stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
Never underestimate the power of language.  Right now people in Kyiv are rioting over a piece of legislation that was railroaded through the Ukrainian Parliament.  The legislation would make Russian an official language.  (The official language in Ukraine is currently only Ukrainian.)  The chairman of the Parliament actually resigned to prevent the legislation from reaching the Prime Minister:

The article states that people are upset because this move violates the Constitution and, by strengthening ties with Russia, it endangers Ukraine's chances of joining the European Union.

This isn't quite true.

See, Ukrainian and Russian are essentially the same language.  The two are mutually intelligible, in fact.  They're rather like American and Australian English--some words and pronunciations are different or strange, but two people who speak the languages can communicate perfectly well.

Ukrainians, however, DO NOT LIKE RUSSIA.  Oh, the Ukrainians in the eastern part (who share a border with the old Soviet Union) may be willing to show some friendliness to Moscow, but if you ask Ukrainians on the street if they'd like to be part of the old USSR again, 99 out of 100 give a firm, "Ni!"  After all, who enjoys being occupied?

As a result of the occupation, Ukrainians don't much like to admit commonalities with Russia, even though the commonalities go back well before World War II.  The language similarity is a huge sticking point.  The first time I visited Ukraine, I noted the similarity between Ukrainian and Russian, and the Ukrainians sharing the conversation became so enormously offended, only my status as an ignorant American saved me from instant pariah status.  Curious, I brought it up again (rather more delicately) with someone else, and received much the same response.  The associations with Russia are so strong that Ukrainians disavow having the same language.  Do not ever confuse Ukrainian and Russian in Ukraine!

You'll start a riot.

Mack Snack

Aug. 31st, 2011 09:47 pm
stevenpiziks: (Om Nom Nom)
Mackie is well aware of his Ukrainian heritage and wanted a Ukrainian snack: raw garlic and salt.

"Are you sure?" I asked.


I crushed two cloves of garlic and peeled them, then poured out a small dish of salt.  I also buttered some home-made bread while Maksim poured himself a big glass of lemonade.  (The traditional accompaniment is brown bread, fresh-on-skin pig fat, and vodka, but one makes do with what one has.)

Mackie dipped a clove of garlic in the salt, paused for effect, and bit into it.

And liked it.  He alternated bites with long drinks of lemonade, but he ate it all.  Then he dove into the bread.

Vampires won't touch him tonight.
stevenpiziks: (Default)
Sasha has been saying he wants to go to church.  I had no idea what demonition he'd really be interested in, but knew he'd be most familiar with Eastern Orthodox.  A little searching turned up a Ukrainian cathedral in Southfield, which is about half an hour away.

I called them and, after a bit of phone tag, got hold of the priest.  He spoke in heavily-accented English.  I told him about Sasha's situation and said he was looking for a church.  The priest told me that the parish consisted of Ukrainians who were looking to hold onto a Ukrainian community, and that the services were mostly in Ukrainian.  This, I replied, sounded ideal for Sasha.

This Sunday it was time to attend services.

Okay, wee pause here.  I am not a practicing Christian of any stripe.  I have an extensive knowledge of the bible and of Christian ritual and beliefs from a number of sects, but I don't practice.  Monotheists, in my view, have a lot to answer for.  I've been a practicing Wiccan for decades now, and that's not going to change.

Yet here I was, not only arranging for my oldest son to attend Christian services, but going with him.

On Sunday morning, Sasha pulled on an old t-shirt and a pair of ratty slacks.  I made him put on an ironed shirt with a collar and nicer slacks. I also made him tuck his shirt in and put on a belt.  "I look like a nerd," he complained.

"You aren't slouching through the hall at school," I said.  "You're going to church."

We drove across town to the cathedral and arrived about ten minutes before the formal service.  A cathedral, you have to understand, gets its name from its function, not its size, and this one was about the size of a medium church.  The inside was very similar to other Orthodox churches I'd seen in Ukraine--pews, an elaborately carved wooden altar with a book and an icon of Jesus on it near the front, transepts where you could light candles for prayers.  (In the entry foyer, a man was selling beeswax candles and votives to light, but Sasha didn't want any, so skipped that part.)  Up front was a huge, floor-to-ceiling partition painted with golden-haloed icons of saints, angels, and scenes from the life of Jesus, all done in the tall, spindly Orthodox style.  A big central iron gate occupied the center with a curtain drawn across the inside.  Two of the icons, one left and one right, were actually rounded doors that the priest and altar boys would later use to enter and exit through.

