In Russian “babushka” [ˈbabʊʂkə] is grandmother and old woman. Almost every foreigner who comes to Ukraine, Russia and other former soviet countries knows this word. Babushka is nothing like any other elderly woman in the world.
And she is definitely not like American grandma. There are no tennis shoes, sweatpants, or tank tops. She usually doesn’t travel, doesn’t drive a car, and doesn’t even dream about cruising around the world.
Most people have a clear picture of babushka in their heads. She wears a headscarf folded as triangle and tied below the chin. Instead of sweatpants she wears a calf-long skirt, and instead of a t-shirt she wears a blouse and a button down sweater.
Babushka is an iconic Soviet figure. And not much has changed in at least a century. She is hard working and wise, and she is a great source of never ending energy. This video shows how strong and creative babushkas can be. These two old women probably bought pigs at the market at some other city and now going home by train (with pigs).
If you happen to stop by and ask how she is doing, she will tell you about her not so easy life, World War II, and those Nazi-bastards. She will go on telling you how she was a young girl working at the collective farm (“kolkhoz” in Russian); and how she met her husband later on, and how he drank hard, and how she loved him anyway. And then he passed away few years ago. And now she misses him so much, because that’s all she knew… She feels alone in this unfair world. Her pension is so small that it is difficult to make a decent living on it. She had worked so hard for all those years, and now all she gets from the government is about $120/month. How can you even survive for 100 bucks a month?!
There is a whole story on her wrinkled face. She had a very difficult life, growing up in harsh conditions during the war, being a farmer for her whole life, and then loosing everything she had when the Soviet Union collapsed. Most collective farms stopped working, and she didn’t know what to do afterwards. She is alone now, her health is declining, and she doesn’t have much life besides some daily TV shows, some neighbors of her age that share the same pain, and strangers passing by outside. She probably has kids, but they don’t visit much, and even when they do, it is a short and often uneventful stay. So, what she has is only that bench next door, and other babushkas just like her that chat about the world and their neighbors too.
A lot of times people walk by, not even saying “hello”, irritated by gossips and babushkas’ “following looks”. And they forget that all that those old women have is each other, TV, and some little gossip.
I know one thing for sure: either it is an American or Ukrainian/Russian “babushka”, they all need special attention, care, and love. So, stop by, spend five minutes helping them, and you will add five happy minutes to their lives, by making them feel special and not forgotten.