2015. május 24., vasárnap

Chapter 33

“Listen, Rita,” Karin said. She was weary. She was going to let a source down, it was something she hated and never did. “Nobody has anything against you or your business. I bet you can’t remember the day when an investigator bothered you last time. However, some of your clients are screwed.”
Tension crept between them.
“So, go ahead, tell me,” Rita said. “Who are you talking about?”
“It’s Krylov. He has screwed up, and someone – some very powerful people – might be after him. We . . . they . . . need evidence against him. Any kind of evidence will do.”
Rita’s confident smile was still there on her face.
“I like you too, Karin Erntemann, and let me tell you I don’t say it often to journalists. Now I gather that you’re asking me to speak up? Karin, I won’t risk my business for our new friendship.”
She would risk it. Karin has already known that. Not for their friendship, but because she would have to.
“Rita, I’m not happy with it. I don’t like it any better than you do. I just can’t see any other way out.”
Rita was observing her, she did not say anything. She was pale, her angles harsh, wolfish. There were tiny wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and around her mouth. All her aggression and greed was there on her face, but she still looked younger than her fifty-one years.
Karin sighed.
“Why are you so hostile? I don’t want to harm you. Listen, the police could have raided your place and take your laptops. They also have professional computer programmers who could hack your laptops without a court warrant, remote searching is what they call it, right? Yes, I know that you’ve got a hell of a security system, but you know each system has weaknesses. Experts could find a way to screw you over if they want to. However, we aren’t after you, Rita. I didn’t want that, so I warned you in advance.”
“Should I say ‘thank you’?”
“When I came to you, I risked that you would delete all your video files or get some of your hackers delete them or destroy the laptops. Yet I’m here. Nobody will bring charges against you. We only want some information. We won’t ask anything about your other clients. We won’t ask about substance abuse. We won’t even ask about your taxes. For all I know, you pay taxes as an escort agency, right? We’ll be very discreet. We want Krylov and nothing else.” Karin was serious as she faced the other woman.
Rita was not smiling now, she did not even look at Karin. Her face was rigid, she bit down on her lip. Her eyes, normally ruthless and very intent, seemed confused.
“Even if you are telling the truth, and it’s a big if, you’ll ruin my business.”
“I am telling the truth. And it’s not like they’ll raid your place and name and shame all your clients and put you behind bars. It’s Krylov alone. Nobody have to know that you were an informant.”
“Do you think I can make it all right with disclaimers?” Rita asked with controlled anger.
“I’m sure you’ll deal with it.”
“I would’ve never thought that a snob woman like you would come up with a plan like that.”
“Neither would I. Told you I hated it, but I can’t give up my case.”
Within a couple of days, a strange crime sent shock waves through Austria, Russia, and most European countries. The news made headlines all over the world.
Unknown perpetrators hacked the computer system of Rita Aldermann, a businesswoman who had a luxury escort agency. The hackers have stolen some private video files of Rita’s guests. They have leaked one video that featured three unnamed, pretty, blond girls and Krylov, a Russian minister and former entrepreneur, a close friend of Putin. Russian professionals have removed it from the Internet in a few hours, but it popped up at other websites. It seemed the hackers were masterful, they have left no traces.
Krylov was married for thirty years, he had a nice, modest, middle-aged wife and grown children.
A successful politician he was, but his career was over now. He had to resign within twenty-four hours after the scandal. Had not he left his position in the Ministry of Energy, Putin would have fired him. His projects, oil deals with European Union countries and Eastern European countries like Ukraine, stalled.
Rita Aldermann denied that she had anything to do with Krylov’s relationship with her girls. She was not a madam, she dealt with models and escort girls, she employed girls who kept company for businessmen during corporate events. If the girls and their clients took their relationship a few steps further, it was not Rita’s fault. She has always told her girls to take care of themselves and do not do anything foolish. Neither did she know who had leaked the tape; she guessed some tabloid journalist wanted to make headlines, or one of her former boyfriends played a sick joke on her, out of jealousy.
Rumors had it that Rita Aldermann offered the video to the police. Some suspected there was political motivation behind the case. Nobody brought any charges against Rita Aldermann. Probably she had good friends everywhere. It seemed she emerged from the scandal unscathed.
Of course, there was a thrill – people guessed who would be next? Rita Aldermann had rich and respectable clients, jet-setters. They must have been terrified. However, no more video popped up. People had to accept that Rita Aldermann, indeed, had a reputable agency.
Karin stayed away from the show. She found it rude and tasteless. She hated that she had to use this trick. However, she had to admit it worked.
She decided to follow up Tanya’s case and visit the girl. They have moved from their apartment to a better, safer neighborhood.
It was mid-November of 2013. There was something strange going on in Ukraine.
Tanya’s quiet mother has greeted Karin with the same warmth. She served Kyiv chicken and babka for her. Her tiny, time-worn home was neat and clean, and she talked to Karin with an awkward yet very friendly smile.
Tanya was still pale. She did not talk and did not smile. Her mama said with a sigh that she had no friends, she shunned people whenever she could, she was unwilling to leave their apartment. She was struggling at school, she had concentration problems, but she did her best to overcome them. She wanted to go to the university, her mama said with an apologetic yet proud smile. How could they afford that, it was an enigma, but again, what Tanya’s mom would not give to see her graduate and have a better, brighter life.
Karin could tell that Tanya still had a long way to go. One day, many, many years later, Tanya would leave behind her ordeal. She would be a strong, intelligent, sensitive woman. She would have a good profession that she would love. She would have control over her life. It was in the cards for her.

