Varenyky are Ukrainian dumplings stuffed with fruit or potatoes and topped with sour cream. Today, they became a symbol of political protest.
While tens of thousands of Crimeans went to the polls on Sunday to vote — the result is almost certain to separate their peninsula from Ukraine and join Russia — others expressed their dissent by staying home to cook this most Ukrainian of foods and posting photos and videos of their dumplings to Youtube and Facebook.
"This is a varenyky flash-mob" explains Lilya Abibulayeva in a YouTube video. It shows her mother and aunt filling square pieces of dough with what looks like cheese. A Ukrainian flag hangs on the wall and the Ukrainian national anthem plays in the background.
Ilona Simonenko, a 36-year-old photographer in Simferopol, made two batches of varenyky, one with cherries and another with potatoes. Her 11-year-old daughter and her husband also helped. "It's better for me to do this than participate in such a farce [of a referendum]," she said by phone.
One complaint she and others have with Sunday's referendum is that it only offers two choices: Either join Crimea to Russia, or remain in Ukraine, but with far greater autonomy. There's no third option: to keep things as they are.
Pro-Ukrainian activists called for a boycott of the vote. An initial plan to hang Ukrainian flags from their windows and balconies was rejected as too risky. Supporters of Ukraine have been beaten up and even kidnapped from the streets in Crimea. Simonenko, the photographer, said that her husband feared to express his support for Ukraine on the streets patrolled by elite Russian forces, Russian cossacks and a pro-Russian Crimean defense league. So instead, activists decided on Saturday that everyone would cook dumplings.
Simonenko said that the act of making varenyky, pressing her thumbs into the dough to make tiny ripples, "is something calming, something relaxing."
"My grandmother taught me how to make them when I was little," she said. "I always love to make varenyky."
Simonenko worried that Russia and Ukraine will soon go to war. Making varenyky eased the feeling of helplessness that increases with the increasing number of armed troops in the streets.
London band Yuck's buzzworthy 2011 tour included a stop at SXSW, where they played the NPR Music showcase and marked the release of their debut album. They returned with their second album, Glow & Behold, in October. In the interim, former lead singer Daniel Blumberg left the band, opening the door for guitarist Max Bloom to take over the role — something he says was natural to do. Bloom, along with bassist Mariko Doi, drummer Jonny Rogoff, and guitarist Ed Hayes, played this version of "Middle Sea" for an opbmusic session.
- Audio: Steven Kray
- Video: Nate Sjol/David Christensen
About six months ago, a group of physicists in the U.S. working on the Large Hadron Collider addressed a problem they've been having for a while: Whenever they had meetings, everyone stuck to the prepared slides, and couldn't really answer questions that weren't immediately relevant to what was on the screen.
The point of the forum is to start discussions, so the physicists banned PowerPoint — from then on, they could only use a board and a marker.
"The use of the PowerPoint slides was acting as a straitjacket to discussion," says Andrew Askew, an assistant professor of physics at Florida State University and one of the organizers of the forum at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.
He says it was as if "we removed the PowerPoint slide, and like a big glass barrier was removed between the speaker and the audience.
"The communication became a lot more two-way instead of just the speaker speaking at length for 15, 20 minutes. The audience really started to come alive, to look up from their laptop computers and actually start participating in the discussion, which is what we were really trying to foster."
Askew admits the presentations are now considerably longer: whereas they used to do four to five each time, now they can do at most three. It's also been harder to find speakers, because now the presentations are a lot less scripted — more improv comedy than reading from slides. But on the plus side, more physicists have started attending.
The physicists are far from the only people moving away from PowerPoint style presentations: The CEOs of Amazon and LinkedIn have eliminated the presentations from meetings. In his recently published memoir, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls PowerPoint slides "the bane of my existence in Pentagon meetings; it was as though no one could talk without them." Gates writes that as CIA director, he banned slides except for maps and charts, but could not do so as Secretary of Defense. Gen. James Mattis, former commander of the U.S. Central Command, has said that "PowerPoint makes us stupid." Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster banned PowerPoint presentations when he led a successful mission in Iraq, and he compared it to an internal threat.
