What is happening in the Ukraine ?

Lately the media was  full of news from the Ukraine. People in the 1532 years old city of Kiev demonstrated on Kiev’s Independence Square,  only to be shot at by security forces. On Saturday, the 22nd of February former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko was released from the prison hospital and appeared in front of the demonstrators at Independence Square.


When I saw her there, with her traditional hairdo, I was reminded of the occasion I saw Ukrainian women for the first time in my life.

This happened at the beginning of April 1945. A beautiful sunny spring  Sunday invited my Mum and me for a walk in the nearby “Viktoria Park”. And lo and behold, when we turned  the first street corner  on the way to the park an amazing sight awaited us. Like a swarm of  the most beautiful butterflies we saw dozens and dozens of young woman in traditional Ukrainian dresses wearing their hair in a braid around their heads like a crown, indeed this style  is called “Crown of the Peasants”. The very style of hairdo Timoshenko wore when she addressed the people on Independence Square.

This fresh sight jarred my memory. The clothes these women wore on that day were all embroidered  with beautiful flowers. When they were talking to each other it sounded to me like birds chirping. I was astounded and asked my mother, “Mum, are they angels?”

“No, Peter, these women are Ukrainians!”

When I heard this I decided that Ukrainian women must be some kind of angels. These young females worked in Berlin at the time. Coerced or voluntarily, it does not matter now. They had their day off and they all went to the park to enjoy  the first sign of the coming spring.  What they were not doing, as I know now, was looking forward to the Red Army coming to Berlin. People of the Soviet Union who were found in Germany after the war,  be it as prisoners or workers, were not liberated but treated as traitors. Women suffered the indignity of being raped and then sent off to a labour camp in Siberia.

Ukrainians had a special relationship with Germans at this time of the war, as they saw Russians as their common enemy. And in the present struggle they look  to Germany for help in achieving their goal of joining the European Union.

We live in Australia now and we have met many former Ukrainians here at work and in a family way. Two of my grandsons had Ukrainian grandparents on their father’s side.  Later this year they will travel to the Ukraine. Little did they know, when they made their travel arrangements, that they were heading towards a country in the midst of a revolution.

The Ukrainian women I saw in the Spring of 1945 must be, if they are still alive, in their late eighties now. I wonder what they would still remember of what happened to them then. Perhaps they don’t want to remember.

None the less they are being remembered for having brightened a nine year old  boy´s day in early April of 1945.


What ?

The word “what” has may meanings and can be used in various ways. But I don’t want to write an essay about it  as I’m not  a linguist nor am I a philologist. I want to write about an eighteen months old toddler, our Great-grandson Lucas,  and the way he uses this word and I’m sure he does not know too many meanings of it.

Every time we see him after a short break  we are surprised how he has grown and developed. So. it is no wonder that we gaze at him with curious eyes and wonderment. In earlier days he would hang on to Mum’s or Dad’s neck  and consider for a moment whether he should cry. Over time he has got used to the sight of us very old people (Great-Grandparents)  who stare at him and can’t get enough of him.

Lucas and Grandma Monika

Lucas and Grandma Monika

Now he can, while still hanging onto the neck of Mum or Dad, or Grandma, produce a very slight smile of recognition. His lips twitch a little and he looks back at us without showing any fear. But if we dare to look, what he considers to be for too long,  with our doubtless adoration than he will call out, “What?”

What indeed? Why do we look at him like this? Haven’t we ever seen a boy  before? Our behaviour seems incomprehensible to him. He wants us to clarify our behaviour. All right, we calm down and he starts to explore our home. He wants to check out a wild theory he has developed during earlier visits.

He runs away from the dining room, through the kitchen, turns left into the hall way, left again through the living room and arrives at the dining room were he finds the same people, sitting around the table and still jacking away. His face is beaming, he knows his theory must be right; if you walk in a circle you return to the place of your departure. No matter what. And he also knows that some of the people will welcome him with cries of, “There you are!” This commotion, while not unexpected by him, is going too far and he will shout, “What?”. This time you can see in his face that he is puzzled by our behaviour and he thinks it is time to give us a lecture.

Lucas on his way to check out his circle theory

Lucas on his way to check out his circle theory

Lucas returns from "discovering" the circle

Lucas returns from “discovering” the circle














He takes a backward step, rises his right arm and points his outstretched index finger, for emphasis, like an  old Greek philosopher into the air and starts to speak. It is incomprehensible to us because we have forgotten how  to speak like a toddler. As far as we are concerned his words  could be in a language from another planet. Words of his invention are pouring out of him. You can see in his little glowing face that he is serious, deadly serious. And if any of us  grown-ups is still laughing he will direct another “What” at him or her.

