Privet from Kyiv,
It takes 24 hours by bus to get to Kyiv from Prague. I was lucky — our bus was half empty and all passengers had two seats and some even had four seats as I did. This was great as it meant I could stretch my legs across the aisle and sleep all night. Well, almost all night. A passenger in front of me reclined his seat as far back as he could so I was fully pinned to my seat in rather unpleasant proximity to the man’s sniffing. I cursed the one who invented reclining seats and believe they may be the cruellest innovation ever invented for travel in comfort.
I politely asked man if he could put his seat back and he screamed back to me that he can do whatever he wants and strangely enough, only when he realized I was not Ukrainian he moved his seat back to a normal position.
I went to Ukraine by bus last year and all the passengers were polite and friendly. Something seems to have changed. The New Year’s Eve celebration on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv had an entirely different tone than the last year when people were dancing, singing and enjoying themselves. This year they stayed quietly on the square, opening their sparkling wine and sipping quietly. No one applauded when the Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovich, gave his New Year’s speech and no one seemed excited. The spirit rose a bit when the fireworks started and occasionally someone cried out happily in response to the lights and explosion.
One positive thing was that the weather was good – the thermometer was on zero. It seems to me that freezing weather in Ukraine is reserved for presidential elections and revolutions. The weather was great all week and on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) Ded Morozes (Grandfathers Frost), Snegurachkas (Snow Maidens), Zajchiky (Bunnies) and figures form different fairy tales encouraged passers-by to take photographs with them. They wanted Hryvnas 30 (USD 3.50). Children could ride on a Merry-go-round or in carnival trains for free. Or they could persuade their parents to pay for pony rides. Those parents who couldn’t afford any of the attractions at least bought a balloon or inflatable toy for their child for 10 Hryvnas.
On Maidan Nezalezhnosti the Christmas celebration was in full speed and in the metro underpass babushkas made the best of the holiday as well. More passers-by meant more chances to collect money for their medications. Others were also begging, such as a veteran from the Afghan-Russian war who asked me for money for alcohol. When I asked him about the war, he cried.
Not everyone was there with extended hands — some babushkas played the violin while others were singing. Some were selling Ukrainian’s art crafts and souvenirs.
There was a demonstration in front of the Pechersky district court of Kyiv on January 5th where a criminal case has been opened against former Ukrainian Interior Minister, Yuriy Lutsenko. Yanukovich promised he will fight the misuse of power and impunity among members of the State apparatus. But it seems that criminal prosecutions are aimed exclusively at members of the opposition political parties.
About one thousand demonstrators, mostly pensioners, came to “support” Lutsenko. They held banners with slogans like “Today Lutsenko tomorrow you”, “We want fair court of law”. But these demonstrators were paid. They received about 30 -50 Hryvnas and the person who finds them received 30 Hryvnas and 5 Hryvnas more for each person he brought to the demonstration. Further, the organizer was paid 100 or even more Hrivnyas. Surprised? Don’t be, it’s normal in the Ukraine.
It was very cold this day with the therometer dropping to well below 0. The trial started at eleven in the morning and finished at about two afternon. While it was finished for Lutsenko at least that day, the demonstraters had to wait until six o’clock in the evening to collect their pay. The leader of the Batkivschyna Party and former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, also came to support Lutsenko. She was not outside with the babushkas, of course. And it was probably she who paid these demonstrators. Surprised again? Don’t be, this is normal in Ukraine.
Maybe the young generation can change things; maybe the young generation will be more honest. But for now, it seems they are busy with something else.
I am still in Mazar-e-Sharif even though my visa already expired – on July 15. I sent my application to extend my stay for another month, but the process is very complicated and slow. I had to send my application with a copy of my school certificate; as well as a letter from the Embassy where my Afghan visa was issued. And I had to have invitation letters from the Czech NGO (Non Government Organization) People in Need from Prague as well as a formal request for my stay from my hosts in Afghanistan. All these documents were sent to the Ministry of Economy (PIN is registered there) a week before my visa expired. From there the application will be sent to Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A couple weeks ago, visas could still be issued in Kabul as well as in Mazar-e-Sharif and others large cities. Not any more. All foreigners must go to Kabul. The authorities make it very difficult for foreigners. They seem to want us out of the country. And I have no news from the Afghan authorities yet about my application, so I really hope I will get some news soon.
Did I complain about weather in the last letter? I did, didn’t I? I guess it was too early; it was only 42 Celsius, nice and cool weather compare with what it is NOW! Believe it or not: it has been 48°C the last three days, yes, forty eight in shadow. Our thermometer only registers until 50 Celsius…..it’s crazy.
It’s not good to stay in the compound all the time, because you’ll go a bit nutty if you do. So I was lucky to have the opportunity to go on another field trip; even it was just for one day in the Toqay district, one and half hours from Kabul. Uzbek people live there, and women (most of them) do not mind being photographed.
The Afghan parliamentary election is scheduled to take place on September 18th (postponed from May 22nd). The campaign which kicked off at the end of June will be a major test of Afghanistan’s political progress and security. Depending on how it’s run, the Sept. 18th balloting could be a major advance toward stability; or, if there is fraud on the scale of last year’s presidential elections, a big step backward.
In Balkh province my “mission” for the Czech NGO People is finished. In Kabul, I will document a teacher’s training and hope also to document the parliamentary election campaign. My last shoot was in the Toqay district, the ISNA (Income Stability in Afghanistan) beneficiaries: a beekeeper, agriculture nursery and wool processing.
So goodbye Marghzar, goodbye Zare and Kishindeh. Goodbye Mazar-e-Sharif, goodbye Balkh. I am off to Kabul on Saturday.
PS. And I have almost forgot, my visa application is already at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I will have an answer about my status in couple weeks.
Salaam from Afghanistan again.
My second field trip was to the village of Kishindeh. The road was very dusty due to construction. A new highway is being built; it will connect Mazar-e-Sharif (Balkh province) and Darae Souf (Samangan province).
Anything which stands in the way of the construction must go. Hills are leveled, houses are demolished. Shahib Nazar’s house for example will be devoured by the highway. Shahib told me he has to move in two weeks. He should get a new house from the construction company, but so far no one has told him where it will be. He is worried that he will lose his house and will not get a new one.
While the big highway is under construction, small roads are being created as well. These roads are made from rocks that the construction crew brings by hands. Shovels and pickaxes are used instead of big machines.
Afghan women didn’t want to be photographed. Actually, their men forbid them to be photographed. I was told by them that Islam religious doesn’t allow women to be photographed. I assume I could take a pictures but without their faces visible. So I did.
The harvest season has begun. In Afghanistan, men usually harvest grain manually with a sickle, a scythe is unknown here. Tractors are rarely seen.
I went to two schools; one was built by an NGO and the second is a state school which has one small room with one window and a blackboard. Pupils sit on the floor; there are neither tables nor chairs.
I think that schools, whether without or with tables, are good. It is good children go to school at all. But some do not like Fauzya (12), for example, and she is not alone; she doesn’t go to school, she doesn’t know how to read or write. She studies only the Koran in a mosque. I was told that she will be married to some old man when she is 15.
Bye for now