Karin could not return to Moscow. She was a crime suspect. Russian authorities still held her responsible for Johann Eckel’s death.
She wanted to stay in Ukraine. Her sixth sense told her to stay. Ukrainian people had enough of corrupted politicians, backward politics, poverty, and Moscow’s tentacles that suffocated their economy and independence. Something was up.
It started on 21st November 2013. In the evening hours, dozens of young protesters appeared on the Independence Square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti. They were talking, shouting and laughing. Within a few days, there were thousands and thousands of them. The protests escalated in other Ukrainian cities.
Karin covered the Kyiv protests. This time, Alois did not object when she asked for professional security guards for her crew.
Kyiv looked majestic. The night sky above the Maidan was not completely dark, light pollution faded it. Electric blue neon signs cast light on the huge Soviet monument and the buildings. The place was a strange cross between grand, minimalistic Socialist architecture and traces of ornate Neo-Renaissance, neo-Baroque, neo-Classic style. Cars glided by on the nearby streets. It looked like any bustling Eastern European city.
Karin could detect groups of uniformed police officers, talking to each other, laughing.
The protesters were desperate and angry, yet the atmosphere was almost celebratory. The crowd was pulsing and pumping on the square and the nearby streets. The police shut down subways, yet more and more people arrived. Flashes of warm yellow and royal blue – the Ukrainian flag – were there everywhere. Many protesters waved European Union flags.
“Why are you here?” Karin asked a young man in Russian.
“We love Ukraine, that’s why,” the man said in Russian and in broken English. “We want a change. Our politicians failed us. We have nobody to trust.”
“You should have seen our Facebook page,” another man said. He was grinning, his brown eyes were bright. “Lots of people support us.”
“We won’t go home until Yanukovych resigns or signs our EU contract. We’ve asked sleeping pads and hot drinks on Facebook,” someone said.
“Ukraine has already made a decision. We want to be part of the EU.”
“We don’t want Russia anymore.”
“We don’t want the corruption.”
“I wanted to be a medical student,” an attractive young girl said. “I did well at high school. My teachers said I was gifted.” She was bitter. “I had to give up school, because my parents couldn’t afford it. If you want to study, you’ve got to pay. At the University of Medicine, your entry is $10,000. Exams and grades cost money, too. How could we pay for that? My mama earns $300 a month. My dad has no job. Now I’m a waitress and my parents want me to marry someone–“
“Sure,” someone interrupted them in Russian. A thin, pale woman. She had a Slavic face, broad cheekbones, chiseled lips. She looked forty-something. “Teachers ask for money. What could they do? I’m a teacher. My salary is less than $150. The principal asks support from the kids’ parents for ‘school charity’ to keep the school working –“
“Doctors ask for money, too,” a tiny, round grandma said, in half Russian, half Ukrainian. She had an angry, weary face and full, thick grey hair. “My husband had a heart attack last month and we paid $400 for the doctor. He should be in hospital now, but they don’t have enough hospital beds.”
“I thought Ukraine had free medical care,” Karin said. “And a free education system.”
“Free!” the grandma gave an angry gesture. “Pretty free, I tell you. You don’t have to pay for the hospital, yes. You put money right in the doctors’ pockets. If you don’t, just see what kind of care you’ll get.” She lifted a fist and put her thumb between her index finger and middle finger; it meant that non-paying patients received low quality care. 
“Same with teachers.”
“And judges. You won’t get a fair trial in Ukraine. If you have money, you can get away with anything.”
“Some are above the law.”
“Everyone wants bribes in Ukraine. It’s a custom. It’s very rude not to give money if you want anything,” a man said, he had neat grey hair, a beard, and a gentle face, he was like a cheerful grandpa. Sure he was old enough to be most of the youngsters’ grandpa.
“I wanted to open a café and I can’t pay the bribes for all the permissions,” a tall, large-boned young man said, raising his voice.
“That’s because politicians stole our money. Even Yanukovych admitted that they steal most of the social service money.”
“Ukraine had money, but it went to politicians’ pockets.”
“They privatized everything after ’89. For themselves and their families.” They meant the privatization of state-run businesses and factories.
“We’ve been waiting for twenty years to clean up after ’91. Twenty years!” a man said, he was in his late twenties or early thirties.  “Now we have the chance, and that idiot,” he meant Yanukovych, “he fucks up. We had enough. It’s time to kick him out.”
“You think the next one will be better?” A huge man sneered. He was at least six feet tall and overweighed. “The Tymoshenko bitch was better, eh? One is like the other. See, I’m a worker. If you folks fuck with Russia, we’re screwed. They won’t buy our goods. The factory will close. I’ll lose my job.”
“Then why are you here?” someone asked sharply. Hateful glances flashed.
“He’s right! They’re thieves. They won’t help us. I don’t trust them.”
“You think it’s only about the EU?” one of them addressed Karin. “No way. We want to end corruption.”
 “We’re here to make a change,” the man who wanted a café explained. “Do you believe that we can make a change?” he used wide gestures like Levinson.
Karin gave him a big smile.
“Sure. The world hears your voices now.”
The grandma stroked her shoulder. The café man was grinning, he gave her a thumbs-up.
“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for coming here. You out there,” he meant Austria, probably Western Europe, “have free media. Write our story. Tell the world that we are here and want a better future– “
Karin nodded, she was serious.
“That’s why I came here.”
She faced the camera.
“Hi, this is Karin Erntemann from the Independence Square of Kyiv, Ukraine. It’s a live broadcast. I am interviewing protesters. Some already say that Ukraine is the first crack on the new Iron Curtain. The protesters want to tell the world that they exist. They say that they will not give up. They want to live freely and happily in their country. They say Ukraine has chosen the European Union.”

