Monday, March 28, 2011

On Ukrainian ‘national assets’, ‘hot’ wives in New Zealand, and topless protesters

After my blog post on FEMEN I've been invited to write a guest column about them for a New Zealand Metro magazine. It was dedicated to infamous NZ 'win a Ukrainian wife' radio competition that the girls recently protested  against... The piece is not much different from what I wrote on this blog earlier, but I thought I'd share it here nevertheless. 
p.s. If the headline seems slightly confusing it is because it refers to a well-known New Zealand film (or so I've been told :).


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Comparing Fukushima to Chernobyl?

I have written this post for Global Voices Online, where it's just been published. It is an overview of reactions from a Ukrainian blogosphere to events at Fukushima nuclear plant.

Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Reactor No. 4, and a monument















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The devastating earthquake and the resulting tsunami that hit Japan on Friday caused significant damage [ENG] to Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant, where shutoff of the cooling system has triggered an unfortunate chain of events resulting in several blasts, a fire and temperature rises [ENG] at the plant’s nuclear reactors.
As events unfolded, the media increasingly presented [ENG] the situation at Fukushima as the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Soviet-time disaster of Chernobyl [ENG]. This news has hit home in Ukraine, where Chernobyl nuclear station is located and where memories of the terrible events of 25 years ago are still very much alive.
Ukrainian bloggers and twitterers have closely followed and commented on the situation in Fukushima.
Kyiv-based LJ user nadiya55 wrote this [RUS]:
Электричество - это хорошо, удобно, привычно. Ядерная энергетика - удобно и выгодно. Но это опасная игрушка в руках невежественного существа - человека, не умеющего предусмотреть и обезопасить в форс-мажоре.
Чернобыль, ещё чернобыли..???
Electricity is good, convenient and routine. Nuclear power is convenient and profitable. But it is a dangerous toy in the hands of such an ignorant creature as a human being, which is unable to foresee and protect [itself from] force majeure.
Chernobyl, more chernobyls…???
Kharkiv-based LJ user slobozhanyn wrote this [UKR]:
Ясності що саме сталося немає… Воно й ясно. Ніхто в умовах, коли Японія зазнала катастрофічного лиха внаслідок землетрусу та цунамі нічого не скаже, бо це просто підніме паніку. А так - народ там дисциплінований, тому зайвого кіпішу не буде.
І ось останні повідомлення, що аварія подібна до того, що сталося на Трі-Майл-Айленді у 1979-му… Тобто “вибухнула мусорна бомба”, але не наружу, як в Чорнобилі, а в середину…
[…]
Зараз повідомили, що аварії на даний момент надали 4-й рівень з 7-ми за класифікацією МАГАТЕ. До слова, 5-й у Трі-Майл-Айленд'а, а 7-й … не будемо про погане…
[…] It is unclear what has actually happened [at Fukushima-1]… But it is understood. In the conditions when Japan has just been devastated by an earthquake and a tsunami nobody would tell something [openly], because it would only cause panic. Well, the people there are disciplined, so there would not be unnecessary [stir].
And the last reports are about the accident being similar to the one on the Three Mile Island in 1979… Which means that “a waste bomb blew up”, although not outwards, like in Chernobyl, but inwards…
[…]
Now it has been reported that the incident is currently rated at 4 on a 0 to 7 scale of [INES]. By the way, [level] 5 – on the Three Mile Island, and 7… but let’s not talk about the bad stuff [Chernobyl accident was the only one classified as level 7].
LJ user astarot-reload posted maps, pictures and links to news reports about Fukushima-1 and wrotethis [UKR]:
[…] Таки є там радіаційне зараження зі слів Японської влади. […]в країні землетрусів 55 реакторів…
