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Пользователь Сообщение: Village Injustice        (Тема#79868)
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Silent Dude
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18.06.14 10:20 Ukraine #1753550
Village Injustice
by Laura Williams

Our village drunks are in jail.

The population of Chukhrai has now been reduced from 18 to 16.

After my husband Igor and me, the two drunks, both about 45 years old, are the youngest residents. Vasily, whose nickname is Khovryach (meaning “swine” in Old Russian), and Nikolai, known as Kiset (a small tobacco box), are virtually inseparable – just like their grandfathers, from whom they inherited their nicknames. Without jobs or families or gardens, their subsistence diets generally consist of booze and bread. They earn money for both by doing odd jobs for the elderly villagers – plowing the gardens in spring, hauling manure in fall, and chopping firewood in winter. Now the elderly residents, mostly women, are unable to manage these arduous chores without their handymen – keystones of village society.

I often would see the drinking buddies on my way to the woods. “We’re just out clearing our heads,” they would say. Or I would find them lying nearly unconscious in the middle of the rutted road that runs through the village. Once, Igor was riding our mare Aza in the dark, and she stopped dead in her tracks, refusing to go forward. When Igor dismounted to find out what was wrong, he found Kiset sprawled across the road.

We encountered them frequently walking between Chukhrai and the next village of Smelizh. Since there are no longer any bootleggers in Chukhrai, they go to Smelizh to refuel. When I saw them on their way to Smelizh, they were always walking quickly, one of them holding a cloth bag stuffed with empty, plastic soda bottles. On the way back, they would be stumbling toward home, each holding a half-empty soda bottle of samogon. Once, we found the grubby cloth bag abandoned in the middle of the road, with three full bottles of booze. In their stupor, they had lost their moonshine. We took the bag home and gave it to them a couple of days later.

The two drunks were not thrown in jail for drinking. Drinking is not restricted in Russia, no matter the quantity, and public drunkenness is not uncommon. Nor were they thrown in jail for making moonshine, which is technically illegal but usually overlooked by the authorities. Neither has the dedication and patience it requires to brew their own alcohol. Instead, they would buy a liter of moonshine for less than two dollars in Smelizh. Most of the drunks in that village are perpetually indebted to the man who sells it. Often they steal buckets and shovels and such from neighbors to pay off their debts or finance new provisions.

Our village drunks didn’t steal anything, either. Nor did they kill or hurt anyone. These two are harmless. Kiset has a plastic plate in his head, which had been implanted years ago after a metal part flew out of a lathe he was operating and smashed the front part of his skull. He is generally nice, if a bit dimwitted. The only time I heard him raise his voice was to yell at his mother when she refused him money for booze. Khovryach was genuinely benevolent. I never heard him raise his voice. He was quiet with a thoughtful gaze. He was extremely thin and always wore the same faded blue jacket, baggy pants, and gray cap on his head.

The reason our village drunks landed in jail was because they fell into a trap set by the local police. Perhaps the police had to meet some quota for fighting crime. Hearing that there was a field of wild cannabis not far from our village (hemp used to be harvested widely for clothing and twine), two undercover policemen approached our village drunks with an offer they couldn’t refuse: “Go collect some marijuana,” they said, “and we will pay you 1,200 rubles [about $40] for six potato sacks full of the plants, plus we will throw in a few bottles of moonshine to boot.” That much money was enough to buy six gallons of moonshine.

“But how do we collect it?” they asked.

“It’s easy,” one undercover cop replied. “Just cut off the bushy parts at the top and stuff them into a bag. Meet us here Monday at the same time.”
Khovryach was reluctant to go, knowing it was illegal, but Kiset convinced him the money and booze were worth the risk. They went to the field, cut the cannabis, and carried it to the meeting place at the appointed time. The two were arrested on the spot.
A month later, Igor went to their trial as a character witness.

“I cannot stand silent in the face of such injustice,” Igor declared at the trial. “Setting up two perfectly harmless drunks when there are burglars, drug dealers, and murderers on the loose.”

Igor explained how the two were important contributors to village life, performing the work no others would or could do. The elderly women, he continued, would not be able to plow their gardens or heat their homes without these two. Life in Chukhrai would come to a standstill.

Igor then produced a copy of Russian Life, open to the Notes from a Russian Village article with a picture of Khovryach in a boat before his flooded house (March/April 2003). Saying that his American wife wrote a column on the village for the magazine, Igor said that thousands of Americans would read about this injustice. The judge had a copy of the article made for the case file.

Originally threatened with eight years in jail, Kiset was sentenced to three years and Khovryach received two. Just before they were led off, Igor handed them each a small package – gloves and shirts donated by a generous Russian Life reader to each of the villagers of Chukhrai.

Six months have passed since the trial. The villagers are getting by one way or another, lending one another a hand or calling on drunks from Smelizh. The other day, I met our post lady, Antonina Ivanovna, on the road. She is Khovryach’s half-sister. I inquired what she had heard from him.

“He writes letters all the time,” she told me. “He is eating well, getting three square meals a day, and finally putting on some weight. He always says hi to you and Petrovich [the villagers call Igor by his patronymic]. If it wasn’t for Petrovich, he might have gotten six or eight years. He’s awfully thankful that Petrovich stood up for him. Laura, Putin doesn’t speak the way Petrovich does.”
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