No, I have not been to Ukraine but I think it borders Georgia, of the erstwhile Soviet Union. From the Ural, we were shown the other side that was Ukraine. Vast, vast vestiges ran up to the distant horizons. Not many footfalls in this part of the world. Untouched mostly and unmarred by too much of human presence: this is what came to my mind as we made our way through the mountains to Gudauri ski resort. Normally you may expect the former soviets to be stiff and upright. But in total contrast, I met on the way rural Georgians who kept bees, gathering honey from floriculture and watched old row houses growing grapevines zip past in the countryside. My visits to Georgia and Azerbaijan gave me an idea of what the mighty Soviet Union must have been in some ways but disproved many other myths. One one side there were the so-called rundown block of flats but on the other were these snaking highways and gas pipelines as easily. Russian technology is different, not obsolete – at least in my opinion. I have not been to UK, but have visited the US although have covered only a fraction of the entire landmass, and I have been to a few European countries as tourist. So unlike others and in spite of all that I read in media, i have come to love the serene and calm environs of the former states of the USSR that are now republics on their own right. The engineering and technology are another level. Highway standards and automobiles are another standard but then I know that the first shuttle that flew into space was the Sputnik from the USSR. So I do have enormous respect for Russia even now. I don’t deny that communist regimes breed corruption as history has shown. More than corruption the autocratic rule is what can be truly oppressing. In Azer I even got a feeling that the public preferred being with Russia! Georgia however was different and was keen on joining the European Union at a future date. Georgians saw themselves as Europeans – a recent outlook only, even as the European governments have started flirting with George trying to establish business links. Azers felt closer to Turks and Iranis probably dictated by shared cultural ethos. Azer and Armenia have been historically at loggerheads. This is one more sensitive geographical spot so far as I can see that can blow up anytime, infused with hate and aggression. Mafia in Azer I understood was run by Russian thugs. Mafia in that entire region was under Russian control. Azers were of opinion they need Russian help to scoff at Armenia, the christian country that had tacit European backing.
In this scenario, I recall a visit from Kiev university of a professor of Economics (whose name I am unable to recall) to University of Madras. My major (in masters) was Econometrics and the year was 1990-91. He was a visiting prof who was on in the last leg of his lecture tour when he was in our campus. I guess I have blogged on this earlier but I will anyway do it again. The hindi picture ‘Brashtachaar’ was released starring Rajnikanth whose billboard he said, he happened to notice in every big city of India where he went for giving lecture. He said, when he understood that the meaning of the title was ‘corruption’ he was flabbergasted, because no way in the Russian dictionary this word existed! It was illegal and it could mean trouble. The professor was astonished at the range of merchandise and veggies and fruits that were sold across India. He said, he was taught that India was poor but the bountiful India came as a surprise to him. He felt, India was a very rich country, definitely better than USSR where the locals had to queue up even for buying bread. It was just before the soviet union came apart. Gorbachev was the president. He said, the USSR was breaking up anytime time and that he looked forward to it. I neither remember his face nor his name but the way he compared India with Russia – the gist, stays with me. He was all admiration for India. The visit was an eye opener to him. I did think of him Georgia and Azerbaijan. I realize the historic significance of his visit only in last few years. It was just the crux of time.
Since we have all read the book 1984 by George Orwell and we feed on the books fiction or nonfiction authored by writers from west steeped in capitalistic values, we also tend to underestimate the communists at the same time. To me Georgia and Azerbaijan came across as unspoilt countries, natural beauties not marred by greed and crass commercialization that plague Europe and the US. I wish both remain original to eternity. Life is tough no doubt, but it is tough for everyone, in every corner of the globe. Georgians happened to think that they have been held back from progress (read westernization), but they must know that they must count themselves lucky to have missed the bus. I hope Georgia doesn’t join the bandwagon of EU but rather stay different and outside the loop. But I agree the EU entry would open so many doors for Georgia.
Although the Russian technology is strange to us, being basically engineering men, my husband (civil & structures) and a family friend of ours (mechanical) could somewhat evaluate and compare their standards of engineering with others. They were very impressed with what they saw. Even the wine breweries and cheese I found to be the best in Georgia. Local cuisine was exotic and unlike anything continental. The entire experience for us was a novelty. Yet I was charmed by the old world laidback lifestyle of both Georgians and Azers. They could be poorer cousins of Swiss or Germany, but the peace and richness I found in these two countries was very reassuring. Churches and mosques were opened after the balkonization of the soviet union. Pristine environment. Tourists are already flocking to this part of the world as both the countries along with Ukraine, also opened their doors to the medical and engineering universities that are rated the best and could be at par with those in the US or UK. In another 10-20 years I have to admit sadly, that even these heavens will become regular thoroughfare losing their quiet magic. The precious gift they hold their citizens are not aware of. Instead they yearn for anything branded or imported from America.
I hope the professor is well and safe in Kiev. I have interest in Ukraine for this reason. All said, may peace prevail. We were only guests but the day we were leaving, our Georgian cab driver got us a bottle of red wine his wife had brewed with her owns hands and stocked in their cellar. It was well aged. That really moved me to tears. In Azer too, shook hands with very many kind rural folks. Human beings are the same everywhere.