With the current crisis in the Ukraine, Russia has been very much in the news lately. I like it when people treat me as an adult and I try to do the same for others. Adults can think for themselves and I will not try to tell you what conclusions to draw about Russia.
Some years ago I realized that Russia was a powerful country in world affairs and I decided to learn more about it, This was brought home to me very forcibly in 1970 when Marxist terrorists called the FLQ struck in Montreal and Ottawa. I borrowed some books from the Ottawa Public Library and tuned in Radio Moscow on short wave.
I listened to Radio Moscow for quite a while, Sometimes I wrote to them and once in a while they answered my questions on the air. I still remember the night of the attempted coup by Communist hardliners which I believe happened in 1991. I wrote to my pen pal Elena Osipova. Some time later I received a rely. She said things were getting back to normal but I could tell from her letters she had been shaken.
After the Internet became popular I signed up for a language exchange website. That was how I met my friend Valeriy. He had been a Captain in the Soviet military. He did his military training at Poltava which in the Ukraine. He has sent me pictures of the school, some of his classmates and instructors.
Valeriy trained on the ZSU 23 anti-aircraft weapon. It is a vehicle with tracks like a tank but instead of a cannon it has a four barrel anti-aircraft gun. The vehicle also has a small phased array radar that is used to locate and track enemy aircraft and ‘steer’ the gunfire. There is a good Wikipedia article about the ZSU 23 on the Internet.
After he retired from the military Valeriy went into something completely different and became a web designer. He writes software for local businesses and networks in English and Russian. Valeriy found there was a lot of good software on the Internet but much of it was in English so he decided to learn the language and signed up for a language exchange website. As I said that is how we met. I helped Valeriy learn English and he taught me a bit of Russian. He also taught me many interesting things about the country.
Valeriy now speaks near perfect English and he has read Dickens, Hemingway and even Stephen Hawkins. I sent him some books, DVDs and CDs. I reasoned that if he had learned the English language he might appreciate some English culture. I wondered if he might have some misconceptions as a result of Communist propaganda.
Valeriy in return sent me some lovely videos of his family. He has a wife Irina and a daughter Maria who is now 6. However one video stands out. Last year my Mother passed away and Valeriy and Maria made a special musical video as a tribute to her. Maria played a very nice passage of music on her digital piano and Valeriy recorded it with his video camera. Mother has taught Maria English using Skype and the family thought the world of Mother. Valeriy posted the video to YouTube and I downloaded it and shared it with our family. I also sent a copy to the funeral home that looked after Mother’s funeral and to Trinity United Church in Listowel, Ontario. My parents were very active members of that church when they were in good health.
Valeriy and I both realize that what is playing out in the Ukraine is a geopolitical struggle between Washington and Moscow. We both realize we cannot change events but we agree that we want to stay friends,
Let me close with the following: Ya shelayu vam mira. It is a transliteration from Russian. In English it means, I wish you all peace.
Gordon Ball, Ottawa, Canada