Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kiev 2004

I went to Ukraine at Christmas 2004, I was part of a diplomatic mission that went to monitor the election. Its election time in Ukraine again and I’m sad I’m not there. The dynamic is different, the people now encouraged as they are finally aware that they hold the balance of power. The sense of desperation that brought people to the streets and the army to defect is gone, now it’s replaced by a sense of urgency and trepidation to get it right this time. Their first foray into democracy was largely a failure, insomuch as they just elected another corrupt leader, but it was the corrupt leader they wanted.

I got stuck in traffic as protesters crammed the streets. I strolled through underground passageways lined with cripples selling orange roses and military personnel cloistered in circles that billowed smoke. You could buy beer under there, with the ceiling hovering just inches above your head. Your hands would freeze as you would hold the bitter lager and your eyes burned from the smell of diesel and the bright light coming from the heavily fortified stores.

It was always grey, cold and moist. My feet blistered in my stiff new boots that filled with snow. My lungs ripped apart under the weigh of $0.30 packs of cigarettes. Everyone argued and eyed you suspiciously. I must have been the only person in the entire country with a red sweater. Oops! As I write this I recognize it sounds awful, but it was both the most beautiful and tragic scenes I’ve laid my eyes on.

Hope never really had a physical manifestation, so it was hard to determine. Even when people were happy they would rarely smile and never laugh. I heard Yuschenko speak at a rally of thousands. The sky burst with color, and the air boomed with the chants. Flags swirled, mostly orange or the yellow and blue of Ukraine, some from other countries where people traveled long distances to show their support.

I wondered where my friends were half the time. I wondered if those back home knew what a revolution felt like. I wondered if those in the revolution knew what back home felt like. Did they have what I did? And more importantly, were they about to come across it?


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