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 "You're in Ukraine! Why don't you speak Ukrainian?" is a question that catches you up short when you first arrive in Kiev and try your stumbling Russian. You soon learn that native Ukrainians never ask that question. It is only members of the Ukrainian diaspora returned from Canada and the United States, or busybodies working for the United States government.

There are several practical reasons for speaking Russian in Ukraine. Although Ukrainian is the official language, whether or not the government likes it, Russian is the language of business. The business press is almost all written in Russian. Almost any business negotiation in Kyiv is done in Russian. Most scientific, medical, and even cult and new age literature is written in Russian.  Russian is spoken natively by maybe 200 million people, as opposed to 20 million for Ukrainian.

The present Yanukovich government is certainly not promoting Ukrainian. Yanukovich himself speaks the language poorly; he didn't learn it until it was clear that the presidency was in his reach and he would have to. His predecessor, Victor Yushchenko, has a diaspora wife and had strong backing from the United States. He promoted the Ukrainian language as a way of aligning Ukraine with the West. Yanukovich does not aspire to membership in NATO, and doesn't even seem to be very interested in European Union membership. He's happy enough to let the two languages coexist, and many suspect he really prefers Russian.

Ukrainian was traditionally considered a peasant language. The memory of this is painful to Ukrainian speakers, but it is a fact. Whereas Russian literature has a fairly deep history, Ukrainian literature didn't get started until well into the 19th century. Those authors, Taras Shevchenko and Lesi Ukrainka are much feted today, making many appearances and statues and on the currency, but the body of Russian literature is a lot richer than that of Ukrainian literature.

For most of the 20th century the Soviet Union was one of the major forces in world politics, science, engineering and education. Everything they wrote was of course in Russian, and the scholars who were educated during the Soviet period still work in the Russian language. As a language of affairs, Ukrainian will never be in the same league as Russian.

Ukrainian is the dominant language in only one of the 10 biggest cities in the country – Lviv, the heart of Western Ukraine. Lviv has been an off-again on-again part of Ukraine itself. Within the lifetime of old people it has been under the dominance of Austria-Hungary, Poland, the Soviet Union, Germany, and Ukraine. Although the people are proudly Ukrainian, Lviv is more distinctive than any other city in the country. In other words, it is part of it but it seems more to belong to its own world. In appearance Lviv is a central European city, while the other major cities in Ukraine are quite clearly Eastern European, from the block style Soviet architecture to the onion domed Orthodox cathedrals everywhere.

Russian was the lingua franca throughout the Soviet empire. It is still extremely useful in a few countries such as Belarus and Kazakhstan. The older generation still speaks Russian in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the other former satellite countries. No other country ever troubled itself to learn Ukrainian. While the value of Russian is constantly declining, it is being replaced by English as the international language of business and travel. It may not be worth your trouble to learn Russian, but Ukrainian is certainly not the alternative. Increasingly, you can get along adequately with just English. The question is not whether Ukrainian will become irrelevant – to all but the diehards, it already is – but whether Russian itself will become irrelevant. The process of globalization is forcing English on everybody. Young professionals in Kyiv see English as an essential part of their education, and the essential tool for communication and international travel and business.

As an aside to polyglots, German, French, Italian and Spanish are almost worthless here. You will notice that there are a few curious cognates that may save you a little bit of work. The Ukrainian word for onion is similar to Spanish; the Russians stole the French words for sidewalk, obstetrician and a few other concepts; the Ukrainian and German words for bacon, ham, and taste are fairly similar. However, nobody in Ukraine speaks any of these European languages natively. Anything they know they learned in school, and they almost invariably speak English better than their European languages.

It is a good thing I am writing this blog anonymously, because this is the kind of post that will inevitably generate a lot of hate mail. I can put up with it. I have heard a lot of invective in response to these arguments, but I have yet to get any substantive rebuttal. If you can write some, please educate me.

