Жизнь во время войны на Донбассе / Wartime Life in East Ukraine

older woman living in wartime Donbas

Audio content: Several women describe their decision to remain living in villages that have been under heavy fire during the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Visual content: Images of wartime destruction in some Ukrainian villages and small towns.

Excerpted clips are posted below. You can view the entire report in high-quality video at TV Rain. (A subscription or one-time payment is required, but your money goes toward a good cause — supporting one of the last independent TV news organizations in Russia.)

The war in Eastern Ukraine has been in the news again, sadly, as the conflict that began in April 2014 flared up again in early February 2017, soon after President Trump’s inauguration. The Ukrainian government based in Kiev continues to battle the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which have been functioning as self-declared autonomous governments under the names “Donetsk People’s Republic” (Донецкая народная республика) and “Lugansk People’s Republic” (Луганская народная республика). (The entire region is often called “Donbas,” an abbreviation of “Донецкая бассейн,” i.e. the basin of the Donets River.) Russia, despite official denials, is supporting the breakaway regions with both troops and supplies. Hostilities first began in the wake of the late-2013 “Maidan” revolution in Kiev, which deposed the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in favor of a pro-European-Union government. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in spring 2014 is another part of this same geopolitical conflict, which arises from Russia’s desire to maintain its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Since Ukraine used to actually be part of the USSR, it seems that Putin is not willing to let the country drift out of Russia’s sphere of influence entirely without putting up a fight. The Kremlin’s goal in eastern Ukraine is probably not to fully annex the pro-Russian regions, as happened with Crimea; instead, Russia, via the internationally-brokered negotiation process in Minsk, Belarus, is urging Kiev to grant a large degree of autonomy to the eastern territories — which could then function as a sort of Russian foothold within Ukraine. The “Minsk Agreements” have produced temporary ceasefires and incomplete political resolutions but have failed to stop the violence permanently. The latest surge in violence was centered on the town of Avdiievka, which is not far from some of the villages featured in today’s videos. Besides the rise in violence, the eastern Ukraine conflict also entered the news recently when Russia controversially declared it would recognize passports from the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. The Ukrainian conflict also factors into concerns over the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Specifically, it has been reported that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen brought a peace plan to the White House that would have the US and Ukraine essentially recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea (by granting Russia a long-term “lease”) in exchange for peace in the eastern regions. The plan was given to Cohen by a Ukrainian parliament member who has now been accused of treason.

The videos featured in this post are excerpted from an early 2016 report by TV Rain. TV Rain sent the reporter Viktoriia Ivleva into some Ukraine-controlled territories very close to the border with the breakaway republics. Ivleva brought humanitarian supplies as well as video cameras. Although the footage is over a year old, it gives us insight into what life probably looks like for residents of the same region today. Ivleva talks to some tough yet traumatized people who, through a mixture of courage, stubbornness and a lack of better options, have stayed in their village homes despite the war. During active periods in the fighting, artillery fire severely damaged most of their homes and forced many of them to live in their basements. The communities presented in the video are Sjeverne (Северное, Ясиноватский район), Opytne (Опытное, Артёмновский район) and Krasnohorivka (Красногоровка, Донецкая область).

For more on this topic see my earlier posts on the Maidan and on life in Crimea after annexation.

Заметки о языке: The most notable linguistic feature of these videos is the distinctive pronunciation of the letter “г” as something closer to the letter “х,” a typical feature of the southwest Russian or eastern Ukrainian dialect of Russian.

 

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Excerpt 1

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Nemtsov March

I have a new post ready to go — it will appear in a day or two — but in the meantime, an earlier post about Boris Nemtsov is newly relevant. Today in Moscow and other cities thousands of people marched in memory of the assassinated politician. My earlier post featured a committed group of people who were participating in round-the-clock guardianship of the unofficial memorial at the site where he was shot.

 

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Крещенское купание в проруби / An Icy Swim for the Baptism Feast

Epiphany icy swimming hole

Audio Content: Comments from people who are marking Epiphany (Baptism of the Lord) with a purifying wintertime dip in icy water.
Visual Content: Images from across Russia of the baptism practice, including cross-shaped holes in the ice, the blessing of the water, church processions, threefold dips in the water and people in bathing suits.

Watch the video at Первый канал.

On January 19, the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian churches in the eastern tradition mark the religious holiday Крещение Господне (Baptism of the Lord), also known as Богоявление (the Appearance of God). The holiday commemorates Jesus’s baptism as an adult in the River Jordan. The rite was performed by John the Baptist and is considered to mark the beginning of Jesus’s public life. The Gospels claim that during the baptism God spoke from heaven, proclaiming Jesus his son, and also that the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove; thus Jesus’s divine nature was revealed. This Orthodox holiday roughly corresponds to the Roman Catholic Epiphany, which similarly marks the appearance of God (“epiphany” comes from the Greek for “showing” or “appearance”), although the western holiday is primarily associated with the visit of the three wise men shortly after Jesus’s birth. Technically, Epiphany / Крещение falls on January 6th in both western and eastern Christian churches. However, since the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, the celebration falls on January 19th in secular terms.

