It seemed he’d never met one before.  His elderly wife, understandably, was shaken to find a stranger at her door holding her bloody husband, shocked even more when he invited me in.  “Who is this man, why is he here?” she scolded.  “He’s an American!” he answered and insisted I step inside.  Small, aged apartment, still fairly comfortable I suppose for how most here live.  He made his way to the living room chair, and suddenly looked much better, in spite of all the blood, back on home ground and in control once again.  Please sit, he demanded, despite his flustered wife.  “No really, I must be going, but thank you for inviting me in.”  His wife gingerly walked me to the door, and with a wave of her hand back toward her husband, let me know she’s had to deal with him in trouble before (likely from drinking).  I walked home feeling better about us Americans ... with our abundance and relative lack of survival worries, we can afford to be kind.  

Sunday, April 27   

It’s Easter Sunday, celebrated here today on the Eastern Orthodox calendar. I’ve been invited to the home of one of our Ukrainian office workers for an Easter dinner.  

Monday, April 28  Note to Home  

Hello my friends & family in Santa Barbara and other U.S. domains.  

It's Easter here in Ukraine, a few weeks later than in the states -- the most sacred holiday on the Ukrainian Orthodox calendar. Fittingly, our finance director from Texas and I found our way to the Lavra Monastary, the most sacred center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Crowds of the faithful worshipped outside and inside the many remaining and restored churches of the monastery, several of which were demolished by the Germans or the Soviets (depending on the version you believe) four months in to the German occupation of WWII. You can't help but be moved by the resurrected faith, forbidden during the Soviet era.  

I've been asked to describe just what it is I'm doing here (hi Betsy!) -- I'll try succinctly. Our project is under contract with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) to assist the Ukrainian government in explaining to the masses various components of the economic reforms underway (e.g., mass privatization, housing subsidies, capital markets, social assistance programs, etc.).  

We have a crackpot crew of American analysts that review the reform legislation and decrees, and pass the information on to the media department (which I head) to develop segments in our radio and television programs. We have three weekly television shows on national television: a news magazine (somewhat like 60 Minutes, only it's 30), a 15 minute investigative news program, and a puppet show (a popular format in this part of the world -- a recent show featured a fisherman ["business"] arguing with the worms ["citizens"] that they need to cooperate to land the big fish ["foreign investors"] -- it's cute, if not effective). We have similar programs that air on national radio. A recent survey shows we're getting results. Some 85% of the people attribute their understanding of reform issues to programs they've seen/heard on television/radio (that's us!)  

I'm developing a talk-show/call-in format for TV & radio, something along the lines of Larry King/Oprah/Howard Stern. What fun!

My biggest challenge is trying to place the topics within the context of Ukrainian terminology and experience. They live in quite a different world than Americans’. Concepts such as individual responsibility, initiative, inclusion, democratic representation, are not givens here. But still I'm often impressed by the sprouts of entrepreneurialism (e.g., a street kiosk video salesman -- all pirated films, of course -- didn't have the Russian movie I was looking for, but promised to find me a copy within two days).  

Thursday, May 1, 1997   

I spent the day learning the metro system, traversing the Dnepr, and hanging out on the main drag (Krashatik Ulitsa). Lots of young people and lively energy. I found an English movie theater down the street from my home (currently showing "Spy Hard") that I might hit tomorrow (my birthday). I also got some great deals on pirated CDs today (Enya, Beatles, Elton John, Vivaldi, Bach, Pink Floyd, Santana, Sade and Louis Armstrong). It's feeling more & more like a home here.  

The trees all suddenly bloomed today (May Day), and the city has turned a marvelous shade of green.  

Friday, May 2, 1997   

It’s a two-day holiday celebrating May Day -- the day of the worker solidarity. That means no work, and a long four-day weekend, including with my birthday today.  I walked around the town with Igor, our English-savy cameraman for the puppet show.  He showed me great historic cathedrals, statues of Shevchenko and city heroes, grave sites of the saints and city saviors, and shared much of the horrors and joys he knows of his home city in Kiev.  He has great hopes for a private film school (he teaches in a state institution about to go belly-up).  Yet, in typical Slavic style, for every ten suggestions I had on how he might do it, he had twenty on why it couldn’t be done.  I told him how when I worked in counseling psychology, whenever I sought out the obstacles between where someone was and where they wanted to be (economic, legal, physical, political perhaps), the biggest obstacle invariably was they didn’t believe they deserved better.  When you could get passed that, all the other obstacles often and sometimes quite quickly stepped aside.  I would sometimes simply repeat over & over the positive affirmation, “You are a good person, and you deserve better .... you are a good person and you deserve better.”  Seems to me, I told Igor, Ukraine could use some of the same.  For emphasis, I told him, “This is a great nation and it deserves better ... this is a great nation and it deserves better.”  Something inside Igor clicked, and for a moment he seemed to see the point.  Perhaps rather than so many US economists and political analysts we should send in a few therapists.  

One more thought, when I was working with thieves, killers, rapists for the Oregon Department of Corrections, I learned to lift people up you had to connect with them wherever they were at. Sometimes that meant reaching awfully low. I still have yet to plumb Ukraine’s depths.

Friday, May 9, 1997  Note to Home  

Sorry I've been quiet for awhile, but the work here is so intense it's swallowing every bit of creative juice in my shriveling psyche. Every inch of gain requires a mile of effort (Lord, I've got to climb four flights of stairs just to get to the office, and another three flights to drag my weary body and laptop back home).  

But we are finding some success. I just got approval for five new puppets for our weekly "kukli" show (expanding storyline and character possibilities), our journalists are becoming much more comfortable with the new concept of independent media, and I think it's beginning to sink in that bribes aren't the only way to accomplish your objectives (fine cognac seems to be the bribe of choice among top government officials).  

Aside from the (questionable) successes of the regular work, I sometimes find other ways to contribute, to my own relief.  

Well, my tired fingers are ready to stick a frozen fish fillet in the nuker. Speaking of which, I'm off to Chernobyl next week with a video crew for an update on what's happening with assistance programs for the 100s-of-thousands sickened by the fallout. The decaying sarcophagus is supposedly simmering, ready for another (and more deadly) blow. Stay tuned for news.  

Saturday, May 10, 1997 from Michele  

Dear Steve,

        It sounds as though you're being most successful.  Approval for 5 new puppets should expand possibilities greatly.  And you've not been in one mode so long that you get tangled in the "What is" and get blinded to the "What could be".  ...  5 more puppets to add to the "What can be" sounds like heaven.

        It also sounds as though you are finding ways to give gifts that will last a lifetime. 
Those boys will remember that gift long after they forget a lot of other events.

        I so enjoy your letters!  You're doing all this for (with?) the inspiration and possibilities
 and because your heart is as big as the sky (who said that originally?  Did s/he know you?)

        Happy Spring!  Love, Michele  

Saturday, May 10, 1997   

There's a popular fable here of Katarina, a Ukrainian peasant girl seduced, impregnated & abandoned by a Russian soldier (story by Shevchenko as a metaphor for Russia's rape of Ukraine -- of course he was sent to prison for sedition). I feel a little of Katarina's soul in any Ukrainian woman I'm lucky enough to find reason to hug here (the doubts & worries of betrayal -- well justified, I fear).  

Sunday, May 11, 1997  

A weekend picnic with our Ukrainian staff left me better acquainted with some of their stories: Ludmilla’s father gave up the priesthood during Stalin’s purges and pursued a safer career as a teacher. Not soon enough, it seems -- he was still taken to die in a Siberian gulag. Ludmilla no longer believes in God & angels.  Our television manager Tatyana’s husband was one of the first photo-journalists at Chernobyl after the meltdown. He died from radiation exposure some painful months later.  Valentine’s father was hijacked by off-duty police officers who stole his car, and left him dead and buried in the rural snow.  They followed the father’s ID to Valentine’s home, found his grandmother & her friend there, killed the grandma and left the friend near dead.  This was the scene Valentine found, but no sign of his father.  He later saw his dad’s car being driven in the city, & followed it to the killers’ hangout, & notified the police.  The killers led them to where the father was buried in the melting snow.  Vitally, our TV assistant, was nearly beaten to death leaving a public toilet after a late night’s editing.  The doctors had written him off as dead, and if Tatyana had not interceded with the Minister of Health, he would not have received his life-saving surgery.  Tatyana still reminds him to use the bathroom before he leaves the office.  Beautiful Irina tells me with tears in her eyes how hard she is trying to send her sick child to a health sanitarium. “All our children are sick,” she says, a statement well-supported by the stats (diphtheria, syphilis, AIDS, radiation exposure ...)  I have the feeling our hiring manager has a soft spot for hardships and orphans.  How could we have wound up with so many sad stories?  Sometimes I just don’t want to hear any more.  

Sunday, May 18, 1997    

The balance I'm trying to find is how to inoculate myself against the misery, without becoming indifferent to it. Some charming moments do happen, like yesterday -- the old woman who was so thrilled when I stopped for a moment and let her sniff the bouquet of blossoms in my fist. Or the two young pretty college girls who giggled and called me a "fantasy man" as I shared some stories about Santa Barbara and a quick English lesson sitting by a fountain on Kreshatic.  

I recall the words, "It’s easy to die for a cause; the challenge is to live for one."  

