Tag Archives: ukraine

This Disconnected Reality: Putin, Oscar and the Last Great Race on Earth


I’ve had three things on my mind today, and each deserves a separate post.

The more I think about them, the more I realize they’re quite interconnected, at least in my own mind. See if you see what I’m seeing.

Return of the Cold War: Russia invades Ukraine

Putin is a bully, and the world needs to stop allowing him to prance around bare-chested with a fishing pole in his hands while millions of Slavic people suffer the whims of the ultra rich, those corrupt and bankrupt souls of the post Communist era. Ukraine is more important than most people think. Obama is showing off just how weak our foreign policy is these days, and as someone so eloquently wrote today, Putin is playing chess, while Obama is playing checkers. America cannot possibly intervene, at least militarily, in all of the world’s conflicts, but it can stay consistent in its messaging and follow-through on its threats. For those of you who say let Putin have Crimea, you might as well just toss in the rest of Ukraine too. It’s a toe-hold on one of the world’s most important regions. For those of you who ask why we should care, I say it’s much harder to catch a strongman who is killing people slowly through neglect or starvation when he already owns everything in sight. It’s much easier to stop a strongman when he is aggressively peeing on the fences around his own home than when he’s killed the neighbors and claimed their lands for himself.

Continue reading This Disconnected Reality: Putin, Oscar and the Last Great Race on Earth

The Borderland

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Borderlands are dangerous places.

No matter what their topography or economic value, they are desirable, for one reason or another, to both sides in any conflict.

Borderlands tend to be small, which means they don’t often have a significant population. And whatever population there is tends to be insignificant to the larger conflict.

Sometimes borderlands are a much bigger deal.

Continue reading The Borderland

The Amazons and the Cossacks: Myth, Empire Building and Femanism

If I write nothing else my entire life, I want to write a series of stories, one for each of my children. They may take me the rest of my life or the next 10 years, but I have been meticulously researching settings for each of them. 

Several months ago I was stumbling through some Tumblr posts and came upon a vase depicting the Amazon queen Penthesilea riding into battle to face Achilles. 

Perhaps I missed that day in history class, but I always thought the Amazons were a race of warrior women living along the banks of the South American River to which Francisco de Orellana to gave their name.

Turns out they are as mysterious and widespread as mythology knows, residing along the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and in jungles across the oceans.

Delving into their mythstery, as I like to call research into vague and ephemeral pieces of our past, I found that though the Amazons are well documented across history, they are kept in the distance, beyond reality in a world that could very much have been, but which has almost no physical or even historical evidence.

The Greeks even idealized the Amazon culture as the dividing line between myth and reality.

Legendary warriors every bit the equal of the greatest mythological male heroes, Amazons are not merely the birthplace of feminism, they are the embodiment of it as a secondary and vital fight extending so far back into history that their exploits can not be separated regardless of their designation as myth.

Just a few weeks ago, our government changed the rules and will allow women into combat.

History, as we know, often repeats itself for lack of trying to avoid it by knowing it, and because mankind is inclined to wipe clean his collective memory from time to time in increasingly violent and apocalyptic ways.

 I think I have found in the ideology of the Amazons, a setting for my story for my daughter Gabrielle. 

For many months I struggled with the idea of placing their stories in violent settings, even though violent struggle is what most shapes mankind.

I wondered if I could find or create settings that would transcend violence and warfare. But even looking back across our own history, I see its telltale mark everywhere.

My grandfather fought his way across the Russian steppe, at times conscripted to fight for Turkic armies and at other times for the Chinese.

My father’s best friend was killed in Vietnam, and even Gabrielle has attended school with children whose fathers have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

War touches us even in the most peaceful of times. It shapes us. It has shaped us.

And so I see the Amazon culture as a setting for my daughter, a place to give context to her beginnings. She is 1/4th Ukrainian, which is the cradle of the Amazon culture.

She is strong and fearless, and though she is young, those attributes have been long in her blood. And they came from somewhere back in time, perhaps far enough back to have crossed that line between myth and reality.

And is it too much to speculate that one of the male children born to the Amazons might have been left in the wilderness to die only to sharpen his wits against adversity and hopelessness only to give birth to the great Cossack culture 2,300 years later? Another race of warriors born more out of necessity than myth and for a particular time, the Cossacks were nation and empire builders.