In the choir loft up and behind the pews, the choir master was chanting prayers in Ukrainian.  A small group of people occupied the pews.  Most went up to the altar, crossed themselves, and knelt to kiss the icon.  When Sasha saw how everyone was dressed, I think he was glad I made him put on nicer clothes.

At the stroke of 10:00, another voice floated out from behind the partition and did a back-and-forth chanting with the choir master.  After a moment, the curtain drew aside, the gate opened, and priest emerged in embroidered blue vestements.  He swung a censer all around the altar area while the choir joined in the chanting in a tight harmony.

The priest moved over to one of the transepts, where a lecturn held an elaborately-decorated book.  This was apparently a signal for people who wanted a special kind of blessing--two people approached and bowed over the book while the priest threw part of his vestments over the person's head and whispered in their ear for a moment.  The choir continued to chant.  Once each person was blessed, the service began.

It was very similar to a Catholic service.  There was a lot of standing up, sitting down, and kneeling.  Sasha did all three.  I stood or sat--as a non-practitioner, I didn't kneel.  The priest sang and chanted the entire ceremony, which surprised me a little.  It went on for an hour and a half.

Several times during the service, the parishoners crossed themselves.  Sasha tried crossing himself but couldn't remember how to do it, so I taught him how (and all the while I was finding it beyond mere irony).  Orthodox Christians cross from right to left, and the bottom of the cross is the navel, not the sternum, and Sasha had it backwards at first.

Sasha didn't take communion--he couldn't remember if he'd been confirmed or not, so we decided he shouldn't.

A chunk of the service happened out of sight, behind the partition.  There was a second altar back there, and the priest was doing something near it, but since I couldn't see him or understand what he was saying, the meaning was lost on me.  There was much parading of holy objects--a book, the grail, the cross (not a crucifix).  Several people were given host  (bread, not wafers) in little baggies to take home, I'm assuming for people who couldn't come.

Sasha asked to leave partway through, but I told him we needed to stay for the whole thing.

I have to admit to a certain amount of boredom.  My only stake in this was Sasha's, and while I was willing to be there to help him, it didn't make the event itself any more interesting once I had seen everything there was to see.

When the ritual part of the service ended, the priest spoke for about ten minutes.  I think he was making announcements, but I'm not sure.

He finished and everyone rose.  We were sitting at the back, and Sasha wanted to leave.  I said we should go and talk to the priest for a moment and hang about to meet people, but he wanted to leave.  So we left.  (Sasha doesn't often plunge into new situations and grab them quickly; he needs to circle them for a while first.)

In the car on the way home, he said he understood only a little of the service, and added, "It made me feel weird."

"Weird good or weird bad or just weird?" I said.

"Just weird."

"It's probably poking at old memories from when you were very little," I said.

"I did like it," he said.  "I want to go back."

So we'll see what happens.
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
We celebrated Maksim's half birthday over the weekend.  Since his real birthday is so close to Christmas, we do a celebration for him in June; otherwise it gets lost in the holiday explosion.

When I asked Maksim what kind of cake he wanted, he said, "One with green frosting."   Okay.  I made a carrot cake and colored the frosting green.  It looked strange, but Mackie liked it.

My mother and brother came by, as did my in-laws, so we had quite the little gathering.  The weather had finally cleared up after several days of clouds and rain, so we barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs.  For presents, Mackie got some powerful water pistols, more bakugan toys, Nerf gun refills, and a set of toy handcuffs (because he wants to be a policeman when he grows up).  He also got two expansion packs to City of Heroes, his favorite on-line game.

