Chernobyl’s Wildlife

If you’re expecting two-headed cows or glowing deer, sorry, that’s not what’s here.

National Geographic’s John Wendle has an article on the resurgence of wildlife in the Chernobyl area, following the evacuation of all people since the 1986 nuclear disaster that left the immediate area uninhabitable. It’ll be 30 years since the disaster this Tuesday, the 26th.

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Essentially, as the article notes, “Radiation … is not holding back Chernobyl wildlife populations.” Among the animals seen in the area are bison, boars, moose, deer, badgers, gray wolves, red foxes, and more.

The exclusion zone in Ukraine, in which permission must be obtained before entering, and has virtually no human resident population (with few exceptions), covers about a 1,000 square mile area, making it the largest wildlife areas in Europe unimpeded by human contact.

Check out the link at National Geographic for more information, including pictures and videos. It offers a unique environmental study – not only with a large area unaffected by humans for three decades, but also in a highly radioactive zone.

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Wanted by Police for Visiting a Library

No, this isn’t Fahrenheit 451. This is modern-day Russia.

Police are looking for visitors – as far as 18 years ago – of a Ukrainian library in Moscow. This comes in a crackdown of supposed anti-Russian sentiment, with Ukrainian sympathy being seen as falling well in that category.

They have demanded the officials of the Moscow Library of Ukrainian Literature release personal information such as home address of several individuals who have visited and checked out books on Ukrainian history and, specifically, the Holodomor, a man-made famine under the Soviet Union that killed up to 8 million people. They specifically ask, as seen below, for information on the following people:

  • Ментальність орди (Horde Mentality), taken out on May 15, 2008
  • Україна або смерть (Ukraine or Death), taken out July 10, 1998
  • Голос в Украіні (The Voice in Ukraine), taken out February 1, 2010
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Document demanding information of visitors

This is not the first time the library has been investigated by the police or the government. The director of the library, Natalia Sharina, was arrested in late October, 2015, on account that some of the material may “incite hatred” and were “extremist” against the Russian people. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison, a charge and penalty that Human Rights Watch have said are “not only an assault on personal liberty, but on every person who cares about ideas and learning and education.”

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Volodymyr Hroisman – Ukraine’s New Prime Minister

As an update to the news earlier this week here, the Ukrainian Parliament has approved the appointment of Volodymyr Hroisman (also spelled Groysman) as the new Prime Minister of Ukraine. He is the 16th Prime Minister since it’s establishment in 1990.

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He was approved by an overwhelming majority (250 for; 50 against). In his acceptance speech, he said,  “Together we will make Ukraine successful.” As the BBC reports, this is not an easy task, as the war-torn country has a weak economy, a weak government, and overwhelming foreign powers from many sides.

Hopefully he will be more successful than the now-resigned Yatsenyuk. Critics, however, are doubtful, as they see Hroisman as nothing more than a “yes man” to President Poroshenko’s policies – something that they see as a problem for the nation.

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Gorbachev’s Latest Memoirs Now in English

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Russian-language edition

For those who want to look at late-Soviet leadership and politics, look no further than Mikhail Gorbachev’s own works. As the last Soviet leader, he oversaw the gradual liberalizing of freedoms (such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press) during the late 1980s, and eventually saw the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He has published multiple memoirs in the past, which I highly recommend, but his latest book, После Кремля (Poslye Kremlya, “After the Kremlin”) is now available in English, published by British publisher Polity Press, under the title “The New Russia.”

This book, among other things, will offer the former Soviet leader’s thoughts on modern-day Russia. Quite tellingly, Gorbachev has criticized Putin, saying that the current President “thinks he is second only to God.”

 

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The Odd Etymology of the Russian Blog

Here’s a fun example of how technology affects languages, including Russian.

Let’s take the Russian word for “blog”: лытдыбр (lytdybr). It sounds pretty unpronounceable, or at least it must have an unusual etymology. And it does! The origin of this word is the English computer keyboard.

Here’s a picture of my keyboard that I use:
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As can be seen, a typical Russian keyboard has two layouts: the Cyrillic, Russian letters; and the Latin-based, English letters. It takes a simple command (by default, Alt Shift) to switch between the two. If I wanted to write in Russian right now, all I’d have to do is push Alt Shift, and смотрите! Я могу писать по-русски! Я хочу писать по-английски, и here we are! It’s really simple to switch between the two layouts.

Too simple, actually.

