Russian Sketch 3

One of the security guards in our building, Leonid, a lively and kindly man of Armenian descent in his late sixties, spent this whole year languishing in his desire to talk Ukrainian politics. Initially, around September or October, I was quite willing to stop and chat in response to his questions. But after realizing that they were posed only in order to get emotional without waiting for the answer, I learned to gently avoid these conversations. It wasn’t difficult: as I described in this piece, such situations have been exceedingly rare during this year in Russia.

Last night, however, returning home from a brilliant white-night city, I must have dropped my guard. So when Leonid greeted me happily, as usual, and then added: “So that guy, Zakharchenko, is he a relative?” — I muttered inadvertently: “God forbid.”

“How can you say that? He’s defending his home!” cried the genuinely distressed Leonid, pointing to his television screen, and we chatted a bit (unsuccessfully). Yet, as it turned out, preventing an emotional escalation (and still getting a hold of the key to the laundry room) was easier than I ever expected. It took this much: “Leonid, dear. Let’s talk about these things as much as we need to. Just start by calling Ukraine ‘Ukraine’. That’s all; we’ll go from there.”

The loud, gregarious Leonid grew quiet for a moment. Silence must have lasted for five seconds at least. “Khokhland,” he said at last, wistfully — like someone who tried to swallow, but did not manage to. “Goodbye,” I suggested politely. “Okay,” sighed Leonid, handed over the keys, and closed his window.

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