A tribute to Ukraine’s most belligerent yet beautiful phenomena – the Babushki. The real power driving Ukraine.

Generally speaking, Babushka are not built for acceleration, but, when they reach their top gear, it is hard to slow them down.

By Brent Jordan Yocum

It is a pity that NFL Europa had to close up shop and high-step back to the United States. Although, it is understandable why they blew the whistle on the whole operation. It makes perfect sense: the demographics simply are not there. Europeans, in general, find the sport of American Football to be brutish and ridiculous, starkly contrasting with the elegant, time-tested sport of soccer (football). For most Europeans it is incomprehensible how a 6′ 2” (1.88 m), 335-pound (152 kg) man, nicknamed “The Refrigerator” could be called a professional athlete—much less a footballist. Even if one could get past the Steel Curtain, past the Monsters of the Midway, past the Purple People Eaters, an even larger stumbling block is the very name of the sport—football. Well, it is a crafty combination of both history and laziness. Why is it named football if they never use their feet? That is a preposterous question. Of course they use their feet, it is not as if they are running on their hands for sixty minutes. Sure, I understand that they rarely kick the ball in American Football, but have you ever tried to play soccer with an American Football ball?

If NFL Europa had been able to hold on to the league for another year, I could have opened the world’s eyes to the untapped, potential talent of Ukraine. I am not referring to the stereotypical Slavic men that are seen in James Bond films, nor am I talking about the invincible Ivan Drago of Rocky IV. I am talking about the бабушки—the grandmothers. Babushkas are a uniquely powerful specimen. Babushkas are an incomprehensible, irresitable force. Bashukas are tough—tougher than Ford Tough tough—tougher than Office Linebacker Terry Tate. They have endured and outlasted Communism, famine, government changes, wars, economic crises, and the violence of Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Unshakably they live their lives with their gold teeth glistening in their mouthes like embers that fuel their blazingly purple-tinted hair, which illuminates like a hot flame everlastingly ignited atop their heads to signify their never-surrender attitude.

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The rushing breeze of the passing metro cars gave no relief to the scorching temperatures that were melting Kiev in the midst of a humid, heatwave summer. Standing on the outdoor platform of the Levoborezhna metro stop, I was bound for Pecherska, where ELC’s1 main office was located. After a difficult early morning, rushing around Kiev teaching private lessons and business classes on only a couple hours sleep, I was headed to my weekly Wednesday meeting with my boss and fellow teachers. The blazing mid-day summer sun beat down on the city, summoning sweat from my every pore. My once-pristine undershirt began absorbing the sweat which caused it to turn tan like the crust of perfectly baked bread.

As the train came to a complete halt and threw open its door, I was hit by both exiting passengers and the overpowering scent of body odor. Sure, it would take a little longer to go to the center of the city and transfer stations underground, but the cool tunnels of the deep Kiev metro sounded more refreshing than climbing Jacob’s Ladder at Arsenalna to ride a sweaty bus several blocks. I would rather take my chances Barry Sanders-ing my way through the crammed underground transfers to change lines. In essence, it was more practical to spend extra time and walk than risk passing out on the bus of heatstroke and missing my stop.

My buckled knees gave out beneath me and I crashed onto the pleather bench seat of the metro car. This car was packed with hungry lunch-time travelers daring to venture out into the summer swelter and piling into a burning metal-wagon with no ventilation. The windows of metro cars in Kiev must be welded shut; it’s seldom a crack is made to allow some relief from the sauna steaming inside. Ukrainians seem hypersensitive to breezes that come into a speeding train. They would rather not risk becoming sick; they would rather die.

At the next station, sticking to the seat where I am reclined, I watched a Babushka board the train carrying two cumbersome bags filled with only-God-knows-what. Their whole lives must be packed in those bags. These elderly women always put on display such a pitiful show of how frail and weak they are. But God help anyone who would try to help them carry those bags. Acting as if she is so fragile that she will crumble to dust if she cannot have a moment to rest her aged, aching bones on the seat where my skin has fused together with the pleather. Well, if it is truly so difficult for them, then why are they always carrying around two monstrously full bags? Perhaps they would feel less wear and tear on their bodies if they learned to take it easy.