While I was installing the add-ons to his game, a piece of email arrived from our translator friend Gene in Ukraine.  He had a letter from Sasha and Maksim's sister Larissa, which he had translated and attached.  I printed it out and gave it to Maksim to read.  He wanted to sit down right away to write back.  Sasha got the letter next.  He was reluctant to write back at first, but Maksim insisted, so he did.  I wrote a letter of my own--the boys tend to be short to the point of curt--to fill in more details.  Later, I typed up the boys' letters, sent Gene a translator's fee via Western Union, and emailed everything to him so he can translate and send to Larissa.

I think Sasha's family and the boys believe Gene is doing this to be nice.  They don't know I'm paying both ends for translation.  Heh.  But they don't need to know, and Gene's fees are reasonable.  Really, he should expand into that as part of his business.

And now Maksim is nine and a half!  Can you believe it?
stevenpiziks: (Default)
This photo was given to me in Ostapy by a man who lived there.  Can you see Sasha?

This photo was taken when we visited Ostapy last week:

stevenpiziks: (Default)
I've posted more photos of Sasha's visit to Ostapy. I think they're visible even to non-Facebook people:
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
Packed up everything in the morning.  This took some doing.  Sasha’s family loaded us down with several presents, including many jars of fruit preserves.  Most were jams, but a few were syrups or fruit preserved in liquid.  Those we unfortunately had to throw away.  Jams we can put into plastic shopping bags and wrap in dirty laundry.  If such a jam jar pops open or breaks, it’ll only wreck one item of clothing.  If a syrup jar is involved, it’ll ruin the whole suitcase.

Packing the other things so they wouldn’t break was also a challenge, but we managed it and we got everything together just as our transportation arrived.  It was the same mini-van driver we had to and from Korosten.  His driving technique to the airport hadn’t improved any, and he nearly hit a little car while passing it.  I almost told Gene to add that if he had another close shave, I would knock 50 grivna off his fee, but I didn’t, and he had no more close shaves anyway.  I mysteriously failed to tip him, though.

Inside the airport, we bid Gene good-bye.  I did add a 400 grivna tip to Gene’s fee, which he liked very much.  And then we were on our own.

It’s not much fun to negotiate an airport in which you don’t understand the dominant language, but we managed it.  Got our boarding passes, checked our luggage, negotiated passport control, and then waited for boarding to begin.

So now we’re on our way back.  It’s the usual tediousness of air travel.  We had some drama because the flight out of Kyiv was inexplicably delayed (we all sat on a shuttle bus on the tarmac for over twenty minutes, after which it looked like Lufthansa and United Air would have to reroute and/or find hotel accommodations for a couple hundred passengers who would miss connections, so they quickly decided to hold the connecting flights for us).  It’s weird to be looking out the window at an afternoon sky when my watch and my body say it’s nearly midnight.  I’m doing some writing, the first time in over a week.

Almost home!
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
JULY 5, 2010

Today started out ordinary.  We got up, showered, packed, ate breakfast.  Sasha was grouchy again, partly because he isn’t a morning person and partly because he’s leaving his Ukrainian family behind for an unknown length of time.  Yesterday at one point during the drive through his home village, he said he blamed me for this.  If I hadn’t “taken him away from Ostapy,” he’d still be here.

“I would have lived at the Internat until I was sixteen, then come back,” he said.

“And Maksim?” I said quietly.

Read more... )

All of us were extremely tired after all the uphill walking, so we elected just to head back to the flat for the evening.  We might try for the monastery or one of the war memorials tomorrow morning, but I have my doubts.

I’m ready to go home, myself.

stevenpiziks: (Fountain)

It’s the Fourth of July, and here I am in Ukraine.  Weird.

Mom is feeling fine today, if a little shaky, and she ate breakfast in the restaurant.  She wasn’t up to going to Ostapy, though, so she stayed behind.

The morning was actually free time, since we weren’t planning to go until afternoon.  I set out to explore a bit more of Korosten.  There =had= to be more of it than the bit I was seeing.  Mostly, there had to be more shopping.  The tiny little stores I had seen simply wouldn’t support the population.

