"That Movement"

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My birthday celebration was in full swing. We were sitting in a bar, had ordered the first red beers most of us had come across in the country and smiles were all around. We had gone to this bar because the original bar we had wanted to go to was having a party, and after trying a few other bars, we decided upon this one. It called itself the hippopotamus bar, and styled itself to be a motorcycle bar. This was anything but a motorcycle bar.

As we sat down, we slowly unwrapped ourselves from our clothing as the heat inside this underground bar was like a Crimean summers day, unlike the cold Soviet winter above ground. By the time our beers and other drinks were appearing we had worked our way to our T-shirts. My group included many Americans to be sure, but there were also some Ukrainians. One of them had been in Lviv, a beautiful city in Western Ukraine, some time before and had gone through a brewery that is located there. In the process he had received a T-shirt. It read: I am a Ukrainian.

That night as we slowly found ourselves basking in the heat, he unrolled his T-shirt, not to much fan fare on our part. As we sat around, few, if any of us noticed that he was even wearing the shirt. As the waiter came over with our second round of drinks, placing them down one by one he stopped when he saw our friends t-shirt. He stopped.

“What does your shirt say?” our waiter asked.

Said in Russian, its hard by the tone to register if this is a threat or a question sometimes, and instinctively the American girlfriend moved away slightly, fearing that her boyfriend might be getting into a fight soon, and she didn’t want to slow him down.

The Ukraine stated, “It says, I am a Ukrainian.” There was tension in the surrounding area to be sure. The Americans at our table, with a few exceptions realized how daring of a statement this sometimes is to say out loud in Crimea, even though everyone there is a Ukrainian citizen.

            Unlike most of the other parts of Ukraine, which I’ve been to, where children know the words to the Ukrainian anthem, and there is sometimes anger about different problems with the Ukrainian government, Crimea is a special place where they have ‘autonomy’ and also, some of the people have a great hatred for Ukraine. This is not everyone at all. And many people are happy to have the sort of system they have, with their special status within Crimea. But some Russian’s do not like, or want Ukrainian leadership at all in the slightest. Think Michigan militia, except a larger and more vocal portion of the population.

            And like the Michigan militia, they sometimes like to start fights with people. Thus why we all instinctively held our breaths a few moments.

            The waiter nodded, and said something really fast that none of the Americans could catch and then walked away. Those of us close to him turned.

            “What did he just say?”

            The other Ukrainian smiled. “He said he was part of that movement too.”

            See, in an almost backlash to Russian quasi-nationalism that is strong in Crimea and much of Eastern Ukraine, there is a new movement that has started, much to the shock I think, of older generations. There are groups of students in Crimea who will only speak to each other in Ukrainian, they proudly know the Ukrainian national anthem and probably sing along to Okean Elzy loudly and proudly on buses. And this is not just Ukrainians, but also other ethnic groups. Greeks, Jews, Armenians, Crimean Tatars, and Russians are part of this “movement”. It is something that the United States has not had to deal with in a few hundred years.

It’s a movement of identity. One that places one’s country at the head of what is important. What is interesting about this “I am an Ukrainian” movement though, is that the government does not sponsor it, and I don’t think it’s sponsored at all. To be honest, if it was, I am not sure that the people would actually be participating in it. For sure university students would not be joining it.

            The movement is really about the following. Ukraine is a diverse country spanning many different nationalities, and a large landmass. Thus many different problems and different ideas float around about what the Ukrainian people should be. This movement says, “I may be different from you in many of my ideas, I may not agree about things, I may be a different nationality from you, I may speak a slightly different language at home. But we all share a few things, a history, a government, but more than that, we are friends and family, we are together a country, and we do not wish to be a separate country”, because and I quote a friend of mine who is a firm believer in this movement, “these differences we all have, these ideas that clash non-violently, this is what leads to great ideas, great accomplishments, and in the end, great nations. And soon Ukraine will be one of the great nations on the Earth.”

            That being said I would like to now state, I too am an Ukrainian, do not worry I am still an American. This idea of being an Ukrainian though is so similar to being an American that I almost feel that it has come partially from us. But like everything that comes to Ukraine, even if it came from America, it will be made different and not just through language, and become something new. Thus why I am an Ukrainian, even if first I am an American, because I to have come to this country, and have been changed.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.