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Monday, June 16, 2008

Paul McCartney Rocks the Rain Away in Kyiv

All my troubles seemed so far away,
Now it looks as though they're here to stay,
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Generations of Ukrainians love this song, and so do billions of people all over the world. But who loves the scenario?

Billionaire Viktor Pinchuk, the man who brought Paul McCartney to Kyiv, is certainly not one of them. He wants no trouble. His bring-a-star-for-PR program aims at generating positive publicity and securing a bright tomorrow for himself and his family. In other words, PR = McCartneyPinchuk.

But does their bright tomorrow strike a high note with the “bright tomorrows” of millions of his fellow Ukrainians and their families? That’s the billion dollar question that reverberated through my brain as I stood in the pouring rain at Independence Square in Kyiv, the capital of one of Europe’s poorest countries, yet home to a dozen billionaires.

Here, at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, as we Ukrainians call it, the Orange Revolution took place in November 2004-January 2005. The goal of the Orange Revolution was to amend the social contract from a zero-sum game to a win-win game. That goal remains unmet.

It was here that on Saturday, June 14, 2008, at 9 p.m. EEST, we Ukrainians would meet Sir Paul McCartney, who came to Ukraine to perform his Independence Concert. (Proceeds from the sales of VIP tickets would go to help children with cancer.)

Actually, aside from Gen-Xers like me, the audience included scores of Soviet-born baby boomers, in their 50s and 60s, some of whom came from all over the former Soviet Union to worship the idol of their youth.

Long before glasnost and perestroika, The Beatles had become a legend in the USSR during the Khrushchev thaw of the mid 50s-early 60s. Despite this quasi-liberal post-Stalinist interlude, the Iron Curtain remained intact. The watchdogs of communism gnashed their teeth at the counter-cultural dimension of Western music, viewing it as “capitalist propaganda” and therefore a threat to the Soviet way of life. (I touched on this phenomenon in my previous post.)

I made a big mistake by not bringing an umbrella. Drenched to the bone, I had to desert my perch near the entrance to Fan Zone 3, and run for cover under the canopy of the Trade Unions building, the one with the red clock tower.

Before the concert began, they ran a telethon with major Ukrainian cities, Chas buty razom (Time to Be Together), along with a warm-up feature film about the local impact of The Beatles.

One of the interviewees shared his memories of how, back in the 60s and 70s, The Beatles records could only be purchased on the black market, at several times the monthly salary of a Soviet yuppie. At that time, a Soviet citizen’s love affair with Western civilization could cost them their career.

And guess what? All of a sudden, they put Kuchma in the memoirs mix! That’s no accident. Former President Kuchma, the autocratic leader whom the Orange Revolution cursed with "Kuchmu het!" ("Down with Kuchma!"), happens to be Pinchuk’s father-in-law.

I failed to catch Kuchma’s recollections of The Beatles era due to poor sound, but I instantly recalled the guitar gigs he pulled on television during his first presidential campaign in summer 1994. (I was 14 at the time.)

Kuchma’s unexpected two cents created cognitive dissonance for the Independence Concert, given Kuchma’s controversial role in Ukraine’s independence. Understandably, the event sponsors had a more favorable opinion of their extended family member. Later on, some other domestic policy issues would also pop up, adding to Kuchma's ever-present aura. (Tabloid has a few snapshots of the Kuchma family present at the concert.)

Anyway, the countdown finally reaches zero and Paul McCartney mounts the stage. He screams, “Pryvit druzi!” (Ukr. hello friends!) and sends ripples of joy throughout the rain-bedraggled Independence Square. His opening song: “Drive My Car.”

After a while, the rain almost subsided and I made it closer to the stage, finding my way through thousands of ecstatic folks of all ages. (An estimated 350,000 people attended the Independence Concert.)

It was a great pleasure to hear Paul McCartney cheer up his audience in Ukrainian. Naturally, I felt a little uncomfortable when I heard “the Ukraine.” Apparently, the event planners failed to instruct Paul, in the most polite manner, that we no longer live in “the Ukraine.”

“The Ukraine,” as in “the Ukraine girls really knock me out,” defined our country as a Soviet republic — as a province of Russia — not as an independent country. Since Ukraine became independent, we say Ukraine, without the definite article. And, of course, when we talk about the Ukraine, we say Kyiv, not Kiev. Well, because many Ukrainians speak little English and often converse in Russian, the outdated usage did not register with the audience.

A few more caustic observations. The telethon kicked off with two hosts: Ani Lorak, who spoke Ukrainian, and this other guy, a member of Comedy Club Ukraine (can’t recall his name), who spoke Russian. Here comes politics. On the one hand, this bilingual commercial approach traditionally serves to attract Russophone audiences. On the other hand, it provides a disincentive for Russified Ukrainians to learn or relearn Ukrainian.

