Kiev Day 4: Macho Men

It is so cold! It has been overcast but the forecast says it will be sunny today. I am still wrapped up in my scarf and my woolly hat.

At the market at St Sophia I was tempted to buy one of the second-hand Ushanka or Russian fur hat as worn by Dr Zhivago, but something got the better of me. It was probably the shake of her head and the look on Sasha’s face. I would like to think it was because she was being responsible as it was expensive on a stretched budget. I can’t believe it was because she thought I looked stupid in it. I thought it was quite fetching especially with the red star of the Russian Army on the front and the ear flaps pulled down.

I have not made a point of watching the men as we walk around town, but I can’t remember seeing any of the local men wearing a Ushanka. What I have recognised is that the men in eastern Europe are far more Macho, at least in appearance, than those back home. It is hard to ignore.

Of course, their gang leader is President Putin. Half of every photo we see of him, he is stripped to the waist, riding a horse, cutting wood in a forest, or dipping in cold water as part of the Eucharist celebrations. His macho image is portrayed across all Russia and is the basis of his election success. While the West may not like him, he has the significant support of many Russians.  He has far more support among Russians than Trump has among Americans.

Maybe it is not surprising that football hooliganism is now most prevalent in Eastern Europe, and there are already fan warnings for the World Cup in Russia this summer. It was the Russian gangs that clashed with English fans in Marseilles during the Euros.

Men and machines always drives macho behaviour and so it is in Kiev with the taxis. Drivers in Kiev, and particularly those steering a taxi, add more than just a sprinkling of macho spice as they ignore traffic lights, cut across oncoming traffic and accelerate as if they were in F1.

The one Ukrainian man I have met a few times is Alexander who is Stanislas’ lawyer. He is a mild and thoughtful man as you would expect from a lawyer but when he starts to tell you tales of going into the forest to fish and hunt you know that the Putin’s macho spirit survives beyond Russia’s borders. When the photos he wants to show you on his phone are of guns and not women, grandchildren or cars you know there is a difference.

I wrote yesterday about the modern generation of women and I have asked Sasha her view of the men in her country. She was reluctant to say too much but i will try and press the point and report later.

Of course, another consideration is the attitude towards LGBT. The country is still predominately right wing, by which I mean conservative, in its attitudes. Same sex activity between consenting adults, in private, is legal but same sex couples are ineligible for much of the legal protection offered to heterosexuals. Recent surveys suggest that attitudes are changing but even in 2017 only 56% of Ukrainians think that members of the LGBT community should share equal rights.

While walking around Kiev it is rare to notice explicit LGBT encouragement. It was only last week that I learnt that a restaurant I had used many times was in fact a major meeting place for the lesbian community, something far from obvious while I was sitting there quietly eating a pizza. I don’t know if it was my renowned poor observational skills or just that it was all very low key. Probably both.

There was an example of current attitudes in Lviv last year at an LGBT festival which had to be abandoned when the venue was surrounded by about 200 members of far-right groups shouting “Kill, kill, kill”.

I find that unsurprising from the observed attitude of the men. However, over the last two days I have been writing about war and in particular the ongoing war in the East. As far as I am aware conscription, introduced in 2014, is still active. In those circumstances it is hard to imagine that macho attitudes would reduce or there would be an increased tolerance towards LGBT.

I am sure it will change but it may take a long time. War, a culture of heavy alcohol abuse and history are not the normal diet for change.