The Road Narrows

As my first venture to the former Soviet Union continued, another interesting road opened up before me: Kiev, Ukraine. This particular morning, most of our group, nearly four hundred, arrived at a large open-air square in order to have an informal, quasi-cultural exchange with the people and to visit the open air-markets and shops. Kiev was a major cosmopolitan city, so the square was crowded with people of all different ethnicities—Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, etc.

 On the periphery of the square, I could see young men in military attire strolling about rather aimlessly. This was something new. In Moscow, you either didn’t notice the military, or else their presence possessed an obvious official capacity. But here, they seemed to be just casually wandering around. And not just a few of them, but dozens and dozens.

Within a few minutes of noticing these fellows, several of them began to approach us. We Americans stood out like a sore thumb! A tall, slender officer, in his twenties, came up to me and offered to sell articles of his clothing: cap, belt, jacket—just about anything. Why was he doing this? Apparently, hundreds of troops were living in the forest in tents. They had not been paid for a long time, they were without provisions, and they were scavenging for sustenance. I decided to purchase his cap and wool jacket for ten U.S. dollars each. This was nearing a humanitarian crisis; so many young men with no direction, with no way to provide for themselves. Several of us Americans talked about what we had seen and were bemused by the situation. These young military fellows were no threat to anyone; they didn’t even seem to be operating under any official capacity. They were just stragglers.

Well, about week later, after returning to America, on August 19th, a piece of the puzzle fell into place. The August Coup had begun. Nearly sixty-nine years after the inception of the Soviet Union, its collapse was imminent.

Barbara Van Driel