Her real-time report made it to Austria’s main channels and top channels in Germany and France.
She even had Ukrainian fan base. Ukrainian press nicknamed her the Wicked Witch of the West; it was a hint of the Broadway musical, Wicked. They compared her reports to Stephanie J. Block’s intense performances. Karin loved it.

Late November days were cold and hard. Tension crept high on the Maidan, it was almost unbearable. Special police forces kept rioters away from government buildings. People were talking about a civil war.
The rioters were ten thousands by now. Police stopped buses, yet more and more protesters arrived from all over Ukraine.
Karin and her crew were still there, and it was getting dangerous. Demonstrators were not peaceful anymore. There was no looting and they did not damage the ornate Secessionist buildings, they did not burn cars, they did not break glass storefronts, not yet, but they shouted obscenities at police, Yanukovych and his government. People were talking and second-guessing, and Karin could see fear in their eyes. November 29, the date of the Vilnius meeting, was nearing, and many thought that Yanukovych would not sign anything.
Putin’s press secretary told that Russia had nothing to do with Kyiv’s decision. Yanukovych was talking about trilateral negotiations. European Union leaders said that Ukraine had main issues with democracy and human rights. Things did not look good.
At the end of November, Yanukovych travelled to Vilnius, but he refused to sign the free trade agreement with the European Union.
Violent street fights flared at different points of Kyiv; protesters and police forces clashed. Karin and her crew recorded everything. She was afraid, but she never showed it on camera, she was cold and calm as ever.
At night, she had nightmares and flashbacks. She could see herself at gunpoint with Eckel.
This was probably the most dangerous job Karin has covered. She knew she could have been hurt.
Gone were the uniformed policemen; special force police had helmets and shields.
There was an ugly scene going on right next to her. A couple of rioters attacked police who beat them up with batons. Police knocked a man on the ground. They kicked his head and stomped on his ribs. The man was on the ground, his face covered in blood.
Karin was shivering as she signaled to her cameraman not to leave the melée and record the scene. People shoved and pushed her. She was afraid that they might separate her from her crew. When a crowd of people was out of control, everything could happen. She thought about the horror stories she always heard about other reporters. Lara Logan’s name came to her mind.
She also knew that far-right extremists could track her down on the streets or in her hotel. She thought of Tetiana Chornovol. She wrote an article about the wealth of Ukraine’s Interior Minister Zakharchenko. In a few hours, a group of men abducted her and beat her up. She suffered permanent injuries.
Karin has completed a training program a few months ago. They simulated emergencies like this. Now everything was real. Someone could assault her or torn her to pieces or stomp her to death.
A policeman grabbed her arm. He pulled her down the ground and kicked her leg with a heavy foot. Pain. Intense. She was screaming.
The bastard smashed my knee.
He dragged her along on the ground. She barely could sense that other police were beating rioters with batons next to her. Someone grabbed her left arm. One of her security guards. He hauled her away from the policeman and dragged her to her feet as she was gasping for air.
Karin’s knee had dark bruises for a couple of days. Her scene appeared on every major website and TV channel in Europe, the United States, and Australia within a few hours.