Friday, May 22, 1997  

Things they do better in Ukraine: soap (it lathers and lasts and lasts); doors (your home locks like a vault); water heaters (when you have one -- it heats water as you need it for an unlimited supply); candy, cakes & torts (yum!); music (soulful & real); churches (these people are true believers); women (graceful heart-wrenchers); metros (efficient works of art); pillows (huge & soft); monuments (they really mean something larger than life -- usually carnage); poetry (their national heroes are poets); parties (people say just what’s on their mind -- “small talk ... what’s that?”); lunch (a two-hour social affair); movies (no previews & no commercials); street markets (exciting commerce); friendships (their true national wealth); lovers (passionate & erotic); lights & lamps (functional with a flair); toilets (man do they flush -- but bring your own paper); television (the SECAM format gives a high-resolution picture if you can make out the English beneath the bad dubs); Obolon Kievski beer (sure beats Bud); architecture (design for design’s sake); time (the days seem to never end, but so does the work).  Others (per Teri Rucker): Street musicians (our betters are in studios & clubs); surprise factors (you never know what’s going to happen); contradictions and juxtapositions (5 foot tall old ladies & 6’3” young girls); how well they make something fun out of nothing even in their misery (empty holidays, a few balloons and some bread).  

Sunday, May 24, 1997   Note to Michele  

Sorry I haven't been more chatty, but some of the problems here are weighing heavily, and most of my (limited) brainpower has been directed thither. I fear (at least today) for the integrity of my work, and sometimes my own safety as I challenge certain forces which don't like to be challenged. It's all coming to a head in the next week or so.  

I miss some of the great ideals and clarity I (thought I) had so many years ago. As my head gets filled more with practical learning & "wisdom," it clutters my mind way too much. Great thoughts need lots of room to bounce around the skull, I think. I also tend to qualify way too many ideas I used to speak of with so much surety. Maybe it's simply relinquishing my youthful arrogance (e.g., "compromise with what's wrong is simply admitting defeat" and "belief is for the timid, truth is for the pure & brave hearted"). Or maybe it's my older arrogance that assumes such truth can’t reside in the human heart, our soiled hearts. Or my soiled human heart, anyway.  

Regarding secrets, I used to believe (or held as truth) -- "Sorry I can't hear your evasions when everything you are is screaming at me." I'm now surrounded by so many secrets and screaming evasions it's hard to find a quiet spot anywhere. Maybe it's a good thing I don't see more of the secrets -- if I had more clarity, I'd probably run from here screaming myself. So many horrors! So much of it our own American brand of imported corruption. More than for myself, I fear for these people, and our own American soul. We, the great beacon of hope. Ha!  

The US Ambassador read some words from Lincoln at a Ukrainian symphony performance the other night: "It is the eternal struggle between two principles"  -- (principalities?) -- "right and wrong throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says, 'You toil and work and earn bread -- and I'll eat it.'  No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle."   

Do we believe that? Do we hold that as truth? Did we ever?  

I used to know of the white magical forces aligning with the pure heart. My biggest challenge now is to find that realignment, and to ensure my heart is worthy. What an opportunity here. I want to be up to it. Perhaps my primary fear is that I won't.  

Cryptically yours,  

Monday, May 25, 1997  Note from Michele  

You write of ideals and "realities" (I remember hating it when some macho guy would say, the real truth is, or in the real world).   And you write of personal safety and integrity and challenges.  I worry about you.  

I think maybe truths are both simple, and not, and that black and white is nice, but grey seems more descriptive because perceptions affect how we define colors.  But doubt not your intuitions - they are true.  

The white magical forces align with your heart.  You are where you are because of your beliefs, your intelligence and your strength. Worthy with intent and with purpose, and mistakes are allowed.  
An old affirmation: I am whole, I am beautiful, and I am human: fuckups allowed!

        Hugs - Michele  

Monday, May 25, 1997   Note to Sue  

Well, sure they spy on us. I'd be disappointed if they didn't. Can you imagine a group of Russian "consultants" in our own country, claiming to be working for the good of the American people, and we wouldn't take an intelligence interest in that? The main difference is our spies are bumblingly incompetent (we have a hard time tracking down spies in our own CIA headquarters, let alone on dark street corners) -- these guys here have it down cold. (Say hi to the nice people, Sue.) They are smart and efficient. They keep our basic needs met, so we will stick around so they can spy on us even more. And spies on the whole are a fairly likable lot -- it must be part of the job description. Actually, I'm glad they're watching.  


1)    It makes me feel safer -- the streets here can be dangerous. 

2)   It's good to know SOMEBODY here cares about what I say.

3)   Maybe they'll see that I'm actually here to help. Maybe we can become friends. Maybe we can just sit down and share some straight talk over tea & torts. I really do like these people. This is such a remarkable part of the world with so much potential. They deserve much better than they've got now, and I hope they find it. Once they make their own take on the 21st century and the evolution of workable social systems, they will have much to offer all the rest of us -- at least those of us struggling to find a way to raise humanity from the muck.  

Monday, May 25, 1997   Note to Betsy  

How fun to watch these Harvard shock-therapy-people-be-damned geeks scramble! I was at a Jeffrey Sachs press conference the other week. Not a word about how much pain he expects the people to endure, which is considerable. I, because of my low-profile position, was not able to ask. And now some Harvard "expert" has a financial stake in the shock-therapy treatment. Perfect.  

Saturday, May 31, 1997   Note to Home  

The work in Kiev is a constant trial, but once in awhile it coughs up a treat:  

We are working with one of the top Ukrainian pop singers - Ani Lorak - to produce a video targeting teens with a musical message supporting economic reforms. She's an 18-year old songbird, with a powerful & passionate voice something like Whitney Houston. Ani is signing a contract with an American recording company, I believe she'll be a star in the States. My boss asked me to write English lyrics to the Ukrainian music video she's shooting with us, and help her with the pronunciation. We spent a long session together working on the tune. What a thrill to hear my words in her sweet voice! The lyrics are along the lines of casting her soul on the breeze of freedom, in a season of the wind blowing for those brave enough to fly. Can you believe I get paid to do this?  

Also, I accepted an invitation to be a guest speaker at a conference of reporters, journalism professors, and government flacks involved in global communications. It went well, and after my talk a few deans of journalism programs throughout Ukraine asked if I would give a similar presentation to their students around the country. Fortunately, such outreach is part of my job description. I don't know if I really have anything all that profound to say, but these educators -- only earning some $100 a month with very limited academic resources -- are eager for anything that might help add to their program. What's more, one of the professors heads the dissertation committee for the University of Kiev Institute of Journalism, and invited me to submit a 36-page article on developments in Western news media for an academic journal, and he'll consider it as a doctoral dissertation. Dr. Steve -- that's an offer too good to refuse.  

The rains have rolled back into Ukraine. The grey skies remind me of Santa Barbara summertime on the Mesa and its daily overcast, the fog line ending somewhere just beyond my house. Throughout June, July & August I just take it on faith that the Pacific & Channel Islands are still there. I try to keep that in mind here -- that somewhere in this grey muddle is something quite beautiful, and someday the fog will lift.  

Sunday, June 8, 1997   Note to Home  

I'm just getting back up from some exotic bug or other that flattened me for the last two days. Lots & lots of sleep -- maybe that's what I really needed. The misery of this place really eats at me sometimes. Seems every story I hear is even sadder than the last. It's time for me to take a trip home (June 23 - July 5). Just in time, I think.  

I believe suffering is like a gas: it disperses evenly throughout the volume that contains it. So sadness fills a soul. It's difficult to measure degrees of pain (whether it's the loss of a loved one to radiation sickness, or the loss of a job in Santa Barbara).  Suffering is suffering; unhappiness is unhappiness. Perhaps the difference is in the level of toxicity to those in proximity. It often just overwhelms me here. Platitudes like "Everything will be OK" ring quite hollow when the glaring reply is, "Oh yeah? Tell it to the 14-million murdered and buried in our earth still wet with their blood!"  

Tuesday, June 10, 1997  

I worked the audience of professional Ukrainian journalists, attending summer courses at the Kiev University Institute of Journalism.  It took at least 30 minutes of discussion to start breaking down the barriers.  It helped that the professor had either lazily or judiciously left the room at the start of my talk.  “Do you know how dangerous it is here for journalists?” one student finally asked.  I have met reporters here who have been beaten for simply seeking the truth, I told them.  What it does to the broken journalist is of course devastating.  The chill that descends on all other journalists is the true horror.  They skeptically accepted my assurances that we elsewhere in the world do hear about such abuses, and that we do care.  “Why should that matter?” one asked. Because such tyranny cannot stand up long to the light of world awareness.  And because I want so much to believe that this is true.  What would you like me to tell my colleagues back home about you?  “Please let them know we’re here.”  And that we’re being beaten, went unspoken.  

They perked up as we discussed ways to address the perversion of the powers of press freedom, the media’s sensationalistic glorification of society’s rubbish that Solzhinitsyn says “soils our immortal souls... we have the right of freedom FROM the press.”  How do we address this without relying on censorship or government controls?  They were especially interested in learning about the Santa Barbara Media Committee, and how we seek to encourage responsible journalism by simply recognizing and rewarding in our small way the reporters and editors that live up to the highest standards of their profession.  That by raising the desires of the media consumer, you raise the performance of the media marketers.  

Also when I responded to a question on how to become a reporter “superstar.”  First, try to stay alive (laugh).  Then, if you can accomplish the magic of transmitting a feeling from your heart, through your head, through your words, through your medium (print or broadcast), into the head of your audience, then finally into their hearts, if you can complete that mysterious communication circuit, then you will be a star.  