Water is believed to acquire extra purifying power on the feast of Крещение. Many believers mark the holiday by baptizing themselves in icy water, dipping three times successively in holes cut through the frozen surface of lakes and ponds. The hole in the ice is often cut in the shape of a large cross; the water is then blessed by members of the clergy. Warming stations with hot beverages are commonly set up to support the icy swimmers. Believers are convinced that their commemorative baptisms bring both spiritual and physical benefits: the holy and very cold water washes away sins, purifies the soul, gives the body a refreshing energetic shock and contributes to good health throughout the following year. Thus these icy baptisms illustrate the growth of Orthodox religious practice in today’s Russia as well as the longstanding popularity of folk medicine in Russian culture. One article I read reported that more than 1.8 million people marked Крещение with baptisms in 2017.

This post lets you listen in on a few of the comments believers make about their dips in the icy water. You can see several more pictures of the ritual in this article.

Заметки о языке: The hole in the ice is called a “прорубь” from the verb “прорубить”=”to chop through.” “Окунаться в проруби”=”to take a dip in a hole in the ice.” After 2:25, the priest appends the conversational suffix “-то” to a few words. This adds emphasis and in some ways is a replacement for the definite article that doesn’t exist in Russian. After 3:50, “обалденный” (from the verb “обалдеть,” to be stunned) is a fun slang word for “awesome, amazing.”

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Video Clip

young woman out for baptism dip

View the video clip at Первый канал.

 

Russian Transcript

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Сергей Карякин: шахматист и звезда / Sergey Karjakin, Star Chess Player

Sergei Kariakin interview

Audio Content: Russian chess grandmaster Sergey Karjakin discusses his recent World Championship match and his relationship with the game of chess.

This video can’t be embedded. Watch it here — at the new online television project from РБК.

Chess (шахматы) has long been a popular “sport” in Russia. The country produced many of the twentieth century’s chess grandmasters and World Champions, including Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik. An interesting linguistic and cultural idiosyncrasy is the fact that chess really is referred to as a “sport” (вид спорта) in Russian, and its players are called “athletes” (спортсмены).

National interest in chess was reinvigorated in late 2016 when the Russian grandmaster Sergei Kariakin (or Sergey Karjakin, which seems to be the transliteration he usually uses) unexpectedly came very close to winning the World Champion title from the reigning champion, Magnus Karlsen of Norway. Karjakin is a chess prodigy who was the youngest person to ever achieve the “grandmaster” (гроссмейстер) designation; he was twelve years old when he won this honor in 2003.  Karjakin learned to play chess in Ukraine, his native country. In 2009 he moved to Moscow to continue his chess career and was granted Russian citizenship that same year. The 2016 World Chess Championship (Чемпионат мира по шахматам) occurred over the course of a few weeks in November. Karjakin had won the right to face off with Karlsen by winning the “Candidates Tournament” in March. The November contest was closely fought all the way through. At the end of twelve games, each player had only one victory, while the other ten games had ended in a draw. The two opponents then played four games of rapid chess as a tie break, with Karlsen emerging as the victor after wins in games three and four. Thus the Norwegian managed to defend his World Champion title, but Karjakin — or one of the many other talented Russian chess players — will likely have a chance to return the championship crown to Russia at the next World Chess Championship in 2018.

In the video featured here, Karjakin gives an interview to a journalist from the business media company РБК. In the portions of the interview included in the below transcript, he talks about his relationship with his opponent, his love of chess, his newfound stardom and his hobbies besides chess. In the second part of the interview, which goes beyond the scope of this post’s transcript, the two of them start to talk about politics and money. Karjakin seems to prefer to avoid politics, but when questioned he does say that “of course” the annexed province of Crimea belongs to Russia — an unsurprising point of view, given that he grew up in the Russian-oriented eastern part of Ukraine. He also discusses his income (his award for a second-place finish was 450,000 euros) as well as the high costs of hiring the best chess coaches for his training.

Заметки о языке:

• As already mentioned above, one interesting aspect of this video is the use of the terms “вид спорта” and “спортсмен” to refer to chess. Although it can sound odd to foreigners, this is normal usage in Russian. Also note that the word for chess, шахматы, is always grammatically plural. The word is an amalgam of the words for “check” (шах) and “checkmate” (мат).

• Karjakin’s speech is reasonably comprehensible but not always as clear as it could be — he sometimes partially swallows syllables or runs them together. However, this is a fairly common style of articulation for native speakers of Russian, so this clip makes for good practice in developing listening comprehension. Compare Karjakin’s style to that of his interviewer, for whom clearly articulated Russian is a professional expectation.

