For obvious reasons, it has been a major part of my daily work and routine for month now to keep track of the news and developments in the conflict in Ukraine. While there are abundant places to read news in the Russian language (and many of the original news sources are among those), for the sake of efficiency I still do most of my news reading in English. I thought I'd share a few resources for other English-speakers with an interest in being informed about the developments in Ukraine:
- For a major mainstream news source, BBC is generally better than any of the American news networks. Being a European source, it is more directly interested and has more in depth coverage. And its reports tend to be better informed than the American media's, with a better understanding of what is really the source of the conflict. I benefited from BBC's coverage daily back in March when the conflict was only in Crimea. Since it spread into Eastern Ukraine, I've found more detailed and focused sources, which I will list next.
- The Interpreter's daily "Ukraine Liveblogs" are a great way to get an overview of a day's developments (updated frequently as the day unfolds, most days) along with some analysis by their staff. Separate from their Ukraine liveblogs, they also often carry analysis and op-ed pieces that can be very insightful.
- The UkrainianConflict Live Thread
- The site liveuamap.com is an excellent source to get geographic context. It is like the Reddit live thread in that its updates are only small snippets without much explanation or context, but it links them with a map of the region so that you can click on any update and see the point on the map that it corresponds to. Likewise, you can click around on places on the map and see what updates from the last day or two have occurred there. This has been a great way to see what is going on specifically in Kharkov in connection with the conflict.
- For really geeky, thorough investigation of things, the Ukraine@War blog goes into probably more levels of detail than any other site.
The depths of the tragedies and the maddening frustrations of the evil and lies involved are something that are beyond the scope of this blog post. For now, I just wanted to share some tips for fellow readers who would like to be well-informed about what is happening in Ukraine and understand the conflict more deeply than what you can get from the main US news networks.
I came across this quotation today while studying and I found it very wise:
Conscience is not given to a man to instruct him in the right, but to prompt him to choose the right instead of the wrong when he is instructed as to what is right. It tells a man that he ought to do right, but does not tell him what is right. And if a man has made up his mind that a certain wrong course is the right one, the more he follows his conscience the more hopeless he is as a wrongdoer. One is pretty far gone in an evil way when he serves the devil conscientiously. -- H. C. Trumball
That's a distinction that is worth noting. We are either born with a conscience or we develop it at a very early age. But I don't think the development of the conscience stops in childhood. It continues to be either tuned or dulled through our actions and influences throughout life.
So the question is: what is your conscience being informed by? What is training it? And this, in turn, calls to mind much of what the Bible says about the kinds of information, values, and attitudes with which we feed our souls.
Below are an email I received today from a visitor to knowtruth.com, along with my response. What are your thoughts?
From the visitor:
Seeking advice on how to deal with manipulative deceptive fanatics of various religions and backgrounds I'm sick of people cramming religious bs down my throat. Lieing to me an manipulating me. Not that people of non religious backgrounds don't do this as well. I'm sick of being manipulated at every turn and treated poorly this is why I have decided to write you to let you know that you offer truth but present no infallible evidence. I'm very irritated with this as well.
People are often ignorant of the truth and I wish to not be bothered with that from you I know myself
I'm sorry you've been treated poorly and manipulated at times. This is wrong and cannot be excused on the part of either religious or non-religious people, whatever the case may be. You mention looking for infallible evidence. In any question -- be it a court trial, or an insurance claim, or an archaeological dig, or the pursuit of spiritual truth -- there will often be different pieces of information that can be considered "evidence" for any given side of a dilemma, mystery, investigation, etc. The answer that is the truth isn't always the only one with evidence to support it, nor is its evidence usually 110% strikingly, undeniably infallible. The question is, in which direction does the best evidence, and/or the majority of evidence, lead you? That will help you eliminate possibilities that, while possibly claiming some evidence, just don't stack up. In the end, though, you have to choose to make a conclusion yourself and believe in it. There is always an element of faith in what we think and believe about things.
There is terrific evidence to support the existence of God, the Bible's message that God reached out to humanity by taking the form of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, etc. But ultimately, although the evidence is good, you still have to choose to believe. The evidence cannot force itself upon you. I pray that in the end you'll be open to taking that step of faith, supported by the evidence of course.
That's not a question for you to answer, although anyone who has read or subscribed to our blog could reasonably answer, "Yes," based on the complete absence of new posts the past six months.
Really, it's a question for myself. It's a question that came to my mind recently as I realized how long it had been since I had written a new post. Should I just call it quits and be done with it? As I've reflected on this, here are two important realities that have risen to the surface:
- Blogging isn't a simple endeavor for missionaries. There are considerations specific to a missionary's life that make blogging a lot more complicated and potentially even foolish. Among these are privacy/security considerations when you are an American living overseas. There are also sensitivities with reporting about people you are working with who may themselves easily find and read your blog (and not appreciate what they find there about themselves).
