Month: May 2012 (Page 1 of 3)

Kyiv Life: Sausage Dogs and Fluffy Poo

Sausage Dogs.

Kyivian’s favourite hound

Remarkable as it might seem, this week I noticed that the people of Kyiv have developed a fashionable love for the Sausage Dog.  Given that the main feature of these canine-chorizos is their stupid shape, I can’t  explain why they have become so popular but after two and a half years here in Ukraine, I have stopped trying to understand the absurd.

If you spend more than 20 minutes in a Kyiv park, your likely to spot one of these fluffy Frankfurters on the end of a leash.  There’s one in Podil which has a doggy-wheelchair. His back legs are strapped onto a two-wheeled chariot and he pulls himself around using his front legs.  Like many things in Kyiv – it’s both cute and ridiculous.

Gated ‘communities’

Kyiv’s ‘gated communities‘ are some of the ugliest things I’ve seen in Ukraine since I’ve been here  – they’re even, uglier than your average O’Briens customer at 3am on Saturday morning.   Situated mostly outside the suburbs, they are grossly oversized mansions where the rich and powerful live, hidden away behind concrete fences.

Are they hiding from fear?, from embarrassment?, shame?

Of course, owning one of these would be infinitely more comfortable than living in one of Ukraine’s Soviet-era apartment blocks, and yes we have similarly ugly estates in the UK, but if Ukraine’s ‘elite’ think this is any way to foster ‘community’ then I suspect they a sorely wrong.

Free communities

For those of us who live in the ‘real world’ and who enjoy interacting with common people, there are some FREE communities in Ukraine that make life a little easier, more interesting and wonderfully more enjoyable.

Do you want to learn a new language or help others to master your mother tongue? …for free??  Then check out Language Exchange Club. (LEC) at: http://languageexchangekyiv.ning.com/

Do you need a place to stay in Ukraine? would you like to stay in a small town or village that doesn’t have a hotel? Would you like to live with some locals …for free?? Then check out www.couchsurfing.com or, if you’re coming for the football championships, try: http://rooms4free.org.ua/

Would you like to join a FREE tour of the city?  Visit: http://freetours.kiev.ua/

 The city is covered in ‘poo’ 

…but don’t worry, it’s not as bad (or smelly) as it sounds. Ukrainian poo (written ‘puh’) is soft, white and fluffy and comes from flowers.  It’s nice ‘puh’ and it’s everywhere.

I think it must be nature’s contribution to Kiev Day (like everything else in Ukraine, Kiev has a day) and this weekend we celebrated under a cloud of soft floating seeds. It’s quite hard to describe it you haven’t seen it, but it is called ‘puh’ because its soft like Vinnie Puh (the USSR’s Winnie Poo) and the sky was full of the stuff. Even three stories up this stuff was floating around my apartment and inside my window.

‘puh’ …its everywhere

Downstairs  and downtown, Kievians were out en mass to drink, dance and celebrate Kiev Day, turning Maidan Square and Kreshatik into a large carnival for the weekend. I walked through the city on Sunday night (about 1.30am) and the entire centre was covered in beer cans and bottles. There were many many people still celebrating and the whole place had a friendly, if slightly inebriated, feel to it.

When I got to Podil, there was a gang of pedal-powered bikers who were all riding cycles which were made to look like choppers. One of them had a dog sitting on a platform mounted on the front of the bike. It wasn’t shaped like a sausage.

Walkabout

I quit my job this week and because I will be hiking around Mont Blanc in July, I will spend most of my free time walking around Ukraine. In Kyiv this is a fun way to kill time, but you really need to get off the street and into the courtyards. If you are in Kyiv, don’t be scared to try this – they’re fascinating.   Most have a colourful painted play area for the kids, some have a friendly drunk, and all have small benches where old people watch, gossip and keep order.   I will try to post some pictures of what I find next week.

Feeding the horse

Much has been made about Ukraine’s preps for the EURO 2012 championships and especially about the training that police have had in dealing with foreign ‘guests’.  Well, this may be, but that doesn’t mean the Ukrainian police are any less corrupt than they were six months ago.

On Friday I joined some friends and colleagues on Trukhaniv Island for a BBQ to celebrate a birthday.  It was a beautiful evening and much had been done to make the day special. A small fire was cooking the essential (and deeply cultural)  ‘shashlik’ while everyone stood around talking or preparing the picnic table – complete with TWO bunches of flowers (Ukrainians see nothing special in having huge bouquets at a bbq in the middle of a forest).