Finally, one cynical soul asked if I was in Ukraine simply to watch them in their suffering as some rabbits in an experiment.  I responded, I don’t see them as rabbits, but as heroes working in horrendous circumstances to help bring about the rebirth of their nation.  And I predicted that in ten years, perhaps some of them would come to America to lecture us on how they covered Ukraine’s rebirth, and how they wrote the first “rough draft” of their new nation’s history.  In ten years, America will likely be facing its own rebirthing issues.  It was an honor, truly, to be able to share such thoughts with such people.  I told them so.  

Saturday, June 14, 1997   Note to Home  

I'm heading home (yippee!) for a quick trip to take care of taxes, catch a Media Committee meeting, read mounds of mail, kayak, swing in my hammock, check on the nesting starlings in my attic, sleep in a real bed, eat Taco Bell, walk the beach, dry clean jackets, buy new socks & other treasure supplies, see movies in English, and generally just rest up before I return to Kiev for a major overhaul of our TV & radio programs for an all new "Fall Premier."  

If all goes right, I'll be on the plane Saturday June 21, arriving in SB the same day afternoon (the flight west is very time-zone friendly -- though I'll be enroute for 20 hours or so, I'll land in Santa Barbara just some 7 hours clock-time after I leave). The sun never sets heading home. (That sounds like a great book title ...)  

"Home" must be the most resonant word in English. So much said in just four letters.  

Love (also a well-packed four-letter word),  

Santa Barbara, Friday, July 4, 1997  Note to Michele  

I'm off to spend my final full day here on a boat ride over to the Islands, with a visit to migrating whales and dolphins. I miss the sea most of all in land-locked Kiev, perhaps this will sate me. Funny though, I keep referring to my trip back to Ukraine as heading "home."  

I enjoyed a drive through the Santa Ynez valley the other day, the area I spent much of my growing-up time. I could still hear the mountain spirits in my mind, from the summits, recollected from infant years when my ears were still opened to those whispers.  

The United States is pretty much as I left it, perhaps the bullshit even more evident compared to the straight-ahead communication style of the Ukrainians (they have little time & energy for small-talk in their survival mode). That, and how much of our social foundation is based on misery. Why must we maintain such a vested economic interest in human suffering? Law, drugs, heathcare, religion, insurance, news, social services ... we have such a financial stake in misery, what incentive do we have to pursue happiness? Do you think we could ever find an economic system that penalizes misery and rewards joy?  

Back in Kiev, Monday, July 7, 1997  Note from Michele  

Hi Steve!

        By now you are home, and hopefully over the worst of the jet lag. Sounds like your trip back to S.B. was what you needed - touching that part of the States that is real:  ocean, whales, dolphins and that sense of infinity that is the gift of not being in constant survival mode.

        You know, I think that sense of injustice, of questioning misery, of not understanding the insanity we call economics is one of the threads of your soul.  It is woven into your being, and though its form of expression changes, it is a basic part of your identity.  I like it.  

Hugs - Michele  

Saturday, July 26, 1997  Note Home  

Sorry so long so quiet, but MOI BOG they've been working me. Budget changes (increases, actually), television program enhancements, new radio talk show, additional staff for my departments - it's all good stuff, but it's sure swallowed all my free-brain time.  

One nice plus from my trip home -- the office now looks like Santa Barbara: people wear the California T-shirts & hats I brought back, and there are Santa Barbara postcards posted in just about every cubicle and bulletin board.  

The weather here is turning to autumn already. The midnight sunglow from the sky is gone. The day grows bright now at 5:30 a.m. instead of 4:00, and the birds outside my window are moving south. I don't have to water my balcony flowers as often.  

I brought back lots of books (classical lit, language and even law books). As soon as the winter freeze really hits, I promise myself I'm going to expand my mind. That's the big plan anyway. When winter hit Moscow I just hibernated.  

Politically, economically, psychologically, the country still spirals down. But the downward momentum seems to be slowing. Or at least mine is, and things look better because of it.  

For fun I walk the streets and gather curious looks from people who can spot right away I'm an American (someone told me it's in my aura). And I hang out with poets on an online chat site where we play poetry games. Like "poet tag": someone gives you a topic ("tag - you're it"), and you have to compose something on the spot. The other night my topic was "toes," and I typed:  

    Toes, toes, wonderful toes 
They point the way 
The rest of you goes.  

Sorry. At least it kills some evening time. Unless you drink, hunt hookers, play slots, or hang out with mafiosi, there isn't much doing at night.  

Well, enough of my tales. Please send some of yours ...  

Monday, August 25, 1997  Note to Betsy  

I've been mulling your anti-Semitism question; it's not an easy one to answer with a few throwaway lines. There is strong anti-Semitism here yet, though it was interesting at a recent staff party with giveaway favors, a dreidel was one of the first gifts to disappear. It's even worse for blacks. Follow any group of visiting Africans for a bit, and it's not long before you seem them stopped by the street cops, harassed for passports & sometime beaten (as was recently the case when one crossed the road at the wrong place). I spoke with a Nigerian not too long ago -- he couldn't wait to get out of the country. You would think a people as subjugated as the Ukrainians would be more empathetic with other subjugates, but in the upside-down through-the-looking-glass world here, it's just not so. I guess that's not so surprising. Poverty breeds poverty, ignorance breeds ignorance, and subjugation breeds subjugation. Perhaps I'll have a more profound assessment after I've pondered and lived it more.  

On the upside, the Ukrainians really love dogs. Any dog. Even the mangy homeless street curs.  

Regarding sensitivity to misconstrued sentiments (anti-Semitic or otherwise), we have a group of fervent American feminists (USAID funded) here in Ukraine to hold training programs for journalists (that's only *female* journalists) on how to inject women's issues into news coverage. This pisses me off on several levels 
-- each of which gets me labeled as anti-women, pro-pig. I resent it as a journalist that they're coming in here telling us how to handle our news. I resent it as an American that this is one more example of an imperialist imposition of our morality on other nations. I resent it as a taxpayer that I'm helping to pay for this. I resent it as a male that it widens the schism between the sexes. I resent it as a human that this is not moving us forward. You can't fight hate with hate, and we shouldn't fight sexism with sexism (as in women-only seminars). That was the message of ML King, Gandhi, & Mother Theresa. These 'feminists' strike me somewhat like the tobacco  companies: they're losing their US market, so they target the FSU for new customers. So I say this and I'm a sexist. Criticize Israel and you're anti-Semitic. It's somewhat like patriotism: the last refuge of the wrong.

Thanks for letting me vent on that. Do I sound grouchy today?    

Thursday, August 28, 1997  Note to Dick  

So many horrors still haunt this country.  

Sometimes I wonder if these people deserve their pain, but then I think most everyone deserves their pain. Pain can often be a useful indicator that we are doing something wrong. But does self-inflicted pain preclude a need for help to move beyond it? It's a question I ask and try to answer often. The Catholics believe one cannot be absolved until one has confessed and truly repented. The Hindus believe karma exacts its own justice. Dante said, "Who is more arrogant within his soul, who is more impious than one who dares to sorrow at God's judgment?" Others say better to light a tiny candle than to curse the darkness.  

I simply try to drag myself out of bed some mornings.  

Work here is very intense right now, but I constantly find fulfilling moments amid all the frustration and gloom. It's the little things I take the most pleasure in. A worker who shows a rare flash of dedication to duty. A new concept that suddenly registers, and I see them incorporate it as their own. An instant where our distant cultures merge and we can share a mutually understood bit of humor. That stuff makes me happy.  

Autumn is fast settling in Kiev -- the leaves are turning, the temperatures are dropping, the rain is falling. Snow comes in September.  

Sunday, September 7, 1997  Note Home  

I've been getting notes from home wondering if I'm still alive or if Chernobyl has blown again or if I've lost my limbs or some other such silencing mayhem. I must be really overdue writing. There have been three prime (and lame) excuses:  

1) My connections home have been sporadic lately -- our international lines have gone down for days at a time, and my Internet link has been equally flaky. It's a little spooky losing touch with home. But not so near as bad as it was in 1990 Soviet Russia, when the failing and falling Communists were then confiscating foreign journalists' gear (and sometimes confiscating foreign reporters) in midnight visits. When the phone lines went dead then, I *really* felt the separation from home.  

2) Lately I've been a little shell-shocked. So many battles waging: the Ukrainians trying to milk the Americans; the Americans trying to milk USAID; USAID trying to milk US taxpayers. And believe me it's a lonely war on each front. Fortunately my department workers and I are forming a solid team. They know I'll treat them fairly and more, and they help keep our media division running clean. Not easy to do when there's milk, milk, milk everywhere.

3) I didn't want to write a long & whiny note like this one.  

One final whine: I get to head home in a few weeks. Unfortunately it's to move out of my lovely home, which the owners just sold in the middle of a gold-rush on property in Santa Barbara. The house sold for a ridiculously high price, which means the buyer will likely get stuck with the loss once the prices get real again. So I get to lose my house, spend a couple of unexpected $-thousands flying back to the US to move, and give up my scheduled Christmas trip home.  

But all is not woeful. I really love my Ukrainian workers. And it's becoming more mutual as they further realize I don't want to be just another American overlord invading their homeland. I've been invited several times to "lecture" journalism students on concepts of an independent media. I like to sit my chair right in front of them, and exercise more of a Socratic Q&A session, which is a rare communication method here. These (even at the university) are students who still stand at attention when the professor enters the room, and sit silent through an hour of monotonous monologue. More of an indoctrination than education, really. But I give the professors marks for at least inviting a counterpoint into their classrooms. It's like they know their old ways are gone, and rather than admit it by changing themselves, they at least offer their students a chance to hear new ideas even as they condemn them.  

