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On the cover
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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Ukrainian Culture

A Teller Tumultuous Tales

Book launches are seldom held in diplomatic circles, yet last month, the Embassy of Latvia to the United States presented Lenins Harem by William Burton McCormick. Set between 1905 and 1941, the novel looks at the turbulence that embroiled the Baltic State and Russia through the eyes of a Latvian aristocrat who loses everything in the workers rebellions of 1905, then becomes caught in World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinist purges. McCormick now lives in Ukraine, so Whats On phones him up to chat about the lessons of history and the responsibility as a writer to record them accurately.

When I first heard the name of the book, I thought it was a great marketing trick: Lenins Harem two words, that when combined have a whiff of the risqué, which could easily shift copies off shelves. As I soon learn, the title has nothing to do with a harem at all, and almost nothing to do with Lenin. Rather, it was the name bestowed upon a special armed unit of the Red Army whose members were truly devoted to the Bolshevik regime. 

An Ambitious Undertaking
Even with this explanation, the scope of the novel is broad, leaving room for real history and drama to collide haphazardly. I assume a writer should be highly educated and courageous to deal with a period of history so stage-managed that even now it is hard to separate fact from fiction. 
So the first question I ask McCormick is why he decided to mess with the revolution! 
You are right, McCormick says, the beginning of the 20th century is full of misunderstandings and the English speaking world doesnt have a clear understanding of these events. People know things from history books, but I wanted to present the history involving a human character the human aspect is what initially drives the reader in. 
Easily said, not easily done! It took McCormick seven years of research in libraries and archives to form his own view of events and to be familiar with the era in order to create a character that would be both believable and attractive to readers. My book is a narrative historical fiction that tells the tale of a wealthy Lithuanian aristocrat who loses everything he had his home and heritage, and ends up a member of the elite Red Riflemen of the Revolution. Along with a love affair in the book, its a tragic story, he says. As Wiktor, the main character, becomes a victim of circumstances... 
Here I stop the writer to leave some intrigue for readers. 
He does, however, offer some justification for the juxtaposition of fact with fiction. Learning from the past prevents us from making mistakes in the present or future. And because its historical fiction as opposed to history itself, it allows me, as a writer, to go in-depth, and when I as a historian dont know certain facts, I, as a writer, can go further proposing my version of events.

Who is William Burton McCormick?
The story of William Burton McCormick the writer is of interest itself. Born in the US State of Maryland and raised in Nevada, McCormick would reach the Ivy League earning degrees in computer science and ancient science at Brown University. Working in the information technology industry, he has won awards for producing video games and educational software. One day, William gave up his profitable business and decided to switch to writing! To me, I t sounds almost a crazy thing to do; something McCormick readily admits before adding there is method to his madness. You see, we have a short time here on Earth. Ive always been a story-teller and always wanted to become a writer, but I wanted to do it right, he says. 
So McCormick earned an MA in Novel Writing from the University of Manchester and started publishing short stories. Studying also at Lomonosov Moscow State University, he would spend time researching for Lenins Harem. McCormick then moved to Ukraine, completed the novel and is now contemplating his next work. As he tells it, he spends his days researching and nights writing, appreciating especially the creative side of the profession: Its a tough job you have to concentrate all the time. Thats why in my apartment in Kharkiv I deliberately have no internet excess or cable television! What I do though, is I immerse myself in the culture I walk out the door every day and talk to people. People often concentrate on differences between cultures and historical conditions, though, living in different countries allows you to see the similarities, universal things about people and that helps in writing.  
Having settled for now in Kharkiv, McCormick says he appreciates the intimate feel of the city and feels it is the perfect base for creating more short-stories and novels, perhaps this time with a Ukrainian twist.

Kateryna Kyselyova

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Read also:
  • When Walls Can Talk
  • Rights We Didnt Know We Had
  • The Path to Europe Begins Here...
  • Documenting Life
  • Head into 2014 Healthy

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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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