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Sunday, June 17, 2007

“Circle of Life” or “Circle of Lies?”
Elton John Feat. The Kuchma Family Perform at Maidan

As part of his global campaign against the AIDS epidemic, Sir Elton John visited Kyiv, where, on Saturday night, he gave a concert. He camped at Maidan Nezalezhnosti (or Independence Square), the heart of the now-comatose Orange Revolution.

Approximately one percent of Ukraine’s population of 46 million are HIV-positive. Every day, some 49 Ukrainians contract the virus, which puts Ukraine in the ranks of European “leaders” in this death race.

Ironically, the author of the “Candle in the Wind” was brought here by marketing communications whiz Olena Franchuk and billionaire Viktor Pinchuk, former president Kuchma’s daughter and son-in-law, respectively. These two high net worth individuals have gotten into the habit of posing as “philanthropists” in a country impoverished by Kuchma’s favoritism-driven privatization policies, which made Ukraine a fertile ground for AIDS.

The show kicked off with AIDS awareness ads by Elton John and David Beckham, followed by a feature film “starring” the incredible Olena Franchuk, head of the local Anti-AIDS foundation. Throughout the film, Kuchma’s daughter made passionate overtures to HIV-positive children. Using slice-of-death scenes, she took pains to help her fellow Ukrainians get a hold of the problem.

Elton John, hardly a guru on who’s who in Ukraine, referred to Franchuk and Pinchuk as “friends” and even dedicated a song to them. He also threw the in front of Ukraine [Soviet-era usage] and related to the audience with Russian spasibo instead of Ukrainian dyakuyu.

This made him sound like he could have used some expert advice from Daddy Kuchma's "national bestseller," Ukraine Is Not Russia. By the way, Daddy K did attend the event. However, sharing the VIP sector with President Yushchenko made him an unlikely candidate to “feel the love tonight.”

The show went well and the public responded energetically, even though the playlist did not include a good many hits like “A Word In Spanish,” “Simple Life,” “Made In England,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
Unlike first lady Kateryna Yushchenko, who, being born into a Ukrainian American family, studied the stage with lively interest, President Yushchenko sat tight through the whole show.

Circle of Life,” Elton John’s valedictory song, watered my eyes, engulfing me in an emotionally intense flashback. The Lion King (1994) soundtrack is one of the theme songs of my teen experience of growing up in Kuchma’s Ukraine. As a member of the global MTV Generation, I passed my TOEFL test in 1994, at age 14. That same year, Leo II (Kuchma) became “king” of Ukraine.

Now that I’ve grown up in what has become an AIDS-stricken country, I find Elton John’s commitment praiseworthy. He remains one of the world’s greatest artists and an honorary citizen of my teen world.

But there’s the other side to this sentimental moment of truth: His “friends” belong to the unstoppable and untouchable caste of Ukraine’s oligarchy, whose footprint has impressed AIDS into the social fabric of society.

In practical terms, though, Ukrainians must assume primary responsibility for protecting themselves against AIDS, a disease they contracted through Kuchma’s corrupt rule. At the end of the day, we only have ourselves to rely on in getting the “Circle of Lies” syndrome out of our system. There’s no other way we can live our lives to the fullest in the true “Circle of Life.”

Circle Of Life

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to be seen than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done

Some say eat or be eaten
Some say Live and let live
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give

In the circle of life
It's the wheel of fortune
It's the leap of faith
It's the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, in the circle of life

Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars

There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round


P.S. Before he closed the show, Elton John redeemed himself by speaking a little Ukrainian: “Zupynymo SNID razom!” (“Let’s stop AIDS together!”)


David said...

good job with the bitter-sweetness of lauding the activism but pointing out the compromises with the existing system.


Taras said...

Compromise? I wouldn’t read much into it:)

To me, it’s just practical advice. We can’t count on the Kuchma family to keep a lid on AIDS. Unprotected sex is often a matter of choice, one that occurs on a personal rather than political basis.

