Posts tagged Holodomor

Taking credit for someone else’s work

Those who know me well, or even if they are only acquainted with me, know that I work hard.  I go after causes and find other people of like minds to join me.  That is true of battling the human trafficking issue as well as anything having to do with preserving history. I have pursued Ukraine’s sad stories of the Holodomor (forced famine of 1932-33 where millions died of starvation) or North Dakota history, my grandparents’ history, my students’ grandparents history, etc. Of course, I am also very interested in Kazakhstan’s history but I can only skim the surface of that now that I am far away from living there as I did for 3 1/2 years.  I did collect plenty of my composition students’ stories that are waiting to be put in book form.

Many others who currently live in Kazakhstan, especially those of you who are expats, hopefully will pay attention to the stories you hear from your neighbors, colleagues, students and anyone else who offers up what they know.  Kazakhstan has an oral tradition that is foreign to us westerners because if we were to compliment someone, we would say, “He is an excellent writer” or “She knows how to express herself beautifully.”  They would mean in the latter case in writing and not in speaking.  Strange to our American ears to hear someone being praised with, “She was a beautiful story teller.”  They meant that that person knew how to knit a tale together that kept the listener spellbound until the end. I heard this comment from a Ukrainian woman who was remembering her grandmother’s talent of storytelling.  We might say that someone knows how to tell a good joke and I truly believe that is a gift that no one in my family possesses.  My husband used to tell many jokes, more than he does now. He would give credit to the person he heard the joke from…as if re-living the moment he heard it and giving them due respect.

That gets me back to getting credit for the hard work that I do.  I have scanned 1,000s of photos in the last ten years.  I scanned many photos from Ukraine when I had my students tell their stories from their grandparents’ past.  We had two presentations where the expats were invited along with the old babushka women to our university’s auditorium. The second presentation we gave in the spring of 2007, the American ambassador and his wife came to listen to my students reveal their history.

I have scanned 1,000s of photos from our local museum and gathered up other photos from old postcards so that I could get two books published with Arcadia press out of South Carolina.  I enjoy sharing these pictures on Facebook with people from my hometown.  However, our museum needs money and now we have launched into using Internet with imagekind website out of Oregon to show off those photos of our town.  What I am dealing with is letting someone else get the credit for putting up the photos that took time to scan.  He put all the photos I scanned up on the website but it would seem to anyone else that he also did all the scanning.

At the same time, I and another volunteer have gone through about 700-800 pieces of vintage clothes that our museum was storing.  We took photos of every item and also wrote the tag number on each and described the item.  We have about 20 pages of the listings and I have the 700 photos of the clothes that we could potentially sell to vintage clothes people.  It is BIG out in the East and West coasts, not so much in our locale.  So, the other night at our board meeting, one of the members who wanted to take over to sell these items on her own terms said something incredible.  After my friend and I had spent many Saturday mornings over the course of about four months doing this mammoth job, she had a potential buyer in a town about 150 miles away.  This board member, who has done NOTHING of the work, said in front of everyone, “Have her come to me to ask about selling to this vintage clothes dealer.”  I was shocked that she had the audacity to claim something that she had not worked on yet and take it out of my friend’s hands who knows a LOT about clothes.  That is taking credit for something she didn’t work on.

What are my feelings when others want to take the glory for all the work that I do?  I have another example that recently happened.  One person at my university has wanted me to talk about our town’s illustrious past.  I have done many presentations on this topic and I have 100s of photos that I have scanned to show with stories to tell.  It didn’t work out last semester because she dropped the ball and didn’t have the advertising set to go.  I bowed out and said I would do it the following semester.  That semester is HERE!  She had been e-mailing me about doing this history presentation in March.  I thought, that is fine, I will do it but then she started sending three insistent google scheduled messages where I had to accept, maybe or deny her scheduling requests.  Even though she had said that we could meet when it was convenient for me, she pushed three times with setting a day and time.  I finally wrote to say I was not interested in doing a presentation for her AT ALL!  Why?  Because she has a reputation of having other people do all the work but she would get the credit.

