Україна ще не вмерла 07/06/2011Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
Tags: alcoholism, birth defects, cafe d'albert, chernobyl, chornobyl, demographics, devil's bridge, economics, exclusion zone, history, khreschaty park, kiev, kyiv, nuclear power, population, radiation, travel, ukraine, urban, walks, wandering
Jets of foaming water danced to the pixie’s delight, charming a hapless pack of aging tourists who thought Janice and I could lead them to further enchantments. The monkey grinder plied his trade in gracious silence, the dragon slayer hesitated his delivery of death. Plastic bubbles drifted through the surface scum of their tank, failing to tempt any of the carefree teens eagerly anticipating their elevator ride underground. No horses roamed the carefully tended paths and no evidence betrayed any act of violence towards drunken imbeciles rich with brilliant ideas.
Atlantic City, our convivial breakfast companion given to preemptive fits of hiding ashtrays, insists Kyiv is European. On those rare occasions when my perpetually fractured internal clock aligned with the stars I entertained notions of a Parisian existence while propped against the counter of Cafe d’Albert. There was always at least one older gentleman in a slightly shabby suit beginning his day with a Pernod or Ricard.
The morning drinker at Cafe d’Albert soothes his shakes browsing Liberation or l’Humanité, orders a tartine beurrée, and steps away from the counter before gravity becomes adversarial. Khreschaty Park ends with a small counter bar turning a brisk trade at ten in the morning. Patrons had settled into a spread of tales with half-liters of draft, including a couple decorated members of the local law readying for their shifts. There was little talk and no newspapers. There was no food.
Carelessly flicked cigarettes from the bar’s early-risers would endanger an inflatable technicolor nightmare suffering a case of toddlers. One listless parolee watched as a couple kids scaled a rope ladder to throw themselves down a slide while another kept watch for screaming hordes fighting over miniature Jeeps. What at first seemed a sad turnout for childhood delights was actually an economic boon for a pair of marginally employed roughnecks. Each park throughout Kyiv is dotted with lonely outposts on a city bereft of laughter and skinned knees.
In Paris the middle class produce offspring so they may parade them through the streets like show-dogs. Precious little darlings in designer attire cruise down sidewalks in artfully engineered buggies while mommy or daddy court admiring glances from passerby. The national anthem here is Ukraine is Not Yet Dead. Migration chases vast numbers westward to avoid a declining life-expectancy that see most men dying in their early-sixties. Experts blame rampant alcoholism, inadequate healthcare, poor nutrition, marginal education, and a collective depressing stemming from the collapse of the Soviet Union and successive governments rife with corruption.
Lacking any evidence of prosperity or security women seem loathe to bear children. Infant mortality rates near those of more impoverished CIS states and are blamed on a dearth of prenatal care and a hospital system which overcomes supply shortages by recycling equipment.
Whispered beneath official chatter is a deep-rooted suspicion that Chornobyl damaged the reproductive health of a nation. Doctors working the northern oblasts, regions close to the exclusion zone which received heavier doses of radioactive debris, report higher than average instances of birth-defects. Kids born to liquidators as well as women evacuated following the explosion are twice as likely to be affected than the general population. Orphanages in the Gomel area of Belarus, where the highest concentration of radiation settled, are packed with deformed and abandoned children. The IAEA/WHO has not seen any evidence of a relationship between Chornobyl and the levels of congenital disease.
Researchers speak of immature nervous systems, reduced metabolic functions, premature osteoporosis, and hormonal imbalances. Adi Roche pleads for the recognition of a localized heart-condition dubbed Chornobyl Heart. The head of the local UN redevelopment agency, whom I later interviewed from Paris while he was on his cellphone ignoring his screaming kids, thinks that the biggest challenge facing northern Ukraine is a branding issue.
Rows of rental pedal carts sit idle while tenders jangle kopeks in their pockets. Assortments of plastic amusements attract no audience. The parks are waiting for a new generation but left with bored attendants and empty swings.
We cut between the inflatable slide and the morning drinkers, to the edge of Khreschaty Park. A narrow bridge hangs high above a busy road. Couples had come to fasten locks to the railings, the posts, the decorative metalworking. Declarations of love were drawn in marker or professionally etched into them. In Paris you find them along the Pont des Arts. In Kyiv it’s the Devil’s Bridge, once infamous for suicides. City workers come annually to make repairs, cutting the locks down to sell as scrap.
Perfectly tasteful and not at all inappropriate photographs detailing children by Janice.