Yet blow the lid off Oligarcharitable Ukraine we must. When it comes to public healthcare and economic wellbeing, it’s a matter of having little choice — due to certain policies.

Let’s face it: They did not partner with Elton John to protect Ukrainians from AIDS. They did so mainly to protect their possessions from Ukrainians who question their “hard-earned” status. In summary, they did so for public relations purposes, targeting high-profile Western audiences as well.

Being the captain of one’s body and soul, I believe, has more to do with change rather than compromise:)! It’s about taking control of one’s destiny while maintaining a clear map of who’s who in Ukraine.

Pawlina said...

You are so right, Taras. It is so much more about protecting lifestyles than about protecting lives.

Taras said...


Thank you for putting a dime in my jukebox, Pawlina:)!

It’s a pleasure to have Canadian Ukrainians on board:) By caring to know what’s what and by spreading the word, you help us prevent these phonies from making the most of their masquerade.

You help us build a Ukraine that no longer needs a bunch of oligarchs and an AIDS epidemic to attract a world celebrity.

Taras said...

Um…"Ukrainian Canadians" would be a more conventional term, I guess:)))

Sometimes, it takes a while for me to notice how I messed up the word alignment by writing, for example, "American Ukrainians" instead of "Ukrainian Americans." No satire intended:)

David said...

I share your view that they are not driven by altruism.

It is often pr..., but this is the sort of pr you want to make expected of them and to make sure that the truth is still out there.

Its hard sometimes to know whether the changes are accomodations or changes in views. By all means press for the former, but don't discount or dismiss the possibility of the latter, even if the ideologies your opponents are converted to still fall significantly short from your pov...


Pawlina said...

You're more than welcome, Taras! You have a great blog here.

Incidentally, Ukes (as many of us refer to each other affectionately) here in Canada aren't terribly concerned about the order of Canadian and Ukrainian. The convention is "Ukrainian Canadian" but we have been here so long that many are starting to think the other way around is more appropriate.

Nonetheless, we in the diaspora are anxious for Ukraine to get on its feet, much as you envision. (Molodetz!) For so long, we were cut off from our "mother country" by the iron curtain ... and now we are desperately trying to make up for lost time! So yes, I have a very avid interest in what is going on in Ukraine. And a particular loathing for the "phonies" who are messing it up for you ... Anything I can ever do to help, just let me know. ;-)

Taras said...

Unless we put change first, the only thing that will be compromised is our future.

We need core changes that will neutralize the social causes of the AIDS epidemic rather than cosmetic ones designed to alleviate some of its effects. If we buy into the show at this "tender age" of our charity culture, we’ll get screwed big time.

Therefore, the more public relations inconvenience this problem causes our oligarchs at home and abroad, the stronger their motivation to pitch in.

Taras said...

Thank you for your support and encouragement, Pawlina:)! You make me wish I could tune my radio to Nash Holos:)!

You are a great asset to the Ukrainian community in BC and the definition of a diaspora Uke who cares. This identity flexibility you mentioned — “migrating” from Ukrainian Canadian to Canadian Ukrainian thanks to the Information Age — benefits your mother country.

By raising our voices and talking straight, we raise awareness of the burning issues that Ukrainians must confront to make their country a better place.

Keep up the good work and keep in touch:)!

Slava Ukrayini:)!

Pawlina said...

Thanks for the kind words, Taras!

Actually you can get Nash Holos as a podcast or downloadable archives here ... I play a mix of music, lots of Canadian artists, so you might be interested to hear how Ukrainian music evolved on this side of the iron curtain over the decades. Talk (cooking and travel tips, interviews, local events, etc.) is mostly in English but it doesn't appear you would have a problem with that. ;-)

Keep up with this awesome blog, Taras. You have great insights so please keep sharing them and expressing your opinions strongly!

David said...

I agree whole-heartedly with the importance of causing public-relations inconveniences for the "powers that be"...


Taras said...

Well, I’ve already done some snooping around at the Nash Holos website and at your blog too:)

I love the way you guys have kept alive the culture and traditions of your mother country. I admire how Ukrainian Canadians have enriched their host country with the talent and energy they brought as they crossed the ocean, wave after wave.

