Chernobyl and I

Today I finished watching the HBO series Chernobyl. It’s a talented work, no doubt about that. Although I noticed certain discrepancies. Obviously, Chernobyl is not a documentary but still…The thing is that I was exactly 3 months old when the tragedy in Prypiat happened. I was born on January 26, 1986 in Kyiv ( it is 100 km( 62 miles) away from Chernobyl).

The next day after the explosion our neighbor noticed people measuring radiation with dosemeters in the city. He told everyone and warned us not to go outside for a while. The authorities were still undermining the scale of the nuclear catastrophe. But Ukrainians as well as other Soviet people at the time always followed their gut feeling and never truly believed the propaganda of the USSR mass media. So my father, God rest his soul, went to buy us plane tickets to the Eastern Ukraine. We had relatives living there. It was a much safer place for an infant then Kyiv. He did get the tickets after 24 hour waiting in line. A lot of people were fleeting in May 1986. We left home on May 9 ( ironically, it was a Victory Day ) and came back home by the end of August. When I ask my mom about the feelings she had at that time, she simply says: “It was scary. I don’t want to remember that period of my life”.

What I am trying to say is that Chernobyl affected every life in Ukraine, Belarus and other countries that got radiation.

I keep on thinking about the possible 2nd explosion. Thank goodness, it was prevented. Otherwise millions of people would have been dead, including me…

In Ukraine we used to commemorate the heroes and the victims of Chernobyl on April 26. And nobody really talks about them the rest of the year. Growing up I have never truly realized how dramatic the Prypiat tragedy was, how many lives it ruined, how much it affected all of us in a way we might not even understand. I realize it now.

Vichnaya pamyat ( eternal memory) to everyone who suffered and died. I bow down to your courage and sacrifice.

The Star Has Died

It has been a year since the legend of Ukrainian translation passed away. His name was Ilko Korunets. He was a prominent professor at my Alma Mater- Kyiv National Linguistic University.

Mr. Korunets was an outstanding scientist and a well known fiction literature translator. Professor Korunets wrote over 100 scientific, methodological works, translated lots of books from English and Italian, including works by James Fenimore Cooper, Arthur Rambo, Oscar Wilde, Gianni Rodari and others.

But it wasn’t his professionalism that has always seemed so astonishing to me. The strength of Ilko’s spirit was the one thing that I could never wrap my brain around. How do you manage to go through so much sorrow and deaths and still be able to smile, be a kind and generous person eager to share your light with people?

Professor Korunets was born in 1922 and survived Holodomor ( artificial famine imposed on Ukraine by Joseph Stalin in 1932-1933). The Second World War broke out when he turned 17. The brave young man managed to survive the battlefields as well as the concentration camp.

I feel so blessed to have been one of his few students during my Master’s year of studies.

Some people are like the whole mysterious universes, Ilko was one of them.

When I found out that he had passed away, I cried. He wasn’t my family or my close friend but he deeply affected me as a future interpreter/translator. And for that I am forever grateful.

P.S. Ukrainians commemorate the victims of Holodomor on the 4th Saturday of November. Here is a video where Professor Korunets describes the horrors of Holodomor from his own experience.

RIP

We remember…

Photo Trip Back In Time

Old photos have special noble energy. I love looking through my family albums, trying to grasp the spirit of the century and guess what was on the minds of my ancestors.

This very photo is one of the most valuable gems of my collection. It has been preserved for over 115 years in our family.

Photo is dated approximately 1905-1906.

The youngest girl ( first from the left, bottom row) is my great great grandmother Liudmila. She was a well educated and fiercely strong woman. Luidmila was a graduate of the Boarding School for Young Ladies. This fact was unusual since at the dawn of the 19th century education was rather luxury and not every woman had access to it. Her life was full of events, people and struggle.

I am truly proud of my ancestors.

I am raising my kids to know and respect their origin, their family tree and, most of all, wonderful people who had enough courage to fight for what they believed mattered.

P.S. For those who love old photography as much as I do, here are a few more samples of high quality pictures that still look good enough taking into consideration the amount of years ago they were taken.

My great great grandfather Aleksandr

My great great grandmother Liudmila, my great great grandfather Aleksandr and their children Galina and Ivan.

My great grandmother Galina with her little brother Ivan

My great grandmother Galina ( 1 year old) with her grandmother.

( I love the idea of the photographer to use a teddy bear for the photo).

Four Years in 4600 Characters or My Thoughts on Immigration Journeys

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my immigration journey. To be totally honest, I realize that I overestimated my adaptive skills. It has been 4 years since I moved away from home. “Seems like a pretty long period of time”…said no immigrant ever.

