Archive for December 2009


Tevye lives

tevjeIf you look for them, this country is full of ghosts — masses of people who once lived here, but were driven away or killed in war, political oppression, pogroms, or genocide. One unanswered question in today’s Ukraine is how these vanished communities will be remembered. Are the Jewish shtetls, for instance, part of Ukraine’s national story? Or some separate history?

Brigid did a radio story for The World last week about one of these vanished people, the brilliant author Sholem Aleichem, and the community that he described in his stories about Tevye’s daughters. Those stories, of course, became the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” You can listen to the story by clicking on this link.

We only realized a few weeks ago that there’s a Ukrainian stage adaptation of “Tevye’s Daughters” playing here in Kyiv, Sholem Aleichem’s home town. Grigori Gorin, a Russian author and playwright, created it several decades ago, and it’s been playing here regularly for the past twenty years. Ukraine’s most famous living actor, Bogdan Stupka, plays the lead role. We went to see it, and even though we couldn’t understand the dialogue, it was an amazing experience. There’s no singing in this version, but a lot more laughing along with the crying. It seemed closer to the spirit of the original stories. But it was also a moving and slightly disturbing experience to experience these stories in the place where they were written, where the life they describe was so horribly snuffed out.

Vote for me. I’m really, really big.


Maybe you hadn’t heard, but there’s a presidential campaign underway in Ukraine. This fellow, Sergiy Tigipko, has the biggest billboard we’ve seen.



It’s one (1) degree (fahrenheit) in Kiev right now, which is just about cold enough for me, thank you very much. But I have to say, there’s a certain charming quality about this place that emerges when it’s cold.


hatIt’s partly the classy winter clothes that suddenly emerge from storage. They make me feel like I stepped into Doctor Zhivago or something.

But also, you have to admire the simple fortitude with which people go about their business, despite a wind that feels like knife blades.

I think people may actually get more cheerful when it turns cold, as though they relish their common challenge. The other day I encountered a street musician in a long, echoing pedestrian underpass. His bare fingers were playing some beautiful guitar music, despite the freezing temperatures. I gave him ten hryvni.



We’re from Washington, DC, though. We cover ourselves with blankets.
Or we cower in a warm corner of the kitchen, in between the oven (where bread is baking) and the radiator.

Machine translation

Our landlord Oleg speaks very little English. He prefers to speak Russian, but also speaks Ukrainian. We speak very little of either language. This can be awkward. At first, we relied on tolerant Russian-speaking friends to relay messages back and forth by phone. But then it occurred to me that Oleg might have an e-mail account, and we might be able to use the automated capabilities of Google Translate.

And it works! More or less. When Oleg needed me to read the electric meter the other day, I got this message:
Hello, Deniel’.
You will report, please, testimonies of electric meter for payment of electric power.
With kind regards.
Stepanenko Oleg.

A few weeks ago, we used such an exchange of e-mails to arrange some electrical repair work in the apartment. After I sent Oleg a message that the light had been successfully repaired, I received this charming response:

Hello, respected Daniel’.
Thank you for reports. I understood text without problems. I suppose that our mailbox and translators is a good alternative to linguistics.
I congratulate you and Your nice women with Thanksgiving Day .
Wishing you in successes in work, large health and happiness.
Oleg Stepanenko and all my family.
Happy holiday

Thank you, Oleg! And thank you Google!