Meet real Ukrainian women!
In verkorte versie verschenen op
www.grensverleggers.nl van MVO Nederland ..
en in Oekraïne Magazine.
Svetlanas in uncomftable positions for love and marriage. We all know what you get when you look for ‘Ukrainian women’ in Google Images. This blog goes beyond that. For some of you this will be very refreshing and relieving, for some it will be a reason to leave this blog and continue their Ukrainian booby scrolling in Google. For those who can, I will try sincerely try to tell you about Ukrainian woman.
By way of introduction an itsy bitsy about me. That is legitimate in this blog, while 75% of me is Ukrainian woman by blood. From this specific I will zoom out to a village and from that to national and even global scale. I come from a Ukrainian mother and a half-Ukrainian father. My father’s mother found herself in Holland after WWII as one of the ‘War girls’; forced labourers in Germany who weren’t welcome in the Soviet Union any more (a recent, highly recommendable documentary about this group of 5000 women by the Dutch history program ‘Andere tijden’ http://www.npo.nl/andere-tijden/13-02-2016/VPWON_1250553). Ever since, my family has zigzagged back- and forwards. She got three sons from a Dutch man and my father returned to the area his mother came from and met my mother. They emigrated back to Holland. This is when en where I was born.
A large part of all summers I have spend on the Ukrainian countryside where my mother was born. Countryside might not be correct word. Imagine the countryside, then imagine the periphery of the countryside. Stand on the edge of periphery and imagine taking even a step further. It is the type of hamlet with wooden or loam houses in the middle of a forest with a stream stemming from mineral water springs. Literally, asphalt ends here. It is where water comes from a well, people hold their flock of cattle and vegetable garden and build their own tractors ect. This village is called Gretskino and is located in very the North-East of Ukraine, not far from the Russian border (in the Sumskaya Oblast). No, Gretskino does not has a Facebook page. Nevertheless, for me this is my Rome and all roads lead to Gretskino. For me this village, and especially the women of Gretskino are a huge inspiration to be who I am and a motivation to do what I do.
Gretskino, like almost all post-Soviet towns, is beyond it’s heyday and still hasn’t found a new purpose after the change of the economical and political system of the Soviet Union. The peakfactory has closed and so have facilities. The hospital, the postal office, the nursery, the shop have already dissapeared. And with them so do people. Where in my childhood I would run to the common fields full of children for soccer (I am really not that old with my 30 years) Now, there are barely several hundreds inhabitants left and every other house stands empty and decays. There is just no work anymore, besides some replanting of trees on forest lands. Young people leave for big city life, Life gets harder.
Men leave first, as be it scouts, to the city life. They leave behind the women and children. In a few years women leave also and leave their children with the grandpartens. After a few years the children leave to for a one-room apartment (or in a case that I know, a container). Leaving the getting-elderly in the village. The men that do stay are often unemployed and seem do deal with that a lot worse than the women, resulting in violence and alcoholism. Are women more resilient to unfortunate circumstances? That I propose as a question, not as a statement.
The women seem to patch up the holes. They build houses, take care of children, work in the vegetable garden, herd cows, go forest picking and besides that, they still find time and space to celebrate the beauty of life. Handwork and colorful embroidery is still very much on the surface. And above all: singing. I remember singing. Daily life happens while singing Ukrainian Folk Songs. When you sit together, you sing. When you peel potatoes, you sing, when you work in the vegetable garden, you sing. Am I over-romanticizing? I know I am and I know it’s not like that always and everywhere. I know this village is above average in singing, because these women have formed an official choir and win even national contests.
I find these women so powerful and so very much cooler and much more a role model than women who are praised for having bought new shoes with high heels and are able to walk on them mostly on red carpets while people take pictures of them going duck face with their newly manicured nails. Honestly, I find that a little disabled and a fraction of what we, women, are.
Why not just let economical cycles have their ways and let the people move and life in cities and let villages die out? Because there are people and whole communities involved and placing systems before people is false prioritizing, according to me. Tendencies, although often presented as natural laws, are really the result of man-made outcomes of political and societal decision. The various systems we live in should be there for the people. If people experience serious deprivation living in a certain system, who dysfunctions: the people or the system?
A lot of my friends who were born and raised in the woods really long for their village. If only there was work. They find themselves being no one in the alienating, anonymous mega polis, working illegal under imaginable working conditions and -hours. Being able to buy your mum a washing machine really makes it worth it.
And for the women:
There is a overal positive relation between economical welfare and the degree of emancipation. In opposite, other words: women tend to experience a decline in emancipation during economical decline. The jobs left tend to go to men first. Dependency on men and men-with-money-hunting becomes much more important. There is even a thing called ‘the Lipstick index’, discovered by a chairman of Estée Lauder during the economical downfall after 9/11. The bigger the economical malaise, the more lipstick sold. And now there appears to be a nail polish index also (Time, 2011. http://business.time.com/2011/09/14/what-lipstick-tells-us-about-the-economy/ ) My unsubstantiated assumption is that there are also parallel ‘miniskirt’ and ‘high heels’ indexes. You get my point? This explains a lot of current image of post-soviet Union femininity we tend to hold in the West. And here we come back to the mailorder bride. There is a broader image and a deeper story behind it that calls for compassion and understanding. In the dry dessert of personal development or career prospect, many Ukrainian brides are available and who can blame them. They are just looking for something better. In West we have an ugly word for that; ‘fortune seekers’. But aren’t we all just fortune seekers? Wouldn’t we just all go look for a better future? Isn’t it just a basic human characteristic or a basic right to seek a better future?
I want to approach them as who they really are and look beyond the either nailpolished or working hands. Intelligent, creative, worthy, powerful human beings that are beautiful and worthy just as they are.
Do I care whether they live at the countryside or wear nailpolish? Suprisingly, I couldn’t care less. As long as this is their free choice and they are happy with that. In facilitating this choice I find a huge motivation to provide them with honest, creative work that they can do at home, anywhere they live and anyhow they look. This is my contribution to vital rural livelyhoods and empowering women.