Sunday, April 10, 2005

Abu and Aleks

03 April 2005

Rolled out of bed this morning to hear a large boom. Sounded like it came from past BIAP, but still it was loud, all the same. Came to find out later after I got into work that there was an attack on Abu Gharib again. This one sounds like it was a bigger deal. I’m sure that we will read about it in the paper if it was anything of concern.

By the end of the day, I’d almost forgotten that I had a scheduled meeting for after work with Aleks, the Ukrainian major that I know here on Victory. He and I speak often whenever we meet and he wanted to invite me over to celebrate my going away next week. I was looking forward to our meeting tonight, but since I’ve come down with this nasty cold, I have been really congested and feeling like garbage. Plus, I really didn’t want to pass this along to anyone else. Although it seems to be short in duration, it starts out in the throat and moves down to a bunch of chest congestion that you never seem to cough up.

Well, eight o’clock rolled around and he met me on my way back to the trailer, so how could I say no? He had everything set up and it would be just us enjoying some refreshments, sausage, cheese and good discussion. I don’t honestly know what we had since I was unable to read the label on the bottle (since it was in Cyrillic and only had a picture of crossed and stacked wheat on the label and a cayenne pepper at the bottom)…but it sure was tasty! Also, it was to be consumed all at once, not sipped/slurped or adulterated with water, soda (pop for all you’s guys from Colorado) or ice. Aleks had specifically requested this from the pilots he knew coming from home. It was really a very heartfelt gesture on his part and I was honored to be invited over. Hospitality is something you never should take for granted in any culture.

Let me tell you, Aleks speaks very good English; very clear, very pronounced and with very little accent. I soon found out why. Russian, Serbian and English were his main languages in school and of course, his native tongue, Ukrainian. He went to military college which was the equivalent to our West Point and is without a doubt a professional soldier. He has been fortunate enough to have had five peacekeeping deployments in his career. He has been to Cuba (not Gitmo!), Cote de Ivory (Ivory Coast, West Africa), Bosnia and Serbia and now Iraq.

We also spoke about family history. He is from Liv which is not so far from Zhitomir. This is why he was interested when I had said that my Grandfather was born in Zhitomir. After WWII, his Grandfather and family were moved to Siberia when he was labeled by the Soviet government as a “subversive.” It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that his family was allowed to move back to their native Ukraine.

He has been so nice as to offer me his time and his assistance to search for family history if I would like. I am really touched by the offer and hope that I can take advantage of his offer. When I asked him if the history may have been lost during all the damage of the war, he only laughed and responded that that was why it is important to know someone that knows the right people! I guess he’s connected. When I asked if Zhitomir was a small town, he said that at one time it was, but now it is a small city of about 450,000. Even if I only find minimal info, it would still be a kick to go and experience the people, land, culture, food and hospitality of the Ukraine.

Aleks also mentioned that some of the German peoples retreated off into the mountains of the south into their own enclaves and have remained small groups even today. He asked that I plan for at least 7 days. He would like me to see and experience some of his people and land too.

I had also extended an invitation to him as well. Chicago as you know also has a sizable Ukrainian community. In fact, if you were paying attention to the visit of the Ukrainian president and his (Chicago-born American) wife, they did stop for a visit in Chicago. I told Aleks that if he were to come out to where I live in DeKalb County, he would probably find it very much like Ukraine; flat with lightly rolling hills.

By 23:30, we both were showing wear from the long day. I thanked him for his hospitality and his offer. We will make sure to stay in touch when I leave next week. His group will also begin to filter out of here too. Their government has agreed to have them out of here in May or June from what I remember reading. Again, always the disappointment of making friends to leave them behind. The great thing is having had the opportunity to speak, live and learn from these friendships however fleeting they may be.
I just discovered your blog while doing a search for 'Zhitomir Ukraine' on I will be traveling with a group of university students to Zhitomir, and it has been a real challenge to gather research on the area.

I follow a couple of your fellow bloggers including Lance in Iraq ( want to say that I appreciate the effort that it takes to maintain a blog and that I appreciate all that you are doing. Keep up the good work, terrific blog!
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