Ukraine and global warming

Ukraine is probably the best place to be as global warming sets in. I say this in the face of all of the vast uncertainty that surrounds global warming. Let me investigate the global warming story, and then Ukraine's place in it.

The official global warming website is the United Nations International Panel on Climate Control, or IPCC, www.IPCC.ch. The UN has attempted to aggregate climate science from all over the world into a single set of conclusions. They have working committees to assess a) whether or not global warming is real, and what causes it, b) what are the likely impacts on the world, and c) what policies should the world adopt to do something about it.

In each of these three areas they filter the information upward. They start out with thousands of papers written by scientists all over the world, they conduct what they call "metastudies" to summarize the results and extract the general trends, and then they produce executive summaries, which are shorter and in simpler language, to distribute to the press.

Of course the process is political. Many of the scientists working on global warming have their own strong opinions, and in general those opinions get stronger as you move up the chain through meta-studies and executive summaries. What is supposed to be impartial science is certainly open to charges of bias. The same skew occurs across the three working groups. The scientists concerned with the reality of global warming are fairly fact-based. The ones who are attempting to project the impact of global warming are truly working in the realm of the unknown, not tethered by facts, and they tend to come up with scary hypotheses of gloom and doom. Which, we have to admit, may be true. However, they cannot be proven. Lastly, the working group on what to do about it advocates policy. They come up with policy instruments such as the Kyoto accords and the Copenhagen accords. The tendency has been to come up with grand plans which appeal to Greens all over the world but don't have a prayer of success at the level of national politics.

You are reading about Ukraine and probably don't care to go any deeper into this, but if you do, there are three serious books I would recommend: Whole Earth Discipline, by Stewart Brand, a longtime Green with excellent credentials and great ideas; A Vast Machine, which talks about how scientists know what they know; and Global Warming Gridlock which talks about the political problems of doing something about it. All of the authors believe that global warming is real, but they are humble about how much we actually know and how much we can accomplish through the political processes as they are. Brand is easy to read, the other two are more deeply scientific.

The conclusion I draw, on which I am making my own life decisions, is that global warming is real, we are not going to be able to come too much of a consensus to slow it down before human activity has more than doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and probably raised temperatures by two or three degrees Celsius.

At the same time, the Earth's population continues to grow, but that rate of growth is slowing down. We have about 7 billion people today and the best wild guess is that the population may peak at about 9 billion. Jared Taylor writes that white people account for 17% of the Earth's population and only 7% of the births. The Chinese and Japanese are doing a similarly poor job of reproducing themselves.

This is important. North Americans, Japanese and Europeans have stopped increasing their energy usage for the most part. We are the biggest part of the problem, but a shrinking percentage. The Chinese and Indians will continue to demand more energy on a per capita basis, but at least the Chinese are reining in their population growth. The biggest traditional energy hogs are slowly reducing their appetite, although certainly not fast enough to prevent significantly more global warming.

Adopting this projection as a baseline, what should a person do? In general, you don't want to live in places that are already hot and dry. They are likely to get hotter and dryer. You don't want to depend on water that has to flow from such places. You don't want to live in a low-lying area, because the oceans are likely to rise. The IPCC working group on the effects of global warming probably has as good a projection as anybody as to what's going to happen. They have region by region, and often country by country projections.

Ukraine has incredibly fertile land. If you don't know anything else about the place, you have probably heard that. 54% of the country is arable, and a lot of it is its famously rich "Black Earth." Contrast this with the United States which is only 18% arable, and in which the land is generally not as good. Ukraine's history of rotten government has given it a big reserve. The land was not used efficiently under the collective farms in Soviet times, and efficiency has generally gone down since then. There are a few large agricultural companies who are doing wonderful things, but they work against handicaps. They cannot own the land out right, and the present government continues to meddle with agricultural policy, strongly discouraging investment in making things better. The result continues to be a vast bank of underused agricultural resources.