In fact, I am just starting to adjust to the USA lifestyle ( except for food preferences —one can not eat all the junk food and snacks hoping to stay healthy and good-looking). I choose to eat in order to live, not to live in order to eat. But that’s not the point of my article. Moreover, food is the very least of the things that make me wonder and analyze my new life across the Atlantic Ocean.

What is the right tool to use in order to turn a frustrated foreigner into a satisfied new American? In my humble opinion, the magic wand lays somewhere between ability to watch and learn from your surroundings and flexibility of mind. Yes, yes, the knowledge of English is not an obvious answer.

I have dedicated my life to learning languages. Don’t take me wrong, it does help to be able to communicate with people without so called “language barrier”, but it won’t make you feel at home in a new country of residence. There are much deeper layers of our personalities that have been shaped elsewhere, our experience that was very different from the one we are earning at the new homeland, for English to be the key here. All the above mentioned factors influence our worldview in a drastic way. As they say: no matter where you go, there you are.

As a freelance interpreter I interact with various people on a daily basis: elderly, middle aged, toddlers, teenagers, etc. Most of them are Ukrainian or Russian speaking immigrants. Some lived in the USA for the past 20-30 years but haven’t learnt a bit of American English. For these individuals adjustment has never fully went through. Why? Simply because they live in what I call an imaginary “Time Travel USSR-land”. Many don’t even see the point of learning English. They do regular shopping at Russian stores ( time stood still there since 1990—it could be a gem of a location for shooting retro movies); they have friends exclusively from the former USSR republics ( because they do not like or trust Americans of other origins); from time to time they even have thoughts of coming back to their motherland but these are not serious intentions —just nostalgic moments; finally—they despise the American ways and traditions. Basically, these immigrants have never immigrated in the full extent. They keep on living in the post USSR-land that has somehow moved geographically to the Western Hemisphere.

Please don’t get me wrong, preserving one’s culture and traditions is wonderful and worth doing for the future generations but…you HAVE immigrated, you HAVE made a choice to live and raise your kids in the USA. It’s not fair to pretend that you didn’t leave your country of birth, it’s not a wise move. So try unveiling the American cultural code, try observing certain traditions that are totally new to your family. You might like it. For example, I absolutely fell in love with Thanksgiving, I started decorating our entrance door according to the season or holiday with a beautiful wreath and occasional visits to the pet store full of luxurious outfits and anxiety management pills for dogs always make my day).

What I am trying to say here is that, on one hand, getting integrated into such a various melting pot society isn’t easy but, on the other hand, it’s rewarding. Me, I met people from all over the world only when I moved to Philadelphia. I would have never even seen them if I stayed in Kyiv!

The ability to adjust to a new place varies depending on generation. No doubt, the age of an immigrant plays a huge part in terms of absorbing the new lifestyle. The younger a child is when she or he changes the country of residence, the easier their transition goes.

My elder daughter was only 4 when we moved to the USA and now, turning 9, she is much more American that I could ever be. I remember watching local news one evening and expressing surprise to see a woman who worked as a garbage truck driver. Alisa didn’t understand what shocked me so much. She wasn’t taught that labor can be either feminine or masculine. She said: “Mom, maybe it’s her dream job! Women can do any job they want!” “WOW, here is one American set of brains”, I thought. Less limits, more freedom in my young girl’s mind.

Another benefit of living in the States is cultural variety. It teaches kids acceptance and tolerance ( I have to admit my compatriots in Ukraine need to work harder on these qualities). At school kids have more tools of expressing their unique personalities. American children aren’t too shy or uptight, they aren’t afraid to be themselves. I find it rather crucial for the successful future. For instance, I had to fight plenty of nonexistent windmills along my life path due to the Soviet-like upbringing. Hopefully, my daughters won’t have to deal with anything of that kind.

As always, the hardest thing of all is to find BALANCE, a comfortable situation when you have fully integrated into the new reality but still keep your heritage intact for your descendants. I am working hard to achieve the Buddha state of mind. I really don’t want to become a bitter seventy year old woman who hates people around, not realizing the problem lays within her, not in others.

By the end of the day, every man is the architect of his own fortune. We always reap what we sow. I hope my future “harvest” will be bountiful. I would hate to disappoint myself.

The Sunflower Bloodbath or The Battle of Ilovaisk

In late the August 2014 sunflowers hadn’t been harvested since the war in the Eastern Ukraine started and sunflower fields turned into battlefields.

