On the way from Vinogradov to the mayor's office in Khust, we stopped at Khust's high school, which has an art school in it, too (I think it's sort of like a magnet program here in the US, but I'm not sure). Ivan Yurishko’s daughter Nelya works at the school as a secretary, so we stopped to see her office, of course.
This school donated classroom space for the first LifeNets computer classes in 2000. When LifeNets moved the computer classes to another location in 2004, they let the school keep the computers. The head computer teacher, Irnessa Ivanivna Kucherniuk, thanked Victor for the donated computers and presented him with a certificate of thanks for his help in educating the children of Ukraine. The Ukrainians are big on certificates, seals, and medals!
Walking through the school was a good reminder of just how poor this area is. The ladies' room was awful, damp and unequipped with anything but the commodes and stalls. There was a sink, but no soap or towels. Fortunately, my maniacally-obsessive packing did indeed pay off: I was prepared with tissue and hand sanitizer.
The rest of the building was little better. The art on the walls of some of the rooms was vibrant and lovely, but the halls were well-worn and not kept up. It was a gray, old, hulk of a building in the Soviet style. As we emerged into the open air, I experienced, not for the first time, a feeling that would become familiar to me as our travels wore on: a sensation of being overwhelmingly glad to be out of a place.
I suppose that I had been conditioned so well by America that I expected the building which contained the mayor's office to be...well, grander than it was. It was actually very non-descript; I think in some ways, to me, the big buildings all began to look alike. I had no idea we had arrived; we drove through a somewhat-dilapidated gate and parked in a very small parking lot. There were some men standing near the door, smoking, but they didn't say anything to us or even look interested as we disembarked and walked in through a back door.
The hallways seemed twisted and a little narrow, and there was some type of renovation going on, as there were big swaths cut into the walls at about ankle height all through the building. We climbed a big staircase and emerged into an office. My natural inclination was to stop at the high counter and enquire, but not Ivan! He swept through the room, opened a door, and opened a second, leather-covered door. Without ado, there we stood in the office of Mayor Michaylo Michaylovich Djanda.
The office was long and a little narrow, and it was sparsely and inexpensively furnished. The carpet was worn and the tables old, but there were huge windows overlooking the street and a soft breeze blew in through white sheers. We sat down, and the mayor said, "Begin." A secretary brought in demitasse cups of coffee, and Ivan and Victor began a lengthy discussion with Mayor Djanda.
The conversation flew along, and Victor often didn't have the time (or forgot) to provide translation. It seemed somehow rude to have a lengthy discussion amongst ourselves, so I had plenty of time to muse and to study the mayor. He looked like a nice man; I know that people say not to judge a person by how they look, but often a person's face can tell you a lot about them. His face was broad and open, with a good-natured look to it. He was a large man himself; he seemed tall and broad. When he told us later that he had once worked in a logging camp, it didn't seem odd in the least. He is a rarity in Ukraine, a mayor elected to a second term!
Though we couldn't really understand the larger portion of what was being said, we could make out chunks of the conversation, which touched on myriad topics, two of which were dwelt on a little more in depth than others. First, naturally, we talked about the possible future and current outlook for Ukraine and for Khust. The mayor was optimistic, pointing to rising building rates, employment rates, and other economic indicators. He was also the most positive of all with whom we had spoken so far concerning the character and drive of his fellow Ukrainians. He spoke of their love for learning, intelligence, and warmth. He noted that Ukrainians are big-hearted and generous, not always on the go, like "Americanski."
The other big topic that was covered was Communism--life under it, life after it, and its continuing effects on Ukrainian life and culture. The building we were in, the mayor said, had once been the Communist Party headquarters in Khust, and the neighboring building had headquartered the area KGB. The mayor joked that the reason his office was so long was because the head of the local Communist Party wanted you to be shaking as you approached the desk through the long office.
It was amazing to hear the stories of the mayor, Ivan, and Oleg Borshowski (the head architect for Khust). They spoke of brutality, totalitarianism, fear of capitalists, and also how some of the leaders of that time had done a complete about-face since the fall, and now claimed that they had never supported Communism.
We were told that under Communism, wearing jeans was somehow wrong, and when bands wanted to play, they had to submit the list of songs and the lyrics in advance. Love songs were forbidden--in fact, almost anything but patriotic songs was forbidden. Party members could not marry non-Party members. Divorce was forbidden. Ivan had had to quit school because he was not a Party member.
The mayor blamed some of Ukraine's problems on the forced resettlements of Russians under Stalin. From his point of view, the Russian influence weakened Ukraine because of their dissolute ways. He says that for every drink a Ukrainian takes, a Russian takes four. Because of the forced resettlements, he says, the Russian people are rootless, with no family history to call on--and so, he says, they don't hold family as important, and they don't have those guidelines to keep them moving forward.
During the discussion the men talked about the lack of work in the area. Many of the local men leave Ukraine for months on end to work in neighboring countries because they can make so much more money there. The Director of Architecture made it a joke, saying that the men went when their wives started asking them to dig the potatoes and milk the cow.
When evening shadows became too dark to ignore, we began to take our leave of Mayor Djanda. He presented Victor with a certificate (another!) which thanked him on behalf of the city of Khust for his work through LifeNets to provide humanitarian help to the people of Khust. He also gave each of us a book as a souvenir, a collection of paintings by a famous Ukrainian artist.
We had been planning to have dinner somewhere else, but Ivan canceled these plans and decided that we should instead eat at his house. Bev worried that we were eating the planned Sabbath lunch for dinner, but these worries were waved aside and we ate with Ivan and his wife Nina.
Nina served cabbage rolls, flattened veal patties, tomatoes and cucumbers, and pickled mushroom salad, as well as fresh cherries, apples, and strawberries. It was a very pleasant dinner.
Just before sunset, Ivan drove us back to Shayan, and we all relaxed. I was so tired that when I went to write, my eyes began to cross, so I gave it up and went to sleep early.