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November 14, 2000

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The Face of Personal Democracy:
Some Photos from Ukraine

by L.D. Fletcher

Almost all of us here in America take a lot of things for granted. We assume that, if we work, then surely will get paid regularly. That we will always have drinkable water from the taps, and that the heat and electricity and hot water will always be there when we need it. It is not always so in all parts of the industrialized world, especially so in those countries which have emerged from Soviet domination and support.

For three months last winter I worked as a consultant in a USAID collaborative project to create a small graphics workstation and publishing/printing shop in the Lutsk office of the Ukrainian-American Birth Defects Program in Lutsk, Ukraine. While there, I was taken into several families and their circle of friends and shown a picture of Ukraine that I never would have seen otherwise. I saw every level of their society, from village to upper crust, took bus and train trips to historic and significant places to see and photograph, and in the bargain got more than a mere glimpse into the mind and heart of a beautiful country. The picture of Ukraine that was shown to me was not that of a poor eastern European nation, but a land that is richest in all the best that humanity has to offer -- pride, intelligence, adaptability, and fierce independence in the face of economic adversity. Nowhere was this adaptability more evident than at the Market. Personal economic democracy is a relatively new thing here, and is still rapidly evolving.

meatmarket.jpg - 24196 BytesFor the most part, the main Lutsk market is a huge open-air bazaar laid out in a maze of narrow passages between varying sizes of metal boxes and bins, kiosks and the occasional small metal building -- each one a separate business with its own collection of wares. There are a few cafes and bars here too, and wandering vendors with tea, coffee, and local foods to sell. In every small open space between these structures are the vendors who sell only what they can bring in on their backs, most of them sitting behind a tray table with a few simple items on it. You can buy almost anything imaginable here -- cars, clothes, furniture, appliances, produce, pets, soap, shampoo, tubs, toilets, etc. There is little organization, and precious little in the way of selection in, say, a store of only 80 cubic feet which sells shoes, hats, gloves, belts, scarves, and sweaters -- but among the 1000-1200 small businesses to be found there are at least 40 more such stores with a similar line of goods, all spread throughout the market. The only large brick building here houses the more prosperous vendors and most of those who sell the produce, meats and cheeses, flowers, and other such perishables. They are also the only ones who are protected from the weather. If there is a toilet here anywhere, the vendors were not telling. On a good day, there could be 25,000 people here, selling and buying, trading and haggling, begging for handouts or offering bargains to every one who streamed by. It is the most fascinating thing I have seen.

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L. D. Fletcher is a long-time contributor and Harbinger staffer of more than 10 years.

For the last decade and a half Fletcher has been doing journalistic or medical photography and illustration work, and is presently looking for a home for some of the thousands of digital photographs he and his Ukrainian friends have taken. He can be reached at For more information on the Ukrainian-American Birth Defects Program go to

Also see the first letter to the Editor in this issue.


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