Not many people know, but the word ‘Ukraine’ actually means ‘BBQ & Shashlik in a forest with friends’

Then, the police arrived. In fact they were mounted police and they arrived on two magnificent looking horses.

However, instead of looking magnificent and upholding the law… they immediately set about disgracing themselves and their country.

While one ‘extracted’ the two most senior Ukrainians for a ‘talk’ the other started hassling everyone for ID.

Out of earshot, the ‘talking’ policeman was lecturing his subjects about BBQs etc etc which basically means ‘pay up’ or we will cause problems. I couldn’t hear what he was saying (that’s why they were taken away from the crowd) but it probably involved some sob-story and a mild threat.

Note the flowers. Flowers at a BBQ!!

Even the horse was embarrassed by the situation

Finally, one of my friends asked ‘OK, how much does it  cost to feed your horse?’

200 UAH was the price (about 20 Euros) but , she wasn’t letting them off that easily. If a bribe was too be paid, she wanted to ride the horse …and so she did, and we all stood there like naughty school kids while the policeman walked my colleague around on his horse.

I’m sure that selling rides on your horse alone breaks some ethical if not legal code, but during the ‘ride’ he also asked if she was married and had children, and when she said no – he offered his number and suggested that she visit him at the stables!

So, lets be clear, foreigners might not be targeted at the football, but Ukraine’s police have proven once again that they are corrupt, incompetent and prepared to hit on the girls they are supposed to protect.

If anyone in Ukraine was serious about police reform, then most obvious place to start would be a ‘badge number’. Neither of these police (or any others I’ve seen) have a police number that you can see on their uniforms. It means they can act with almost complete anonymity. Especially when operating in pairs.

Needless to say, the warmth and hospitality of my hosts and the dam-good shashlik more than made up for the idiot cops, but the whole show a sad reminder of the incompetence of Ukraine’s ruling class.

Things to do in Ukraine before you die…

As there’s a good chance I’ll have to leave Ukraine (unless I find  new job) I decided tp make a list of things I’d like to do before I leave.  As regular readers will know, I’m very fond of lists, but I think completing this list will be exceptionally fun..

Here’s what I plan to do before the end of June

1. Drive a Pabeda, a Volga, a Lada and a Zaporozets.
2. Take a banya (traditional hot-bath). Amazingly, I haven’t been to a banya yet.
3. Spend time at a Datcha (summer-house)… I haven’t done this either
4. Ride a horse
5. Attend a Ukrainian wedding (might be difficult, but I’ll try)
6. Visit the zoo
7. Spend a night in a village
8. Go fishing
9. Go hiking

If you have any other suggestions of things to do in Ukraine… please add them to the comments section.

Until next week… poka-bye

Don’t be scared of the lifts

Lifts, or ‘elevators’ in Eastern Europe are intimidating things. They are small, they don’t look safe and they are usually in a state of stinking decay.   However, don’t be scared by Ukraine’s collection of terror-boxes – I haven’t heard of anyone who’s every been hurt in, or by a lift.

In Romania, I once squeezed into a lift, with my rucksack and another man, that was only big enough for 1.5 Romanians or 0.25% of an American.  The thing was made entirely from wood, it was covered in graffiti and it didn’t have a door or a back wall, but it worked. Basically, if you’re too lazy to walk, don’t expect communist-era machinery to pamper you in luxury while you’re hoisted up or lowered down to the floor.

Where they exist in Ukraine, the lifts don’t always work either, but if they door opens and you can identify the correct number from the cigarette-burnt plastic numbers – you’ll probably be OK.

Just remember that some lifts only deliver to every second floor and, as a compromise, some lifts deliver you mid way between two floors.

What happens if you get stuck?

If you’re extremely unlucky and it stops with you stuck inside, don’t panic. First try prising the door open. This sometimes works and hopefully you’ll be able to squeeze-out.  If that doesn’t work, look for one of these:

The intercom - your lift lifeline

The intercom – your lift lifeline

This is a lift intercom and whilst it might look like something from a WWII museum – most of them actually work.  Press the red button and see what happens.  You’ll probably get an angry sounding woman shouting ‘da’ (yes) or ‘sto?’ (what?) and if your Russian/Ukrainian is good enough you can explain.   You might even find that they speak English, but don’t count on it. They are employed to intimidate and begrudgingly help – not to communicate.

