Hic Sunt Ukrainians: Europe’s East in the Tales of Its Young Africanist – an excerpt

the following is an excerpt from the novel Hic Sunt Ukrainians: Europe’s East in the Tales of Its Young Africanist by Andy Kozlov (@KozlovAndy)

A few winters ago, I happened to spend some beautiful days & nights in the Italy’s eternal city and was struck by the number of Ukrainians living there. Ukrainian migration to Belpaese is, perhaps, comparable to the loads of Zimbabweans flocking to London. With one difference, though. The minds of Ukrainians were never riveted by the Italians like the Zimbabwean ones were under the British Crown. We do not take into consideration the world-class opera singer Solomia Krushelnytska’s marriage to a mayor of Viareggio or the Italian troops conquering the Soviet east beside the Nazi battalions (the former according to a friend in Zaporizhia (Ukrainian Sparta) were  good for dancing and singing arias but  not doing war).

So, back to our Ukrainians in Italy. I happened to meet an eccentric type of an Ukrainian. His name is as plain as this—Andriy Chekhov. His significant difference from other ucraini was Andriy’s extreme doze of affection for Rwandans and other African nationals. While other Ukrainians were struggling up the social ladder to get carta di soggiorno and waving an EU passport in an unaccounted-for manner enjoy the Mediterranean sun, wear counterfeit Armani jeans, which they would most probably get from some illegally migrated Africans based on Viale Eritrea in Rome, Andriy was planning a mission trip to Rwanda. (See Libreria Griot: a sketch of Rome Multicultural)

Of all the African nations that are out there, our hero got enchanted with the Rwandans, or rather a Rwandan lady who, as sad as it will be to say, put his whole education-abroad project into jeopardy. Andriy received a personal scholarship that enabled him to go to Italy on a study program the content of which was a matter of his personal choice. And he stopped his choice on cultural heritage of the Church at the Peter’s University in Rome.

Cor Africanum: ethical fashion in Rome (photo by Andy Kozlov, March 2010)

He sprang up from his chair exhaling, “This is not going to work!” I’m not a writer. All these last couple of days, Sasha kept scanning the notes he took while reading Flannery O’Connor, Umberto Eco and James Ellroy coupled with all other numerous books that he forced himself to get familiar with before getting down to writing his own novel. The first novel of his life, the one that was supposed to jump-start his career and prove to him and every single person who ever helped him in his personal growth, that he was a professional writer—someone who would easily get published.

Many thoughts were bouncing in his head at this moment. Sasha wanted the world to get into knowledge of his unprecedented (as he was convinced) story of life. As a devcom graduate he had all the knowledge needed to recognize that writing was essential in order to achieve this goal. Making videos and putting them on YouTube did not suffice. Sasha was fresh from the Pontifical Gregorian Universityand the main entry on his calendar for the past 18 years was: do homework, get ready with the seminar for Thursday, write a paper on the Ainu of Japan and the likes.

“Now all of it is to undergo a dramatic change, if I want to become something worthwhile in life”, Sasha kept reminding himself. “But how can it be done, how can I shift paradigms in my life?”

So, after having fruitlessly tried to get a job in Rome with an Ukrainian culture house, having gone through all the trouble to convince his high-school mates to make a film on the dying Ukrainian village to only realize that his buddies back in Ukraine are busy with more mundane problems, Sasha decided to talk to himself, which is to say—write a novel.

“It will be a novel”, he ruminated “about a Ukrainian guy perhaps of my age and I will set it in Italy and Zimbabwe, and Ukraine, of course.[1]” His problem was trustfully following the recipe for novel-writing that he composed by taking notes when roaming through a thousand hills of literary criticism studies, theory of literature books and Wikipedia entries.

Sasha knew that he wanted his hero to be following his lifeline (as I mentioned previously this is because he was deeply convinced that his life was a Story undiscovered). However, he was slightly concerned about the repercussions of this genuineness. Well, he didn’t want to reveal the undercurrents in the life of institutions that he was involved with during his student life neither did he want to create basis for prejudice towards the people he was going to describe. So, he wanted his hero to be like him without the reader becoming aware too much of the resemblance.