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Путин высмеивает американскую политику / Putin Mocks American Politics

Putin at a forum with CNN journalist

Audio Content: At a forum with a CNN journalist, Putin clarifies his mistranslated description of Trump as “bright” and takes some shots at U.S. democracy.

Video clip embedded below or at RT’s YouTube channel.

Here is one more video on Putin, Trump, and American democracy, to wrap up what turned out to be a four-part series on elections both American and Russian. This excerpt is a great example of Putin’s communication style, public persona and attitude toward the West. The clip also sheds light on an interesting Russian-English translation snafu that surfaced memorably in the U.S. presidential election. I also reflect below on the far-reaching implications of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. Subsequent posts will turn to lighter topics.

The video featured in today’s post comes from the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum held in mid-June 2016. In the clip, Putin responds to a question from the CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria, who was moderating a forum that also included the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and the Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi.

The translation issue I mentioned above involves the word “яркий” (yarkii). At a December 2015 press conference, Putin responded to a question about Trump by describing him as a “яркий” person. Many U.S. news outlets translated this word as “brilliant,” which Trump interpreted in an intellectual sense, quickly exaggerating the incident into the claim that Putin called him a “genius.” But the word “яркий” never has this intellectual connotation; its range of meaning is closer to that of the word “vivid.” In a visual sense the word means “bright” or “colorful” and in a metaphorical sense it means “flashy” or “flamboyant.” Putin was describing Trump’s persona, not his intelligence. In this clip he lightly mocks the journalistic brouhaha over his offhand comment.

The video clip also displays Putin’s diplomatic and public relations skills. He starts and ends his comments with bits of disarming flattery, which bracket several biting criticisms delivered in an amiable tone. As I mentioned in the previous post, Putin is good at “trolling” the West. Here he reprises some of his usual complaints and criticisms: that our political system is not nearly as democratic as we claim, that the West tends to “lecture” Russia in a hypocritical and meddlesome manner, and that the West is unnecessarily hostile in spite of Russia’s desire for friendly relations. Putin makes all these comments with the demeanor that he usually displays to international audiences: he comes across as confident and charming, folksy yet mature, clever and reasonable, full of common sense and essentially benevolent intentions. He presents Russia as acting justly and honestly while being treated unfairly. This skilled rhetoric tends to make his interlocutors appear slightly ridiculous or foolish, although Putin masks the attack with his personal charm. Finally, in contrast to the previous post that featured a prewritten speech in a formal register, in this clip Putin speaks ad lib and reveals traces of the casual, folksy speaking style that appeals to his Russian listeners. Note the use of the conversational “чё” in place of “что” at one point, as well as the mildly combative phrase “а что” (“so what?” / “what the heck are you implying?” / “what’s wrong with what I’m saying?”).

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Путин и американские выборы / Putin and the U.S. Election

Putin at Valdai

Audio content: In a speech to the Valdai Club, Putin responds to some of the charges that were lobbed at Russia during the American presidential election.

Two video clips embedded below.

I started this post, which features some memorable comments from Putin on the U.S. presidential race, before Election Day. With Trump’s victory, the topic is even more relevant, and in fact I may do one more post regarding Putin’s attitude toward Trump. The upcoming post will feature Putin speaking in his distinctive casual manner, whereas in today’s post he is using the more complex formal language appropriate for one his major annual addresses. For more samples of Putin’s rhetoric, see the earlier post on Putin’s speech to the U.N.

Putin and Russia came up frequently during the U.S. presidential campaign. United States intelligence agencies determined that the Russian government was behind several high-profile email hacks that targeted the Clinton campaign, although Trump refused to accept these findings. Evidence emerged that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was a very highly paid consultant for the pro-Putin former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich. Foreign policy experts were alarmed when Trump voiced opinions that seemed to play into Putin’s hands, such as hesitation on support for the NATO alliance, denial that Russia had any presence in Ukraine and claims that Putin is a stronger leader than Obama. Journalistic investigations also found that Russian citizens backed by the Kremlin have created Trump-supporting Twitter accounts with fake American identities. Meanwhile, Clinton took an aggressive stance with respect to Russia, and in the past she has sharply criticized the legitimacy of Russian elections and the Russian incursion into Crimea. Clinton labeled Trump a “puppet” of Putin during the third debate, while Trump insisted it would be a good thing if the U.S. could get along with Russia. Unsurprisingly, Russian state-controlled television has a pro-Trump bias.

Putin commented on this entire situation during a late October speech to the Valdai Discussion Club, an organization that hosts an annual gathering of international Russia experts. Putin traditionally addresses the gathering on its final day. In the video excerpts below, Putin responds to two main charges: that Russia is an aggressor on the world stage and that it is interfering in the United States election. He treats both claims as laughable absurdities and — without using her name — suggests that Clinton is stirring up anti-Russia sentiment purely for political gain.

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