I went down a large side street and followed a stream of people.  I passed a bunch of Soviet era concrete bunkers, a wreck of an apartment building that had apparently been “under construction” for several years and would be for years to come, and then came on a bunch more little stores.  Ah ha!  And then I found an alley with a door at the mouth of it.  A woman was selling bras and other ladies’ underthings nearby, and people were going in and out of the door.  I suppressed a small triumphant whoop.  I’d found it!

Read more... )

Tomorrow we return to Kyiv.
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
Sasha got his wish, but in a weird way.  Mom got sick.

When I went to her room this morning to see about breakfast, she answered the door in her nightgown and said she was ill.  Her stomach hurt quite a lot, had been all night long.  At least she didn’t have a fever.  She definitely didn’t want to go to Ostapy today.

I made her comfortable as best I could--hotel rooms aren’t conducive to that, unfortunately--and Gene and I went down to breakfast.  Gene said he’d had some problems yesterday evening, too.  Ah ha!  I think it was the pizza.  Mom and I ordered one kind, Gene another, but Gene and I traded slices of ours, so we all three ate from the same kind.  It wouldn’t be unheard of for one person to miss the contamination while the other two caught it.

Ironic, yeah?  We worry about contaminated food and water in Ostapy and come across it in the city.

Read more... )
Then it was time for bed.
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
(Oops. I posted some of the days out of order.  They're properly ordered now.)

I’m back at the hotel for the evening.  Sasha is in Ostapy.

Slept like the dead last night and woke up only because my alarm went off.  I elected not to shower, since I’d done so the previous evening, but Sasha hadn’t washed yesterday, so I made him get into the shower.  He was grouchy and uncooperative, but I persisted.  When he got out and was dressing, he reached for the same red t-shirt he’d worn yesterday.  I told him to put on a nicer one, since he was going to his mother’s house for the first time in six years.  He refused, and we argued.  Eventually he submitted to the nicer shirt, but with bad grace.

In other words, Sasha was frightened and upset.  He always snarls and snaps and pushes back when he’s upset.  Even from the first day we adopted him, he pushed boundaries, testing Kala and me to see if we would set parameters.  And he partly wants to know that I’ll set some boundaries, even as he fights to break them.  So I made him change.

After breakfast, we bought some things for lunch--bread, sausages, peaches, cookies, juice.  Sasha’s family doesn’t have much, and we didn’t want to eat them out of house and home.  Gene had hired a cab--a different one, this time, a Fiat with GPS and AC--and off we went.

The drive was the same as yesterday--roads started off fine, then got progressively worse and worse as we passed farms and farmhouses.  We didn’t speak that much.  I was trying not to think, really.  Yesterday was physically and emotionally exhausting, and today would probably be the same.

At last we arrived at Ostapy.  Read more... )
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)

(Still scamming wifi in Kyiv.)  Photos are posted. (jETA: Photos are now visible to everyone.) (ETA 2: The photos are on Facebook and are theoretically visible to "everyone," but apparently that only means "visible to people who have a Facebook account." I'll see what I can do for non-FB people.)

Totally wiped, but I want to write this before any of it fades.

Breakfast was at the hotel in a little side room.  It’s a community affair, set at a long table.  A waitress brought the three of us plates of open-faced sandwiches of bread, cheese, and salami, with tea to drink.  Then Mom and I went up to my and Sasha’s room to organize the gifts we’d brought for Sasha’s family.  We put them in the big suitcase and brought it downstairs, where the taxi Gene had hired for the day was ready.

The taxi was a brown Soviet-era box.  It was teeny-weeny and about twice the age of the driver, a crew-cut guy in black, tall and lean.  I gave the cab a dubious look, but one thing I learned the first time around is that in Ukraine was you go with what you have and assume everything will be all right.  This isn’t an easy concept for someone like me, whose philosophy is to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

We gave Mom the front seat while Sasha, Gene, and I squashed into the back, and off we went.

Read more... )
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
(I'm in Kyiv and I'm scamming off someone's wifi.)  Photos are posted here.

After the adoption trip itself, this has got to be the scariest trip I’ve ever made.

I’m sitting in the hotel in Korosten as I write this.  It’s 5:23 a.m. local time, and I’ve been awake on and off since 3:30, thanks to jet lag and wondering what the hell is going to happen today.  Sasha is asleep in the other bed, or he’s doing a good job of faking it.  I know he’s more on edge than I am.  I’m nervous on his behalf.  He’s nervous about himself.

