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¹7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

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 EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s 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.


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.


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.


Ukraine Today

A Ukrainian Hospital’s Scottish Hero

He’s an unsung hero of independent Ukraine: Scotsman Jim Gillies, a 66-year-old retired electrician who over the years has raised 17,000 pounds for a needy hospital in Malin, a village in the Chornobyl zone.

“My wife asked, “What are you spending all this money for?’” smiles Gillies, who in late November completed what’s become his yearly charitable trip to Kyiv and Ukraine. “I answered, ‘What can I do? I’m all they’ve got.’” The ‘they’ are the children and other patients at the Malin hospital in Zhytomyr Oblast, 70 kilometres from Chornobyl. Gillies has become a regular visitor – and something like a guardian angel – at the hospital, helping the impoverished rural facility by purchasing the equipment it lacks and giving it cash. Gillies, a Glasgow native who now lives outside the city in the town of Cumbernauld, began his unlikely charitable career in the aftermath of the Chornobyl disaster. As an environmentalist concerned about the dangers of nuclear facilities in Britain, Gillies found himself transfixed by the catastrophe in the Soviet UNI0N. Hoping to raise awareness about the costs of nuclear power, as well as the trauma afflicting Ukraine, Gillies went public. On Chornobyl’s first anniversary in April, 1987, he waged a 12-hour one-man vigil in Glasgow’s George Square, an effort he’s repeated on every anniversary since. “One year a man brought a meal over from the hotel,” says Gillies. “Another year, the provost of Glasgow came over to shake my hand. More Ukrainians are coming along to the vigil now.” Says Gillies, “Some years it’s cold and damp and other years it’s okay, but even when it’s bad it’s better than what people suffered in Ukraine.”

The most fateful result of his yearly vigil came in 1991, when he received a letter from a Kyiv college English student. The student, a certain Oleksandr Lazarenko, asked Gillies if he could help Lazarenko’s friends and family, who were suffering from Chornobyl’s legacy. He particularly stressed the help that his sister, a nurse at the Malin hospital, needed in her work. Gillies and Lazerenko corresponded a few times, and then the latter fell silent. A few years later, Gillies attended a lecture about Chornobyl in London. In a conversation afterward,

 “My wife asked, ‘What are you spending all this money for?’ I answered, ‘What can I do? I’m all they’ve got.”

 the Ukrainian lecturer, Anatoli Artemenko, promised to help Gillies visit the Mallin facility. The result was the first of Gillies’ nine trips to Ukraine to date. During it he handed over 100 pounds to the head of the hospital’s children’s department, who used the money to purchase medicine and food. The money was a significant gift for a hospital that received only several hryvnya a month per child. During subsequent visits, Gillies has provided the hospital with other crucial items: basic medicines, kitchen equipment, baby milk, operating costumes, bandages, disposable syringes, surgical tools, and blood pressure kits. Some of this stuff Gillies buys right in Malin, travelling to local stores with a pocket full of cash. Just this November, for example, Gillies took hospital staffers to a local furniture store and bought beds and cots. Other items he brings from Scotland on the bus, which – along with the occasional train – he prefers to airplanes because he can carry more. The London-Kyiv bus, by the way, takes three days. Gillies’ achievement is the more impressive for being thoroughly grassroots. While he’d love to attract rich supporters, so far he’s been making do by spending his own pension money, and with contributions from regular working people. Since his Glasgow vigils started attracting attention, people have even mailed money to his house. One day he found 3000 pounds in his mailbox, stuffed anonymously into a Jiffy bag with a note that read ‘For your children.’

 Like any foreigner, especially those who face logistical issues, Gillies has had his share of adventures. The last few years saw him struggling to deliver an incubator to Malin, a project that turned into a bureaucratic comedy of errors when customs impounded the equipment. The incubator never made it to the hospital, but a happy ending still developed: Zhytomyr Oblast bureaucrats were so shamed by the Soviet-style exercise in red tape that they prevailed on the national government to buy the hospital an incubator itself. “You’ve managed to change the Ukrainian government,” an impressed Ukrainian friend told him. But Gillies has also found himself on the receiving end of rural Slavic generosity as he’s travelled the Zhytomyr backroads in marshrutkas. On his most recent trip to Malin, a female fellow passenger took him under her wing and made sure the foreigner got to where he was going – she also plied him with jelly donuts in that firmly hospitable Ukrainian way. In Kyiv, meanwhile, Gillies made friends with Okean Elzy singer Slavko Vakarchuk, who wanted to meet him. As the pair talked in a bar they were swarmed by girls. “I thought they wanted my autograph,” Gillies says. “But no, that wasn’t the case. Vakarchuk is a nice guy like, you know.”

 Back in Scotland, Gillies, who is married and has two grown children, takes night classes in Russian and in computers –computers, because he’s interested in producing his own videos about life in Ukraine. His next project, meanwhile, involves not getting supplies into Ukraine, but getting a child out – an orphaned 11-month-old patient in Malin named Bohdan. The child, who weighs only five kilograms, requires Western medical attention, and Gillies would like to generate publicity in the U.K. press about him and get him adopted. At the same time, he’ll start raising money for his next benevolent mission into the exclusion zone. “If I can get this hospital some of what it needs, if I can help them,” he says, “then that’s enough for me.”

Andrey Slivka

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didn’t 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 don’t 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 – children’s 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. What’s 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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