After what I had just gone through with scanning 1,000s of pictures and going through 700 pieces of vintage clothes, I have HAD it with people stealing the show.  Others want to get the glory for things they haven’t done. I am not a volunteer who wants to be walked all over.  I am a volunteer who wants to help others and promote causes.  So, what do people in Kazakhstan do about those who “steal” stories and tell them as if they are their own?  What would be considered “plagiarism” from an oral tradition point of view?  Just wondering?  The concept of taking from others, even ideas should have a penalty of shame attached to it, right?

Well, I will have to figure out how to work with the person on the photos, he is my friend.  The other person who wants to do all the clothes selling with the data that we collected, she will probably fail because noone will be wanting to work with her.  It will probably end up back in our laps.  In any case, I am venting right now about how I feel.  Has this ever happened to you where others claim the glory for things that YOU have done?

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Politely “Unfriended” because of Russian Politics

I have a “former” Russian friend or really she was more like an acquaintance from Kazakhstan who I knew several years ago in Almaty. Last week she informed me that her grandparents were from Belarussia, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland. They had undergone much heartache with the purges under Stalin. In no uncertain terms she told me that the Russians suffered under Stalin as well. I knew that.

She was responding to one of my posts on Facebook about the Ukrainian Holodomor. I guess she was warning me a week ago that I was offending her because she thought I was blaming the Russians for what is currently going on in Crimea. I told her I was very careful to NOT say that the Russians are attacking Ukraine but rather Putin is. He, in turn, expects people to follow his orders so those in the army, who happen to be Russian, are invading Crimea and eventually Ukraine. (I have an adopted Russian nephew whom I love dearly and I realize all Russians are living under some tragic circumstances, not of their own doing!)

I am careful to not blame the Russians because I realize they have been brainwashed about what really happened on Maidan. I was not there at Maidan, but I believe video clips and eye witness accounts from my friends who were there on the ground are reliable. Russia Today (RT) is not credible. That is why one American journalist, Elizabeth Wahl, had to quit. She had to step down because she admitted there was a lot of hatred being vented toward Americans. It continues to foment, unabated.

For Putin, it is all about hatred of the U.S. and other western nations. That is what he is broadcasting to his own people, believing there are Russians trapped in the former Soviet countries. He still has the Soviet Union mentality when it was a “super power.” I believe his own country is about to implode, economically and emotionally. His own people are not happy with the way things are going. Indeed, some are satisfied with Putin. In fact, they are very proud of the Russians’ records at the latest winter Olympics. However, talk to the people who lived next to all that construction in Sochi. I’m wondering if those construction workers who helped build all the opulent buildings for the Olympics were actually paid. I believe they were slaves who HAD to do this for Putin’s own ego.

In my devotional yesterday I came across several verses that applied to Putin from Psalms 33:16-19:
“No king is saved by the multitude of an army. A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety, neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him. On those who hope in His mercy to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine.”

Yes, the Ukrainians have the famine of 1932-33 deeply ingrained in their very being. Those who survived told their families about it. They do NOT trust anything coming out of Moscow because of what happened last time. So, due to Russian politics, I have been unfriended on Facebook. I will be praying for this individual who is feeling hurt because she is probably misunderstood and feeling ostracized by other westerns where she is living in Turkey. (I’d hate to be living in Turkey next year, because of what the young Turks did to the Armenians in 1915, but that is another tragedy.)

Here is what my friend wrote to me: Sorry, I am writing you a personal message – not on your wall, just to let you know that I am unfriending you and blocking on top of it. I don’t really believe you know what God is – this is your personal opinion. Instead of living and being friends you are spreading messages of hate. You and people like you splitting others. All the best.”

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Who will listen to their stories?

I’m revisiting my Ukrainian students’ interviews with their grandparents back in 2006, that is when this all started for me in my quest to find out more about Soviet history. Oral histories can be very interesting even if you give your students an assignment that is simply “Tell me about your grandparents.”  With the hundreds of students I’ve taught over the years, I have gotten some amazing results when I taught in Kyiv, Ukraine, Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan.  I even used this with my American students when I taught English composition in the U.S. I learned some new things from them about what life was like in the golden, olden days.