Read more... )
stevenpiziks: (Default)
Sasha spent last night in Ostapy with his family.  We'll see how that went.

All Ready!

Jun. 29th, 2010 01:55 pm
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
Okay, I think we're all set!  We have exchanged the toys.  Sasha and I went to the toy store and got and little motorcycle and a rider for his two-year-old nephew and one of those bead-and-wire maze toys for the one-year-old.  I also snagged a package of baby care stuff--oil, lotion, rash cream, etc.--for the mother.  Nice!

After a flurry of packing and double-checking, everything is set and ready to go.  My mother will be here any minute.

=Now= I'm ready to look forward to the trip.  Watch out, Ukraine!  The Pizikses are returning!
stevenpiziks: (Which Way?)
Today I ran everywhere getting ready for the Ukraine trip.  We had a small bombshell--Gene casually let drop by email that one of Sasha's sisters has two children.  What the hell?  I was seriously angry at him.  The whole point of me hiring him to visit Ostapy was to learn this kind of thing and report back to us.  On top of it, he didn't bother to mention what gender the kids are, which meant I had to email him again to get more information.

"Oh, didn't I mention?" he wrote back.  "I thought I did."

No, he hadn't.  After another email from me, he wrote back to say they were both boys under the age of five.  He didn't mention their names, so I had to write =again= to ask about that.

At any rate, I took Mackie toy shopping for them.  I bought some bubble stuff, Slinkies, Pez dispensers with refills, and airplane-shaped fans that whoosh at you with their propellers.  I think the boys (my grand-nephews?) will like them.

Back home, there was much stuff to gather--toiletries, clothes, entertainment thingies, and so on.  Sasha had vanished and wasn't answering his cell phone, so I drove down to his friend's house, found him, and snarled that he needed to get home RIGHT NOW.  Did he think the magical Europe fairies would get everything done for his trip?

When he got home, I made him do all the laundry, mow the lawn, mop the kitchen floor, pack his suitcase to specifications, and fill his backpack with entertainment stuff for the flight.  I also made him sit through a going-over of airline security procedure, since he wasn't really a participant when he came to the US the first time.

Somewhere in there I made supper for the boys--homemade pizza--and packed my own suitcase.  The phone rang and rang and rang.  Kala.  My mother.  My father.  My friend Kurt.  I finally stopped answering it.  There was a bad moment when it looked like Sasha's passport had disappeared, but it turned up.

Once it was all done (as much as could be tonight) I watched the latest DOCTOR WHO to unwind for a while.


Jun. 27th, 2010 03:56 pm
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
At gunpoint, I forced Sasha out of the house and made him go gift shopping for his Ukrainian family today.
"I don't know what to get them," he complained.
"Neither do I," I said.  "That's why we have to go look for ideas."
Mackie really wanted to come, too, so we took him.  Off we went to downtown Ann Arbor, the best shopping place for interesting and/or weird stuff.
We got there a little before noon--oops!  It was Sunday, and most of the shops were still closed.  But the comic shop was open, so we went in there and browsed.  The boys picked out a couple of things they wanted, and in the interest of spurring interest in reading, I ponied up.
Then it the shopping began.  Oh, the moaning and groaning!  The theme was Stuff From America.  We stopped at various shops, including Crazy Wisdom, where I found some small dream catchers, a perfect American gift.  Then we went down the street to Peaceable Kingdom, which has a bunch of interesting little thingies, and we bought magnets bearing the initials of Sasha and Maksim's family members in English.  And on the way out, I pointed out to Maksim the fairy door just outside the exit.
Downtown Ann Arbor is riddled with fairy doors.  (One enterprising individual has collected several in photos here: , but admits there are probably others, since they come and go.)  The fair folk have even installed one in Ann Arbor's Google headquarters, though the sign above their door says "Giggle."  Mackie found this fascinating, especially since you could look through Peaceable Kingdom's fairy door into a small living room beneath the store's display window.
We also stopped at a store that sells University of Michigan paraphenalia, which sells U of M t-shirts that say "Michigan" in several languages, including Russian.  We got one in Russian and one in English for Sasha's sisters.
Yesterday I spent considerable time (over four hours, all told) putting together a photo album for Sasha and Maksim's mother in Ukraine, so I declared the gifting now complete.
We were starving by now, so we stopped at Jerusalem Garden, Ann Arbor's premier cheap eats place.  I though Mackie, our vegetarian in training, would love it, but he declared he hated felafel, which meant he went hungry while Sasha and I snarfed ours down.  Then we paused to admire the five-story deep construction pit next to the library, where they're building a new parking structure, and then home in time for the huge thunderstorm.
stevenpiziks: (Good News)
The trip to Ukraine is somewhat risky.  What if Sasha's mother had moved?  Or even passed away?  Or had more children?  How will she and her husband react to us suddenly showing up at her door with her missing son after five years?  The physical and emotional challenges run high.