Paul McCartney punctuated some of his songs with a playful combination of spasibo-dyakuyu/dyakuyu-spasibo, or thank you in Russian and Ukrainian, respectively. While I certainly don’t believe that he meant to upset non-Russified Ukrainians like me, I suspect that this learned meme reflects the event planners’ segmentation of Ukraine’s linguistic landscape.

In the 2004 presidential election, which sparked the Orange Revolution, Mr. Pinchuk favored Viktor Yanukovych of the Party of Regions. The PRU owes much of its popularity to being the driving force behind the bid to make Russian a second official language in Ukraine. If approved, the measure would effectively kill the Ukrainian government’s modest efforts at reviving the Ukrainian language. That, in turn, would preserve the linguicidal legacy of Russification in eastern Ukraine.

So here’s my question: Does making Paul McCartney a party to this intimate policy issue — no matter how subtly — promote Ukraine’s independence?

One can study Russification on a family basis. Judging by their public appearances, neither Viktor Pinchuk nor his wife, Olena Franchuk, former President Kuchma’s daughter, speaks Ukrainian.

Ironically, Kuchma does speak Ukrainian. A native of Kostobobrovo, a small village in Chernihiv oblast, Kuchma spent most of his pre-political life in Baikonur and Dnipropetrovsk, where he learned Russian and unlearned Ukrainian. After becoming President of Ukraine in 1994, Kuchma relearned Ukrainian without unlearning Russian.

His linguistic success story — one of his few presidential achievements of which Ukraine can be proud of — begs the question of why his daughter and son-in-law can’t master Ukrainian. After all, they want to be perceived as supporters of Ukraine’s independence, correct?

That said, the show was terrific, a time travel experience from a true legend. Ageless Paul McCartney rocked the rain away and received the warmest reception from the people who were having the happiest time of their lives.

As the concert drew to a close, they begged him to perform “Yesterday,” and he did it! It was midnight, but the people walked away with their eyes shining. Thank you for coming to Kyiv, Paul!

As the concert drew to a close, they begged him to perform “Yesterday,” and he did it! His valedictory song brought tears to many eyes. It was midnight, and the people walked away with their eyes shining bright. Thank you for coming to Kyiv, Paul!

My advice for Mr. Pinchuk: Put the people first and do more for Ukraine!

Maidan under heavy clouds

Crossing police cordons

In half an hour, I'd be taking a shower

Taking a shower

Damn, I should have brought my own umbrella!

The last shot I made before deserting my position and running for cover

My "drydock" vantage point

Ani Lorak and (dunno his name), hosting the Chas buty razom (time to be together) telethon

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Leeeeooooniiiid Kuuuuchmaaaa!

Verka Serduchka, cultural neighbor

A Pinchuk Foundation promo

Waiting for showtime

The Union Flag flies over Maidan

The sky goes orange...

And there he goes again!

The countdown

"Privet druzi!" (Rus. hello, Ukr. friends)
"Drive My Car"

"All My Loving"

"Got to Get It Into My Life"

"Let 'em In"


"Calico Skies"

"Mrs. Vandebilt"

"Eleanor Rigby"


"Back in the U.S.S.R"

"Let It Be"

"Hey Jude"


"Yesterday" (Novy Kanal)

Thank you, Paul!


Anonymous said...

I'm glad people enjoyed the concert, and I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade -oops, it looks like nature already did that.

1) It's nice that Pinchuk, beneficiary of ill-gotten gains (Kuchma, his father-in-law, stole his share also), organized a concert throuhg his foundation. Apparently, $600,000 has been raised for a children's hospital.

Interesting - because everyone in Ukraine, and those who left Ukraine for greener pastures, will swear up and down that medical care, including hospitals, in Ukraine is/are free.

The reality is different - the money assigned from the budget to pay doctors and equip hospitals is regularly stolen by government bureaucrats.

So, one has to pay doctors under the table, one has to bring sheets and other things to the hospital for any sick patients.

Or, one has to throw an occasional rock concert in Kyiv (well, this is the first one).

Apparently the way to take care of budget "shortfalls" in the medical sphere and outright corruption in Ukraine is not to fix the government, but to throw rock concerts.

The "political elite" don't care, because they can't seem to find any doctors in Ukraine, and always go outside the country for their medical care.

2) Back to the USSR - if things keep going the way they're going, that's going to happen.