My wanting to know more about the Soviet Union started when a Ukrainian boy in the back of the room in the early 2000s challenged me about why I didn’t know anything about Ukraine’s terror famine (Holodomor).  He was not aggressive in his questioning me, he was baffled how I could have taught in Ukraine for 3-4 years and not known about this tragic event in the 1930s.  He wasn’t a particularly good student as I had a minor altercation with him the very first day we met. I told him to not come to class with alcohol on his breath, his defense was that he had some alcohol spill on him with his train ride into town from his hometown of Lviv, Ukraine (western border to Poland).  I let it pass with an internal “yeah right.” After that, I wish I could remember his name, I didn’t have any more problems with him.  Apparently his parents were doctors and had lived in Philadelphia and he had been a pizza delivery boy at that time.

When my husband and I left this university, he had very kind words to say about us being there as we represented America to him.  I need to find out how he is doing now, he was certainly a Ukrainian nationalist and LOVED his country.  I have met many other students similar to him who love their country of either Ukraine or Kazakhstan.  They also love their grandparents and what THEY went through in order for them to experience real freedom and independence they enjoy today.

That is why I am wondering if there are people in my blog reading audience who are curious like I am, to find out more about what happened in the Soviet past? Especially from oral interviews?  I believe that is how my husband and I could maintain a presence teaching in the Former Soviet Union for as long as we did.  Total up both places and we were in Kazakhstan and Ukraine for over ten years.  Today, while it rains, I am going over the interviews that my Ukrainian students did with their own grandparents.  I had assigned no more than 500 words and had wanted direct quotations (as much as could be translated from Ukrainian or Russian) in English.  I can still remember many of these students, what they looked like, what they wrote.

I just wonder “who will listen to their stories” once they are retold by me?  What can be changed once read?  I know for a fact that we were able to cope with living in these different cultures. Especially true after finding out how the Ukrainians and the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis picked themselves up and dusted themselves off after all the Soviet atrocities that were visited upon them. I hope during this Memorial Day that American young people would sit down with their grandparents to listen to them and what stories they have to tell.  Happy Memorial Day to all in the U.S. Time to reflect, listen to older people and think ahead to a future that is bright with promise because of the older people’s sacrifices.  Stories give hope to the listeners, you can think in terms of “If they survived what they went through, so can we!”

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Unwritten Places (Part IV and final)

I know from my studies of the Ukrainian terror famine (Holodomor) that Eleanor Roosevelt was concerned about those people who were trapped in the “displaced persons” camps after WWII was over.  One of the Ukrainians I had interviewed who had survived the famine in 1932-33 as a small child, referred to Roosevelt as saying something to the effect, “if these people in DP camps don’t want to return to their motherland (as Stalin insisted they  MUST) then they should not have to go back.” Many knew upon return to Ukraine, it was either sure death or being sent off to a gulag for having ended up in Germany. Thus, many displaced persons were brought to freedom in the U.S., sadly many others were not.

Unfortunately, 16 women in Vilenksy’s book who survived prison life in the former Soviet Union want their tales to be known and remembered. This is my last installment of what I read from “Till My Tale is Told.” It has been “ghastly” to read what they went through for simply being labeled enemies of the Soviet state.