Our soldiers were massively dying that day surrounded by those beautiful sunflowers. So today, on August 29th, we commemorate all the Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers who died at the battle of Ilovaisk in the Ukrainian-Russian war. And we bring them sunflowers as a symbol of that tragic deadliest day.

Hundreds of our brave defenders got caught in the column when their positions were surrounded by the enemy. Although negotiations were held to let them pass through a humanitarian corridor, Russian-backed separatists broke their “word” once again and started shouting Ukrainian soldiers like targets. Some were hit by a shell. Their bodies were thrown everywhere by the blast.

According to the official data, 366 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Ilovaisk battle on August 29, 2014.

We remember…Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!

At the Ukrainian Folk Festival in Horsham, Pennsylvania.

The atmosphere of today’s 28th Ukrainian Folk Festival at the American Ukrainian Sport Center TRYZUB made me feel in touch with my Motherland and its vibrant culture.

I got goosebumps listening to the Ukrainian folk songs, enjoying our traditional dancing and food.

To say that I was absolutely astonished at the impeccable performance of the Ukrainian Dance Ensemble Voloshky as well as mesmerized by the melodic songs of the Folk Band Korinya is to say nothing!

Bravo!

The visitors of the event dedicated to the 28th Anniversary of the Ukrainian Independence had a great opportunity to buy hand made goods, art pieces, ethnic clothes, jewelry and much more.

My elder daughter got really excited to have her cartoon portrait done and insisted on a free face painting afterwards.

The festival gathered hundreds of people. Amongst them not only Ukrainian Americans but representatives of other ethnic groups and cultures.

Doesn’t this girl look extravagantly nice wearing a vyshyvanka ( traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt)?

To sum up, it was a memorable Sunday spent together with talented artists in the pleasant summer weather.

Looking for the next year celebration already!

Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes! 🇺🇦

Expectations VS Reality

I haven’t watched the series Six Feet Under until this summer. Ukrainian television didn’t show it until 2001. But I really got into following the plot lines and exploring the characters in 2019.

What I loved most about the script writer’s job is the willingness to show an average American family as it is without sugar-coating “commercial like” images of happy people radiating fake hypocritical smiles.

The thing I am having the most trouble when analyzing my immigrant experience is a huge cultural gap between an average American and me, an average Ukrainian. I can’t stop but notice that Americans MUST look nice in the eyes of other people so badly, they don’t really know who they are and why they have a profound need in satisfying someone else’s expectations of their behavior. It’s sad. It frightens me.

At times, thinking about the people I met so far, living here, I wonder why they always say “let’s keep in touch” and, as soon as you stop seeing them on a regular basis ( whether your relationship is through work or private life), you are no longer in their head. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s so pathetic. The most frustrating thing about all this “make-pretend” friendship is that every time I believe they MEANT what they said. And I am wrong, almost always wrong. Too bad for me. I am a 33-year old and should know better…

Another matter that has been for a while on my mind is the whole American educational system. I don’t mean grades and subjects at school, I mean the values being embedded in the heads of young minds. Every school year starts with a new teacher and new classmates for my elder daughter. How on earth is she supposed to make a deep connection with someone she could call “a friend “ if they toss kids around from one class to another? It’s sad but it explains a lot…

I am so upset when people make arrangements and don’t bother telling you they can’t make it. Or worse: they PROMISE you something and never go through with it, not always bothering to come up with an excuse for their lame behavior.

America is surely shaping up each one of us. I have always taken certain people’s behavioral patterns for granted. I was raised with deep rooted principles that, frankly speaking, make it hard to adjust in my new home. I feel that people here are much more cynical and down to earth than the ones I knew in Kyiv.

Everything is about profit or taking advantage of another person. Let’s take doctors ( my everlasting frustration), even the best ones seem like salesmen who would go on and on how badly one needs this bunch of prescriptions or “a surgery that will change your life for the better”. Oh c’mon, I am able to make my own decision!

I like American standup comedian George Carlin. To me he was more of a philosopher than a comedian. He had an insight on American life like no other of his compatriots. According to him, two main passions of an average American: shopping and food. Well, it seems about right. The TV commercials totally prove he had a point. 80% of them are advertising “a breakthrough pill” for every single condition in the medical dictionary which, unfortunately, has, like, a dozen side effects but “please, talk to your doctor about the drug X”. Money really doesn’t stink, does it? Another 20% will be offering you to buy a brand new car, try a miracle way to lose weight and then inviting you to a restaurant where you can gorge yourself just for $4.99 at breakfast time.

Is it just me or there are people somewhere who think about all the bigotry too? I hope I am not alone…or my world seriously needs a restart button.