Having had a plate of borstch with salo,[2] Sasha walked back to his Samsung laptop and resumed writing. Every so often, he got distracted by his mother’s phone calls in order to check whether he had anything to eat: borsch, salo etc. After successfully handling these calls, his thoughts flashed to checking Gmail and seeing whether someone of his 42 Facebook friends commented on his recent posts. Sasha used to be friends with 245 but having concluded that it was just those 42 that could potentially comment on his posts he reduced the number by unchecking the rest. His posts usually vary depending on what part of the world Sasha decides to explore that given day. For instance, he once posted about some Saudi homeowners piercing their Sri Lankan domestic with 42 needles in an inhumane act of punishment and balanced this news with American volunteers organizing a charity campaign on the South Korean Jeju Island to send pencils and pencil sharpeners to an orphanage in Kerala.

Andriy Chekhov, our hero from Ukraine is a good man, you know. “Stop! This is not an email to a friend that I am writing. I need to switch styles here.”

So gradually, Andriy was failing his exams one after another because of his Solange (his “solemn, dignified”). This love story began when our hero enrolled with a course about Raphael’s work in Rome. Solange’s questions were making him think how smart the girl was and how great it would be for them to get married and give birth to ten cute black children (this is what he imagined every African woman was dreaming of having in life) and transfer to Rwanda.

Holiday Inn in Harare before the 2012 rebranding (photo by Andy Kozlov, February-April 2011)

His previous knowledge of Rwanda was more than rudimentary. I mean he knew that this country is in Africa and that people there are now supposed to speak English because of some recent geopolitical shift. And of course he heard about the genocide. But apart from that—nothing more. Then he was lucky (well, this is how he saw it) to be in the same research group with Solange. They went to the library once a week to leaf through the dusty tomes of art history. Eventually they came across Raphael’s La fornarina. It was then that he made the mistake of talking sincerely to Solange. She didn’t say ‘no’. At least, then.

For the next several months, Andriy was constantly being filled with dreams. They spent two or three nights together. He kept researching on Rwanda, the genocide. Three months, 800,000 people: Solange’s father was among those eight hundred thousand butchered in three month. Since that first night with Solange, he knew he was going to dedicate his life to sustainable development of Rwanda, helping save its kids from poverty, provide them with that same kind of opportunities he was provided with.

The course on Rafael was over. Soon came frustration. Depression came, as some like to call it. The African queen has dumped our hero. She did not return his calls; she was nowhere to be seen at the University. Solange simply disappeared. And later she found him to let him know that soon she will be marrying the Italian professor who introduced them to Raphael.

Passion for Rwanda suddenly began to fade.

“Gosh, I can’t be writing this!” Sasha exclaimed in his mind. “If I do everybody is going to make connections with my life in Rome, and the way I fell in love with Nadine. No. I don’t want her to find out that I still have feelings for her. My African queen. Yeah. But who cares—she left me and I don’t give a.. alright whatever. Now I am going to Zimbabwe, life is going to heal this wound. I will forget her in no time, I’m sure I will.”

Occasionally, in times of loneliness he kept returning to that time when his Tutsi Nadine was describing to him the way she felt during those three months back in 1994 when she expected death to come knocking on her door at any moment. Hiding out in the cellar of her Hutu friend 11 kilometers from Kigali, she learned to wait and be strong. Sasha remembered clearly that he also needed to be strong for her. He thought that God saved her for him, for two of them to get married and have ten children and be working together for the development of Rwanda.

But the last thing he wanted right now was his reader to draw parallels between the real Nadine and the fictitious Solange. So, he had to re-write that passage, maybe even avoid mentioning Andriy’s love story altogether.

You can write to Andy Kozlov on andreakozlov@gmail.com

[1] Sasha was 25 then
[2] Basically it’s lard consumed by Ukrainians with tomato soup as a side dish. Garlic often makes company to them.

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