Back In The USSR



Ukrainian subway, originally uploaded by Zoomtard.

I spent the last week biggin’ it up Commie style. The Soviets got so good at building underground bunkers, control centres, torture chambers and athelte doping hqs that when they got around to putting undergound rail systems into some of Ukraine’s lesser known and appreciated cities in the 1960s, they turned on the interior decoration style.

As you can see, today’s Ukrainian citizen seems more intent on getting themselves made in the mafia, drunk on vodka or a sup of milk for the babby rather than appreciating the delightful temples to mass transit.

I don’t want to bore you with my long-winded thoughts on society in Ukraine. Now that I’ve spent a total of 4 weeks there I think I am entitled to pass myself off as an expert. Well, compared to you Mr. Know Nothin’, I am an expert. It is a strange and mesmerising land which doesn’t seem to have much emphasis placed on ideas like sobriety, laughter or salad. Instead it gets by on a large dose of horse tranquilizers slipped into the milk supply, a timeshare system for crooked politicians to each get a go at running the government and hog fat rendering plants on every corner. Ukraine is a country famous for tractors, wheat and exploding nuclear power plants.

It could be known for a religious revival as well. Since liberation, there have been 6000 Orthodox churches built every year across the former Soviet states. Work that one out- it is an astonishing return to faith. But this resurgance has come at a price. I paid a little bit of that debt on an overnight train from Kiev at the start of the trip. Myself and my two Irish companions thought we had lucked out when our bunk room was unoccupied. We shut the door and settled down for a nice evening of eating doghnuts that turned out to have grey-flavoured marzipan in them. But a fight broke out in the corridor. It may have been a fight or it may have been old friends reuniting or it might have been a prayer session- every dialogue in Ukraine takes place in battlemode. Anyway, Sasha was meant to be in our cabin and in he came. He offered us potato vodka and we turned him down, partly because we were already knackered from the 17 hours it had taken to get this far and partly because his potato vodka was likely to be laced with some toilet bleach his aunt found while clearing out a shed in Chernobyl and which subsequently was discovered to lend a unique kick to home brew spirits.

We were the first foreigners Sasha had ever met and talked to and the conversation quickly turned to Christianity. Of course it did. Ukrainian society only ever discusses weighty important things. No tabloid magazines and soap operas thriving in their cultural exchange. Instead everyone is reading historians and post-structuralists discuss the optimum method for distributing tax revenue without applying VAT to alcohol. In the course of this conversation, Sasha made some fairly outrageous claims. He felt that Satan kept him from waking up on a Sunday morning to go to church. Allegedly his mom was only 10 when she gave birth to him. This got even more difficult to believe when he brought his brother Vassily in to chat. Vassily showed us his passport in an endearing attempt at cross-cultural dialogue in a language-less vacuum. He was 5 years older than Sasha meaning Mommy was barely in school when she popped him out.

As it happens, complications over simple numerical concepts was going to be the order of the day. They introduced us to their uncle, Séamus O’Shasnocovivich, who was totally sloshed out of his head and who looked like an elderly bachelor farmer from Offaly after a long night at the local GAA bar. Unlike his apostate nephews. Séamus was a devout believer. He inspected our Bibles carefully to make sure we were kosher and not one of those Jehovah Witness or Mormon teams who were plaguing the land. His unfamiliarity with anything except Cyrillic didn’t stop him from surmising that something fishy was up.

Séamus found his faith after the fall of Communism and now he was seeking to protect it against any false ideas that might slip in through Boryspil airport. He asked us what we thought of Jesus and whether he was the Son of God. We had to answer that question about 6 times before he was reassured. Then the numerical challenge tripped him up as he asked us how many Gods there were. “One” we answered, in a trinitarian unity. This did not please him and with the aid of violent gesticulations he forcefully made his point, “No, no, no! 3 Gods!” Now we understood what he was getting at and it all clicked into place because Orthodox Christianity relies so explicitly on theology drawn from the Trintarian form of God. We gently seek to dispel any doubts he has as we almost whispered, “3 persons, 1 God”, over and over. For about 5 minutes we went back and forth, with the 3 of us at one end of the cabin restating our position in English, Irish (we were vexations to his spirit) and pigeon Russian, Séamus in the doorway now with three fingers up, now with one finger up and Vassily and Sasha looking on amused at how easily these Christians can lose track of themselves.

I don’t know whether we ever passed his test or whether the lure of the booze-up elsewhere on the train was too strong but he and his nephews eventually went on their way. Then they turned to heat up to 25 Celsius and I spent the night listening to Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens and dreaming of home. The week was fascinating and successful and fun. The snow was magnificent, the weather was an intimidation we overcame and time spent with our Ukrainian colleagues in gangster hang-outs was so good, there were times we forgot we were eating cubic lard in a sea of buckwheat. Roll on the next visit in July!

Your Correspondent, Now named Mother Shubbubbu.

3 Responses to “Back In The USSR”

  1. Orthoperplexis says:

    Thanks for that link to a summary of what Jehovah Witness’ believe, I can now try and figure out how to outsmart my new doorbell ringing friends when they call again. Not as simple as I thought really…Any good arguments for blood transfusions, anyone?

  2. Don’t bother, Orthoperplexis, it leads to more pain than it’s worth. Perhaps Zoomtard would entertain us with some recollections in a post. Or was there one about this previously? I demand that someone else checks for me!

    Gotta love that subway.

  3. Orthoperplexis says:

    Off the topic slightly, but you might find this article interesting:

    http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/0000000CAF37.htm

    I would love to hear recollections of friendly doorbell ringers. Is continuing to call once every two weeks to ask specifically for me when I actually have not been there for the last two months a bit much?