повернемось до новин: новини пагані - системи охолодження на деяких реакторах вийшли з ладу, інженери качають в ті реактори морську воду.. тобто варто очікувати більш серьозних викідів радіації..[…] Землетрус - Цунамі - ядерне зараження.. кожний раз здавалось куди вже щє. […]
[…] So there is radiological contamination, according to the Japanese authorities. […] In the country of earthquakes there are 55 reactors…
But let’s get back to the news: the news is [bad] – cooling systems on some reactors have failed, engineers are pumping sea water in… this means more serious radiation leaks are to be expected… […] Earthquake – Tsunami- radiological contamination… Every time it seemed things could not have gotten any worse. […]
Many Twitter users have noted that #Chernobyl was trending and commented about the speculations on similarity between the two accidents.
@Misterio_SS tweeted this [UKR]:
Чорнобиль в трендi. Невже в #Japan справдi все так погано?
Chernobyl is trending. Are things in #Japan really that bad?
@2X_ tweeted this [UKR]:
@spotko всі так перелякались землетрусу, цунамі і апокаліпсу що вже і Чорнобиль згадали #Ukraine #Japan #Chernobyl
@spotko everyone got so scared of the earthquake, tsunami and apocalypse that [they] are already remembering Chernobyl #Ukraine #Japan #Chernobyl
@antiolya tweeted this [UKR]:
Привіт японський “чорнобиль”. В СРСР спочатку теж казали, що нічого серйозного у вибусі АЕС не буде.
Hello, Japanese “chernobyl”. In the USSR at first [they] were also telling [us] that nothing serious would come from a [nuclear power plant] blast.
@serg_lukyan tweeted this [UKR]:
@dvrnd Цілком може бути, що для ядерної енергетики японські події стануть ударом, страшнішим за Чорнобиль. В сенсі громадських настроїв.
@dvrnd It is entirely possible that for the nuclear energy the Japanese events would cause a distress far more serious than Chernobyl. In terms of public opinion.
Ukraine's ex-PM and current opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko (@Yulia Tymoshenko) tweeted this[UKR]:
@kino4ka Я стежу за ситуацією в Японії.Ми знаємо, яка це велика біда (Чорнобиль).Слава Богу, реактор цілий. До Токіо всього [200] км.
@kino4ka I am following the situation in Japan. We know what a great disaster it is (Chernobyl). Thank God, the reactor is intact. It is only [200] km from Tokyo.
A journalist and blogger Kyrylo Lukerenko posted this [UKR]:
За 25 років після Чорнобиля ми встигли звикнути до виключності нашого нещастя. Пережите лихо в очах багатьох навіть певною мірою виправдовувало довгі роки наших економічних труднощів і безбарвний побут багатьох наших співвітчизників.
Тепер у нас все менше підстав вважати наше горе унікальними, таким що і надалі заслуговує на співчуття цілого світу.
Крім того, ми просто звикли до Чорнобиля, а події у Японії знову нагадують усім нам про його небезпеку: зокрема і про те, що через 25 років після катастрофи на ЧАЕС над зруйнованим реактором не існує надійного укриття, яке б убезпечило витоки радіації назовні. […]
До чого я веду – як воно буде далі невідомо, але якщо зведення нового саркофага над ЧАЕС дійсно настільки потрібне, як нас переконують, то ставитися до нього треба навіть з більшим ентузіазмом, ніж до підготовки до Євро-2012.
During the 25 years since Chernobyl we have gotten used to the exclusivity of our misfortune. In the eyes of some, the tragedy we went through even justified the long years of economic hardship and the bleak everyday life of many of our fellow countrymen.
Now we no longer have the right to consider our grief unique, such that still deserves sympathy of the whole world.
Moreover, we have simply grown accustomed to Chernobyl, and the events in Japan again remind us all of its dangers: in particular, of the fact that 25 years after the [Chernobyl] disaster there is still no reliable cover that would safeguard against radiation leaks. […]
What I’m trying to say is this – how things would develop remains unclear, but if the construction of the [new sarcophagus around Chernobyl] is as important as they are trying to convince us, we should treat it with even bigger enthusiasm than our preparations for Euro-2012 [UEFA European Football Championship].