If you don’t know the address and you can’t find a way to communicate with the intercom woman – just kick the door and make some noise. Eventually someone will hear.

Oh, and make sure you ALWAYS carry the mobile phone number of a Ukrainian who can speak English. This simple trick could save your life.

More tips on surviving in Ukraine are available here: Ukraine Survival Guide

Good luck!

A trip to Vyshgorod and the Kyiv Sea

The mighty Dnieper river is by far Kyiv’s most monumental feature. Not only does it act as a gigantic air conditioner that channels fresh air through the city, but it defines so much of Kyiv city life. Kyiv and the Dnieper are inseparable.

Thanks to the Dnieper, there are said to be 120 kilometres of beaches in the city which includes 16 developed beaches. There are numerous islands between the left and right bank of the city which are accessible yet refreshingly undeveloped, and whatever time of year it is, Kyivians will be doing something with ‘Big D’ …fishing, swimming, BBQing, sunbathing, partying – it all happens along the river.

Ukrainians enjoying some Tuesday afternoon beach time

Opinions vary on how clean it is, but two things are clear – the Dnieper is big and it’s beautiful.

North of the city it gets even bigger.

The Kyiv reservoir, known locally as the Kyiv Sea is vast. It’s massively-huge and so wide, you could probably see it from the moon even if you had the eyesight of a mole.

Look…

The Kyiv Sea looks like a sea, you see.

So big you can see it from space

On Wednesday, with the sun blazing in the sky, I set off by bike to see for myself.

Here’s what I found

Outside of Kyiv, there are many many large, ugly and mostly empty mansions. There are even whole estates of large ugly mansions that are surrounded by large ugly concrete fences and guarded by large ugly security guards. The large ugly egos that build and live in these estates drive large ugly cars.

Thankfully, the chances that you’ll have to converse with any of them is slim, especially if you’re on a bike.

Getting to your fishing seat can be tricky if you don’t have waterproof boots

Filling the gaps between the concrete fences and the concrete walls you find old village houses and relaxed but exhausted looking Babushkas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d3oXHAnuIE

Soon you arrive in Vyshgorod.

According to Wikipedia, Vyshgorod  is a ‘town of sport and healthy way of life‘, where ‘one of the most favourite holidays for every dweller is, without a doubt, the Day of the City‘.

The festive program is ‘so various and spectacular that will satisfy even the most exacting audience‘.

That has to count for something! …but sadly, today was not City Day. It was Wednesday May 23rd 2012.

Modern Vyshgorod is younger than me

Ukrainian Hippos

In Vyshgorod there are many wild animals which relax by the sea.

Picturesque lakes and trees

…and many ‘not so wild’ trees.

The dam that keeps the sea wet and Kyiv dry.

There is also a hydro-electric dam.

Getting there and escaping

Surprisingly, I managed to get almost all the way to Vyshgorod by bike without travelling along any main roads. Almost the whole route goes either along side-walks or along small pathways.  It’s also difficult (almost impossible) to get lost because you keep the river on your right and stick as close to the water as possible. Go left only when you have to and as soon as possible get back to the water’s edge.

As you can see from the pictures here and below, a trip to the Kyiv Sea makes for a great day out, especially in the sunshine and if you have a car I’m told that all the cool kids in Kyiv head there to party.

Vyshgorod obviously had quite an effect on these three girls…

One can only imagine how excited they get on City Day.

and finally, here’s a weird video about Vyshgorod.

A trip to Vyshgorod and the Kyiv Sea

The mighty Dnieper river is by far Kyiv’s most monumental feature. Not only does it act as a gigantic air conditioner that channels fresh air through the city, but it defines so much of Kyiv city life. Kyiv and the Dnieper are inseparable.

Thanks to the Dnieper, there are said to be 120 kilometres of beaches in the city which includes 16 developed beaches. There are numerous islands between the left and right bank of the city which are accessible yet refreshingly undeveloped, and whatever time of year it is, Kyivians will be doing something with ‘Big D’ …fishing, swimming, BBQing, sunbathing, partying – it all happens along the river.

Ukrainians enjoying some Tuesday afternoon beach time

Opinions vary on how clean it is, but two things are clear – the Dnieper is big and it’s beautiful.

North of the city it gets even bigger.

The Kyiv reservoir, known locally as the Kyiv Sea is vast. It’s massively-huge and so wide, you could probably see it from the moon even if you had the eyesight of a mole.