- The role of blogging is being eroded by social networking. These days most of the people in my life are on Facebook, and a non-public status update there can potentially reach more of who I want to reach than a public blog post can here, without necessarily triggering the concerns mentioned in my bullet point above. Posting on social networks is also quicker and easier by nature, since status updates are expected to be short and informal.
Looking back, I believe that those two points are mostly what has swayed me away from blogging. The other contributing factor is the same busy-ness that made my blogging relatively infrequent even when I was trying harder.
Having said all that, after considering shuttering this blog altogether, I think I'll keep using it. For sharing information that isn't subject to the sensitivities of the first point above, I think there is a place for blogging and upsides to it, including:
- The opportunity to go into more detail and explanation than is considered the norm on social networks.
- The ability to control the presentation of what is posted there (separating it from the noise and distractions of social networks).
So that's where I'm at today. Have I quit blogging? No, though my blogging will be shaped by the things I just mentioned. What are your thoughts?
Summer is in full swing here, as it probably is where you are too. I thought I'd give a bit of a pictorial walk-through of some of what characterizes summer time for our family here.
First and foremost, summer is a time to get out of the apartment. After the long, cold, snowy winter, we cherish the opportunity to just throw on some sandals or shoes and walk out the door - no 5-10 minute bundling up required! And even on hot days, the park and playgrounds near our apartment are great places to stroll and play in the shade.
Since going outside requires traversing our apartment building stairwell from the fourth floor down to street level, here is a shot of Chi and Si doing just that:
Once outside, we enjoy playing fetch with Kona (when we take her with us), playing some badminton (a badminton set was what the boys picked out to give me for Father's Day), kicking a ball, or simply strolling around. However, no matter what else we are doing, some time at a playground is always a winner too. Here are the gang hanging out at one playground nearby:
All that time outside means more frequent and necessary baths! The majority of the time we put all three boys in the tub at once. On this particular occasion, there were only two in, and Erin Joy (one of the AIM students here working with us) pitched in to help:
Ezra is a full-on crawler now, as well as clutter-maker, cord-puller, door-opener, and everything else that goes with his new mobility. With the summer heat, most of the time he sports only his diaper at home. Here he is spending some time with his puppy:
Summer also means fresh, local, in-season, and affordable produce. We buy most of our fresh food from a local open market year-round, but in the summer it really kicks into high gear. All kinds of people bring fresh stuff to sell -- from larger-scale growers to old ladies selling the extra from their garden in the village.
When certain seasonal items hit their in-season peak, and the market is flooded with large quantities of it at the lowest prices of the year, we tend to buy several kilograms of it to bring home and freeze, and ration for the rest of the year. So far this year we have done this with strawberries and cherries. In the next couple weeks it will be time for blueberries and raspberries as well. Here is a photo I took after one Saturday morning outing in which I went to both the open market and a grocery store. The red bucket was full of strawberries. I took this photo on the ground floor, about to lug it all up in several trips to the fourth floor:
Anyone want to come visit?
Every four years there is an event in Europe called the Euro Cup. It is basically to Europe what the World Cup is to the world -- a tournament of European national soccer* teams. The soccer olympics of Europe. And since Europe is loaded with lots of good soccer teams, the Euro cup is a pretty big deal, attracting attention of soccer fans all over the world.
The year before we arrived here, Ukraine and Poland made a joint bid to host the Euro Cup in 2012 and -- gasp! -- the bid won. The bid consisted of four host cities in each of the two countries hosting matches in their stadiums. At first Kharkov (Kharkiv as it is otherwise known and written) was not one of the four for Ukraine. I don't know why. This was quickly corrected, though, and Kharkov was substituted in for one of the other host cities that ended up getting ruled out.
So one of the main societal themes in our 3+ years in Ukraine so far has been the anticipation and preparation for the upcoming Euro Cup. At first June 2012 seemed like a long way away, but as it has drawn closer, so too has it become a forefront topic in discussion and culture. For example, David and I go visit with students at a local university and the Euro Cup is almost always one of the hottest topics they want to talk about. Surprisingly, most of the young people we talk to are somewhat pessimistic about it. Why would that be?
On face value it seems completely awesome -- Ukraine gets to co-host one of the world's premier sporting events! And Kharkov is one of the select host cities! Thousands of tourists will come, and bring their business, and see our city, and fall in love! This will put Kharkov on the map!
However, in other ways this could be viewed as a disaster waiting to happen, and is by some. Although Ukraine sometimes talks all dreamily about integrating with Europe, anyone who really knows the two knows that Ukraine is not really Europe except in the geographical sense. In terms of culture, society, infrastructure, physical condition of things, attitudes, customer service even... things are just a lot different here. Have been for a long time, and that can't realistically change even for a top-tier sporting extravaganza.
And hosting this event is forcing some things to come to the surface that no one wants to see there. A political standoff leading to boycotts by Western leaders. Price gouging. Racism. Government spending that can't possibly be recovered (this is the thing that university students most often bring up as reasons for their pessimism).