Karin met Sonya Levinson early in March.
Levinson was not in Moscow anymore. She has received dozens of death threats. She asked for a political asylum in Belgium. Many countries, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany amongst them, would have gladly accepted the well-respected lady politician as their citizen. However, she chose Belgium, because she could work for her causes there.
Karin met her in Brussels where Levinson lived these days.
They met in an elegant restaurant for an interview.
“There has been a lot going on since we last met,” Levinson said with a pensive smile.
Karin nodded.
“Sure, Sonya.”
“I’ve followed up your work, Karin. You’ve done a good job.”
For a second, their eyes met. Karin could see triumph in Levinson’s eyes. Karin knew what she meant.
“Thank you, Sonya.” Without Levinson’s help, she could not have tracked down those who had a hand in Heidi Carlson’s death. Krylov would still be in the Ministry of Energy. He might have given the deal to Gazprom. At least, they bought some time.
For a superficial listener, the conversation seemed casual and polite. Levinson might have talked about Karin’s latest jobs.
Karin was there when the Arctic 30 left their prison. The activists looked dazed and shaken. “Ten years, that’s a lot. I thought I might never see my father alive again,” Captain Peter Willcox told the reporters.
Karin was there amongst the journalists who were waiting for the Pussy Riot girls at their first public appearance in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. They got amnesty. Once Maria Alyokhina was free, she flew to Krasnoyarsk to meet her friend and fellow fighter, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. The girls, held separately, met after two years. They hugged each other, then shook hands and faced the reporters. Both were smiling. They seemed pale in the glaring spotlights, but they looked healthy and physically unharmed. Flashing cameras created a strange stroboscopic effect, it made the scene outlandish. Karin had a two-minute session with Nadya and Masha. She talked to them in Russian.
“It’s a publicity stunt,” Nadya told her. “For the Olympics in February. Putin wants to come across as a good guy.”
“I wish I could have stayed in jail,” Masha added. They would have been free in March anyway. Two months more or less did not matter much after two years of humiliation.
Karin thought about Ukraine. Sure as hell Putin wanted to make nice wherever he could. Soon the world would have good reasons to condemn him.

The EU has promised Ukraine nearly one billion dollar in loans, however, Russia offered billions of dollars. Putin also imposed economic sanctions on Ukraine, just to demonstrate how he could damage the country’s economy. Russian gas prices have crept up. 
Early in February, Yanukovych let down Ukraine and the European Union again. He backed away from the agreement.