Our remodel of the national TV & radio programs for a "fall premiere" has gone even better than I hoped. I budgeted $-tens-of-thousands for the producers to introduce new segments, new graphics, new puppets, new jingles, new promos, new sets, etc. Not the kind of thing they're used to getting money for. They are very creative, and have heretofore accomplished wonders with next to nothing. You should see how they create a party with just a few balloons and some string. I'm really happy over what they've done with this relative budget bonanza (still peanuts by American broadcast standards). My only complaint is I have to interrupt this work with a trip home at such a critical time.  

But then I'm whining again.  

Tuesday, October 21, 1997  Note to Dick & Betsy  

My work here is as consuming as ever, though I had fun stamping out a few fires when I got back. It's good to feel needed.  

Gray, dreary afternoon here ... dimmer and dimmer days as sunrise and sunset meet more in the middle. My friends here brighten me up (successfully) with their quirky humor and tasty little snacks (like these sweet little poppy seed and dough rings I'm munching even as I type, crumbs in my keyboard).  

Wednesday, October 22, 1997  Note Home  

Howdy from the winterlands.  

The gray muddle is settling in, though not quite so bad and early as Moscow's. Between the winter doldrums, the hefty workload, and the hectic trip home to move and set up a new office, I've really let my regular epistles lapse. The only thing you've truly missed is my whining about it all.  

Actually, there have been some wonderful moments. I recently wrote and produced a television series of economic reform spots which were well received (a little appreciation takes me a long way). My workers continue to perform wonders against horrendous odds. And the reforms here are really taking root, though the sprouts are still fragile and the blossoms a long way off (Ukraine is prime farmland, so I find myself using more and more agricultural metaphors). McDonald's is opening yet a third restaurant in Kiev on a lovely river frontage -- the chain's continuing investment is seen by analysts as a signal of advancing economic/political/social stability. One of our Ukrainian staff just became McD's national advertising manager.  

For fun I've been seeing more of the local sights and planning additional trips around the continent (airfare is fairly cheap once you've already crossed the Atlantic, like a round-trip ticket to London for $500).  

And I've been teaching my bright-eyed ladyfriend Tanya some of the subtleties of English -- what a strange language, when you view it through an outsider's eyes. It's a big responsibility trying to decide which words are the very most important for effective communication, while not overwhelming with too wide of a selection. One recent lesson with Tanya examined the slight differences between hug, embrace, cuddle, snuggle, touch, caress and fondle. It was a fun hands-on demonstration. Next come adjectives and adverbs ...  

For some reason they are drilling a big three-inch hole in the wall directly above where I'm working, so I better grab the laptop and head for safer corners.  

Monday, December 22, 1997  Note Home  

I've really been hibernating in these dark & dreary winter days (today 18-below Centigrade ... that's about minus 1 Fahrenheit). Tomorrow it's supposed to drop to -25 degrees. But the snow is deep and clean, and it sure beats sloshing through the muddy slush of a few weeks ago. I've really got to find better ways to keep my ears covered, though. Almost lost the ears today when I went to rub them, and nearly broke both off -- icy & frozen.

We may or may not head off to Spain tomorrow (where it's about 60 degrees warmer) for a week of driving around Costa Brava, Barcelona and the French south coast, depending on a visa problem which may or may not be fixed by 1:00, just two hours away from our departing plane. I'm taking my Ukrainian sweetie, who may or may not be able to get an exit visa. We meet a travel agent in the morning at the French embassy, who says he can fix a problem we had with the Spanish embassy (her name was spelled two different ways on an internal and new external passport, which is enough to justify a rejection -- few countries are welcoming Eastern Europeans these days, least of all the USA). It's a too-typical situation here. Nothing works very well, and when it does, it's usually at the very last possible moment. If and when we fly, it will be on KLM (Dutch Airlines) -- Air Ukraine has had its share of problems lately (like this week's crash over Greece killing 70 people).  

My Internet connection has not worked for weeks, so I have not been receiving or sending e-mail too regularly. I hope the problem can be fixed when I get back (if and when I get to go), so I can send Christmas greetings (the Orthodox Christmas break here is January 7 & 8). I'm hoping for a quick connection via a sporadic AOL access number so I can send this off.  

Work goes on -- an inch of gain for every mile of effort. This is such a difficult land. I hope to have a brighter outlook after a Spanish respite.  

But let me wish you happiness & good cheer, and good things for us all in the fresh year ahead.  

Monday, January 5, 1998  Note to Dick & Wendy

Thanks so very, very much for the Christmas care package from home -- it arrived today fairly intact. Tanya (my Ukrainian sweetie) is especially fond of the biscotti and butter toffee pretzels. She sends a big "spasibo." 
I especially loved the Santa Barbara newspapers. Sorry about the heavy postage hit. For what it's worth, they hammered me for yet another 20 kopecks (about 10-cents) to pick it up (after we were sent to three different post offices to find the delivery). Of course, customs rummaged through it quite carefully, and perhaps snagged one or two of the more tasty items. Perhaps not. Such a great treat! Let me reciprocate with another dinner on the town when I come home in March.  

We never made it to Spain (visa problems), but instead wound up in Prague, which is more user-friendly to Eastern Europeans. Actually, I'm glad we did. It's a beautiful city, and an exciting example of what can be done with a sincere effort at post-communist transformation. I'll bring back some photos. While there, we got to nosh at Planet Hollywood, TGIF "Fridays," Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, plus a marvelous assortment of domestic world-class eateries. Plus they have first-run films (Czech subtitled) -- we saw "Bean" (a good laugh) and the new 007.  

I'm still not sure what's next here. A contract extension, an early closure, US foreign policy ploys, or ??? Maybe I'll head to Prague, if I can find similar work there. The Czechs are a people really trying. The next few weeks should tell.  

And I'll tell in a few weeks.  

Sunday, January 11, 1998  Note to Home  

Life in Ukraine goes reluctantly on, today in a gleaming of fresh snow. Cozied up indoors, I've been pondering some of the amusing ways our two cultures do certain things completely the opposite of one-another. Here's a few funny customs in Ukraine (and most of Eastern Europe, for that matter) that run counter to ours:  

-  Engagement & wedding rings are worn on the right hand, rather than the left.

-  The written equivalent of "I" (as in "I am") is used in lower case ("i"), while "You" is frequently capitalized.

-  Birthday celebrants here are required to throw their own parties, rather than have parties thrown for them (spending a good chunk of their pay and day putting together a party "table" of sweets, fruits, and lots of booze).

-  They peel bananas from the bottom (which makes sense, really: it's easier to peel the banana that way, and it gives you a convenient handle to hold).

-  They use double, triple, even quadruple negatives without changing the meaning of the sentence (e.g., "I do not never nowhere work no how").

-  When asked, "How are you?" we Americans will answer, "Fine, thank you." Their response here is, "Thank you, fine." (Or, "Thank you, not too bad" or "Thank you, I'm awful".) The point is, first they acknowledge the asker before talking about themselves. It's a rather revealing contrast, when you think about it.

-  Per the Orthodox calendar, first they celebrate New Year (with a tree and gifts), then Christmas (January 6 - kind of an awkward holiday only recently rehabilitated).

-  Men often walk on the inside of the street beside a woman (a European custom I'm told, dating back to the days when chamber pots were dumped out of windows).

-  Marat, my radio department manager, offered his suggestion: "Everything they do in America is right, everything we do here is wrong."

Well, not quite.    

Monday, February 16, 1998   Note to Home  

How's home? I need to remind myself periodically that “home” is indeed the USA, not this excellent Ukrainian example of how far a nation can go astray without some very fundamental values (Democracy, press freedoms, safe food, water pressure) ...  

Happily, I just returned from a wonderful long-weekend retreat with my Tanya to Krakow on the overnight train. Rail is a great way to travel, I learned -- we stretched out in a private cabin, munched on our packed sandwiches and chocolate, and really saw the land as full-dimensioned and distant, rather than the flat take from an airplane seat.  

Our Polish taxi driver worked as chauffeur for Steven Spielberg during the shooting of Schindler's List in Krakow (he had lots of photos to prove it). He pointed out some of the movie's shooting sites, including the restaurant scene and the factory. If you saw it, perhaps you remember how Schindler got in trouble for kissing a young Jewish girl on her birthday. That woman now works as a hairdresser at our hotel (“Forum” -- Krakow's best with a view of the river and the Wawel Palace ... room service! Satellite CNN broadcasts! Banana splits! Water pressure!) Still, there is a gloomy air about the city. You can sure feel the ghosts of pogroms.  

One of Poland's most noticeable features is the lifestyle level outside the cities. The village roads are paved, the farms look well cared for (pride of ownership?), and the villagers have a light air about them. The contrast was most obvious as we crossed the border -- one minute Ukrainian storm-trooper customs goons were rifling through our stuff (one especially odious thug made a quick exit when I flashed my diplomatic card -- a USAID fringe benefit); just a few more kilometers down the track smiling & polite Polish passport control officers were welcoming us.  

Well, so much for the travelogue. Now back into a work mode. I'm not too eager to let go of the “on-the-road” ease.  

