career. Covering American politics, I meet people who disagree—sometimes fiercely. But
in so many cases Americans agree fundamentally on the idea of democracy, the belief that
people have the power to speak out and make change. Here, sitting in a creaky old airplane
on a frigid tarmac in Ukraine, I realized I would have to take openmindedness to a whole
different level. Yanukovych was open about wanting to roll back one of the most optimist-
ic democratic movements in modern history. And the people supporting him were not just
coal miners I interviewed on the job but also the father of my colleague and friend, the eld-
erly man who fed me at his dining room table and took me to his wife's graveside. Even as
I got close to people in this new job and entered their lives, I would have to be careful to
try to see things through their eyes and to never make assumptions. Feeling a connection
with a person would not mean they would necessarily have a world view anywhere close
to my own.
The coal that heated Nikolai's home, over which he also cooked, came from a pension
that was his lifeline. Nikolai needed every bit of that pension to stay alive, and feared it
would dry up under capitalist rule. While talk of democracy and Western values sounded
promising at one point to an old man like Nikolai, it was a Russian-backed, Russian-speak-
ing leader who made him feel safe. He spent most of his lifetime valuing strong leader-
ship and predictability, neither of which democracy can guarantee. To Nikolai, promises
and talk of change were no match for the culture that built him and no match for the broad
figure climbing the stairs of the plane next to ours, Ukraine's soon-to-be-president, Viktor
“Na pososhok?” Sergei asked as he passed me a plastic cup filled with two fingers of
I smiled: “One for the road.”
The two of us did love traveling together. I knew Sergei's idiosyncrasies, he knew mine.
I knew he got stressed about money, wanting to make sure we had cash out to pay a cab
driver when he asked, to avoid any delay or perceived impoliteness. He knew I got frus-
trated when we were trying to set up an interview and a person posed an endless stream of
bureaucratic questions about our intentions, stealing valuable time from actual journalism.
We knew how to calm each other down—but rarely was it necessary. We were always just
itching for our next trip.
For Sergei, train travel is especially meaningful because it's where he met his wife. Dur-
ing his third year of college in Moscow, Sergei was invited by his sister on a short vacation
to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) with a group of employees from her factory, including
several young single women. How could Sergei say no? Just before the trip, Sergei's sister
bowed out—likely strategically, to lessen the distraction, because she wanted Sergei to get
to know her friend Maria.