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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Foreign Desk
Russia: An Oxford Boy in the Ukraine
by Vernon Chadwick
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I let the siren call of the Internet lure me East. I was not exactly prepared for what I got myself into. I'm living in a decrepit industrial bordertown and trying my best to stave off hepatitus and the ill effects of radioactive mushrooms. Forget surrealism. Here artifically lit blondes float over mud and broken concrete wearing only high heels and fellatio-friendly smiles.
      I'm spending the year (since last October) studying Russian and scoping babes at East Ukrainian State. The university is located in Lugansk (formerly Voroshilograd, before they chopped the head off of his statue in the square), about 40 k's from the Russian border. It's a former coal-mining district, but most of the mines were shut down after the collapse. So everybody's out of work, living on pensions, or getting by on the 25 cents a day it takes to live here. Because of the way the border was thrown up in 1991, most of the utilities in this region are tied in with the Russian grid. So when the Ukrainians don't pay their gas and electric bills (which is frequent), across the border they start pulling the switch. Sometimes they just play with the switching, taunting the locals who watch their lightbulbs flicker with gallows humor.
      Everyday I walk past Lenin's slums (the ubiquitous high-rises turned shabby megaliths honoring a dead race), which could be movie sets for a remake of Metropolis. Though Ukraine quickly embraced a market economy soon after its independence, the only thing they got for their politics are long lines of impoverished pensioners selling nickel-and-dime wares outdoors on card tables. As you know, everything's corrupt - from the presidency, led by Kuchma, who is accused of killing a journalist, all the way down to the traffic cops who set up roadblocks to collect bribes from passing motorists.
      I never thought I would have the chance to see close-up the old Soviet system at work. But life has dealt me an interesting set of cards. On arrival, I enrolled in an intensive Russian program for foreign students entering the university. This has been one of the best things I've done over here. I meet everyday with a small group of shkolniks from China, Pakistan, and the Middle East, plus a guy from Cameroon who's been teaching me pidgin English (extra credit for the return to Mississippi).
      This semester I'm doing a series of lectures on America for the English Department at East Ukrainian State. Little do they know what I've got planned. Today I discussed Southern plantation culture, aspects of pidgin and creole languages, and Ebonics. After Ole Miss, it's good to be back home in the USSR!
      Although I can see high-rise tenements from my window, I actually live in a small cottage district on the edge of town where people keep cows, goats, and turkeys in their yards. I've already seen enough gold teeth for a lifetime of nightmares. Across the street is an abandoned state farm. When communism folded, the people just took the animals home with them. The only other place I've lived besides Ukraine where everything is either paradox or contradiction is Mississippi!!!!!

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