3) Memories of sovok-ear Beatles -

in 1978, no sovok citizen was allowed in any tourist hotel. There were special stores only for tourists, which accepted only foreign currency. Some sovok citizens were brave enough to approach tourists to buy something for them in the "foreign stores," because sovok goods were basically cheap and shoddy imitations of Western or Japanese goods.

Every hotel played an "approved list" of Western songs. There was only one - "Hotel California." To this day, I HATE that song, having heard it over, and over, and over, and over, and over in every hotel.

People would also ask about Duke Ellington - seemed to be the only person on the approved list.

Some people would collect empty Western cigarette packs - Marlboro, or other.

In the meantime, the sovok "political elite" had access to anything from the West it wanted. It was well-known that Brezhnev demanded "gifts" of Mercedes on "official visits" to Germany. (He also used to order up rooshan girls for himself.)

The sovoks were very proud of the ruble. They wanted $1.10 for every ruble at the official currency exchange stations.

On the street, people would buy your dollars for 7 rubles or higher to the dollar. The people knew better.

If they got caught, they risked very severe punishment for currency speculation - шпекулація.

People would walk up and ask to buy your jeans - the older and more worn, the better. Older and worn jeans were a status symbol, since it signified that you had enough money to buy jeans and had owned them for a long time.

4) I thought I heard him say привіт (priveet - Ukrainian), not привет (privet, Russian). No matter - he said he loves Ukrainians.

5) So that's how the Pinchuk Foundation operates. Pinchuk doesn't giver away any of his own money. He throws a political ex-Beatle concert, honoring his father-in-law Kuchma, and asks for Other People's Money - and claims credit when he gives their money away.

I wonder if the children's hospital will actually get any of the $600,000.

Marta Salazar said...

Thank you Taras!

Taras said...

You are welcome, Marta! Thank you for sharing it with your friends, and thank you for the suggestion you made at your blog!:)

Thanks for challenging my listening comprehension, Elmer!

To me, it sounded more like “privet druzi,” a combination of Russian and Ukrainian:)

Perhaps this perception was reinforced by the spasibo-dyakuyu issue. It’s still unclear to me whether he said privet or pryvit. Having thought about this, I decided to drop my interpretation and stick with “pryvit druzi” until further study.

The Soviet ruble had its strengths and weaknesses. Throughout the ‘70s and up until the mid-‘80s, the purchasing power of the ruble remained relatively strong, if measured in terms of food prices. One could buy a loaf of bread for 16 kopecks, consume a kilogram of kolbasa for 2.20 rubles, or enjoy a decent restaurant meal for 10 rubles. Monthly take-home pay averaged 120 rubles.

The lion’s share of consumer goods and clothing indeed had poor quality, which explains the much-higher black market exchange rate for the US dollar. While demand for quality Western goods ran high in the USSR, most of the supply came from fartsovshchiki (black marketers) and beryozkas (hard-currency stores).

The petrodollar-financed era of the mid ‘70s-early ‘80s saw the rise of consumerism in the USSR. Subsidized and cross-subsidized with petrodollars and price scissors, the Brezhnev economy produced the happiest time for the Soviet consumer — in Soviet history. (As you noted, the nomenklatura had their own “specialty stores.”)

Despite dumping a dose of Finnish and Comecon consumer goods on store shelves to pacify the Soviet people and boost their morale, it was all downhill from the mid 80s.

Communism collapsed. Cronyism did not. Through old-boy networks, an coalition of apparatchiks and entrepreneurs “got their groove back” in the roaring ‘90s.

I assume the Pinchuks do not want to be back in the USSR financially. After all, several hundred rubles a month cannot buy an £80M mansion in London.

In the USSR, they’d spend years, or even decades, on the housing waiting list to get that 2-room apartment.

Well, that’s how most people live in Ukraine today.

Michelle said...

Thanks for the great post Taras!

I also hope that Kyiv's Children's Cancer Hopsital will benefit from this concert. I know that there has been "no money for medicine and children's needs" there for at least nine years, (I used to go there to minister to the families.) Despite hundreds of western humanitarian organizations and churches giving money, as of last year on TV they were still complaining that they have no money for anything. Anyone can go there and see for yourself what is going on. No nurses, parents sleeping in beds with children because they have to live there to take care of them. Parents begging for money from visiting foreigners.....I couldn't take visiting there anymore because it was too painful to see the suffering and exploitation going on from both sides.

Anonymous said...

In 1978, every tourist group had a "guardian angel" from Intourist - to make sure that tourists did not go where they were not supposed to go. In other words, there were only certain designated areas where tourists were permitted to go. I managed to get around that.

Before I went to Ukraine, I was given a list of "requested items" - I won't say from whom. I was amazed at some of the stuff - not even I knew about Roland musical instruments, for example.

