Jokes and mocking - that's what comes first before any other public reaction, when the Russian government officially claims its next whim. Then there are rumors and resentment. We, Russians, have been through a lot, and a sense of humor is our lifeline in times of chaos and confusion, as it is currently. Our oppositional protests should be much stronger to satisfy American indignation, but, you know, we just take it easy. We already know that our government is just indifferent to diplomacy and any human rights, and protests do nothing. Some of us already experienced the Soviet regime, so the fact that we are coming back to dissent is not surprising. It's just our worst jokes coming true.
Living in New York, I observe how differently people respond to what's happening in Russia. For example, when they started lobbying anti-LGBT laws, Russians took it as the other rule that they can easily ignore, or use for their own exposure. But on the West all the human rights organizations united and rose against Putin. I still hear the buzz. But there is a secret, that you don't know, a big percentage of our deputy is not straight. So how can we take these laws seriously?
Vice versa with the recent sanction-concerned restrictions. Russia had banned a certain food import from USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, and other countries. USA took it as a natural reaction to their sanctions against Russia, but Russians took it personally. Sanctions could be just an excuse to slightly dipping us back in the USSR, the deficit was one of the attributes of Russian socialism. And a little known fact, that our government started to prohibit so popular food festivals in Moscow before the sanctions were adopted, doesn't allow me to think positive on that. Thereby international conflicts become a perfect disguise to infringe upon their people.
I have to admit, the restrictions concern not only civilians, sometimes it affects the deputy itself in a ridiculous way. As soon as Crimea became a part of Russia, officials were obliged to spend family vacations there, instead of usual Code D’azur, and drink Crimean wines instead of usual “Crystal". And travel agencies of Crimea flourished by means of selling fake tour vouchers, which are used as an evidence of unforgettable time on the Black Sea.
The sacral phrase "but Crimea is ours" became a perfect joke to cheer somebody up in any situation.
- They cut back on my salary!
- But Crimea is ours!
So if you can't see a good side of a coin, always remember - Crimea is ours. As if it makes somebody happy...
The grotty and shameless propaganda in both our countries aims to make us hate each other. But in practice, it just gives us a cause to start an interesting conversation and eventually make friends.
During the harsh war between Russia and Ukraine, I was lucky enough to witness a beautiful love story between a Russian girl and a Ukrainian guy, which happened in Brooklyn and ended up with a wedding. I’m a Russian girl living in Brooklyn, and honestly, it is more plausible for a Russian girl to meet a Ukrainian guy here, than in Moscow or Kiev. We speak the same language, and the pressure of New York forces us together.
The script of the photo (above), “ПУТИН - ХУЙЛО” amid the Ukrainian blue-and-yellow flags appeared, under the metro-bridge in Midwood, Jewish area, on the next day after the invasion of Russian tanks into Crimea. On the very same evening in a Banya (bathhouse) I snooped on a conversation of two young Ukrainian girls:
- Have you heard of Crimea?
-I know, it’s crazy! Putin said that he just liberated the Russians from there!
- Hey, Putin, liberate them from Brooklyn too! They are oppressed here! They are forced to work!
Russian New Yorkers mock Ukrainians too, and, what is more important, we laugh together. Humor united us against both our governments. But the jokes are getting angrier from the Ukrainians, and understandably so. I unfortunately started avoiding my Ukrainian friends, because some could very gracefully, ever so subtly, make me feel horribly guilty, despite my never having invaded Ukraine. One said to me, “Hi there! So what, you are dissing us, yeah?” But it’s not that easy to avoid them, if they are your friends. Yes, we are still friends with each other, but the current political situation just brings a little bit of Woody Allen sitcom to our meet ups.
-Let’s go to Florida by car?
-No, it’s too far. Do you know how much the gas is?!
-Man, I’m from Ukraine, I know how much the gas is!
It’s no longer welcome to conduct a real political conversation in our mixed Russian-Ukrainian circles. You risk getting literally doused with water - the special punishment we created among our friends for international arguments. So we disguise the serious topic of the war with sarcasm.
Joke by joke, the wedding time has come. When it happened, I’m sure a little Moscow bureaucrat started to cry somewhere. It was a typical Russian wedding, the mother of the bride ruled everything. And for your information, when a Russian mother rules the gig, the owner of a restaurant will sing and entertain the crowd by himself to make her happy. I must pay a tribute to this woman, who didn't forget about the new part of her family and made this poor guy sing songs of the only one Ukrainian rock group that Russians know, and learn by heart one anecdote in Ukrainian. It is not fair, but the majority of Ukrainians can speak Russian, and Russians usually only laugh at the Ukrainian language, so the anecdote worked for everyone.
I always wondered, how do Ukrainians speak Russian that well, if their national language is Ukrainian. One of the guests from the groom’s side attempted to explain that to me: “I have no idea!” she said. “I used to speak Ukrainian with my family and at school, and I don’t know how this Russian language infiltrated my head!”
The bride gave me a personal tour of the Club Cats Cafe in Bay Ridge, which they had magically transformed into a diamond-white fairy tale. “Did you see this table with props? Here we have a fake mustache, a Russian flag - we don’t have a Ukrainian one, unfortunately - Russian soldier hat - that’s necessary, we are Russian people, right? Let’s show them that we are Russians!” And I sadly thought to myself, we had already shown them who we are.
The wedding was nice and friendly, political talks were held only behind each others backs, and no major confrontations took place. We didn’t want to spoil that special night. I was proud of us, when the older generation, our grandparents, thanked us for not paying attention to the propaganda, and for loving and cherishing each other. “We used to be one big, powerful country!” they said. Now we are two countries (as a joking aside to the Russians - one of which is a little more powerful). That’s obviously the Russian in me. Despite the jokes, I do truly hope for peace between Ukrainian and Russian governments, because we, people, still love each other.