After a while he turns and gives up on us dummies. Only Great-Grandma knows how to calm him down. She leads him to another room.  A small case full of Matchbox cars can be found in there. Some of them are thirty years old and have not seen the light of day for a long time.

The cars are brought to the table. Lucas is settling down with them and plays like as if he has done this before.  After a few different tries he puts them all in a line, bumper to bumper  so to speak. Cars of many types and shapes, like a tractor or a Berlin double-decker bus, a bus he has never seen before. Everything he lines up in the same direction.

Here is a photo of a reconstruction of what he did. We were too slow in thinking of taking a photo while he was doing it.

Bumper to bumper

Bumper to bumper

Lucas is a serious chap and anything he does has  meaning attached to it, at least for him. We, the old people, are only to ignorant to grasp the fact that every day a toddler like him can make great discoveries.  We are too old and hardly anything surprises us. But seeing Lucas we can re-experience with him the world with fresh eyes and we can say with astonishment, “What ! That’s amazing.”

And with that we mean Lucas and the beautiful world, that is out there, for him to discover. Stay tuned.

Someone came to say, “Good bye.”

Mary was alone in the house and sitting at the table trying to write a letter to an old school friend. Her husband, a taxi driver, was out working the night shift.

As it was Friday night her two teenage children, a son and a daughter, were out too.

“Look,” her daughter said before leaving, “We are sorry Nan is in hospital, but we have to go. We’ve planned this for weeks and I think Nan would say ,’Go out and have fun’. So, we’ll have fun.” She grabbed her little bag, swung it around and moved to the door.

From outside one could hear the horn of the car as her brother was eager to get away. “I’m coming,” the daughter shouted and slammed the fly screen at the front door. Mary heard the car taking off with its wheels spinning in the driveway. Then – all was quiet.

Mary tried to collect her thoughts. She wanted to write to her friend, that Mum was in hospital for tests and observation. “Nothing to worry about,” the young doctor had told her, “You probably have her back in a few days, as good as gold.”

Mary had stayed with her mum at the hospital for a few hours but had to go home as her husband needed her help to get ready for work. That’s  how it is, in a traditional family. “You go,” her mum had said, “I’ll be okay. Nothing wrong with me those doctors here can’t fix.” She waved with her hands as if shooing away chooks.

“I’ll see you before lunch tomorrow, Mum,” Mary told her  and with that walked out of the ward and along the  long hall way to the hospital entrance.

“Dear Debbie,” she started to write to her friend who lived now in faraway Townsville, “I know how fond you were of Mum and she is still fond of you….”. She stopped writing as she heard the fly screen creaking at the front door. They lived in an old house with a hallway running through the middle of it. Mary had to get up from the kitchen table and walk to the hall way. The sun had set  hours ago and it was close to midnight. The front door was open and in the dim porch light she saw a shadowy figure who she  thought was a woman.

“Mum?” Mary asked as she walked to the door where the woman was standing, holding the screen door. “Mum, what are you doing here? Did they chuck you out?”

“Mary, darling, I came to say  ‘Good bye’.” Mary looked puzzled at her mother and just wanted do say something to her when she heard the phone ring in the kitchen. “Come in, Mum, I’ll make us a cuppa” Mary said, turned around and walked quickly to the kitchen. It was most likely her husband to tell her, that he is coming home. Nobody else  would ring that late.

She lifted the receiver and said, “Yes Ted?”

“Sorry Mrs Miller, this is the hospital and I have to inform you, that your Mum has passed away a few minutes ago.”

“There must be a misunderstanding,” Mary said confused. “You don’t know were she is, do you? She just turned up at my  front door. Is that how you take care of old people?”

Mary turned to the door with one hand still holding  the receiver, “Mum, tell those nurses at the hospital that you are alive and kicking. They think you are dead.”

She looked along the hallway but could not see her mum. She dropped the receiver which fell, with a thud against the wall and was then swinging like a pendulum.

“Mum?” Mary was calling out in panic as she ran along the hallway looking into the other rooms. Nothing! She was nowhere to be seen. A terrible fright over manned her. She went back to the kitchen and grabbed the receiver with her shaking hand, “Did you just say, my Mum had passed away?”

“Yes, Mrs Miller, that is what I said. And we are terribly sorry it all went so quickly. If you could come in, the doctor will explain everything to you.”

Mary was in shock. Could not understand what had been happening. After a few minutes of recovery she went to the phone and rang the taxi company to ask her husband to come home. It did not take long before Mary heard him pulling into the driveway. On the way to the hospital she told him what had happened that evening.

She was still shaking.