I have a newsreader on my phone that grabs news stories about Ukraine and lists them to me. Lately it's been overwhelmed with new stories appearing almost daily in the European and American press about how things aren't looking rosy at all. Stories like this one from Time -- Why a European Soccer Tournament Is Turning into a P.R. Disaster for Ukraine -- and this mildly titled one from the WSJ -- Europe's Soccer Championship Highlights Differences. And this one from the BBC which highlights one specific problem that has frustrated many but surprised few of us who have lived here long enough to know -- Uefa slams Ukraine 'bandits' for Euro 2012 hotel prices. Just literally in the last 48 hours things have ballooned further as apparently racist altercations have come into the limelight -- this BBC article covers that and sums up the whole of the situation.
I really hope for the best. I'll be here and watching with great interest. This could yet be a great opportunity for Ukraine to overcome the present skepticism and really impress some people. I have seen and heard of what I think are both the best and the worst of Ukraine since living here. Here is hoping the best prevails next month.
*Blanket apology to all non-Americans reading this. Yes, it is actually football, not soccer. Thank you for your understanding.
You step outside at 9:00 AM on what you expect to be a normal, hustle-and-bustle Tuesday morning and find the streets and sidewalks almost completely empty and quiet. One of these days (years) the calendar of Ukrainian holidays will finally sink in deep enough that I'll actually know it will be a holiday before that moment of stepping outside for the first time that morning.
For today, happy Ukrainian Labor Day, everyone!
Earlier this week, April 26, it was again the anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. I wrote about this in a post on the blog last year. This year, as part of the boys' schooling (we'll call it History and Culture), I took Malachi and Silas to the Chernobyl monument here in Kharkov to tell them about what happened, and to respectfully observe how the occasion was being marked by people here around us. After looking at the monument and reviewing what it means, we went and sat on a nearby bench to watch and listen as other people came and laid flowers in front of it.
One of the interesting things I noticed was how political parties were showing up to wave their flags while they brought their flowers to the monument. Below on the left, with the red flags, is a handful of people from the Communist Party of Ukraine unloading from their van (yes, the communist party is still very real and active here, although they are a minority). A little while later we saw a different political party, Front Zmin, come through with their bright green flags.
All of this was a reminder of how much there is to learn here. What was a defining national event for Ukraine (for the worse, not for the better) like Chernobyl is still something we are learning about -- not only about the event itself, but about how things like that have impacted the people and culture here. 26 years later, the anniversary of Chernobyl is something that brings people to monuments and brings political parties out of the woodwork. They wave flags that represent platforms and initiatives and visions for the country, but the nuances of differences between some of the different political parties here is something I haven't yet learned. Another year from now, may I be that much more aware of the meaning and impact of Chernobyl and other events like it that have made Ukraine what it is today.
We've been back in Ukraine for almost three months now. In all, our time in the US ended up lasting six months. We returned to Ukraine in mid-January, almost exactly one year since we came back to Kharkov in January 2011 from our furlough that year. In some ways, our January 2012 return to Kharkov felt a little like a do-over to me. When we returned in January 2011, it was on the heels of a furlough in which we had spent time with the leadership of our then-sponsoring church talking things over and (we thought) correcting some things that had just not been working well in that relationship. So we returned to Kharkov that January 2011 looking forward to two more solid years of work to do before the next furlough. We got through jet lag, got plugged back into our relationships here, got some good new things started...
And then the hammer fell.
It was March 19, 2011 that we got that fateful call informing us that we needed to start looking for a new sponsoring church. We reeled for a long time after that, trying to figure out how to cope with that and what to do next. At the same time we were midway through a pregnancy and needed to have some stable plans for where we'd give birth and so on. We stayed in Ukraine for a few months, trying not to let our circumstances pry us away too abruptly from the work. But by mid-July we were back in the US to see what else the Lord might have in mind as far as partnership arrangements go. Anything to help us stay in Ukraine through the end of our commitment, at least.
Despite the inherent uncertainties of our situation, the Lord blessed us a lot in those six months in the US. Through many of his people I think he rehabilitated us in some important ways (I'm looking especially at you, you, and you). I know we're still far from completely recovered. But we've moved on enough to be able to say that the time it has taken me to write this post is the longest I've thought about these things in one sitting in a while.
The work here is worthwhile and good, and by God's grace we're back here. And March 19th, 2012 has now come and gone and we're still plugging along with forward progress in the work, instead of scrambling about our support. Yes, 2012 does feel like a do-over of the 2011 that could have been.
P.S. I'm hoping to get back to blogging a little more regularly now. My evolving feelings about online communications in the context of ministry may become a post or three of their own, but hopefully it won't be as quiet here on our blog as it was the last few months.
Today Silas (who just turned 4 last month) helped me change a flat tire on my mother-in-law's car.
Click here to see some footage. He looks like a natural.
My favorite part is the end of the video though. The smiles and facial expressions there are 100% genuine Silas.