Karin covered the tragic events when the Berkut, Ukraine’s special police force, sent snipers against unarmed demonstrators on 18th February.
The protesters were marching along toward the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament. They demanded to restore the Constitution in its 2004 form. In the morning hours, the advancing crowd swept away the barricade of trucks, along with, the police cordon. Police fired at the unarmed civilians with live ammunition. They used AK-47 assault rifles, shotguns and handguns. They threw flash grenades and stun grenades into the crowd. Some grenades contained metal shrapnel. The protesters tore the pavement and fought back with cobblestones. Women were pouring alcohol and petrol into empty bottles, to create petrol bombs.
The rioters burnt tires to obscure visibility, because the snipers aimed at people’s heads, hearts and necks. Volunteering doctors in the makeshift hospital agreed that they were trigger-happy and they aimed to kill people. Even a volunteer nurse, Olesya Zhukovska, was shot in the neck. “I’m dying,” she has sent a message on her cell phone to her social media profile; the image went viral in a few hours. The girl, however, survived her injury; a doctor has performed a life-saving surgery on her.
Police were beating up protesters with clubs: women, old people, students. They set a media tent on fire.
Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko threatened the rioters with “all means” of violence if they did not leave the Maidan. General Prosecutor Viktor Pshonka said, “Organisers of mass protests will be held accountable. We will demand the heaviest punishment both for those who revved people up to take part in today's action and for those who organised and controlled them.”  Yanukovych threatened opposition leaders with prosecution.
At night, snipers shot at opposition politicians who were onstage. They injured Oleksandr Turchynov. They attacked the Maidan. Police raided the Trade Unions building, the headquarters of the protesters, killing four rioters and burning down the beautiful building.
The next day, 19th February, security forces tried to burn down the Kyiv Conservatory where protesters set up a field hospital for the wounded. The rioters stopped them.
The failed leaders of the country published a decree that the Security Service of Ukraine “can search, seize property, detain protesters at will,” they did not need a court order for that. They could kidnap protesters and transport them wherever they wanted.
Civilization crumbled and decayed within a few days. Europe and the world watched the events with growing dismay and fear. European Union ministers, French Laurent Fabius, German Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Polish Radoslaw Sikorski intervened as mediators. With their help, Yanukovych signed a compromise deal with the opposition.
By that time, the Maidan looked like a war zone. Thick black smoke hovered everywhere. The horizon seemed orange with fires; tires were burnt. The rioters torn up the pavement and they built barricades of broken furniture. Debris of wood and cobblestones covered the ground. At other places, the ground was dark with black, incinerated wood and tires, soot, and grey ashes.
Some protesters got hurt when the barricades were burning. Two protesters were on fire. Others were bleeding, their faces turned into a deep red, liquid mess.
There were whispers about Russia’s role. Russia sent plenty of explosives to an airport close to Kyiv. Russian FSB and SBU agents arrived to Kyiv to help Ukrainian Security Services. Russia denied this. Some said the snipers might very well be Russians. However, most people thought the snipers belonged to the Ukrainian Security Services, a special anti-terrorist unit, Alfa Team, trained in Russia, but they were still Ukrainians.

One thing was sure. Russia intervened. Kremlin politicians encouraged Yanukovych to do everything to crush the protests. Yanukovych listened to them willingly. Later on, documents proved that Russia has provided two billion dollars for Ukraine right at these days. Within a few hours, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, Ukraine’s Interior Minister, gave permission to special forces to use live ammunition and combat weapons against Ukrainians.

Karin and her crew approached the fighters. They were as close as possible. She was afraid for their lives. Those days, about seventy protesters died on the streets. Flowers and candles marked the place where they died.
Next to a small booth with a cheerful bright red Coca-Cola garden umbrella, corpses were lying; fellow fighters brought them there. The bodies were covered with black plastic bags and green or blue bed-covers. A dead man was covered with a flower-patterned orange blanket, the cobblestones were dark red around his head. Passers-by observed the morbid scene. An old woman hid her face with a thin hand.
At night, Karin cried in her hotel room. She recalled the hopeful, laughing young people on the Maidan. Some of them were dead now. She, a reporter, had access to a list of the victims, and the list became longer with each day. Some men vanished and were found dead in one or two days. Evidence suggested that their captors tortured them before killing them.
Most victims died when the snipers opened fire at the protesters. Some died of gas poisoning. Some of them died of trauma as police forces beat them up. A sixty-two years old woman died of her injuries after the Berkut beat her up.
Some victims were college students. Many were in their late twenties or early thirties.
One victim was a geography and biology teacher. Another one was a physics teacher.
There were Afghan war veterans; they survived Afghanistan, they came home to die at the hands of their compatriots.
Some of the victims were old men, fifty-eight, sixty-two, eighty-two. Grandpas missing from their families. They would never tell colorful tales to their grandchildren. Goodness, even grandmas were beaten to death.
There were kids who would never return to their homes. Karin imagined their pale, nervous mothers, waiting for the familiar footsteps to sound.
Some protesters had small kids who were waiting for their fathers in vain.
Karin cried. Something was broken forever, it was irreparable. Probably she was part of it when she encouraged the protesters. Probably her reports and evidence on Eastern European state-level crime were eye-openers for some, they might have been one of the many, many triggers. Survivor’s guilt kicked in. She suspected Anton would call her. She switched off her cell phone.