In 1995, while in high school, I read two books about the early life of Ukrainians in Canada. That was exciting! Our school received them as a donation from the Ukrainian community of Manitoba. I think of them as a precious gift: With the Internet virtually unheard of in Ukraine, English books meant the world to me.

I look forward to discovering the best of diaspora music as soon as I get a fresh supply of Internet traffic: July 1. (I have a fixed plan at home — a common thing in Ukraine — and I’ve already used up my monthly traffic quota.)

In the meantime, I’ll keep my opinions as strong as it takes to promote constructive change in Ukraine:)!

Slava Ukrayini:)!

Taras said...

That's the job, David!:) (or, rather, part of it:)

Pawlina said...

Glad to have you visit, Taras, and hope you've enjoyed your visits!

And thanks also for the very kind words re Uke Canadians. It means a lot.

Canadian (and other diaspora) Ukrainians have not always had an easy time preserving the culture and have encountered all too many contemporary native Ukrainians who shower us with contempt because we failed to do it perfectly. So it is very nice to find someone in Ukraine who appreciates our efforts!

If you're interested in learning more, a new book was released last spring, called Kobzar's Children: A Century of Untold Ukrainian Stories. It has been selling like hotcakes, and I'd love to send you a copy as a gift. It's a collection of fiction, memories and poetry spanning 100 years of Ukrainian immigration, and will give you an even broader picture of some of our community's struggles and successes. I wrote one of the stories so will autograph it for you. Email me at the address on the website's Contact page and send me your mailing address. Then when I come to Kyiv you can buy me dinner at your favourite restaurant! ;-)

Good luck with your internet connections. I read here and here that wireless broadband is coming your way. Hopefully that will improve access for you.

Taras said...

It’s a deal, Paulette:)! I’d love to expand my horizons. A copy of Kobzar’s Children autographed by one of its authors would be a great restart for my Ukrainian Canadian studies:)

The attitude that some of my fellow Soviet-born Ukes have adopted seems totally misplaced to me.

It does make sense, though, if we proceed from the notion that they are the ones who failed to preserve the culture. Russification best explains why large numbers of native Ukrainians may experience culture shock with regard to the diaspora.

Canadian Ukrainian, as I know it, comes with an English accent — a major turnoff for Yanukovych fans and a red alert for communists. CU owes its vocabulary to a pre-Russified version of Ukrainian made extinct during the most brutal chapter of Russification that began in the 1930s.

Due to all of the above, we have a certain category of folks who feel tempted to deride you. They grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and it still sticks.

My advice: Don’t take it to heart:)! What could be more misguided than a Soviet cultural lens applied to the generations of overseas Ukrainians who still speak quite a bit of Ukrainian:)?

P.S. In Cambodia, 3G networks got banned on moral grounds last May. In Ukraine, they haven’t even seen the light of day until recently:) In-no-way-tion writ large:)

C. Michael Sturgeon said...

I just want to say thank you for having this blog up and keeping it regularly updated. I have been visiting (and have lived in) Ukraine for seven years now. It is my second home and I care very much about the people. Of course by saying "the people" that covers social issues, political situation and much more.

I would love to call Ukraine my primary home some day. When I lived in Ukraine (2004-2005) I got hooked on the political situation. Before then, I was non-attentive to what was happening. My Ukrainian friend would tell me about Kuchma over and over. Then it hit just how things were when he and I together would talk about the "news." At times he would explain inaccuracies and the like.

Well, I have said all of that just to simply say, thank you.


Taras said...

Thank you so much for your warm words, Michael:)!

Make yourself at home:) Newcomers are always welcome. Your feedback helps me learn more about my audience, and thus furthers my blog’s mission: helping the world get a better grasp of Ukraine.

As Ukraine entered the Information Age, not having exited the Industrial Age yet, my innovation gene led me to the blogosphere.

