Manafort spent most of his time in Kyiv (Киев) or running back and forth between Kyiv and Moscow and Cyprus, where there are big money-laundering banks.
|With master embroiderer Marta.|
Manafort worked for Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs, like the mineral magnate Oleg Deripaska, who paid him lots of money to promote Russian interests and curry favors with the USA. Manafort arranged special meetings, like the one between Yanukovych and Obama in 2012. During the Trump campaign, he flew Russian colleague Konstantin Kilimnik to the USA to meet with Trump and his advisers, and he arranged the secret and now-suspect Mayflower Hotel meeting between Russian Ambassador Sergay Kislyak, Jeff Sessions, and Jared Kushner.
The closest I came to any oligarch was knowing of Rinat Akhmetov, one of the richest men in the Donbas, who built a fabulous soccer stadium in his hometown of Donetsk. Football in Ukraine is as big as it is in any European city. Turns out Manafort worked for Akhmetov, too. Russian troops and Russian-armed proxies have decimated the city of Donetsk. I think Akhmetov regrets his pro-Russian dealings. Manafort might, too.
After many cups of tea, listening, and gaining trust, I began to make lists. I loved the people. I saw the faint hope. I saw the doubt and suspicions. "Why is she here?" I was the first American most of them had ever met. I made myself accessible. I never turned down an invitation, even if I didn't understand where I was going, which was half the time. I created my own well-worn path between Panfelova Street, where I lived with my host mom Luba, to the Market (where you could get everything you ever needed), and to the center of town, St. Nikolas Church, and Schools #2 and #3. The Monastery on Kyrova was also nearby. I learned from my friend Olga, a font of Ukrainian history, that this beautiful oasis had once been a site of the execution and burial of Polish army officers, soldiers and civilians captured when Stalin invaded Poland in September 1939. It's part of what's known as the brutal "Katyn Massacre," its history shrouded in mystery until recently.
That's how I learned first hand the history, culture, traditions and folkways of the people. I learned about Starobelsk poets and writers, artists, embroiderers, jewelry makers and dressmakers. I learned about Ukrainian national culture, sometimes strained, but I focused on the things that united Ukraine east to west of the Dneiper River. It's hard to accept that Manafort, on the contrary, exploited divisions on behalf of Putin and against the interests of Ukraine and its people.
|A collage of English Club photos: club meetings, getting books, sharing.|
In Starobelsk, I discovered that there was great interest in learning English and practicing with a native English speaker. That led to the English Club at the Public Library (Biblioteca). I learned the Library had no English-language books. That led to a successful book drive, with friends from America joining in. I learned the Library needed computers and the community wanted free public access to the internet. That led to an application to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which led to getting ten computers and WiFi for public access. I learned through my work with the human and women's rights NGO Victoria that many people were victims of violence or falsely detained for crimes they did not commit. That led to a "Know Your Rights" project that reached 10 rural villages around Starobelsk.
|With friends after an English Club meeting.|
Manafort flew all over the place, while I took trains and buses. At first, the 20+ hours overnight train ride between Lugansk and Kyiv was a killer, and on top of that it took almost 2 hours to get to and from Starobelsk to Lugansk. I got used to it, grew to like it. I was a traveller meeting all kinds of interesting people: students, workers, teachers, nurses, a trucker, a psychologist, farmers, computer specialists, small business people. I made friends of strangers. As soon as they learned I was American, and that didn't take long, they wanted to talk. My Russian was basic but we managed to get around it. I doubt Manafort ever had these experiences.
He worked from the top down. I worked from the bottom up.
|Luba's New Year's Eve meal,|
12 delicious salads
|Luba's Paska bread at Easter, a Ukrainian.|
|Lunch at Olga's. I fell off my bike. and broke|
my arm. Home healing helped.
Not only did I savor the food but I savored the culture. I took the train all over Ukraine, to Lviv, Uzegorod,the Carpathians, Slavsky in the far west, down to beautiful Odessa and Crimea to the south. What a great country. I spent as much time in Crimea as I could because a PCV friend worked with the Crimean Tatar library (forced to shut down). We visited fabulous places: Simferopol, Bachysaray, Yalta, Yevpretoria.
|At Stefa's in Lviv with Olga on our trip|
.to the Carpathians. East and West together.