Karin was there when Yulia Tymoshenko, straight out of Kachanivska penal colony, appeared on the Maidan in a wheelchair. She looked thin, but she was fiery and uncompromising as she was talking to the celebrating crowd. Her release was another triumph for the rioters.
“Fellow Ukrainians,” Tymoshenko told the protesters, waiting for a second, just the right time to get a dramatic effect. She knew how to speak. “When I came back to Kyiv, the first thing that I wanted to do was to come to the barricades. I wanted to see you. You have made a revolution of dignity.”
The crowd went crazy. Hands flew in the air. Protesters waved Ukrainian flags and EU flags.
“Ukraine is a free country, thanks to you. It’s your victory. No politician could have done what you have done. You have the right to rule this country. Together we will bring to justice those who were responsible for this,” she gestured at the ruined square.
Uproar from the audience.
“Our fellows didn’t die in vain,” Tymoshenko went on. “You, Ukrainian people, have your place in the family of European nations. Your rich culture, your talent makes Europe better and brighter. You are ready to defend your European values. Ukraine,” she paused, lifting a strong hand, raising her voice, “is part of Europe.” People were crying, laughing and shouting, they held up Tymoshenko’s large images, or they held lighters in the air. The tiny flames looked like flashes of hope, thousands of them. The crowd was in a trance.
Karin interviewed Arseniy “Yats” Yatsenyuk again. He was one of the organizers of the uprising. Along with Vitaliy Klitschko, Yats was one of the opposition politicians who signed the compromise contract with Yanukovych. Maidan protesters booed them for that, however, it ended the carnage.
On 25th February, Yanukovych was declared internationally wanted for mass killings of civilians, along with Zakharchenko, the Interior Minister who ordered special forces to kill Ukrainians.
Not everyone was happy with the results though. Some did not like Tymoshenko. Others – mostly southern and eastern cities with strong Russian heritages – hated the Maidan and wanted to join Russia. They threatened with bloodshed and a civil war. The country was torn into two hostile parts.

Karin shrugged away the flashbacks in a second.
“I’ve heard that you work for the European Liberal Forum,” She told Levinson. “It’s a political association of liberal theorists, groups and institutes. You’re a strong voice from Eastern Europe.”
“Thank you, Karin.” She laughed as she waved a hand. “Eastern Europe needs plenty of strong voices now. We’ve got a lot to do, you’ve seen it yourself.”
“I guess you focus on human rights and environment.”
“Yeah, that’s what I do. We seek eco-friendly technologies that reach through borders. Got to admit I’m getting selfish here. I want to return to Russia someday. Take it from me, clean energy itself would be enough to undermine Putin’s power. He has no reasonable plans, no strong economy, he doesn’t use our human resources, all he has is oil. Green energy would stabilize energy prices and energy security. It would change the dynamics of world economy.”
“So you support the idea of a trans-national green energy network.”
“Yes. In the United States and Australia, researchers have calculated how they could cover all their energy consumption with renewables. They say renewables can provide base-load power, even if the resources are intermittent. They say it’s possible if people use the right combination of renewables.”
“Are you talking about Mark Jacobson’s work?” Karin asked. Dr. Jacobson was a professor of Stanford University, a director of the university’s Atmosphere and Energy Program.
Levinson smiled at her.

