Yesterday my mother, who lives in Belgorod [Russian city about 25 miles away from Ukraine], travelled by train to Kharkiv. She has done this for a long time, but not often, several times a year, buying various medications for herself in Ukraine where they are cheaper and some Ukrainian delicacies.
These interstate commuter trains have long been reminiscent of the Moscow “sausage” trains on the sunset of Soviet power. People, mostly pensioners, counting every penny, scurry between large border cities, betting on the difference in currencies and prices. Grandmas and neighbours gather on the porch, on the house or in the yard, they agree between them – and go to Kharkiv for products and medicines. A very usual thing. But because of well-known events, recently such trips have become quite extreme for older nerves…
No, nothing changed in Kharkiv and the surrounding areas, including towards the arriving Russians. But what has fundamentally changed is the attitude towards them from the side of Russian customs officials, who now perceive our pensioners as traitors.
Besides that, there has been a drastic hardening of rules regarding permissible import of produce on personal possession. And if before, observance of these standards was formal enough, now the elderly people are selectively searched and stripped directly inside the cars, in front of everyone, often mocking them.
…this year my mum went to Kharkiv for the first time in the year. It is clear why – firstly, the situation in eastern Ukraine inspires fear, and secondly – the multiple stories of friends about the raging Russian customs officers did not fill one with optimism. But… her neighbour convinced her (she badly needed something, but was afraid to go alone), especially since in Kharkiv it was “sort of calm.”
According to her story, the train car from Kharkiv was filled with Russian pensioners. They were carrying products – salo (fat), vodka, meat etc. The stable ruble, having lost a quarter of its value from the beginning of the year and now almost equalling the hryvnya, still allows you to purchase certain products with a profit, economically justifying the whole trip. Something is still significantly cheaper (for example, vodka, some products and medicines), something is irreplaceable (for example, Ukrainian salo).
Before everyone drove everything openly, but now all the products had to be hidden – on their person. After departure, to the border, all talk on the train was about the imminent customs check and who hid their products where and how. In the sleeves, on the chest, under the hem…
Mum’s neighbour hid a cut of salo on the belly – a cold piece onto the naked body, under her clothes – and drove as the “pregnant pensioner” all the way to the border. Just like everyone, really…
…The Ukrainian customs officers were not even remembered – they just passed through and that’s it. But our customs officials came into the car in oppressive silence. All the passengers sat with hunched shoulders, staring down at the floor. The man in uniform slowly, with a sense of superiority, considered the seated passengers:
– You!!! Get up and undress!!!
The doomed one at whom the officer pointed slowly stood up and started undressing…
– Hard luck, – thought the others, hunching their shoulders even further. If only they pass me by!
The customs officers know full well that everyone is “carrying” something. But the checks are random, five or six people to a car. The others silently wait while the officers, swaggering, search and strip the next victim, demonstratively shaking out products from sleeves, from under clothes and underwear. A public execution to the deathly silence of others… it is unlikely that all these elderly people, at the sunset of their years, experienced greater shame in their lives…
My mum got lucky – the officer passed by her, with derision and insults “taking” the neighbour across from her.
After completely fleecing several people and plentifully mocking everyone else, loaded up with the confiscated “extra” vodka and products, the customs officers went to the exit of the carriage. At the very door the eldest of them, dramatically turning towards the passengers, grinned and shouted loudly to the whole car:
– Belgorites [residents of Belgorod], when will you start to love your Motherland?!
The car was silent.
I will answer, here and publicly.
To begin with, it is not for this … in uniform, who spends his life digging around in others’ personal belongings and thus understands his duty before the Motherland, to teach gray-haired people about how to love her.
But mainly – what good to a person is a Motherland that puts them before a choice – Motherland or sausages?
Like any real love, love for the Motherland is a mutual feeling. You can and should love a Motherland that looks after you, your needs, that defends and protects against various adversities. A Motherland in which you can comfortably live, without worrying for yourself and the future of your children, friends and relatives. A Motherland where medicine and education is accessible, and where the level of social security for old people does not make them travel for cheaper products and medicines to a neighbouring country, hiding their gaze at the border.
A Motherland that allows the ordinary citizen to, figuratively speaking, love both the Motherland and sausages. And much more besides.
But if today the Motherland, mocking its citizens, puts them before the choice “Motherland or sausages?” then that Motherland is able to tomorrow put them before another choice – “Motherland or death!”
P.S. An hour ago the editor of “Echo of Moscow” refused to publish this post on my blog. The wording of the reason for the refusal – “The post is on a general topic.”
Source: Vadim Lukashevich FB