Tuesday, February 24, 1998  

I’ve finally accomplished at least one of my goals in Ukraine -- I completed Dante’s Divine Comedy (a three-tome series of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso corresponding to the themes of punishment, penance and perfection). I found in each volume a canto especially significant to the experience here:  

Why we should not grieve too much at the suffering:  

     There is no place for pity here. Who is more arrogant 
within his soul, who is more impious 
than one who dares to sorrow at God’s judgment?

(Inferno XX 27)

 Why we should help the unvoiced:  

     He does for us what men in the world’s uses 
do only for themselves; for who sees a need 
and waits a plea, already half refuses. 

(Purgatorio XVII 58)

Why we should be cautious of our dogmatic solutions:  

     Thus she began: “You dull your own perceptions 
with false imaginings and do not grasp 
what would be clear but for your preconceptions. ...” 

(Paradiso I 88)

And finally, mystically, everything in its place:  

     Brother, the power of love, which is our bliss, 
calms all our will. What we desire, we have. 
There is in us no other thirst than this.  

     Were we to wish for any higher sphere, 
then our desires would not be in accord 
with the high will of Him who wills us here;  

     and if love is our whole being, and if you weigh 
love’s nature well, then you will see that discord 
can have no place among these circles. Nay,

    the essence of this blessed state of being 
is to hold our will within His will, 
whereby our wills are one and all-agreeing.  

     And so the posts we stand from sill to sill 
throughout this realm, please all the realm as much 
as they please Him who wills us to His will.  

     In His will is our peace. It is that sea 
to which all moves, all that Itself creates 
and Nature bears through all Eternity.
(Paradiso III 70)  

Tuesday, February 14, 1998  Note to Betsy  

I've a small problem: the USAID contractor -- who is also my "employer" -- has opened up a commercial office in Kiev. The lines here are becoming quite blurred on what of our taxpayer supported resources are being used for USAID purposes, and what are being used for private-profit ends. I'm trying to help define the difference and create some boundaries (without seeming too sanctimonious), but it's becoming increasingly difficult (an understatement). This is the kind of thing as a journalist (or Grand Juror) I would hope to expose, not perpetuate. It's a lonely battle. Of course, our Ukrainian staff watch us closely so they might learn the American Way of doing business. This is not a lesson I'm happy about.  

Monday, March 16, 1998  Note to Home

I trust you haven't been washed away by all the El Nino piddling (according to news reports airing here on satellite, all California is awash and ankle-deep ... and popular movies at the local theaters have the rest of America pounded by meteors, or volcanic eruptions, or tornadoes, or sex scandals, or some such misery). I hope you're surviving it all.  

On this side of the sea, we just returned from a quick weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary. It's a grandiose city, at least in the old Buda & Pest districts by the Danube, with castles and cathedrals on the hill, a pompous Parliament building, and (my favorite) lots of caves & labyrinths weaving through the subterrain. You wander too far from the center, and it begins to look like most every other city in Eastern Europe: shell-shocked and seedy. Mafia and decay. Hungry (no pun) for a little TLC. But there's a very real sense of how great it once was and may yet be (also like most other EE/FSU states). We ate well, anyway; and the hotel water pressure was like a fire-hose (very refreshing after my dribble-shower in Kiev).  

I hope to head home for a quick visit around April 1. Lots of hanging out on the beach. And breakfasts. And lunches. Real salads and Taco Bell and actual mail with US postage stamps (e-mail just lacks a certain charm).  

Thursday, March 26, 1998

I get to make a quick trip home next week. If all the planes connect (four of them), I should be landing in SB on Tuesday evening. That's the nice thing about flying westward: even with six hours of sitting in airports and lots more hours spent on planes, you still get home the same day. And the sun never sets. They just keep serving you lunch over, and over, and over.  

I'll have enough time to take care of taxes, make bill payoffs and pay-aheads, upgrade some computer hardware, eat Mexican, get a good sunburn, and just about recover from jet-lag, before it's time to fly back.  

By the time I return to Kiev, spring should have settled in. Already the evening snow is melting off earlier in the day. And the twilight lasts long enough to light my walk home after work.  

Monday, April 13, 1998  Note to Home  

My return to Kiev was held a night in Zurich after some foul weather delayed our flight. Swissair picked up the hotel and meal tab, and I walked a bit about the city. Even got a peek at the Alps once the clouds lifted.  

Life here is like always, though the time-change now sheds sunlight until 8:00 pm, and the days are shining evermore into the night (Springtime dusk lasts till near midnight).  

I received word this morning that USAID wants to extend our contract through August (which means five more months for me at minimum in Ukraine). I've very mixed feelings at that news. I'm about done searching out heroics in high political offices or sweeping social reform. There is more humanity in the small kindnesses: the unassuming man slipping a loaf a bread to the underpass derelict; the young lady herself toppling on the ice as she helps a freezing drunk back to his feet; the pensioner sharing her limited food supply with starving street dogs. These are the people that inspire me as I trudge the city. Such goodness may not only be the best salvation, but perhaps the only.  

But the trees are budding, the birds are singing (too loudly too early near my pillow-side window), and my winter-darkness-induced blues are diminishing. Even the Ukrainians seem to be smiling more. And I still wish I could do more. Maybe that means I should.  

So stay tuned for more whiney notes from me (likely) in Kiev.

Tuesday, April 14, 1998  Note to Betsy: Majoritarianism vrs. Proportionalism  

Some final election analysis: For the first time, Ukrainians voted (March 29) under a new election law (passed in September, 1997) which introduced a mixed majoritarian and proportional system, in which 225 Rada (Parliament) deputies are elected in single mandate districts, and 225 from party lists per percentage of votes garnered (as answered to Wendy's question: do they vote for the party or the candidate? Both.)  Eight parties passed the 4% barrier for representation in the Rada: the Communist, Rukh (reformist), Green Party, Social Democratic Party, Hromada, Agrarians, National Democratic Party, and the Socialist/Rural bloc. The communists took the largest cut: 25% of the votes. The commies now control some 30% of the Rada seats.  

The biggest election day problem: the lines were so long from the strong turnout, many people simply gave up & went home without voting. At our precinct, the biggest problem I saw was the crowd blocking the buffet table prevented buyers from spending their kopeks on a tasty or two, much to the loud consternation of the ladies "manning" the table.  

Thursday, April 16, 1998  Note from John Wiley  

Your toils bring a new perspective and hope of freedom to a  
longsuffering culture, and I believe the feelings in your heart right 
now reach far beyond you into history.  

Seems to me the better you do at keeping clear on motivations 
and purpose, the greater will be your contribution to this 
massive transformation of USSR into democratic republics.  
Lucid hope might be your most important gift.  

Thursday, April 23, 1998  

These people are damned because they choose to be.   

We may be free to choose, but we are not free from choice.  

Once we realize our capacity to choose, we can never go back to choicelessness. This is maturation.  

We are spiritually liable for our choices.  There is great power in our choices ... It is not so important *what* we choose, as *why* we choose, says Carolyn Myss.  

Saturday, April 25, 1998  Note to Betsy  

I'm being recruited for a World Bank public education job in Moscow. It's a one-year contract, similar to what I'm doing here (producing TV, radio & print campaigns on rule-of-law). Lots of questions & issues; I'll spare you most the details. Primarily, I don't want to leave my department workers in a void. And I've just been given additional programming latitude here beyond our boring USAID Task Order requirements of Capital Markets, Privatization, Deregulation, Tax Reform, etc., so we can now produce more personal-empowerment/self-help kinds of stories on, e.g., how to conduct a job interview, how to feed families nutritious meals on $10 a week, self-esteem building, etc. But still pondering a move ...  

I had a dream last night about returning to Moscow -- a reinvigorated city stocked with consumer goods, street lights (in Soviet times they only turned up the lights once or twice a year, like on Revolution Day; a remarkably beautiful city when lit so), Taco Bells ... I hear you can now even get touch-tone phone service on fiber optic lines.

Ukraine is still using this horrendous pulse phone system that causes countless wrong numbers, too often ringing my phone at all sleeping hours of the night. I've shut my bell off because of that.  

Actually, after a year here, I'm becoming remarkably Ukrainian in my ability to cynically shrug away such inconveniences. I heard an adage the other day I like: "Ukraine is the land of forever green tomatoes" (coined by Odessa writer Mikhail Zhivonetsky). The more I think about it, the more it sums up the general state of affairs. Events unfold to a certain immature stage, then resolutely stop. I told one local how in the US we sometimes ship our tomatoes green, but before putting them on the market, we gas them red. Hmmmm...  

Sunday, April 26, 1998  

I remember a lecture in my physics class, where professor Amit Goswami was explaining the effects of gravity waves. Every body and motion generates gravitational influences, however infinitesimal, on the farthest reaches of the universe.  

This I know for sure: our psychic and spiritual motions also have a universal impact. Everything we do, think and say matters. This is a great responsibility, also a tremendous opportunity.  

Monday, May 4, 1998  Note to Home  

We just got back in (7:00 train this morning) from my birthday weekend getaway to Moscow. I haven't been back since 1994, and even then it was just a quick pass-through. What a contrast to my "home city" of 1989-90 ... McLeninland incarnate and incandescent!  

There's the three-story underground shopping mall on Manezh Square at the Kremlin's gate; refurbished, replicated, neon-enhanced Soviet & Orthodox monuments; friendly Red Square militsia (who struck me more as Disney ticket-takers than the old Red Guard).  