The main advantage of forgoing PowerPoint is that it forces both the speaker and the listener to pay attention, says John Paul Chou, an assistant professor of physics at Rutgers University who recently presented at one of the Fermilab forums.
With PowerPoint, he says, it's "easier to let your mind go on autopilot and you start to lose focus more easily."
He points out physicists often have a lot of graphs and data to share, and with access to just a whiteboard, he has to be much more selective about what to present. He also explains that he has to make sure his audience is following his train of thought — he can't just advance to the next slide anymore.
"It forces you to be a better teacher as well as making better students," Chou says.
But this isn't just an issue for academics, says Richard Russell, a special adviser to U.S. Central Command who also teaches at the University of Central Florida and National Defense University.
He cites an example from the Kosovo war in 1999, when the CIA recommended a bombing run on what officials thought was a Serbian military production facility by presenting a PowerPoint slide identical to the ones used by the U.S. European Command. The chain of command thought the intelligence had been approved, the site was bombed, and it turned out to be the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.
"There are real-world consequences for this, and so it's not a purely academic, ivory tower concern," Russell says. He also points to a report from the board at NASA charged with investigating the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster of 2003. The board argued that NASA had become too reliant on presenting technical information with PowerPoint rather than reports. In a recent column for Foreign Policy, Russell writes that PowerPoint should be banned in the military education system.
Of course, PowerPoint does have its advantages, says John Paul Chou of Rutgers. "If you're giving a lecture for 10 people or 100 people, you can do it very easily with a chalkboard. But once you move up to 1,000 people, you run into all kinds of technical problems that PowerPoint solves very easily," Chou says. He says the problem is simply that "we're so used to giving PowerPoint [presentations] that we forget there are other means of communicating."
It has been seven years and two months since I woke from my coma. My eyelids were taped shut and my arms were cuffed to some unknown object. The first sense that came back was sound. I could hear the voices of doctors and nurses chatting about the weather.
I distinctly remember a doctor poking my bare feet with a scalpel. "Vegetable," I heard him say. Everything was blackness. God, help me, what have I done, I thought. I'm in hell, and I put myself here.
My demon was methadone. A difficult pregnancy and cesarean section had caused nerve damage, and the Vicodin and Percocet weren't cutting it anymore. Postpartum depression, exhaustion and an unhappy marriage compounded the pain.
Doctors sent me to specialists, whose cures were backed with commercials, free pens and a 30-day supply free from the sample drawer.
The doctor at the chronic pain clinic assured my mom that I'd be closely monitored and that pharmaceutical use was documented and safe. "Methadone is for heroin addicts," she said. I left with a month's worth of pills that day.
Soon, I was under the care of a psychiatrist, pain specialists and family practice doctors. I was getting up to 14 different meds. I couldn't tell where my pain came from anymore. Side effects led to new drugs, and more side effects.
My husband — once friend and partner — was now my jailer, controlling access to my pills he kept locked in a safe. A single Xanax turned into five if I could sneak them. And the methadone went from one, to two, to four until I drifted off into a drooling heap at Quiznos.
I became too medicated to parent my son, so he moved in with my parents. Motherhood became a burden I despised. My husband and I spent our time quarreling, drinking and sleeping. Friends disappeared. Finances were obliterated by medical bills and time off work.
My addiction owned me. Once a girl obsessed with my appearance, I was now a greasy, slovenly woman who could no longer perform even the most basic hygiene. Although a die-hard atheist, I begged God to make me die. Of all things, Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel" came on one day, and I broke down sobbing.
What happened next is family lore, as I have no memory of it. My husband found me passed out on the bathroom floor and put me to bed. The next day, he called my mom and asked her to check on me. I was blue. By the time we got to the ER, I had stopped breathing. The medics revived my heart twice. With two collapsed lungs and failing kidneys, my prognosis for survival was less than 10 percent.