Perhaps Manafort weeps for his lost millions. Or for his egregious mistake in thinking that working for the amateur-hour Trump campaign was furthering his business interests. His "extreme makeover" of Yanukovych had worked, afterall, Why not try it on Trump? It didn't work out, too many questions got in the way, and remain.
Manafort and I had different priorities. His was to help the rich; mine was to get to know the people. He has little to no idea about their stories or their daily lives, about their suffering and their courage. I'm sure it bothers him not a whit that Putin violated a sovereign country's borders, that he has turned Crimea and large parts of Lugansk and Donetsk into wastelands. The war goes on, a "hybrid war." Thank god Starobelsk, so far, has been spared, due in part to the people's determined opposition. Still, Starobelsk has been inundated with refugees and the people live in fear. It haunts me.
|With Natalia, the fabulous English teacher and|
interpreter, & her husband Vasyl, at
the Lugansk Train station.
|Vera Flyat, head of NGO Victoria, at a seminar |
on women's rights in Lugansk. The women leaders
learned from each other. I had the chance to
to tour the city & meet up with Lugansk PCVs..
When I left Ukraine in 2011, unrest was growing, young people couldn't find jobs, taxes were rising and wages were going down. The Party of Regions was viewed as a den of thieves, and Yanukovych's approval rating was lower than tRump's is now. My friends in Starobelsk worried about their jobs and railed against the rampant, outrageous corruption. "What can you do?" I'd ask them. They'd smile at my American "can do" attitude. I was accused of being always positive! They would shrug their shoulders and say "That's the way it is" (Так оно и есть).
I didn't know when I left Ukraine in 2011 how bad it would get, how unsettled, how vicious and violent. Then all hell broke loose.
I view Ukraine as an autonomous sovereign nation with clearly defined, internationally recognized borders, with its own distinctive history and culture. Russia invaded the territorial integrity of a foreign country, and has gotten away with it. Russian-speakers had close ties to Russia, yes, but no more. They feel betrayed. Putin turned on them, like Stalin had done during and after World War II. It's a story told by historian Timothy Snyder in "The Bloodlands." Today, in the Donbas, a renewed Ukrainian identity has been forged and it is stronger than ever. If nothing else Putin's aggression has solidified a sense of Ukrainian unity. Russia is a common enemy.
What I didn't know then, what no PCV knew then, was that while we worked with dedication and enthusiasm to strengthen and support Ukraine, there were Americans like Manafort working to undermine it. While we worked on behalf of the people to help them build their communities, Manafort worked with Yanukovych on behalf of Putin to undermine loyalty to Ukraine. That remains one of the greatest shocks to absorb.
Natalia Artelava, "How (Not To) Cover Lies," Coda, 3/28/2017. Excellent article on how Putin went into Crimea and how his "alternative facts" propaganda campaign fooled western journalists.
*Steven Lee Myers and Andrew E. Kramer, "How Paul Manafort Wielded Power in Ukraine Before Advising Donald Trump," New York Times, July 31, 2016. This is one of the best articles on Manafort's work in Ukraine.
This just out on Mariupol, as I was finishing up this blog: https://www.yahoo.com/news/ukrainian-state-security-officer-killed-163539924.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/20/world/europe/paul-manafort-ukraine-allegations-trump.html?_r=1. Reprinted in the Kyiv Post, an excellent source for Ukraine news.
|Natalya's beautiful beaded artwork, a special gift. |
This photo doesn't do it justice.
|Natalya and son Ivan visited me and my family|
in Sylvania, December 2016. We were amazed
it really happened! She was visiting
Ivan and his wife, who live and work in NYC.
|The people of Mariupol protest Putin's aggression. "Putin out."|
I think Putin still has his sights on this strategic port town on the Sea of Asov.
(AP photo/Sergei Grits)
|My three host moms: Vera in Chernigov, where I had 3 months of culture and language training;|
Olga (we're sledding down Panfelova Street; and for my last few months,
Natalya on Kyrova Street. All great cooks and fabulous women.