At first, I looked to it as a place to better myself and maintain a profile in the local job market. Later on, patriotism took over as the driving force. Once comments began to appear regularly on my blog thanks to my readers’ networking, I stepped up the effort.

Based on my experience as a Western-oriented yet ordinary Ukrainian, I set out to provide my audience with a GPS that followed my country’s tricky political terrain. In my posts and replies, I took pride in challenging widespread myths about Ukraine. I passionately filled in the blanks left by the mainstream (and often Moscowcentric) Western media.

Still, some of that volunteer work has been emotionally exhaustive and time-consuming. My blog-absenteeism, I must confess, has sometimes violated my readers’ learning needs:)

Having done online background checks, I was delighted to discover that you and I share some common interests: intrinsic motivation, self-directed learning, e-learning, etc. (For the record, I tend to attribute my knowledge acquisition largely to intrinsic motivation and self-directed/double-loop learning:)

Your 2004/05 stay in Ukraine saw a renaissance in our political activism — in a much-needed break from more than a decade of depression-induced, inertia-driven slumber. The Orange Revolution, along with its subsequent ups and downs, was a time of learning. And the truth it brought home was that of knowledge as a moving target, and of learning as a lifelong process in the 21st century.

It has always pained me to detect expat communities here in Kyiv with “limited learning needs” regarding Ukraine: where it has been, where it is, and where it is going. Some of that lifestyle, of course, mirrors Ukrainians’ own nihilism.

That’s why I greatly appreciate your transition. It’s a pleasure to have someone who has cracked out of his/her cultural cocoon:)! Join me in my exploration of Ukraine and learn to your heart’s content:)!

C. Michael Sturgeon said...


I am glad to hear you found some "good" information when you did a web check on me :-) I know there are hundreds of pages on the web with my name on them but some are so very old it is amazing. I found my name on a site from a posting of 1998 recently. At that time I was just settling into my work as a professor and didn't really know which direction was up.

It is exciting for me to hear that you have an interest in the same areas as I do. Just as you, I contribute most of my learning on my intrinsic motivation and self-determination. (Deci & Ryan' Theory)
My first exposure was learning a second language strictly because I wanted to do so not because I HAD to. Earlier in my college career (20 yrs ago) I tried to learn Spanish -- I failed miserably. Seven years ago at the age of 40, I started on Russian (much more complex I am sure you would agree) - I did this for me. My outcome? Well, most of my Ukrainian friends call me "fluent" but I would tend to disagree. Which is part of the learning within me - higher expectations.

Your blog has so much information that I want to devour and share with my students. In May, I brought 25 university students to Ukraine (Poltava and Kiev). They absolutely loved Ukraine and many are trying to find ways to return when we come again next May '08. I find that their exposure to Ukraine gives them a better understanding, as I place them in homes with Ukrainians for three weeks. This allows them to see through the eyes of others and experience life, to a degree, as a Ukrainian would.
Your blog's information will be, and is, of great help for me to prepare the students. They hear about politics from Ukrainian students but have no idea what is happening in Ukraine, politically speaking.

Well, I have rambled long enough for one day and for one posting. I will try to contribute something that will be of greater value that this post in the future.

Again, thank you for allowing me to communicate via your blog.


Taras said...

Rule #1: We learn best when we love what we learn, right?:)

I discovered that rule early on in my English studies, and it changed my life. From then on, I’ve been a staunch advocate of intrinsic motivation.

Once your fluency in Russian meets your quality standards, you’ll be more than welcome to expand your horizons by learning Ukrainian. You can be sure your fluency in Russian will give you a head start:)

As a Soviet-born Ukrainian, I consider Russian my co-native language and use it extensively in my daily life. But whenever I communicate with Americans, I always emphasize Ukrainians’ separate identity and encourage them to learn Ukrainian:)

It’s an honor to be a source for your students’ Ukrainian studies. By the way, did you know that during WWII Poltava hosted U.S. Air Force bombers?

The hearts and minds of young Americans depend on people like you, Michael. You show them the way to learn more about the world around them, and together we can make it a better place:) Happy Independence Day:)!