Look…

The Kyiv Sea looks like a sea, you see.

So big you can see it from space

On Wednesday, with the sun blazing in the sky, I set off by bike to see for myself.

Here’s what I found

Outside of Kyiv, there are many many large, ugly and mostly empty mansions. There are even whole estates of large ugly mansions that are surrounded by large ugly concrete fences and guarded by large ugly security guards. The large ugly egos that build and live in these estates drive large ugly cars.

Thankfully, the chances that you’ll have to converse with any of them is slim, especially if you’re on a bike.

Getting to your fishing seat can be tricky if you don’t have waterproof boots

Filling the gaps between the concrete fences and the concrete walls you find old village houses and relaxed but exhausted looking Babushkas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d3oXHAnuIE

Soon you arrive in Vyshgorod.

According to Wikipedia, Vyshgorod  is a ‘town of sport and healthy way of life‘, where ‘one of the most favourite holidays for every dweller is, without a doubt, the Day of the City‘.

The festive program is ‘so various and spectacular that will satisfy even the most exacting audience‘.

That has to count for something! …but sadly, today was not City Day. It was Wednesday May 23rd 2012.

Modern Vyshgorod is younger than me

Ukrainian Hippos

In Vyshgorod there are many wild animals which relax by the sea.

Picturesque lakes and trees

…and many ‘not so wild’ trees.

The dam that keeps the sea wet and Kyiv dry.

There is also a hydro-electric dam.

Getting there and escaping

Surprisingly, I managed to get almost all the way to Vyshgorod by bike without travelling along any main roads. Almost the whole route goes either along side-walks or along small pathways.  It’s also difficult (almost impossible) to get lost because you keep the river on your right and stick as close to the water as possible. Go left only when you have to and as soon as possible get back to the water’s edge.

As you can see from the pictures here and below, a trip to the Kyiv Sea makes for a great day out, especially in the sunshine and if you have a car I’m told that all the cool kids in Kyiv head there to party.

Vyshgorod obviously had quite an effect on these three girls…

One can only imagine how excited they get on City Day.

and finally, here’s a weird video about Vyshgorod.

Horny Nails

According to dictionary.com a nail is: ‘a thin, horny plate, consisting of modified epidermis, growing on the upper side of the end of a finger or toe.’

Ukrainian women have a special love for these ‘horny plates’ and you will find all kind of nails, manicures and forms of nail art in the streets of Kiev. Even the conductor of the bus takes care of her nails.

This is Yulia. She’s the ticket conductor on a local minibus and as you can see – she takes pride in her appearance.

These nails were shot at the nail art exhibition in Kiev last month. They might be the longest nails in Ukraine!

Checkout our gallery of nail art:

Pre-fabulous: Fences

A study of prefabricated concrete.

Smile. Pre-fab fences can be used for shade and for hanging bags on

In Russian and Ukrainian the word ‘fabrika’ means factory. In English, we use a similar word ‘fabricated‘ to mean ‘constructed’ or ‘made’.

‘Prefabricated’ or simply ‘pre-fab‘ is “to manufacture in standardised sections, ready for quick assembly”

Now, it is well known that the only thing that aroused Europe’s communist leaders more than power was concrete, and in the Soviet Union it seems that they were big fans of prefabricating things with this dull yet versatile material. As a result it is almost impossible to move in Ukraine without passing a concrete tribute to their soviet past.

I decided to explore some of the most common concrete objects, starting with the ubiquitous pre-fab concrete fence.

Here’s what I found.

Pre-fab fences often have decorative tops and security wire

Some pre-fab fences have lines

You can paint the concrete pink

This is not a pre-fabricated fence. It is a Lada

Flat concrete fences are good for graffiti

You can use them as a table for beer

Some are just flat

This is a fence + a car because just fences can get quite boring

Babushkas know a lot about concrete fences

This is a middle-class, trendy, concrete fence. It’s embossed AND painted.

Nice paintwork

The traditional or ‘common’ embossed pre-fab makes a nice back-drop for a shrine.

The traditional or ‘common’ embossed pre-fab

Brrrruum. Pre-fab concrete keeps cars away from your home.

The ‘common’ embossed fence is ‘Kool’

A close-up of the ‘common’ embossed fence.

A lively-pink ‘common’ embossed fence.

