Published on Maidan (http://eng.maidanua.org)

Footprint in Time: One American's controversial thoughts on Ukraine

By Terry Hallman
Created 2005-07-02 06:59

Kyiv Post [1]
by Terry E Hallman
May 22 2003

A 10 year-old girl with an infant in her arms rang my doorbell. She was barely alive, unlike the 9 year-old boy who died, frozen, on another American’s doorstep in Kherson a few months ago. The little girl was blue in the face and starved. She asked only for a small amount of food, nothing else. My wife, Olga, raided the fridge and gave her everything we didn’t need. I later found Olga in tears, not because of the little girl at our front door, but because we both knew that this pitiful girl is only one of many such children throughout Ukraine.

I find myself totally disgusted. Have Ukrainians no spine, no dignity or pride?  If I offend Ukrainians, tough! Get a grip and listen up.

There is no good reason for children to be starving and suffering in Ukraine.  The only reason it happens is that Ukrainians are all wimps who are utterly helpless to do anything other than accept their ‘fate’ likes sheep. Kids starving? Yes, that’s just how it is, and nothing can be done about it. That seems to be the prevailing opinion.

In fact, something can be done about it, but Ukrainians – every single one of you – are unmotivated to do anything that does not immediately benefit yourself, your family and perhaps your friends. Sure, I know you feel bad about starving kids. You should feel bad. In fact, you should feel terrible.

I have just spent a year in Crimea at my own expense designing a program that I believe would relieve some of the country’s poverty. The U.S. is interested in making the program a reality.

The program involves no freebies or handouts, and it would make it possible for anyone to earn a decent living. As an added benefit, it would pump funds into social programs for children like those who presented themselves on my doorstep.

The problem? Ukrainian government officials are reluctant to permit its implementation unless they see an opportunity for personal gain. I am totally opposed to graft, so we are at a stalemate. Neither Ukraine or the U.S. can implement the program without my assistance, and I have made stealing from the program extremely difficult.

My advisors say that Ukrainian officials will not budge until they are paid. In the meantime, messy details like starving children are held hostage. It seems that no matter how good your intentions, nothing happens until the dons of the Ukrainian political mafia are paid.

Because the public will not change this situation, the officials are killing the economy, people are starving or dying of neglect. At the end of the day, it seems that most Ukrainians just don’t give a damn about each other. Surely, there are exceptions, but if those exceptions exist, they are all but invisible.

I see it every day, as people scurry around like rats without giving a second thought to hungry kids. Never mind what the U.S. may do –  at some point, Ukrainians have to step up and take charge rather than roll over and play dead.

The U.S. is observing, at my insistence, how local officials behave regarding the prospect of getting a good-sized development project. As anticipated, the government officials immediately hold out their hands. They are relentless gatekeepers, unwilling to take action without payment. And the people merely concede that bribes must be paid. Change things?  No, take the easy way out. That’s the definition of Ukraine and all things Ukrainian.

Ukrainians are responsible for allowing the abomination that is your government to continue unchecked. Good projects come along, and citizens themselves concede that playing ball with the government status quo is the best way to go.

Children die due to widespread social neglect and the ineptitude of most Ukrainians to manage their own community – and this doesn’t seem to bother many people. It may be a personal curse that bothers few: Me, my wife and too few others in this country.

It will be easy for those offended by this message to suggest I leave Ukraine if I don’t like it. That’s fair enough, but what would that accomplish? My departure would mean just one less voice raised in defense of starving children, one less voice challenging Ukrainians to realize the destiny that could be, as a strong, prosperous and vibrant country. 

Do Ukrainians even know that they have that potential? I do, and I’m sure of it. 

Terry E. Hallman is a specialist in economic development and poverty relief who has resided in Crimea for the past year.

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