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7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope


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28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidans three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the countrys stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.

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Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.

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Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.

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Ukraine Today

Smoking Ban Turns to Ashes

Earlier this year Ukrainian authorities announced with no little fanfare that they intended to get tough on smoking, with talk of on the spot fines for smokers caught puffing in public places and a sharp hike in prices for the countrys favourite weed being banded about in bars all around the capital. But these high minded ideals have yet to be truly put into practice and probably never will be.


Just why the powers that be attempted to crack down on smoking remains something of a mystery. Public health is, finally, becoming a major concern in a country where the average life expectancy is pitifully low but many speculate that the main reason for the purge was an attempt to make Ukraine appear Western, a step which, like abolishing visas for EU citizens, would supposedly yield enormous benefits in terms of the countrys international image through little effort. The insistence of making all bars and restaurants at least half non-smoking and the banning of lighting up in certain public places may not have been as radical as those steps taken in Italy and Ireland, where smoking is becoming something approaching an underground activity, but for Ukraine it was almost unheard of. And guess what? Today it still is. The problem is that Ukrainians like to smoke; they like to smoke a lot and no amount of entreating from the government will persuade them to kick the habit. Recent research carried out shoes that nearly 60% of men regard themselves as regular smokers and this does not include those who light up as a purely social activity. Aside from the former Soviet UNI0N, rates above 50% elsewhere in Europe are seen only in Turkey (51%) and Slovakia (56%), and worldwide fewer than 20 countries report rates of more than 60%. Ukrainian women smoke less than their male counterparts, and puff away less frequently, but the figures are still shockingly high. The majority of male smokers reported that they began smoking before the age of 20, and around a quarter began in childhood. Far fewer women reported beginning in childhood, and a sizeable percentage began after the age of 20. Men were found to smoke more cigarettes than women with the majority of men smoking ten or more cigarettes while most women said that they smoked less than ten per day. Significantly, the majority of smokers reported smoking their first cigarette within an hour of waking up, the sign of a true diehard.

 Perhaps locals would be more inclined to give up their tobacco if the authorities took a leaf out of Tsar Alexis book when it comes to punishing those who insists puffing away in public. In 1634 the Russian tyrant created a series of sever punishments for smoking which were certainly bad for your health. For a first offence the unlucky tobacco lover would be whipped, have their nose split and be packed off to Siberia. Caught out a second time and the punishment would be execution. Now as reactionary as the countrys law enforces can be this would be a bit much, particularly when it comes to the countrys undoubted pastime. When the countrys new smoking legislation was first passed there was understandable chatter that enterprising militia men would be dinning out on champagne and caviar courtesy of the amount they could make in bribes collected from smokers caught in the act. But it seems that even Kyivs boys in blue cant be bothered to reprimand private citizens for smoking. Bars and restaurants are of course a little different but then again, the tax police have always been that little more persuasive than the average policeman. The laws inactivity is the result of two considerations the first being the law itself, which in the grand tradition of Ukrainian legislation is confusing, contradictory, and down to the local authority to exercise as it sees fit. Is Kyiv tough or tolerant to smokers? Who knows, and that includes the police. The other reason is that the authorities, being smokers, probably have some sympathy for the very people they are supposedly meant to be rounding up. Tsar Alexis policy was shaped largely by the Orthodox faith. In the seventeenth century a large number of pamphlets condemning smoking as an unhealthy and antisocial habit were to be found throughout Europe and the Orthodox Church argued that to destroy your own body was itself an attack on God. Warning stickers on packets, at least the tame variety found in Ukraine, dont quite have the same impact.

 So why are Ukrainians so partial to their nicotine? This question can be partly explained if we look at the one group of locals who in general smoke less than their compatriots, those who were teenagers, the usual age of induction, between 1945 and 1953 as cigarettes, like all consumer goods, were in short supply in the period of postwar austerity under Stalin. Today cigarettes of all brands are available from almost any street corner and even for the poorest of society cost next to nothing. In fact smoking is one thing which unites Ukrainians from all backgrounds. The habit is maybe one of the few things which the beautiful young Kyivlanka has in common with the grizzled Donbas miner and to explain this it is necessary to look at smoking in a cultural context. As we can see from contemporary paintings, the Cossacks were never seen without their saber, bandora and pipe. Tobacco grew in abundance around the Black Sea and it was therefore only natural that the Cossacks should light up especially as, like the leather jacket of James Dean and the snarl of the Sex Pistols it is possible that the Cossacks used their pipe as a symbol of defiance, a seventeenth version of giving the Czar and the authorities who made them outlaws the old one finger salute. However smoking only really took off with the ascension to the throne of Peter the Great. When not taking the shears to noblemans beards or torturing his own son to death, Peter openly advocated the use of tobacco and courtiers who knew what was good for them soon took up the habit. To reason that promoting smoking was just one of many ways Peter subverted the power of the church is all well and good but the simple matter was that, like most things western, Peter thought it was cool. Who knows, maybe he had enjoyed a sly smoke as a boy when visiting the foreign quarter in Moscow.

Since then smoking has been a part of many Ukrainians daily lives making the idea of banning it or even restricting it, laughable. Whether or not smoking is still considered cool here in Ukraine is debatable. Certainly cigarette advertising in Ukraine portrays it as a glamorous pastime for beautiful people but one would think that it is simply too cheap and too widespread for it to be considered as an exclusive hobby. Nor does it have the same sort of rebellious cool symbolism as it does in the west, as there really is no stigma to smoking here. Yet it maintains its aura. The black and white art film Coffee and Cigarettes proved a big hit with Kyivs fashionable crowd and all the time Audrey Hepburn is held up as a fashion icon, young women will continue to reach for their pack of twenty. Maybe things will change in the future but all the time Ukrainians take up smoking from an early age, all the time tobacco is so cheap and all the time that cigarettes are forever associated with glamour, smoking will remain one of the countrys favourite pastimes.


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Comments (1)
You are not authorized! Only registered and authorized users can add their comments!
chris | 24.02.2014 18:46

Maybe after years of a communist dictatorship controlling people\\\\\\\'s lives \\\\\\\"for their own good\\\\\\\", they want to make their own decisions. Or they know, for example, that countries like Japan, Austria, Greece, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, France, etc. have both high rates of smoking AND high life expectancy.


 
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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didnt Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they dont understand the meaning of these words.


    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades childrens favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. Whats On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.

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