Perhaps if I looked at some of these films or read the following books, I would get a better sense of what Russian or Soviet life looked like just by reading the titles off the index of Vilensky’s book:

Captive Earth – film

Days of the Rubins (Bulgakov)

The Drowned and the Saved (Levi)

Exploits of a Secret Service Agent (film)

Flow, Swift Volga! (Vesyoly)

The Idiot (Dostoyevsky)

How the Steel was Tempered (Ostrovsky)

In the Abyss (Honret)

Kolyma Tales (Shalamov)

Into the Whirlwind (Yevengiya Ginzburg) – appeared in the West long ago

p. 292 – Bratsk – “Kazbek” cigarettes were expensive (Kazakhstan + Uzbekistan tobacco?)

p. 295 – Karakalpakia in Central Asia

p. 306 – five years exile in Kokchetavsk region in KZ

p. 320 – Stolypin wagons – tsarist minister in charge of putting down the 1905 revolution

p. 327 – “I could gaze very minute through the window

Forgetting all hunger and pain

But all things that I see there

Are twice scored by heavy, black lines

The trees and the sunset above them

The fields and paths cutting through

Crossed out by rusting metal

My life scored by black in on bars.”

By Vera Shulz (this was written @ 1938)

p. 167 – After receiving my sentence – five years exile in Kazakhstan as a “socially dangerous element”

“…I learned from bitter experience the wisdom of Marx’s words that knowing a foreign language is a weapon in the struggle for existence.”

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“One death is a tragedy…”

I believe it was Stalin (or was it Hitler) who is quoted as saying: “One death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths are merely a statistic.”  One can get hardened after being around so much death, I suppose Duranty had reached that point.  As I’ve posted earlier while focusing on Walter Duranty’s book “I Write as I Please” the past week, I’ve been reading John Noble’s book “I was a slave in Russia.”

This American survivor, who was trapped in Dresden at the end of WWII, saw MUCH death during his enslavement.  Naturally he tried to make sense of it and I thought I wouldn’t take any notes from this book because it is so dire but I am anyway.

p. 30 “I knew little about theoretical Marxism at that time, but in this attitude toward death I sensed the gulf that separated these MVD officers from the Christian civilization that man is an animal, no more.  To kill a man is no more significant than to kill a highly trained horse or a cow.  If the beast becomes unmanageable, it is killed.  If the man-beast becomes unmanageable, he is killed.”

p. 31 “In that joking [Red Army and Soviet guards about their political prisoners at Dresden] was summed up a startling different between these guards and the Nazi death squads about which those prisoners who had known both sometimes spoke.  The Nazis, they said, killed viciously, because they were convinced that the people being killed were actually their enemies.  The Russians killed because, almost literally, a number had been drawn from a hat, because some meaningless document in some meaningless proceedings had said to snuff out the candle. No ferocity attended the executions.  The reasons for the killings were as remote and irrelevant to the Russian guards as was the concept of death itself.  Their joking, then, was not forced.  When they patted a prisoner’s shoulder, the action came easily.  Life had to end for certain integers in the sate table of statistics. That’s all, comrade.  Nothing personal, comrade.”

Why do I bring up these quotes?  Because I believe as an educator here in Astana, we need to teach the Kazakh children to know logical fallacies from truth.  There also needs to be a rule of law and respecting of those laws in order for a civil society to flourish in our places of academia, especially here in Astana.  Students need to know that human life is important and that they are not part of the cogwheel that might be spinning uncontrollably at times. They need to be valued as individuals and not made to be a part of a conformist mold.

However, this group of people in Kazakhstan and also in Ukraine have gone through much brutality, which is what Duranty wrote about.  There was a manual written by an ardent communist about how to terrorize people and those under him followed it to the letter of the law.  The following what John Noble wrote is exactly what had been going on in Kazakhstan back in the 1920s and 1930s.  There is a reason why the Ukrainians call their dark period of “Holodomor” as Terror Famine in 1932-33.

“The very system of Communist arrests inevitably led to a system of torture that was as much mental as physical. Arrests were made to terrorize the citizens, in sweeping, indiscriminate raids.  Men were arrested as they walked the streets, as they dined or sat in the homes of friends.  They were arrested anywhere, anytime, without explanation.  Everyone in the city was kept poised on the edge of terror.  There was a plan to it all, and it was remarkably effective even beyond its terrorizing results.  When a load of prisoners newly yanked from home and street were thrown into cells, the first topic of speculation naturally was, “Why was I arrested?”

Tomorrow I will show much happier photos of Kazakh babies and students and my new office.  Things are actually looking UP for me!!!