To help smooth the way, I've hired a man named Gennady Sazhine to be our driver, translator, and guide during our trip to Ukraine.   He does this sort of thing full-time, guiding American families with adopted children.  Most of the kids in question were adopted as babies and have no memory of Ukraine, but the principal for us is still the same.

A while ago, I sent Gene a letter from me, a letter from Sasha, and some pictures of the boys.  Gene drove with them to Ostapy, Sasha and Maksim's home village, to see if he could track down the Danylchuk family.  This morning I heard from him via email.  He writes:

First I went to the village council where I made good friends with the head of the village. And then she agreed to show me up to the bio-mom Maria. . . . [W]hen we were speaking a lot of inhabitants gathered around us and, I must say, Sasha really was a "star" there, everybody loved him.

So, we met the bio-mom Maria, in a house which Sasha and Maksim used to live. I showed her and her husband the pictures from you and she cried a little, her eyes were watery especially when I was reading your and Sasha's letter.

I also visited the bio-sisters. They live in another nearby village, named "Kalinovo". I told all of them about your future visit on the 30th of June, So, everybody was very excited, the bio-mom most of all!

This is good news in that Gene was able to find them, that the boys' Ukrainian family knows they're all right, and that they know we'll be there to visit. 

I wasn't able to tell Sasha until after school today, and I didn't want to post it here until he'd had a chance to learn of it first.  But now Sasha does know, and his eyes grew a little watery, too.

stevenpiziks: (Default)
ME: Kala, come see this.

KALA: What?

ME: Okay, say it.

SASHA: "Nuclear vessels."

KALA bangs head against wall.

SASHA: What? What'd I say?
stevenpiziks: (Default)
We have plane tickets to Ukraine for this summer.  By "we," I mean me, Sasha, and my mother.  The reason for the latter is a request by Sasha, who's a little nervous about the whole trip and asked if Grandma Penny might be able to come with us.  I relayed this request to my mother, who said she'd be delighted.  I think her presence will help in a number of ways.  Our arrival in Ostapy is going to be a bit of a shock and surprise for Sasha's family, especially his mother Marija, and having an older woman there might reassure her and keep things calmer.

I'm both apprehensive and interested.  I want things to go well, I'm hoping things will go well.  I also know full well they may not.  I'm not worried about me, of course; I'm worried about Sasha.  But he does need to go.

The plan is to arrive in Kyiv one day and travel to Ostapy the next.  We'll spend however much time there as Sasha needs--a day, two days, five.  Then we'll go back to Kyiv and do the tourist thing for however long we have left and go home.  We're leaving things very open because we don't know how things will work in Ostapy.  We might get everything we need in a day, or we might need five.  We might discover we need to take a train elsewhere in Ukraine to see other family.  Who knows?

We do have a guide/translator lined up as well.  He's worked with a number of American parents with Ukrainian children who have traveled back to Ukraine to reconnect with birth families.  He'll meet us at the airport, do the driving, handle hotels, and translate for us.  I'm sure Sasha's Ukraine will come rushing back to him once he gets there, and he'll be able to translate, too.

A couple-odd months from now, we'll be in Ukraine.  Again . . .


stevenpiziks: (Default)

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