Since it was May Day, a few-thousand ragtag Communists paraded about waving flags and slogans, though grossly outnumbered by the mall shoppers and bemused tourists. ("Death to the bourgeoisie" we could hear from our quite bourgeois room at the Metropol Hotel.) The demonstrators were actually a great photographers' draw ... if they had charged $5-a-pop for a photo-op with an authentic commie, they could have made a bundle. So out with a whimper goes the socialist ideal. Marxist aphorisms just can't compete against coupons for a free beer with lunch at the fluorescent plastic restaurants. The "New Russians" buy from the jewelry, cosmetic and fur stores; the still impoverished "Old Russians" enjoy an affordable scoop of Baskin-Robbins flavors.  

I can remember my Muscovite friends near a decade ago bemoaning that such a shoppers paradise would never NEVER happen in Russia. (It's hard to be too happy they were so wrong.) One thing about the Russians, though, even as they scarcely believed the possibility, they never doubted they deserved it. Maybe that's why the reformers finally found their way: frustrated public desserts make for an unstable social sauce.  

Interesting how in current-day Kiev you can still hear the old refrain again, "It will never, NEVER happen here." The main difference from the Russian framework though: the Kievites seem *not* to believe they deserve better.

It strikes me so much as the "battered woman" syndrome: they've been beaten down and subjugated so long (some 350 years), their demolished sense of self-worth and strangled voice keeps them meek, and -- almost lovingly -- returning home to the strong hand that ruled them with an (at least familiar) clenched fist. Maybe instead of sending in so many economists and political pundits, the West should ship in a force of psychotherapists.  

Still, it's fun to be 40 and wondering what the next bi-decade will bring.  

May 8, 1998   Note to Betsy    

I knew I had seen it somewhere; after a bit of a hunt, I found it in Article 14 of the 1977 Constitution of the Soviet Union:

The state exercises control over the measure of labour and of consumption in accordance with the principle of socialism: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work."  

A little reworking by the editorial committee, perhaps?

Sunday, June 14, 1998   Note to Betsy  

Took an interesting side street down by the KGGA building today (the Interior Security Safeguard Agency --- rather interesting ominous building with lots of video cameras following our steps), and wound up in an ancient but well-kept home/museum of Taras Shevchenko -- worth every two grivna to walk through and see where he wrote, which room he was arrested in, his clothing, his paints, his "to-do" notes & etc. The dozen or so old ladies working there seemed surprised to have actual visitors, and shepherded us from room to room.  

Tuesday, June 23, 1998   Note to Betsy  

Trying to swing a visa for Tanya my next trip -- lots of fun at the US embassy today. I stood in line with Tanya for two hours so I could get a taste of the emigrant experience. So many hopeful faces. Wouldn't it be nice if we could see America with their wonder? Nicer still if America were as wonderful as they hope.  

Wednesday, June 24, 1998   Note to Betsy  

<< What kind of a visa? When? Lots of luck!!! >>  

Thanks for the luck wish. It worked. Out of the hundred or so that applied in our line yesterday, they issued a handful of visas today. Tanya's was one. Maybe they were touched by the honesty: a simple note saying I'm heading home for two weeks, and I'd like to take Tanya there and back (as compared to some of the elaborate ploys people use to get visas).  

Since the LAX Delta flight arrives at 2:00 a.m. with no SB flight till morning, I'm thinking of entering the US in Las Vegas (must be easier customs & immigration), spending a nite or two, and flying direct to SB from there. Tanya loves bright lights (compared to dim Kiev). She's like a child at Christmas today ... only more so. Nice to see, warm to bask.

Monday, August 24, 1998    Note to Home    

Sorry so long so quiet, but we've been so preoccupied. I'm now using "we" because "we" (Tanya and I) got married about a month ago. (After 40 years of using "I" it's a bit of an adjustment getting used to the "we" pronoun.)  

Tanya was one of the fortunate few Ukrainians able to get a tourist visa to the United States (hundreds apply -- and pay the $45 application fee -- only a handful get one). We had a layover in Las Vegas, found out how easy it was to get married there (only a 20 minute wait for a license), and so did at our hotel chapel in the Excalibur. It's an idea we'd been kicking around, somewhat put off by the weeks/months of hassle in Ukraine to weave through the bureaucracy. Vegas was a breeze. I've attached a wedding picture, if you're configured to read such things.  

It was Tanya's first trip to the US, and the first-stop bright lights of Vegas dazzled her, understandably. Nothing like that in all of the former Soviet states, for sure. She quickly figured out all the glitz was just a great seduction to the omnipresent casinos parting the people from their money. She loved more the drive to Red Rock in the nearby Nevada desert. And when we were the only two passengers on the early morning shuttle flight from LAX to Santa Barbara (with our own private attendant), giving Tanya the impression that all American’s travel in such accommodating style.

It was a quick trip home in and out, with long overdue visits with my family (my sister and niece joining us in Las Vegas from Arizona for the wedding, and a drive up to Oregon to introduce my mother). Sorry I wasn't able to contact you and many other overlooked loved ones during our stay, but we were just so rushed, no more than a day stay in most stops. Next time in will be more leisurely.  

Some of our itinerary (to give Tanya a first impression of the Land-of-Oz America):  

Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, Madonna Inn, Pismo Beach/Morro Bay, Highway 1 up the California Coast, Big Sur, Carmel, San Francisco, the Redwood Forest, Oregon, Disneyland, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive ... and lots of shops, restaurants and motels along the way. What fun to see home through a foreigner's eyes. We are such a golden society, too often taken for granted.  

As hard as it is for me sometimes to get back on the plane "home" to Kiev, it was so much sadder this time to bring Tanya back. She'd only begun to taste the American buffet. We've started the immigration process (a pile of paperwork ... the US has really drawn in the "welcome" mat). Maybe we'll have her immigration visa in time for a Christmas trip home. Even though I plan to be working in Ukraine for another year, spouses are unable to travel on a tourism visa. She can only travel on an immigration visa, whether we plan to migrate now or not.  

My current USAID work contract expires on September 20, and five or so companies have applied to carry on with a new 1-to-3 year contract. Of the five (including my present employer), three have asked if I'd stay on if they won the bid. If it works out, I'll stay an extra year and finish up what I've begun, obtain Tanya's visa, and try to position myself for some kind of related work back in the US.  

In the meantime, I'm polishing my Russian and Ukrainian skills, helping Tanya master English (American movies are a great teaching tool), and doing whatever I can to make any kind of contribution to the overwhelming reconstruction of Ukraine. Our radio and television programs are doing great, reaching larger audiences than ever (around 10-million Ukrainians each week on National Television and National Radio). This country has all the brains and resources it needs, now it just needs the mindset that good things can happen here, too. That, I'm afraid, is the toughest obstacle of all.  

Today is Independence Day in Ukraine (celebrated much like our Fourth of July, with more of a military flair). We're off to see the sights.  

Lots of love,  
Steve & Tanya  

Tuesday, September 8, 1998   Note Home  

For those watching the currency crisis in Russia (the ruble-to-dollar exchange rate today is more than 20-1, compared to 6-1 one month ago), here's the hryvna-to-dollar rate today in Kiev: 2.6 to 1, compared to about 2.25-1 a month ago. The Ukrainian currency is holding its own, though the rate is pegged to rise as high as 3.5-to-1 (under a newly expanded "currency corridor"). This economic "stability" has been fortified by a IMF credit to Ukraine of $2.2 billion last Saturday.  

That's the good news.  

The bad news is 25.9-million Ukrainians (51.4 percent of the population) are earning less than the minimum welfare level of Hr73.7 per month (about $28.34), according to the State Statistics Committee figures for the second quarter of 1998. Only 3.5 percent of the population earns Hr200-300 per month, and only 1.3 percent earns more than Hr300. The balance of Ukrainians (69.3 percent) earns more than Hr73.7 and less than Hr200 per month. The average monthly income per Ukrainian is Hr101.89 in urban areas (about $40), and Hr51.1 (about $20) for rural residents.  

Of course these official figures don't account for all the bartering and undisclosed income, like pensioners selling farm eggs and milk on street corners.  

A modest lunch for two at McDonalds runs about Hr18 (around $7), featuring cheeseburgers, fries, juice and fruit pies (deep-fried & tasty like they used to do in the US).  

Thursday, September 10, 1998  

Two interesting news items today from Eastern Europe:  

A Russian architect remarks on the ruble crisis: "You call this a crisis?  When it's 40-degrees below zero, and the heat is off, and you have to saw a hole in the Moscow River to get water, and the enemy is just 5 kilometers outside the city, you can call THAT a crisis!"  

And (is this a hint?) in a district not far from Kyiv, the government has been unable to pay pensioners their due, so offered instead coffins and headstones from a local plant that bartered the items for its back taxes.  

Saturday, September 19, 1998  

Since we're now paying our Ukrainian staff in dollars, it's interesting how some of them sit hungry at lunchtime with hundreds of dollars in their wallets, because they're afraid to exchange their hard currency for grivnas, since one day's change in the unpredictable exchange rate could cost them 20 or more grivna. Hundred dollar bills are common enough, but it's hard to get 20s and smaller denominations. So the choice is exchange the full 100 dollar bill, or sit on it, without enough grivnas in their pockets to even buy a 3-grivna lunch.  

September 29, 1998  Note to Betsy  

My big news: they've now made me director for the entire project (beyond and still including my directorship of the media programs). The downside is I'm now the only American on staff doing all the managerial chores that had earlier been divided between seven ex-pats, and yet three other Russian managers (also now gone). I don't know if it's a vote of confidence, or a sucker's assignment, but I'm plugging away at it.  