A land may be invaded a million times, as Ukraine has been, and though they destroy the buildings, the art, the wheat, the very foundations of civilization, they cannot destroy the spirit of the place, which is why another generation always rises in place of the invaders.

In their blood is the blood of the Amazons, the Goths, the Tatars and the Cossacks, the mortar between the bricks of the breadbasket of the world.

In looking for settings for these stories that will explain and help solidify the vast influences of the rivers of our past, I have found the big picture of our past.

Now I have to find the characters in those settings.

The work of a writer is much like the iceberg. Most of it is under the surface.


In the Spirit of the Games: An Olympic Story

It all started in the summer of 2004. I was a very green journalist working as a reporter at the Kyiv Post in Ukraine.

Lost in the excitement of being in the country of my forefathers, I barely remembered it was an Olympic summer.

Just 1,300 miles to the southwest, the country I was born in was competing against the world in the birthplace of the ancient games.

After weeks of reporting on unprecedented thunderstorms that laid waste to Ukraine’s harvest-white, breadbasket wheat fields, the editor asked if I wanted to go downstairs to the Drunken Lemon, a bar at the base of the barricaded building the newspaper shared with the Israeli embassy.

Feeling good about my initial attempts at reporting in a foreign country, I agreed. We read over the final stories and slotted the rest for the next day, and four of us ventured down to the trashy bar on the first level of the building.

I had drinks with my coworkers in the Drunken Lemon on several occasions, but I had never taken to the place as a familiar, after-work bar.

On that night, it would become my home away from home for the next two weeks.

I’d write my heart out, submit them to the editor and run off to the Drunken Lemon with copy editors, photographers, reporters and editors alike. Most of them had U.S. connections, but many of them were Ukrainians, and I was slowly being absorbed back into the bloodstream of the country my forefathers fled for religious freedom.

I stared at the small television monitors in the bar for days. We watched people swimming and throwing and running. Never once did we see a profile designed to make you cry. I barely noticed the American flags on swimming caps, because the coverage, European, was decidedly more universal than normal U.S.-centric coverage.

It was fun to sit around in a multinational group of people that I had come to adore and sip on good Ukrainian vodka and cheer on our collective athletes.

We snacked on pommes frites, and I would pour water in my glass when my coworkers were not looking, since I knew I could not drink as much vodka as they could.

But then I didn’t have to fly off to remote palatial domas to interview the four oligarchs who then ruled the country. I didn’t have to fear incurring the wrath of Russia, which then, as now, decided the fate of Ukraine.

I was an intern, a green reporter assigned the simple business stories nobody wanted to do.

But I learned more in that summer than I could’ve imagined.

I learned about journalism and having the balls to show up at parliament and ask really hard questions. I learned that you don’t ask a U.S. Senator about gaffs in a book he wrote that might derail his presidential hopes.

I learned that in journalism, your brothers and sisters of the pen are your family. They love you with hard lessons meant to protect you, even when you can’t see it.

I learned that I like to make my own assumptions about the games we call the Olympics. I learned that I loved to dialogue about sports and politics and world affairs instead of listening to NBC provide emotional profiles of the athletes, American, performing.

The 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece spoiled me for the ordinary.

The companionship of my first journalistic coworkers, all-night Olympic-watching sessions that would see me stumbling home at 7 a.m., putting the paper to bed at 2 a.m. and traipsing down to the Drunken Lemon to discuss the beginnings of the Orange Revolution. Something I was privy to without even knowing it at the time.

Most of all, I discovered the career that would frame my life for the next 8 years. The career that would take me from Kyiv, Ukraine to the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. To The Oregonian, to the Missoulian Newspaper, to KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage, Alaska to WBEZ, Chicago Public Media in Chicago.

And now as I watch the 2012 London Games, I’m struck, once-again, by the U.S.-centric coverage, the emotional storytelling, the awful social media integration and yet the power of the games still gives me goosebumps.

The failure and the achievement inspires me. The ability to rise from the ashes, and the ability to remain humble on the podium reminds me of the international spirit of these games.

I love the Olympic Games, but I love them in moments. There are moments I hate too, but the moments I love far outnumber the moments I hate.