Tahlequah Daily Press

January 6, 2014

Ada resident views life, upheaval in Ukraine firsthand

Art Lawler Staff Writer adanewslawler@cableone.net

Ada — There we were, face to face, talking via Skype for two hours, separated only by 8,000 miles of land and oceans and a multitude of foreign languages.

I asked Jamie Cluck of Ada what he was doing over there in Kiev, Ukraine.

“I’m here improving my Russian,” said the East Central University academic recruiter.

At the same time, he was warning his little niece, Katie, to stop bothering his interviewer.

Jamie and I shook hands, sort of. He put his hand up to his computer screen. I put mine up to his mother Jane’s.

Jamie Cluck said he missed his dog, Pippen, so I tried to find the well-fed Pippen so Jamie could pet him — sort of. Unfortunately, Pippen was asleep in another room.

Jamie said it was just as well Pippen was slumbering. Sometimes the shiny-black pooch with the wide girth would whine and jump when he saw his master’s face on the computer.

Jamie was on the eighth floor of a high-rise dormitory on the campus of the prestigious Kiev National Linguistic University last Monday. “It’s the best foreign language school in the world,” he said.

There was a nasty protest going on in this Ukranian metropolis of 3 million-plus. Things have cooled somewhat, but last weekend, there was another surge after social media got word that a female journalist had been beaten severely by police for her alleged political bias.

Pictures of her battered face were shared with the world. She was considered to be supportive of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych, which irritated local officials.

Yanukovych disavowed any knowledge of the beating and called for arrests.

By the morning of Dec. 24, three people had been brought to justice, but on Dec. 29, a crowd of 20,000- 50,000 at the Maidan, also known as Independence Square, promised to keep it up until Yanukovych stepped down.

After the Ukrainian president pulled out of talks with the European Union earlier, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians showed their displeasure by flowing into the Maidan.

Some say as many as 1 million piled into the area.

The president, they complained, had campaigned on getting the country into to the EU if elected.

Then Yanukovych changed his mind.

I asked Jaime why he would do that.

Cluck was careful with his words, trying not to take sides, but it was his understanding — later supported bin online newspapers in that country — that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a deal that would cut fuel prices and provide $15 billion to the economy. This he would accomplish by purchasing $15 billion worth of Ukrainian stock.

Old alliances die hard, and while some Ukrainians were tempted to see the deal as a way to at least temporarily gain financial stability, voices in the Maidan fiercely protested alliances similar to the old Soviet structure.

None of this seemed to bother Cluck when he spoke to The Ada News at 8 p.m. Ukrainian time Dec. 30.

By making use of an academic scholarship and an exchange-program agreement between the two schools, Cluck was able to make the trip and pay the same tuition he would have paid for a semester of Russian at East Central.

It gave him the chance to take advantage of a deal of a lifetime.

Cluck likes to travel, having been to Korea, Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg), Japan (Kameoka, Kyoto, Tokyo) and Spain (Madrid, Pamplona and Barcelona).  

I teasingly asked him what he would like to do when he grows up.

“I’m not really sure yet,” the 26-year-old replied.

He’s loving the experience of being in the Ukraine at the moment, despite the unrest. He said he is safe at the university.

He said he will be back in Ada in a couple of weeks.

Of course, he and his new friends spend a lot of time wandering about Kiev, on foot.

When that gets old, he uses public transportation. He can go anywhere in the city (three million residents, remember) for a quarter or similar coin.

 If he should decide to get off anytime before the bus makes it back to the university, all bets are off — at least until he digs out another coin to start the process over again.

 That means he could get off at eight different locations and get back on for $2.

 His other option was to buy or rent a car and pay $6 for each gallon of gas he used.

 Jamie loaded up on coins.

 Most of the time, he’s studying in his dorm room which he shares with three other students from different countries.

 “We get along great,” he said. “We help each other with whatever languages each is studying.”

 His roommates are from Turkey, Azerbaijan and Korea.

 On a scale of 1 to 5, he gives himself a 3.5 in the Russian language.

 He and his roommates each gets to be the expert in his own language while testing out his skills in the other’s native languages.

 He said that even though much time is spent studying, he’s also been to a couple of Bible studies, which he described as his social life in the Ukraine.

 When professors find out he’s from the U.S., they invite him to talk with students in their English classes.

 As to the question of whether he’s been down to the Maidan, he said he and his friends had gone there the day before.

 He then apparently noticed his mother in the room. “Oh, yeah, I haven’t told mom about that yet,” he said. “We didn’t have any trouble at all.”

 He compared what he saw at Independence Square to a tailgating party in the U.S.

 You heard right; Cluck, a 26-year-old academic recruiter for East Central University with a degree in physics and a minor in Russian, comparing this fiery political protest to a tailgate party?

 Go figure.

 Earlier protests attracted between 600,000 and 1 million people. The government brought out riot gear to deal with those protesters. Then came the calm, followed by the second round of protests over the journalist who was allegedly beaten by government agents.

 Meanwhile, Jamie Cluck has studied language and culture. His only unfortunate experience, he said, was biting into a foreign candy bar for the first time in his life. He’s tried the sushi and recommends it. He has found a Church’s Chicken, called Texas Chicken in Kiev. He’s also spotted a KFC and a McDonald’s.

Though his roommates speak other languages, what he has found out is that “everybody’s the same.”

Though Ukrainians don’t smile, he said, it’s not because they are sad. “It’s just the way they roll.” Jamie, on the other hand, is from Ada. He smiles and waves at people.

 “My goal is to make somebody smile back at me,” he said.

He sees the people in the Ukraine as being happy, except when it comes to the government.

Other observations:

Ukranians, he said, see “too much cronyism” in politics, consider the political system oligarical, and complain of kickbacks.

As to religion, he said many people attend Russian Orthodox Christian services.

Though he is away from his job in the US, Cluck talks to students about ECU. He’s still recruiting, even if unofficially.

He’s been to the Korean Baptist Mission. He attends First Baptist back in Ada.

“You have to be a real good observer,” he said. “I have learned a whole lot. It really opens your eyes to different experiences and  cultures.”