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Question about Ukraine, My “Short” Answer

The following is a question I got through someone who knows my aunt in North Carolina. He will be a Peace Corps volunteer soon in Ukraine, another land I lost my heart in.

I understand that you were a Peace Corps volunteer and lived in Ukraine.  I am getting ready to leave on March 29th for my training in Kiev to hopefully become a Youth Development volunteer.  So I just wanted to see what you did as a volunteer and if there were any pieces of general advice you had for me.  I am sure you can go on for awhile so certainly don’t feel like you have to write a lot!

The following is my “short answer:”

Actually I did my Peace Corps stint many years ago in the Philippines and NOT in Ukraine.  I was a PCV in 1981-83 and then learned to love Asia enough to teach in northeastern China from 1986-88.  Then I got my MA in TESOL at U of Minnesota in 1990 and was awarded a Fulbright grant to Kyrgyzstan in 1993-1995 to teach English at the start of the university that is now known as AUCA in Bishkek.  Then I got married in December of 1994 to a USDA guy I met in church in Almaty, Kazakhstan summer of 1993. We ended up in Alexandria, VA because of his job in Wash. D.C. for three years before we both were awarded Fulbrights in Kyiv, Ukraine in 1998-2000.  But we loved it so much in Ukraine that we stayed on another five years.  Then we ended up in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2007 and have been in this great country ever since.

So the short answer is no, I didn’t do Peace Corps in Ukraine but I know someone who did.  He is now working with USAID in Afghanistan and he has been meaning to come up to visit us here in Astana, Kazakhstan.  He is from the same area of North Dakota that my aunt is from.

What you REALLY need to bring with you more than the metal hangers that we get from dry cleaners is flexibility and tolerating the most infuriating things about the host culture.  Like when the drivers try to mow you down at the pedestrian crosswalk or the cars drive on the sidewalk so you not only have to look left and right but also behind and ahead of you for oncoming, careless drivers.

The Ukrainians have gone through a LOT in their long history but most heartbreaking are the last 100 years.  They are deeply divided over the Russian version of their history, especially the more west you go towards Poland.  Ask them about their grandparents or their grand grandparents, ask them what they went through with the famine of 1932-33, the Holodomor. Ask about what they endured with the Great Patriotic War, some will be willing to tell you.  Other babushkas have such painful memories that they go into a deep, troubled silence.

Knowing their history, I think, helps to explain the corruption, bribes, all the other dishonest things that go on that seem normal to them but outrageous to us westerners.  Plagiarism is not frowned on at national universities, cheating is the way you succeed at university and some of the students boast about it.

So, you have to pick your battles and love the people for who they are, not what you think they should be according to what you learned in your university training or elsewhere. Mainly if you learn their language and their culture, they will love you back.  I think you will find all the material things you could ever want. The main thing to do is bring books with you because you won’t find the kind you may want to read or use as textbooks in Ukraine.

Hope that helps.

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Ukraine and Artist Kazimir Malevich

malevichyellowtorso

Whatever tragedy the Ukrainian people went through in the early 1930s with the Holodomor (Terror Famine), sadly, Kazakhstan also experienced the same starvation and deprivation.  Please read my blog entry from yesterday concerning the short story I read by Andrey Platonov titled “Soul.”  I love the fact the publishers used this painting done by Kazimir Malevich titled “Torso in a Yellow Shirt” on the front cover of this “Soul” book.  Malevich had ethnic Polish roots but claimed to be a Ukrainian and showed through his simplistic art some of the pain he saw around him in Ukraine. (note too in the “Torso”‘s opaque painting that Malevich pledges allegiance to Ukraine’s colors by predominately using yellow and blue, the two colors of their current national flag) 

The following paintings I got off of Artukraine.com.  I can’t help but think about the saying: “Life is short but art is long” especially in terms of those brave artists who tried to show the devastation they witnessed around them during the Holodomor.

man-runningmalevich-peasants-headmalevich-peasantsmalevich-harvest

malevichcrosson-oval

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