A ‘common’ embossed fence protects a pre-fabricated apartment from the grass

Please focus on the cars, not the men. What they are doing may be illegal.

Pre-fab + tram + tree = beauty

A man tries to hide his excitement as he walks past a decorative ‘diamond’ concrete fence.

The decorative ‘diamond’ concrete fence uses a simple pattern to create a stunning visual effect which also lets people see through to the other side.

Concrete fences and plants are not natural friends, however some times they develop loving relationships

The ‘diamond’ fence creates stunning visual angles which are very popular with photographers.

Some people do not care for their concrete.

Others draw cartoons on them

Real men like concrete and 4×4 jeeps

This design is called the ‘circle’. Sometimes the circles are holes, sometimes not.

A nice example of the ‘circle’

Is it a brick wall?

…of course not. Its a fabulous pre-fab!

This is the last car, I promise. Look at those wheels!!

I saved the best until last. Ladies and gentlemen – I introduce ‘Arches’

‘Arches’ is an old design, but remains a classic symbol of style

If I owned a property in Ukraine, I would definitely want to have pre-fabricated concrete arches. Other pre-fabs don’t even come close.

Pre-fabulous: Fences

A study of prefabricated concrete.

Smile. Pre-fab fences can be used for shade and for hanging bags on

In Russian and Ukrainian the word ‘fabrika’ means factory. In English, we use a similar word ‘fabricated‘ to mean ‘constructed’ or ‘made’.

‘Prefabricated’ or simply ‘pre-fab‘ is “to manufacture in standardised sections, ready for quick assembly”

Now, it is well known that the only thing that aroused Europe’s communist leaders more than power was concrete, and in the Soviet Union it seems that they were big fans of prefabricating things with this dull yet versatile material. As a result it is almost impossible to move in Ukraine without passing a concrete tribute to their soviet past.

I decided to explore some of the most common concrete objects, starting with the ubiquitous pre-fab concrete fence.

Here’s what I found.

Pre-fab fences often have decorative tops and security wire

Some pre-fab fences have lines

You can paint the concrete pink

This is not a pre-fabricated fence. It is a Lada

Flat concrete fences are good for graffiti

You can use them as a table for beer

Some are just flat

This is a fence + a car because just fences can get quite boring

Babushkas know a lot about concrete fences

This is a middle-class, trendy, concrete fence. It’s embossed AND painted.

Nice paintwork

The traditional or ‘common’ embossed pre-fab makes a nice back-drop for a shrine.

The traditional or ‘common’ embossed pre-fab

Brrrruum. Pre-fab concrete keeps cars away from your home.

The ‘common’ embossed fence is ‘Kool’

A close-up of the ‘common’ embossed fence.

A lively-pink ‘common’ embossed fence.

A ‘common’ embossed fence protects a pre-fabricated apartment from the grass

Please focus on the cars, not the men. What they are doing may be illegal.

Pre-fab + tram + tree = beauty

A man tries to hide his excitement as he walks past a decorative ‘diamond’ concrete fence.

The decorative ‘diamond’ concrete fence uses a simple pattern to create a stunning visual effect which also lets people see through to the other side.

Concrete fences and plants are not natural friends, however some times they develop loving relationships

The ‘diamond’ fence creates stunning visual angles which are very popular with photographers.

Some people do not care for their concrete.

Others draw cartoons on them

Real men like concrete and 4×4 jeeps

This design is called the ‘circle’. Sometimes the circles are holes, sometimes not.

A nice example of the ‘circle’

Is it a brick wall?

…of course not. Its a fabulous pre-fab!

This is the last car, I promise. Look at those wheels!!

I saved the best until last. Ladies and gentlemen – I introduce ‘Arches’

‘Arches’ is an old design, but remains a classic symbol of style

If I owned a property in Ukraine, I would definitely want to have pre-fabricated concrete arches. Other pre-fabs don’t even come close.