 “Yeah. For many years, he has performed plenty of computer simulations of energy generating systems to support his theory. He matched energy demand with renewables. He used energy consumption statistics from earlier years. We’ve got others to back him up, a research group led by Mark Diesendorf. Dr. Diesendorf is an Australian associate professor, the director of Sustainability Center in Sydney. He and his fellow scientists ran detailed computer simulations of renewable power. They used hourly data on power demand. They support what Dr. Jacobson says. David MacKay of the University of Cambridge says the same. It’s tricky, but possible. According to the International Energy Agency, people all over the world should build 12,000 onshore wind turbines and 3,600 offshore ones; 45 geothermal power plants; 55 solar power plants and photovoltaics over 325 million square meters every year until 2050. We could implement electric cars. We would still need gas-fired power plants that capture and store carbon, but much less of them. ”
 “Scientists say it is very well possible to switch to renewables.”
“They still deal with challenges. Transmission is an issue. And they should find place for the equipment, since it requires huge territories. If people start giving up fossil fuels, they will have to build new infrastructure for renewables. It has high short-term costs. On the other hand, the projects would create lots of jobs.”
“Green jobs.”
“Yeah. At least three times as many jobs as fossil fuels. Manufacturing, maintaining, constructing, operating systems, transportation of equipment, replacing infrastructure, building thousands of transmission lines, you name it. Workers are afraid that they’d lose their jobs if we switched. Not so. And scientists always work on new technologies. Getting more energy efficient is easier and cheaper than producing more energy. Jacobson says a combination of hydropower, wind energy and solar power could reduce water consumption and energy consumption by 40 to 55 percent. Non-renewables waste plenty of energy. In the United States, they capture and reuse wasted heat. They also get rid of already existing pollution, they extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; the Obama government supports this technology. They want a 80 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. You can tell there’s no chance for something like that in Eastern Europe. Now, renewables work out in Denmark and Sweden. Germany also goes this direction. Thank goodness for Angela Merkel. If only all the conservatives were like her. Even China has recognized that it’s an investment for the future. Lately, China installed more wind turbines than the United States, the European Union and India altogether.”
“That’s impressive. Do you think it is possible in Russia, too?”
Levinson laughed.
“That’s a toughie. The industry is advancing fast. New technologies become cheaper. Renewables operate at very low costs and the resources are free. It takes much less time to build solar panels or wind farms than nuclear power plants. And see all the health benefits. Less polluted water and air mean less respiratory diseases, cardiovascular issues and cancer. Lower costs of health care, that’s what some politicians say. Yet we need a sharp turn to achieve that.”
“I wonder what you think about the current Ukrainian-Russian conflict.”
“There’s more of it than a Ukrainian-Russian conflict,” Levinson said. “It’s a matter of different world-views clashing. On one side, you can find strong and bright young people who want freedom and change. They are full of hope and want to change the world for the better. See, each generation has its pioneers, let me say I was one, too, back in the day.”
“You still do your fair share,” Karin complimented with a smile.
“Now, on the other side, there are conservative people, certainly they are very honest and well-meaning. They want to protect their traditions, their values that come from countless generations. They respect their heritage and they are afraid of a change. They think a change may lead to depravity. Or it may cost them their identity. To an extent, their fear is righteous. A turn can change things for the worse or the better. We may have our guesses, but only time will tell what becomes of it. Anyway, I think we have to take chances now and then. Things may change, life won’t be perfect, no way, but it can be better than it is now. Nothing is worse than those who hate every change and want to move backward. They hate everything that is different or new. They see an enemy in everyone who wants to change the world for the better. They say they are doing this in the name of tradition and national values. Now, you can’t turn back time. Ways that were good enough for our ancestors will not do anymore. The world is never static, it’s dynamic. If you refuse to keep up with it, it will leave you behind.”
There was a lull.
“Thank you, Sonya. I admire you for saying that. However, I still want to know what you’d say –“
“About the Ukrainian-Russian conflict? Sure as hell I don’t support Putin. I don’t support the violation of the integrity of Ukraine. Russians can see propaganda and manipulated news everywhere; do you think they have access to free media or uncontrolled Internet content? However, I am sure that there will be people who see through this. They will speak up for Ukraine. I guess it will be the young and the revolutionary, just like in Ukraine.”
“Can you see any chance for a change in Russia?”
Levinson’s face was hard.
“I can, but it won’t happen any soon. It won’t come easy. It’ll be a rough ride, but I’m not afraid to take it.”
Karin considered her. Levinson was, at least, credible. She never had a corruption scandal and she was not rich. She was a survivor of a Siberian penal colony. She had a sharp mind and focus, she never missed a detail. She was confident, relentless, and she was not going to slow down.
Karin remembered what she had heard about her. Lately, Levinson visited operas, exhibitions and literary meetings in Brussels. She attended the events with a female friend.
“Good luck, Sonya,” Karin said with a big smile. She meant it.

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