October 5, 1998  Note to Betsy  

<< What's up with you, out of town?  
b >>  

Nah, just buried.  

Besides the sole managerial responsibility for a 40-Ukrainian staff, a pile of petty messes to clean up from my predecessors, extension budget allotments to calculate, a September report and October-November plans due to USAID tomorrow (a weekend full of work), a mandatory full-day USAID retreat chewing up my Friday (surprisingly interesting and productive), a meeting with USAID sector managers on Thursday (somewhat akin to an inquisition), and the daily chores of getting our programs on the air and in print -- I've got a 7-day cold that just won't let go. Not that I'm whining (I really loathe whining -- so much wasted energy that should be spent fixing problems). But thanks for letting me vent. That's what you get for asking. I would really feel silly complaining to the Ukrainians about how hard *my* life is.  

I/we should get a trip out of here by December (once I add up my tax exempt days -- no more than 36 in the US in a given tax year). We may have to settle for Spain.  :o>  

Finally got a complete package of materials together (after a couple of Fed-Ex packages from the states) for Tanya's immigration visa. They sure make you work for it. Everything's done now except for an interview in Warsaw sometime in the next month or so, just a routine motion, they say.  

October 16, 1998  Note to Betsy  

<<What is homesickness like for you? What do you miss? What aches in its absence?>>  

This is a surprisingly hard question to answer. Easy to throw off superficials like refried beans, clean water, English bookstores, good movies. But that can't be it -- I vacillate too much between missing everything and missing nothing. My first thought is I ache from the absence of absence, those days at a time when I did not have to do anything, think about anything, feel driven to be doing something (in the face of so much to be done). This is not such a matter of place, as it is of position. What I really need is a month vacation of doing nothing. That could well be coming up soon, as our contract wraps November 30. Still no word from USAID on what's beyond that.  

October 25, 1998  Note to Dick  

Our contract may yet be renewed by USAID, but I'm not so sure they will stick with us, or if I would want to stay under the new conditions: lower operating budget, greater political agendas, a new emphasis on Ukrainian-American management (however PC that might be, the people most critical of selecting management based on Ukrainian heritage are the Ukrainians themselves: they resent the fact that American managers would be selected based on their Ukrainian ancestry, rather than their best ability to contribute; plus there is some undercurrent of resentment -- perhaps that Slavic jealousy thing, or a mistrust of Ukrainians returning home as saviors who first bailed out when things got tough).  

My goal? Extended periods of peace and reflection, with sporadic moments of productive activity. I enjoy public affairs/educational programming. There are opportunities for various such USAID projects (more and more involving public education components); short-term contracts designing media programs (program format, broadcast agreements, selecting local staff/journalists). Not exactly pure journalism (if such a thing exists), but interesting and fairly well-paid. Plus all-expense travel. Not so different from what we all want, I suppose: a comfortable life with a sense of purpose. You see anything suitable in that area, please do let me know (if you don't snag it first, of course).  

October 25, 1998  

You have not really experienced Gershwin until you've seen Porgy & Bess performed by the actors of the Kiev State Opera Theater in black-face and afro wigs, singing in Ukrainian such show stoppers as Summertime, and Porgy I'se Your Woman Now.  

That was our treat last night at the neighborhood opera house. Such wonders only a three-minute walk from our door, at only 5 grivna a ticket (about $1.25). What have I got to complain about?  

November 12, 1998  Note to Betsy  

Latest on the visa front: seems our application got lost somewhere in the State Department diplomatic pouch shuffle from Kiev-to-DC-to-Warsaw -- and, if it doesn't turn up soon (it's already been six weeks for a delivery that normally takes two), they say we'll have to reapply all over again!!  At some point, I may try to involve a congresswoman or Senator (all my national reps are women!)  

About two feet of snow yesterday in Kiev. And the temps today are predicted to start dropping to around 15-minus (Celsius).  

Not smiling,  

November 25, 1998   

What surprises me is not that we see so much corruption here given the stained history of this strange land, but that there are so many sparks of decency and honesty.  

For example, I gave a hefty tip to a sandwich delivery boy who made his way to our door on snowbound streets (about ten grivna on a 20 grivna sub -- or a $3 tip), who counted the funds halfway down the stairs and came back to see if I'd made a mistake.  

Or the hairstylist that refused a tip, saying the best bonus for her would be if we came back again. That may not sound so unusual to we Westerners used to a service-oriented economy, but in Ukraine this rare attitude really shines.  

Or the book I loaned to my secretary on alternative health tips (the only affordable health care here is self-help) -- she constructed her own little book cover to keep the book in pristine condition, and returned it looking unread. (I then gave it back to her as a gift.)  

Or the taxi driver, low-paid and lowly, who declines to shaft me with the typical hiked rate for an obvious American (usually double the going fare), and drives me across town (and Kiev is a big city) for about a buck.  

Or the pensioner living on $15 a month who still stops to buy a sausage for a starving street dog (thousands roam the city -- some "entrepreneurs" round them up to make cheap leather goods -- dogs, that is, not pensioners).  

December 5, 1998  

What makes me feel the best about my work, and increases my efficacy and palatability with the Ukrainians, is when I see myself not as an omniscient source of hegemonic know-how, but rather as a conduit for the flowing goodwill and generosity of (some of) the American people. We are, I believe for the most part, a decent nation. I know I'm slipping from that when my successes dwindle and Ukrainians rankle.  

December 20, 1998  Note to Sister Sue  

Still here in Kiev -- our contract was extended another year with an option for two more. I've been managing the program all by myself since September (our Texan ex-CFO used to say managing our staff of 40 Ukrainians is like herding cats -- only less controllable). I've semi-promised to stick it out another six months, while we're waiting for Tanya's visa to be processed in Warsaw. Things are moving along with that.

Friday, December 25, 1998   Note to Home  

My dear Ukrainian staff welcomed me this morning with music on tape of American Christmas songs (I'm not sure how they found it ... Christmas was only rehabilitated here in 1990 and they haven't quite figured out yet just how to celebrate it let alone our own icons of Rudolph, Frosty and babes-in-a-manger. They put their gifts under the "yolka" tree for New Years, with a December 31 visit by "Ded Moroz" -- the Slavic Santa Clause. Their own Christmas falls on the Orthodox January 7, marked primarily with a visit to church and a day off from work). Then they all huddled around and presented me with good wishes, a lovely Christmas candle-basket, and a special mug of coffee on a poinsettia-red doily. They are so sweet, so concerned how unhappy I must be as the only-remaining-American in Kiev for the holiday. I hope they saw in spite of my failing words how much they mean to me.  

Tanya, my lovely wife, also served me up a special Christmas Eve treat of Ukrainian tort and a gift we placed under our own yolka to open on New Year's. Everything she knows about American-style Christmas she's learned from watching movies. Maybe next year she can see it for herself. Oy. The Ukrainians -- in their poverty spared the consumer-excesses of the American holiday orgy -- settle instead for simple expressions of kindness and good spirit. And they're the richer for it.  

January 29, 1999    

Just back from Warsaw (think of an upscale Kiev: obviously shell-shocked but on a definite upturn. More on that later). Good news is Tanya got her immigration/permanent resident/green card papers. Once we make it through INS review at LAX she's home (so to speak) free.  

We got grounded in Warsaw for an extra day due to bad weather in Kiev, so we took in more of the sights. Though the people seem lighter, the neons are brighter, and the reforms are tighter, it still takes no guess to figure you are very much in Eastern Europe. The extremes of new Poles versus forgotten Poles are as pronounced as in Ukraine, though the percentage of the former is a much higher number. There were some police-suppressed farmer protests during our stay reported on CNN. No blood that I could see. Plenty of Western investment evident – a good sign. I liked the Old City section, even if it is a Disneyish reconstruction of the war-ravaged past. (That's what I love so much about Prague –  the wars pretty much passed them by and left the old city virtually intact.)  

February 28, 1999  

We just got back from two weeks in the US –  highlights: Magic Mountain, Universal Studios with a spectacular nighttime view from the nearby Hilton, Hollywood Blvd, taping of the Tonight Show, Santa Barbara beach walks, and a permanent resident visa/green card for Tanya. As crazy as things are here, it's all mitigated knowing at any second we can *both* get on a plane out (weather, tickets and customs control permitting).  

March 1, 1999   Note to Sue  

We're still wintering away in Kiev -- hasn't been too bad this year. Some snow, some ice, some dark freezing nights, some power & water outages, some stumbles on the slippery sidewalks, but nothing life-threatening. Yet. It should be over by May.  

Thanks for all the news on work & studies & concerts & birthdays & graduations. Great to hear about normal lives full of all the above. I know it's hard to balance work & school, and hearing about places where life is harder still doesn't mitigate it. But I'm sure you'll make it through with all the good humor & success you always seem to muster.  

Tanya keeps developing her expertise in web site development and English (her newest creation is at She'll probably be more employable than I will. She can work while I kayak & write poetry, I tell her. She thinks I'm joking. But she says she agrees, as long as I keep cooking her favorite foods (French toast, pancakes & peanut-butter sandwiches).  

I could tell you more about work & life in Ukraine, but I can't think of much cheery to say. So I'll spare you that, beyond things are not getting much better here. But you can see that in the newspapers there, I'm sure.  