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

“Other reasons”


Two of our good friends are getting married this summer in a place they've met at several years ago – a ski resort in Austria. While I'm extremely happy they're finally tying the knot, there is a part of organizing a trip to their wedding that I'm not loking forward to... and that is getting a visa.

Let me tell you a story. The first summer following my university graduation my boyfriend and I decided to go on vacation to a popular tourist attraction in Europe. The choice of a destination meant that we would have to apply for visas. I have already traveled to EU during my student years for a youth project without difficulty. So I naively believed that simply adhering to requirements stated on the embassy’s website was enough to be granted an entry into your country of choice. At that point I haven’t given much thought to my changed social status and its possible implications for our summer plans.

After spending some time meticulously gathering required documents (tickets, confirmation of hotel reservations, insurance, proof of employment and financial means, etc.), we finally submitted our papers. Several days later I got my passport back with a strange looking stamp and a piece of paper that contained a list of possible grounds for refusal (e.g. incomplete or incorrect documents, insufficient funds, etc.). Mine read: “For other reasons”.

At that moment I did not know that in my case “other reasons” could have included nationality (Ukrainian), sex (female), marital (single) and social status (recent graduate), or a combination of the above. I knew some people had problems applying for visas, but I have always assumed it was their own fault because they had either accidentally or intentionally breached the rules. After some research, however, I learned that although EU nationals could travel to Ukraine visa-free for already several years, the way visa regime functioned for Ukrainians remained a painful issue to many of our citizens, especially women.

For instance, after last visa regime liberalization in 2009, a study by Korrespondent magazine found [RUS] that most Ukrainians did not consider the procedure any simpler, on the contrary, with economic crisis looming large the ‘window to Europe’ for our citizens remained narrow, with only the chosen ones of a particular social and financial status being able to enter. Rejections based on bare prejudice also remained common. The magazine cited a case of an advertising agency director Maryna Bublyk, who’s been refused a tourist visa without an explanation after one of consular staff members hinted that a single good looking woman like her was “not allowed” to enter Spain... even if she was making more money than did some married couples. Commercial director of an airline, Tetyana Romanchenko, shared a similar story of being refused a business visa by the Austrian consulate. Its staff did not even bother replying to her written enquiry about what motivated their decision.

While searching for further insights into my own situation I also learned that many travel specialists openly advised single women to reconsider their travel plans to the EU and warned all of their clients that embassies’ enquiries into their lives could easily reach the level of absurdity. Moreover, a 2010 report [UKR] by GolosUA stated that most Ukrainians found visa application procedures downright humiliating, while our citizens were also most commonly turned away at the EU border, with Brazilians being second, Russians – third, Georgians – forth, and Belarusians – fifth. Interestingly, the next nations on the list – Croatia and Serbia – had since secured a visa-free entry to the EU, leading the way for Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ukrainian government, however, was still unable to follow in their footsteps, with predictable consequences for our citizens. For instance, the 2010 study by civic initiative “Europe Without Barriers” found that the worst Schengen area consulates in their treatment of Ukrainians were those of Greece, Spain, and Italy, while only some former Socialist bloc countries like Hungary or Lithuania were friendly toward Ukrainian applicants.

Back on that unfortunate summer day, however, I had little clue about such details. After learning that due to the peak of a tourist season I would not be able to appeal consulate’s decision for the next three months, I remember being angry at losing our tourist arrangements and wandering what repercussions this situation might have on my future travels. I also remember feeling deeply humiliated; in fact, I think this might have been the most humiliating experience of my life so far.

Since then some time has passed and certain circumstances changed. Ukraine has recently signed a final agreement that should lead to the eventual cancellation of visas with the EU, and the share of refusals toward Ukrainian citizens is said to continuously decrease. I have also traveled to many countries since then, including the country that rejected my first Schengen application. However, the attitudes of most consulates are slow to change. So until our government fulfills requirements for a visa-free regime, I am going to dread visa application processes. And it’s not even the paperwork that I mind so much. It’s the whole attitude of being assumed guilty until (and if at all) you succeed to prove yourself innocent.