Vodka

Vodka.
By Jared Morgan

It’s a word with a lot of promise.
For me it’s a promise of fun…or a night that, next morning, is completely forgotten.
When vodka and I were introduced our meetings were fleeting – confined to a Bloody Mary or two, no commitment or bonds were formed.
In Kyiv, vodka and I have intensified our relationship.
It’s a tempestuous affair, born not from mutual attraction, but from social necessity.
Here, drinking vodka, or horilka as more patriotic Ukrainians call it, is a ritual.
It’s an appealing ritual.
As a foreigner drinking with Ukrainians allows you to experience them away from the serious demeanour they adapt on the street and see they have a well-developed sense of fun. Great hosts, the food flows as freely as the drink.
But the drink….
Vodka and I were reacquainted on my second day at work.
“Jared, tonight we are having a party,” my colleague informed me mid-afternoon.
“Oh…OK,” I replied. “But it’s only Tuesday.”
“And what?”
The response was laced with surprise.
“In New Zealand we don’t drink on a Tuesday,” I said.
“Today, we must drink…Yura has new car.”
I didn’t have time to rationalise the reason, I was distracted by a gesture I had never seen before.
It was a tap to his neck that could have been mistaken for scratching an itch, if another colleague hadn’t repeated the gesture five minutes later.
Establishing this as a non-verbal cue for drinking – my affair with vodka began.
Coming from a culture where, when drinking, food is an afterthought, it was a baptism of fire.
“You must eat,” I was told after several shots.
It was already too late..
On this night, at a party to celebrate a car, with people I didn’t really know, I set a precedent.
I burst into song, serenading my workmates with an eclectic assortment of songs from my homeland, through to a reasonably accurate (by all accounts) rendition of Ya Stanu Morem by Ukrainian songstress Ani Lorak.
My command of Russian is that of an infant, I understand less Ukrainian and I had heard this song maybe three times.
However, vodka tends to melt social and cultural barriers and maybe language barriers thaw along with them.
Unfortunately this effect is temporary; any great leaps forward in my understanding of Russian were gone the next day along with any memory of the party beyond the first hour.
I did learn one lesson – the statement “you must eat” is very true.
I put this into practice when my colleagues discovered my birthday falls on Ukraine’s Independence Day.
The amount of vodka was considerably larger, but “you must eat” became my mantra.
As day turned to night, I again became a human jukebox, but I’d paced myself, eaten, and this time it was not a solo performance as others too became prone to musical outbursts.
Singing now accompanies any meeting I have with vodka, but these are not regular.
The pitfalls for foreigners who get too caught in this culture are obvious.
A friend explained it bluntly…
“A lot of foreigners become alcoholic, because we (Ukrainians) like foreigners – everyone wants to drink with them.”
While “you must eat” is an essential pointer – this warning is food for thought.

Vodka

Vodka.
By Jared Morgan

It’s a word with a lot of promise.
For me it’s a promise of fun…or a night that, next morning, is completely forgotten.
When vodka and I were introduced our meetings were fleeting – confined to a Bloody Mary or two, no commitment or bonds were formed.
In Kyiv, vodka and I have intensified our relationship.
It’s a tempestuous affair, born not from mutual attraction, but from social necessity.
Here, drinking vodka, or horilka as more patriotic Ukrainians call it, is a ritual.
It’s an appealing ritual.
As a foreigner drinking with Ukrainians allows you to experience them away from the serious demeanour they adapt on the street and see they have a well-developed sense of fun. Great hosts, the food flows as freely as the drink.
But the drink….
Vodka and I were reacquainted on my second day at work.
“Jared, tonight we are having a party,” my colleague informed me mid-afternoon.
“Oh…OK,” I replied. “But it’s only Tuesday.”
“And what?”
The response was laced with surprise.
“In New Zealand we don’t drink on a Tuesday,” I said.
“Today, we must drink…Yura has new car.”
I didn’t have time to rationalise the reason, I was distracted by a gesture I had never seen before.
It was a tap to his neck that could have been mistaken for scratching an itch, if another colleague hadn’t repeated the gesture five minutes later.
Establishing this as a non-verbal cue for drinking – my affair with vodka began.
Coming from a culture where, when drinking, food is an afterthought, it was a baptism of fire.
“You must eat,” I was told after several shots.
It was already too late..
On this night, at a party to celebrate a car, with people I didn’t really know, I set a precedent.
I burst into song, serenading my workmates with an eclectic assortment of songs from my homeland, through to a reasonably accurate (by all accounts) rendition of Ya Stanu Morem by Ukrainian songstress Ani Lorak.
My command of Russian is that of an infant, I understand less Ukrainian and I had heard this song maybe three times.
However, vodka tends to melt social and cultural barriers and maybe language barriers thaw along with them.
Unfortunately this effect is temporary; any great leaps forward in my understanding of Russian were gone the next day along with any memory of the party beyond the first hour.
I did learn one lesson – the statement “you must eat” is very true.
I put this into practice when my colleagues discovered my birthday falls on Ukraine’s Independence Day.
The amount of vodka was considerably larger, but “you must eat” became my mantra.
As day turned to night, I again became a human jukebox, but I’d paced myself, eaten, and this time it was not a solo performance as others too became prone to musical outbursts.
Singing now accompanies any meeting I have with vodka, but these are not regular.
The pitfalls for foreigners who get too caught in this culture are obvious.
A friend explained it bluntly…
“A lot of foreigners become alcoholic, because we (Ukrainians) like foreigners – everyone wants to drink with them.”
While “you must eat” is an essential pointer – this warning is food for thought.