That's probably one reason my updates have dwindled: if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all (wise words from Thumper the skunk).  

But now it's time to run home (across the street), eat some chicken & beans, and watch a little of Alien (found it yesterday in a kiosk -- Tanya hates that her new visa refers to her as a "resident alien").  

March 2, 1999  

Tanya came home shaking last night after visiting her mother. Their 60-year old neighbor in the relatively-rich Podol district just got an immigration visa to Germany to live with her son, and began selling off her possessions for some exit cash (you can take up to $1,000 out of the country). Seems a thief found out she had some dough, broke in and pummeled her to death, and even bashed the teeth out of her mouth for the gold. Tanya talked with the police evidently not too concerned with solving the murder of an emigrant. Tanya worries for her mother, our own safety, her country. What can I say to that? It happens everywhere? Be glad it didn't happen to us? Don't think about it? We cuddled and watched another escapist movie.  

March 4, 1999   E-Mail with Betsy  

In a message dated 3/2/99 7:24:36 AM Pacific Standard Time, Ejrc writes:  

<<I also think of our conversation when you were expressing doubts about bringing a then-unnamed Ukrainian here, the disruption problems for her that would cause. Would she be able (psychologically) to leave her family behind and not suffer all sorts of disabling guilt?>>  

This is something I/we thought and continue to think a lot about. One significant impact on my thoughts was a good friend's scolding, when she said: "Don't be a boob, Steve. What is America if not a country peopled by those who (natives and slave trade aside) left behind their families and cultures and everything else dear but a carry-on bag to brave out a new way of life?" Or something to that effect. Familial guilt & such is something that all relationships have to resolve &/or endure, in my experience. This one may be more of a challenge ...  

Monday, March 8, 1999  

I've noticed four tiers in the credibility hierarchy of advisors and trainers to a Ukrainian audience:

4) Ukrainians who don't know what they're talking about;  
3) Americans who don't know what they're talking about;  
2) Americans who do know what they're talking about;  
1) Ukrainians who do know what they're talking about: the issues, the steps to success, and the context.

Wednesday, March 10, 1999  

A contrast of the individual American psychology to the collective Ukrainian:  

The Ukrainian wants the living standards of the West, without having to exercise the initiative and discipline to get there. The Ukrainian is happy to accept Western charity with token lip service and perfunctory pseudo-performance toward Western expectations. Ukrainians want to be treated as a Western partner, without behaving to Western standards. Ukrainians want to weasel their way into the West, instead of earning their place.  

The American wants to fuck the beautiful, eager and willing Ukrainian – a subservient, docile vassal. The American says: Ukrainian, suck my dick!  

Thursday, March 11, 1999  

I'm sitting here pondering this thought: what is the semantic difference between a “rescuer” (negative connotation) and a “healer” (positive connotation)?  

Rescuers go about trying to “save” people, healers go about helping to “heal” people. Is it the motivation? The end result? Rescuers coming from a more egocentric place; healers tapping more into external forces (e.g., medicine and therapy)? Or what?  

I wonder what I am doing here: is it trying to rescue or help heal a sick nation? I prefer to think the latter.  

Wednesday, March 17, 1999  Note to Betsy  

Guess who I got to meet today? P.J. O'Rourke. He was in town to participate on a Freedom House / World Bank roundtable discussion on fighting Ukrainian corruption (I was also a panelist). We had some interesting side conversations about the government’s (ours and theirs) effectiveness/ineffectiveness in dealing with corruption, the role and rue of media, and off-the-wall innovative strategies. He actually took notes on some of my thoughts, which may find a way into a report he’s writing for Congress (he’s on the board of Freedom House). He seemed a tad bored with the body of the panel (mostly bureaucrats saying the way to fight corruption is with more grants to their respective programs), but a few of the braver souls actually spoke some truth (e.g., “the more we spend, the worse it gets”).  

Fortunately I had brought his book (Eat the Rich) back with me from Santa Barbara, so I had him autograph it. (“To Steve, who knows the Russia turf in here all too well”)  

He's a smart, if somewhat cynical and caustic, guy (looking a little jetlagged and hung-over).  

Only in an outpost like Ukraine does a lowly functionary like me get to hobnob in these circles. One of the fringe benefits.  

Thursday, March 18, 1999  

It's not *who* you know, or *what* you know that ultimately determines success, but what you *are*. Hitler and Stalin knew plenty, and the right people, but it was what they *were* that led to their inevitable failures.  

July 4, 2000

O Ukraine

Gentle land of stillbirth
Small stunted lamb
Denied a baby's breath.

Infant eyes bright with visions
Swallowed by the shadows.
How I would hold you to my heart
Sate your consuming hunger
Respire your spirit
If I only had the cure.

Breathe freedom
Breathe virtue
Breathe love

Or not.
But breathe
O Ukraine.

 July 24, 2000  

Sergei S. is a perfect metaphor for Ukraine: not especially bright, goodhearted, naively corrupted, spends every day cleverly finding ways to avoid work and most every night drinking while his family responsibilities go neglected. Yet he has learned a valuable lesson. Sergei took a 10-day Microsoft certification course (Administering Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, and Support of Microsoft Windows NT 4.0). For 10 days he did nothing but attend grueling courses, and each evening digested the day's lessons. For two weeks he drank not a drop. At the end of the program he passed the certificate exam, much to all our pleasant surprise. With this certificate, his work prospects are profoundly enhanced.

There are several lessons here:

1) It doesn't take a lot of brains to be successful, just a lot of hard work.
2) Ukraine can find its way with some directed motivation.
3) Even Sergei S. can do it.  

Sunday, September 3, 2000  Note to Betsy  

Just back from Amsterdam, probably the most charming city we've visited and certainly the naughtiest. Naughty, but not nasty ("nasty" being along the lines of Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard). Amsterdam's sex and drug bazaar seems more playful than prurient. Tanya, for some reason, got a special kick out of walking up and down the "red light" alleys where women in windows tempt the tourists. Likely -- as she was so amazed by the UCSB students rowdily debating and insulting the provocative elderly evangelists in the quad -- it represented such unrestrained freedom.  

We saw "XXX" inscribed everywhere -- on flags, T-shirts, church towers, the remarkably phallic parking posts. We learned that it's not the city's pornographic rating, but derives from the Amsterdam coat of arms, representing the three dangers to protect themselves against: fire, flood and the plague. The plague seems to be under control, perhaps tourism should replace that X as the modern danger.  

Tourists -- much like Santa Barbara -- claim the central streets. There was a football (soccer) game yesterday between the Netherlands and Ireland. Ireland won, and hundreds of drunken stoned Irish, loudly banging Celtic drums, took to the streets and to the window women. What a zoo. But the locals seem to take us transients with perspective, knowing we'll drop our disposable incomes and soon go home till the next weekend batch comes in. (The average tourist stay is only two days, says our guide book.)  

It was great to see so many Dutch faces like mine, hair color like mine, people who look like my father and grandparents did. I felt a bit like Kunta Kinte. I can think of worse soil for my roots. (My pre-Ellis Island name was "Van Hoek" -- we ate breakfast at the neighboring De Hoek Cafe -- "Hoek" means corner.)  

Most Dutch we saw appeared possessed by a profound sense of belonging and self-worth. What an egalitarian community. Pay grades much more in line with one another, not the vast income schisms of the US (or Kiev, for that matter). Shopkeepers and hotel maids and maintenance workers with heads erect and eye-contacting confidence. Businessmen in suits bicycling and sharing right of way with the "common folks" -- no evidence of class resentment we could see. Tanya says they achieved the true communist goal she was indoctrinated in.  

The only sense of class distinction we saw was the clutch of Ukrainians huddled about their tour guide, timidity on their faces, bewildered by the boisterous and free bustle about them, as if someone was going to arrest them for being low-class Ukrainians misplaced in a country where they didn't belong.  

One of the best assessments of the state (as we always get where ever we go from the most astute social observers) was courtesy of our taxi driver. Yes, all the foreigner tourists and businesses have driven up prices -- especially housing -- to the point where most Dutch working people can't afford to live in the city center. Yes, taxes are high. But the Dutch seem to take it in good-natured stride as the price they pay for the fine life they live.  

I loved the canals and could imagine spending entire weekends kayaking the waterway mazes.  

I now seriously begin preparing for my final exit at the end of September. I've got several freelance prospects, enough to live on depending on our overhead. Maybe we'll give Santa Barbara a try, if I can find a reasonable place preferably somewhere on the Mesa (that's where my mailbox is, and I like the relative sense of isolation up there -- fewer tourists make the trip up the hill). I've got enough socked away I can mull it all over for a few months, or longer if necessary.  

Thursday, September 28, 2000

Farewell speech at staff picnic:

It occurred to me while I was taking a shower this morning that when Tanya and I fly home this Saturday, I will have worked in Ukraine with you good people for exactly 42 months. By coincidence, I am also 42 years old. 

Let me share with you what I’ve learned over the last 42 months: You Ukrainians are remarkably strong survivors. When I think about all you’ve overcome in your history, I have no doubt that you will survive us Americans passing through. We are just a minor plague.

And let me share with you something I’ve learned over my 42 years: good things happen when you expect good things to happen. If I could ask you for a parting gift, it would be that every once in awhile, you pause for a moment, and expect good things to happen.

One gift I am taking from you is my lovely wife Tanya. I ask to you accept our marriage as proof of my ever enduring love for the people of Ukraine. Do svidaniya, i vsego khoroshego.