If I wanted to type the word дневник (dnevnik, “diary”), I would want to type it in the Russian layout. However, if I accidentally set it to type in the Latin alphabet, I would instead type in lytdybr. Looking at the picture above, you can follow each letter in дневник corresponds to the layout of the English keyboard. Д for L, Н for Y, Е for T, В for D, and so on. 

So, the next step in this process. We have an interesting word here, let’s directly transliterate lytdybr into Cyrillic letters . Hence,  лытдыбр in Russian. 

It all most likely started with someone from Russia simply forgetting to switch from the English-letter layout. And with that, a whole new word was introduced.  

 

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In the News: Ukraine’s Prime Minister Resigns

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Earlier this week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned amid pressure and supposed corruption in the Ukrainian government. This is a huge move, as the country is already struggling politically both with domestic and international affairs. As the New York Times states, it is a “move that opened a new period of political uncertainty here.”

It continues:

But the revolution’s leaders soon turned on each other. Although authority is supposed to be balanced evenly between the president and the prime minister, Ukraine’s Western allies eventually sided with Mr. Poroshenko and pushed Mr. Yatsenyuk to step aside.

In recent months, both men had been resisting compromises on appointments and were reportedly thwarting corruption investigations into allies, threatening Western aid.

[…]

He emerged as a popular figure, but his support largely evaporated because of various scandals and missteps. A political ally, for example, was forced to resign from Parliament after it emerged that he was under investigation for money laundering in Switzerland.

Mr. Yatsenyuk confronted tremendous challenges as prime minister, not least because of the Russian annexation of Crimea and military intervention in the east during his tenure. Ukraine’s morass of financial problems required a $40 billion international bailout package.

In tackling them, he faced deep suspicions from the public, and from political opponents and allies alike, that he had fallen back on traditions of negotiating back-room deals with Ukraine’s post-Soviet business elite, the oligarchs.

“He couldn’t abandon the former practice of consulting the oligarchs before making decisions,” Yuri V. Lutsenko, the head of the president’s faction in Parliament, said in a telephone interview on Sunday.

As for who will replace Yatsenyuk, the most likely candidate as the next Prime Minister is Volodymyr Hroysman, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament. Most importantly, he is an unassuming ally of Ukrainian President Poroshenko. This will easily solve any conflict that may have arisen when Yatsenyuk was Prime Minister, as both President and Prime Minister will be allied together, making a stronger executive branch.

However, only 38 years old, some worry that Hroysman may be too much of a fresh face to become Prime Minister, having only been appointed the chairman of the Rada in November 2014.  Prior, he was the mayor of Vinnytsia, a town of 300,000 people, from 2006 to 2014. Not exactly a long time to prepare for such a role in a struggling country.

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Similarities and Differences of the Slavic Languages

Here’s less politics and current news and more linguistics and languages.

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From the people at The Linguist is a wonderful article about the similarities between the Slavic languages, such as Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, and so on. How do these languages compare to each other, similar to how the Romance languages compare?

Two paragraphs in particular jumped out at me, and I really suggest you take a look at the rest of the article in the link above for more:

There are minor differences between Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and so forth, but they are remarkably similar in terms of grammar. Their grammars are at least as similar as the grammars of  French, Spanish and Italian. So they’re grammatically very similar; however, quite different when it comes to vocabulary; more different than Spanish is from Italian or from French. In a way, in terms of vocabulary, the sort of outlier, the one with the largest lexical difference or distance seems to be Russian. In other words, I found that Czech, Polish and Ukrainian in terms of their vocabulary were closer together. Although perhaps grammatically Ukrainian is closer to Russian, and certainly in the writing system they use. It is, in fact, a form of Cyrillic.

The reasons for this, of course, are all historical. There was nothing that said over a thousand years ago when the early Slavs were breaking up wherever they were that there would be these divisions that we have today. There were influences like the Orthodox Church and Church Slavonic. There was the impact of the Mongol invasions, which meant that the original eastern Slavic nation built around Kiev, Kievan Rus’, split up and so you had Muscovy up north. Then the southern part of the Kievan Rus’ was increasingly under the influence of Poland or the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and so they developed more as part of that political entity. In fact, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had a lot more Ukrainians and Belarusians in it than Lithuanians. The Lithuanians were not numerous and the Lithuanian leadership gradually spoke more and more Polish as it became the dominant language.

The history of languages and how they developed into their modern forms shows not only the culture of each nation, but its relationship and influence with others.

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