Kyiv Life: A City of Village-type

I stole my thunder

This week Kyiv‘s most popular daily newspaper Segodnya ran an article about my 101 reasons to love Kyiv. However, like thousands of others, they found the original blog post I wrote under a short-lived pseudonym – the Ukrainian Penguin.

So, much to my dismay, my pseudonym is now more famous than me and as a result I am getting all the attention I want. I’m jealous of myself and believe me, it’s a strange feeling.

Doing battle with negative stereotypes

Speaking, this time as myself, I was quoted in an article on Friday that made the front page of the Kyiv Post.  The article explored Ukraine’s global image ahead of the EURO 2012 football finals that take place here next month.

As you can see from the article, I think Ukraine’s image problem is largely just that – an image problem, and this image doesn’t do justice to reality. Well, not entirely.

There are many problems here and there isn’t a very well-developed tourist infrastructure. However, as my colleague Chris Collison points out in the same article, this is what makes Ukraine appealing. Not only is Ukraine much safer than people think, but when you visit, you are visiting a real living space. The absence of a ‘tourist trail’ means you’ll spend most of your time engaged with the real world – warts n’all, and you’re much more likely to interact with the lovable Ukrainians who live here.

I’m not going to rant about this topic here, but I should thank the author of the article for including my thoughts. I was unnecessarily blunt with her when we talked because so many Ukrainian journalists are obsessed with this topic and so many want us ‘foreigners’ to tell everyone how awful this place is. The reality is, if you’re curious and you like adventure – it’s not.

It girls and IT guys

The glamour of Ukrainian women is a highly debated topic both here and abroad and its fair to say that many posses a certain ‘it girl’ quality.

However, while Ukraine’s females are keeping-up their fashion chic, Ukraine’s IT guys are leading the world in techno-geek uncool.

I spent 10 years in the IT industry, and during that time I saw some pretty impressive fashion crimes.  However nothing compares to the IT guy who works in my office in Kiev. On Friday he was wearing a leopard-skin pattern shirt with a leather waistcoat, tight black trousers and cowboy boots. As if this wasn’t enough he has a massive Ron Jeremy moustache to boot.

He’s so 1980s super-uncool it’s almost unbelievable, and yet nobody bats an eyelid!

The fashion extremes are dizzying.

You look like a ……

Despite my best efforts to blend-in with the locals, my Ukrainian friends assure me that I still look like a foreigner. Like all Ukrainian guys, I have tried my best to look like Michael Knight, but it seems that I’m just not cutting the Ukrainian mustard.

However, I have made some ‘progress’ because last week a girl asked me if I was Belgian and this week my friend said I looked like a Moldovan. A Moldovan!!

Babushka watch

The ‘babushka of the week’ award this week goes to the old woman who sits on the stairs playing the accordion outside Klovska metro station.  She’s about 70 but she can (and does) play her tunes for a whole 10-hour day.  It drives me crazy after about two hours, but I have a deep admiration for her determination and her stamina.

Strange art

Yes, there’s some veg resting on those ‘breasts’

The Metro speaks English!

On the morning of Monday May 14th, I received an SMS from My Dutch friend.

“The Metro started to speak English!”

It was a historic moment and it made me laugh.

Village of town type

This week I learnt that, in Ukraine, a village which grows beyond being a small settlement can become a ‘village of town-type’.

Having grown up near Kidlington which doesn’t know what the hell it is, this grading system seems surprisingly logical. However, it made me wonder if it works both ways? If a city is full of  stray dogs and Babushkas selling cabbages, could it be called a ‘city of village type’?

I also learnt that there’s a Russian word for people who have the same name: Tjoski

In a country that collectively shares about twelve names, this also seems beautifully logical.

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