There is a story among Slavic men that if you come home to find your wife at the door, hands on hips, then turn around and get out. It is not worth the argument. You have already lost.
Maybe it is an unfair reputation, but their women are strong. From the cosiness of our lives in the West we forget some of the factors that has led to their stoicism. I wrote about the history of the region in The Masterful Manipulation of George Cove.’ Here I was specifically talking about Belarus:
As he drove he remembered the stories he had heard of wartime resistance against the Germans that was fought around these very places. Twenty-two million allied soldiers had died in the war and twenty million of those were Soviets.
He also knew that more than twenty-five per cent of Byelorussians, civilians or soldiers, had been killed in the war. Byelorussia had been hit hardest of all the Soviet states.
The Germans had destroyed over two-thirds of the cities with less than a hundred unaffected. Nearly all the industry had been destroyed, with deaths and casualties of maybe nearly three million. He tried to imagine how that would have been felt in Britain. Only four hundred thousand British soldiers or civilians had died in the war, but more than six times that number of Byelorussians had died. It was this resolve in the Slavic people he admired and respected. These people knew suffering, he thought, and now he had to respect one more Byelorussian.
If anything, the situation in Ukraine, if it is possible, was worse.
Ever since the Middle Ages, the Ukrainians have struggled to free themselves from invading Russians, Poles, Austrians, Ottomans, or Germans all vying for control of the large, fertile region.
World War 2 ravaged the country. I tried to edit down this excerpt, but it was not easy (http://www.infoukes.com/history/ww2/page-18.html )
Academician Yuri Kondufor, Director of the Institute of History , Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, in September 1984 gave for the first time precise statistics of Ukrainian population losses in World War II. He stated that there was a total loss of 7.5 million (7,509,045) including the dead and those taken as slave laborers to Germany. The German occupation and World War II resulted in the extermination and death in Ukraine of 3,898,457 civilians and 1,366,588 military and prisoners-of-war for a total of 5,265,045. (Gregorovich, Forum No. 61).
According to Professor Kondufor there were also 2,244,000 Ukrainian citizens taken to Germany for slave labour in the German war industry.
Toronto historian Orest Subtelny in his Ukraine: A History (University of Toronto Press, 1994) states: “Even a cursory listing of losses reflects the terrible impact that the Second World War had on Ukraine and its inhabitants. About 5.3 million, or one of six inhabitants of Ukraine, perished in the conflict. An additional 2.3 million had been shipped to Germany to perform forced labour.” (p. 479).
Even if we accept the conservative figure offered by Prof. Kondufor (during Soviet rule it should be mentioned), Ukraine’s loss of about 7.5 million people is greater than the total military loss of the USA, Canada, British Commonwealth, France, Germany, and Italy all put together.
In conclusion it seems reasonable to estimate that because of the German occupation and the Soviet repression from 1939 to 1945 during World War II, that Ukraine lost about 10,000,000 citizens or one Ukrainian out of four. It is reasonably estimated that about 50 million people perished in the world because of World War II which means 20 per cent of all the victims were Ukrainians. In this figure are about 600,000 Ukrainian Jews.
I won’t go into the ravages of later Russian occupation lasting until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the glory of independence, finally, in 1991.
It is against this horrific background that the Ukrainian women I know, were brought up; remember that when they started their education it was still under a Russian dominated regime.
If there is a reason to be stoical, maybe this it.
Of course, personal strength doesn’t just come from hearing the experiences of ancestors and parents, but from genetic learning. The weather in Ukraine is extreme. There may be an average summer temperature mid-twenties but in January that average drops to minus five degrees. In 2012 it dropped to minus thirty. That is cold!
Last night Sasha and I went out with Stanislas, her father, who kindly shared a small bottle of fabulous Georgian artisan cognac. I rarely drink but it was well worth making an exception. I mention this only because I was grateful for the fortitude it gave me while we stood waited for our taxi as the temperature dropped to a crisp minus nine.
They may just be numbers but from a soft southern english perspective living with these weather extremes brings strength.
However, there are changes. Over the last dozen years or so the internet has opened the world to everyone and that includes all the post-Russian states. What was hidden is now clear and the effect is pervasive.
I can walk around Kiev and, if I wasn’t a vegetarian, I could eat at one of many McDonalds and it is far harder to find Ukrainian food than a pizza or sushi. Chanel and Prada are in the shops and international TV stations are easily available.
I wonder what impact this will have on the culture and the people?
Sasha and I first knew of each other over 5 years ago and like many couples it was an introduction through internet dating. We met, we wrote daily, and we kept on meeting. What I remember from those dating times, however, were the huge numbers of women on the site all looking for western relationships. I was even more surprised how many wanted to meet with me.
If I was a Minister in the Ukraine government I would be very worried. The women were the cream of a generation. They were academically highly qualified. Sasha, for example, has both a Bachelor and Masters degree. They worked in law and other professional roles. These women are the ones that hold the core values of the society, yet still they want to leave.
Maybe it is not just the lure of the West but the inability of their men to adapt to the change.
Since 1950 the average life expectancy of Ukrainian men has not changed from 66 years (in Russia it is 64.7 years) while over the same period for UK men it has increased from 68 to 79. The Swiss at 81.3 years live the longest. In a morbid league table of life expectancy Ukraine is currently 120th. Alcohol is a significant cause of death among Ukrainian men and over 50% of deaths are from coronary heart disease.
For now, why Ukrainian women want to leave for westerners is someone else’s problem. For me I will be forever grateful, and for whatever reason, Sasha has chosen me, and I am very, very happy that she has.
She has the inner strength, inner beauty, and intelligence of many Ukrainian women. She is also beautiful, again a national trait. Think I am bragging? I don’t always agree with the Daily Mail in its reporting but in 2012 they were spot on with a piece that started: Kiev is ‘without a doubt, home to the world’s most beautiful women’.