We knew not to talk in the hotel rooms - "bugs" on the walls. If we spoke with family, it was always in a safe place, outside.

Performers who went oversees from the sovok union were always heavily guarded by "babysitters" - to make sure they didn't defect in New York City, for example. Or bring back "forbidden" items.

The farther east one went, the more tense it became. I finally made it to Maskva - a dour mud pit. The taxi driver was drunk, and laughing all the way, and he pulled some doughnuts (he made the car spin around in circles, which was easy, since there was a light rain, and the streets were slick) on the way to the hotel.

In Maskva, there were special nightclubs for foreigners - well, except for some of the locals who worked there. I met some people from Phillips Petroleum, who had just come back from oil work in Baku.

They kept shaking their heads at how bad the technology was in the Baku oil fields. Still true today.

I don't think I've ever been in a more dour place than Maskva.

For Ukraine, I don't believe in yesterday - I believe in tomorrow, despite all the sclerotic babushkas who can't seem to differentiate between icons of stalin and icons of Jesus Christ.

And despite the viral oligarchy.

What gives me hope? There didn't seem to be ANYONE listening to Kuchma's inane and stupid musings being shown on stage via video.

People in Ukraine are smarter than that.

PS Taras, the largest economy in Europe is - Germany's. It is a smaller country, and has fewer people, yet its economy is far larger than Ukraine's.

I wonder if the sclerotic babushkas who keep shouting and screaming and barking about NATO like Pavlovian dogs know that?

Taras said...


Thank you for sharing it with your blog readers!

You know the way things are in Ukraine’s public health care. Charity alone won’t help, especially when guided by ulterior motives. Tossing change while keeping one’s hand in the cookie jar won’t change anything.

Enough of these charades. We need change.


Babysitters, requested items, bugs, industrial espionage, etc — you said it. It’s all part of Soviet memorabilia.

In the late ‘70s-early ‘80s, Kyiv looked no better than Moscow. In fact, Moscow always topped the “best places to live in the USSR” list. To this day, Moscow remains a country-within-a-country.

During the summer 1980 Olympics, they sanitized Moscow of “bad-looking” people (criminals, alcoholics, prostitutes, etc) and supplied it with food and consumer goods galore to put the best face on the Soviet way of life.

In the Moscow of today, anyone can buy anything if they have the money to buy it. Same here.

Germany has a smaller territory but a considerably larger population. Ukraine’s population would probably equal Germany’s if we had no Holodomor, no Stalin, no WW II and no stabilnist.

As for the economy, you’re right on target.

Compare Germany’s GDP per capita of $34,181 (PPP), or $39,650 in nominal terms, to Ukraine’s $8,624 (PPP), or $2,852 in nominal terms.

Anonymous said...

Oops, you're right about the population, Tars - in part.

Germany has had quite a bit of immigration - including Ukrainians from Ukraine looking for a better life BECAUSE OF THE VIRULENT OLIGARCHY IN UKRAINE!

With respect to the statistics you quoted from Wikipedia - notice that Germany was the number one exporter in 2007.


Thank you, Ukrainian oligarchs, for making Germany - NO. 1.

Thank you, Akhmetov, and Pinchuk, for all of your "charitable work."

Thank you, Zviahilsky, for killing people in coal mines in Donbass - сила Донбасю

The Ukrainian phrase, сила Донбас, means "strong Donbass." Donbass is the eastern region of Ukraine with lots of coal mines and metallic ore mines, and the Donetsk Mafia, which pretends that people don't blow up in Ukrainian coal mines, and which likes to say that, since it "produces most of the wealth in Ukraine, it ought to get most of the spoils."

Zviahilsky is a puke thug of an oligarch, about 5 feet 6 inches short, and weighs about 500 pounds.

After all the mine explosions in his mine, oops, it's not his mine, he just collects money from it, he recently threatened a mine safety inspector by telling him that he would be coughing up blood.

I wonder if the little thug attended the concert.

Oh - and thank you, Ukrainian oligarchs, for importing all of those Bentleys and Rolls-Royces!

We love the thug oligarchs in Ukraine! They hire US law firms to sue people!

Taras said...

I didn’t see Zvyahilsky at the concert but I’ve read the story you mentioned.

You’re absolutely right about Ukraine having a grotesque luxury car market that accentuates the country’s wealth distribution and power distance.

Many Western tourists mistake the ubiquitous Mercedeses, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces and SUVs they spot in Kyiv for Ukrainians’ overall living standards. Welcome to the Potemkin village of stabilnist!

A country where 50 people control two annual budgets worth of assets creates lucrative opportunities for luxury car makers.

I wonder what percentage of their custom-built vehicle orders comes from Ukraine.