I was informed of this after waking up two weeks later. When the ventilator was removed, a nurse asked me why I did it.
"Did what?" I said.
"Try to kill yourself."
A relative cleaning the house had found my empty bottle of methadone. I had taken a month's worth in the 48 hours after filling the prescription.
During my coma, I experienced a phenomenon that brings skeptics out of the woodwork and of which I have no proof. But I recall being lifted into the most beautiful white light, and looking down from the sky at Earth, amazed at its perfection. I watched a droplet of water fall from the sky into the forest. The images were vivid and perfect. I had lost it all by not recognizing the beauty of what it means to be alive.
Today, I am a 33-year-old mother of two. My husband and I divorced. I got remarried to a man I met in recovery. We have a son as well my first son who has no memory of me as an addict. If you passed me on the street, you'd never suspect my junkie past.
I feel no shame when I say I'm a recovering addict. The battle has made me a warrior. As someone lucky to survive, I want to tell others not to give up. Life can be pain and suffering, but numbing that pain also numbs the love that heals it.
Yonkers, N.Y., is home to many Ukrainian immigrants and home to the Ukrainian Youth Center, which, despite its name, also has a full bar. It's where Rostyslaw Slabicky is glued to the news.
"The mood right now is extremely apprehensive," Slabicky says. "There's part that's fait accomplis, that Putin is basically doing what he wants and the entire world is basically standing by, not doing anything."
Around the corner at a Ukrainian credit union, branch manager Maria Zakotiria says the U.S. must help Ukraine. She comes in each morning and finds her tellers reading the news.
"They either cry [or] go, 'Oh my god, look what's happened now, look what's happening now,' " she says.
Zakotiria and her parents spent the middle of the 20th century fleeing Ukraine, becoming displaced persons and eventually settling in New York City in 1954. She grew up in the U.S., but her heart is in Ukraine, and when it comes to Russia's actions and Vladimir Putin, Zakotiria does not hold back.
"Nobody could do this to another country," she says. "Nobody. Unless he's total evil, and I feel he's total evil."
A few miles north lives the Krebs family. Since 2006, William and Stefanie Krebs have adopted seven children from all over Ukraine. As dinner approaches, the kids play video games and piano. On the menu this night, traditional borscht.
Borscht runs deep. Stefanie's father is first-generation Ukrainian, and William knows Ukraine well through the complicated adoption process. Many of their children still have relatives there.
William says there's a lot of uncertainty, and like many Ukrainian immigrants in the United States, he wonders if Russia's intervention in Crimea is just the beginning.
"If Russia gets away with this, will they push for a little more more of the pie," he says. "It's a country divided," He says.
His kids have their own ideas. Patrick, 10, is ready to fight.
"When I grow up, I'm going and join the Marines and I'm going to go and teach the Russians a lesson," he says.
But Stefanie says Patrick's 9-year old brother, Peter, is just glad to be in the U.S.
"He said to me, 'Mom, I'm so thankful that you got me out of Ukraine," Stefanie says.
The Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn is home to many Russian and Ukrainian immigrants. On a recent frigid day, few wanted to talk politics. One man, Alex Sergei, thinks Crimeans want to be part of Russia.
"Everybody wants to go to Russia again," Sergei says. "That's like, statistics show."
Gregory Davidzon, who owns a popular Russian-language radio station in the Northeast, hosts a talk show and says his listeners are very engaged in the conflict. The phone lines light up during his call-in shows, and he often runs unscientific polls of his listeners and finds they're more split than he expected.
"I could say 65, 70 percent of people support Ukraine, and 30, 35 percent of people support Russia," he says.
For those who support Russia, he says, few want war.
"Some people say, you know, Crimea, it's a part of Russia historically," Davidzon says. "Even they more concerned about intervention."
But like many worried about escalation, Davidzon warns his audience that Crimea could just be the beginning. Who's to say, he adds, that Alaska isn't next?