Geography is also in Ukraine's favor. It is a relatively northerly country, on a latitude similar to Montréal and Paris. If it warms up, it will open the northern part of the country to more extensive agriculture, probably offsetting any losses in the southern part. All of Ukraine's rivers flow south. The prediction is that global warming will make Russia more temperate and probably increase rainfall and Russia. A lot of that water will flow south through Ukraine, available for agriculture. By the way, very little of Ukraine's agriculture is currently irrigated. Another underutilized resource that can be exploited in the future.

Ukraine's population density is fairly low. It has 45 million people, give or take. This is about 1/6 the population of the United States, living on about 1/12 the land. It has about 25% more arable land per capita than the US. Unlike the US, it has not strained its aquifers were overtaxed the fertility of the land. Bad policy has been generally benign, though to be sure there is a fair amount of industrial pollution.

My conclusion, therefore, is that Ukraine will be one of the best positioned countries in the world when and if global warming becomes a reality. Another advantage is that it does not have rapacious neighbors. If global warming is real, Russia will experience a bonanza similar to that of Ukraine. None of Ukraine's other neighbors are very populous or very militant. Ukraine has a fighting chance of defending its riches against military invasion and illegal immigration. All this is speculation, but I can't speculate on a better place to sit out the storm of global warming when and if it arrives.
You don't meet too many authentic Christians, especially not those converted by honest-to-goodness miracles. Pat and Len are two such. This working-class Englishman was saved by a miracle from death in an industrial accident, and then was bombarded by circumstance with about five messages to "sell all he had and give his life to the Lord." With no contacts here and no language facility whatsoever, they sold their house in England, bought a farm here and take in Ukrainian orphans, whose lives they demonstrably change.

Last time they took their Ukrainian kids to England the social workers took an interest in them. Nosy, nosy. Len directed a sharp word at some kid who was misbehaving, and the social worker was up in arms. The social worker appeared to want to take charge of the kids, and Pad had to tell them it would be an international incident if they tried to commandeer a Ukrainian kid.

The state of affairs in England is much like America. God forbid that you should spank your kid, speak crossly to your kid, take a photograph of your kid in his underwear, risk asking your kid to walk someplace, ask your kid to work, or in general do anything to try to shape them into a productive adult.

This is an area in which Ukraine's relative backwardness is a definite asset. Even parents don't drive everyplace because they don't have a car. Kids know how to walk and take the buses. They aren't obese. Kids don't talk back to teachers in school because the lawyers have better things to do than defend the schools against irate parents. The better things amount in no small measure to rampant corruption, but if it keeps the courts out of family life, it may be for the good. When the courts do intrude in family life it is for more serious matters. There are quite a few families of out and out alcoholics here who take no care of their kids whatsoever. The courts generally put those kids, lots of them, under the care of children's homes and in orphanages.

There are good and bad children's homes. In the best of them they care about the kids and are tickled pink when foreigners want to take care of them or even perhaps adopt them. In the worst of them the administration supplements its meager salaries by skimming off the kids milk money. God help the kids in the latter, but there are enough kids whom you can practically support that everybody here who sees kids as a special mission can certainly find some to take care of.

One of the most encouraging signs is that organizations that have a lot of young Ukrainian members – churches, the young adult adjunct to Rotary, Toastmasters and so on organize trips to support orphans on a fairly regular basis. This is new. Under communism the party line was that the state was taking adequate care of everybody and there was no need for private charity.  They are learning.

My observation is that the kids in orphanages here seem to be about as well off as kids in foster care in the United States. Neither situation is ideal. The children often suffer from genetic defects or afflictions such as fetal alcohol syndrome. The fact that their parents are down-and-outers probably means that they would be lucky to have even average intelligence. Of course, the home life that they received prior to going into the orphanages, or foster homes, is often downright terrible. For all that, you see a surprising number of happy, smiling faces in the orphanages, and you hope and pray that that portends a normal future for at least some of them. One of the kids who was with Pat and Len learned the welding trade, through an apprenticeship and from Len himself, and is now working for a living. That's a success story for an orphan any place.