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As I have said before, Babushkas are a different kind of specimen. They live in a society and world of their own. If I had been able to start my dream franchise in NFL Europa, the Ukraine Purple-Haired Babushkas would have been a force not to reckon with. I would have signed several Babushkas to my offensive line and, undoubtedly, the fullback position. Generally speaking, Babushka are not built for acceleration, but, when they reach their top gear, it is hard to slow them down. The sheer force and wrath of Babushkas are not recognized until one comes into contact with such creatures. Even then, the incomprehensibility of these stocky, cubic compressions of iron have proven to be a doomsday for many young children, and innumerable rugged men. Of course there are disadvantages to establishing a professional sports team comprised namely of senior citizen women. But the fact that these geriatrics play ruthlessly by no rules, cancels out the fact that they need to rest several minutes after each down. Their tenacity makes up for their weathered physical conditions. It is not always about bringing the pain to your opponent. It is about intimidation—its mind games.

Babushkas are short and thick. It is uncommon to find them without their signature heavy bags. These bags are the source of their power. To take the bags away is like shaving Samson’s head, like taking spinach away from Popeye, like handling kryptonite around Superman. Simply slap helmets on them (not because they need it, but because it is required in the rule book to play the game), hand them two bulky bags and pitch the ball to your star running-back—the gold-grill wearing Nastya Nikolayevna. Babushkas’ skin thickens to the density of a rhinoceros’ as their eyes focus in on obstacles appearing in their way. They snort and snarl apocalyptic fires from their brimstone nostrils while deflecting people left and right. What would happen when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? You mean, what happened? Their explosiveness gave birth to a hybrid between the unstoppable force and the immovable object—the Babushka. A new star is born when two worlds collide. And when Babushka’s course is plotted out, nothing shall deny her as she trounces the defense for a 99-yard touchdown. Finally, after clearing out everyone in her path, leaving broken bodies wasted and injured, strewn all over the field, she rumbles over to the bench and stands in front of the kicker to intimidate him into standing up and forfeiting his seat as well as his manhood. Babushkas are like wolves: traveling in packs seeking out the weakest of a herd to prey on their misunderstandings and feast on their timidness.

High-five Olga

High-five Olga

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Despite having just sat down, overwhelmed by my lack of sleep from teaching until 9:30 every night and waking up in the early-morning to teach more, I stood up for her to sit down on my perspired outline that sizzled and popped in the sun. I did not want to stand up, but it was determined for me when she stepped on the metro seeking out the nerveless person to parade her theatrics in front of. While I sit she yells at me about my lack of respect for elders and my laziness and how I am bringing shame upon my entire gender (not knowing that I am an American and seldom understand her insulting squawks); when I stand she praises and thanks me saying that chivalry and respect still triumph in this backwards world. I suppose that I can stand a little longer and cling to the rails for support. My transfer station is only a few minutes away.

As we pull into Arsenalna, the lights flicker on and off to alert people’s attention. An announcement plays overhead about which station we will be arriving to. Even the monitors in the car display the location name and a small picture of the cannon that is situated near the street entrance to the station. Square dancing around each other, people jostle on and off of the tightly compressed train ushering in more fragrances, more moisture, and more attitude. Overhead there plays another announcement about our soon departure from the Arsenalna station, warning passengers to stand clear of the doors. Without warning, awakening from her hibernation, this bully Babushka, who bounced me from my seat, realizes that we will soon vamoose from her station. She nimbly springs to her feet, grabbing both bags as she starts hastily pumping her legs in cartoon-fashion in mid-air before landing on the ground to start bulldozing through the crowd. She shall not be denied. Thirty people are still flooding into the car as she rams her shoulder unexpectedly into the small of my back and hurls me forward against the current. Suddenly, I am transformed into her human shield slamming against each person between the Babushka and the door, my face slapping against the exposed chests of perspiring, hairy men until I am launched into the refreshingly cool marble walls of Kiev’s deepest metro station. The unrequited prices we pay for our generosity.

Brushing away the birds flying around my head, I leap to my feet scrambling to the metro car. The doors close. The train pulls away. Here I stand at the wrong station, as that crotchety wild boar bumbles to the escalator, wiping everyone’s sweat from my face and wringing out my clothes.

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This post was written by B2Y reader Brent Jordan Yocum. If you have a story, an opinion or an article to share please write to me: ian@bluetoyellow.com