Month: June 2012

Look after your heart. A peek inside the NAS hospital in Kyiv

‘At least they have a healthcare infrastructure’ explained Anna, who works for thye World Health Organisation, as we stumbled home after England’s EURO 2012 win over Ukraine.

‘In Indonesia and Thailand’ she said, ‘nobody has ever built one’.

It might be old and outdated, but this is true – Ukraine does have an extensive healthcare system and, at least in Kyiv, those with money can be treated in what Ukrainians would call ‘Western standard’ hospitals.

Sadly, those without money don’t have that luxury. If you are a teacher for instance or a boffin with a bad heart, you might end up in the National Acadamy of Sciences hospital in Podil.

A spooky doctor watches us from a balcony of the NAS hospital in Podil.

Actually, I don’t know if it is in Podil, but it sits on a hill that links Podil to the city centre and I’ve always wondered what the view would be like from the top floor of its tall concrete buildings.

I mentioned this to Monika, a Polish couch-surfer who was staying with me a few weeks ago. We were walking up the hill at the start of my well trodden ‘tour de Kyiv’ and without hesitating she said ‘lets go’.

‘OK’ I said,‘why not’…’
‘but I think they have security’

This wasn’t a problem, because he (the ‘security’) wasn’t securing anything. I’m not even sure if he was alive.

So, we walked straight on in, through the back door and into the lift. It was quite an adventure (if you like weird old buildings like me) and a sobering insight into the realities of Ukraine’s less-than-healthy hospitals.

Here’s what we found…

The rooms, like the patients, are in need of treatment.

The reception service wasn’t too ‘hot’ …but had it been better, we might not have been allowed in.

There are two old lifts. One for the doctors and one for the patients.

The lifts worked (albeit with a loud noise) but the buttons were quite grim. This one had a hole in it.

As you exit the lift, the windows have been painted with images/graphics to indicate where you are. On this floor there was a gym.

…for your heart?

…for?

There were people in the hospital, and nobody seemed to mind us being there. Two foreigners with a camera wasn’t a problem.

This is my favourite picture. Two cult-like figures float in a blue forest behind a flower pot. I’m curious why/how they were semi-defaced?

Outside, someone with a sense of humour but very little imagination has been expressing themselves.

…and finally, the view from the top. Yes, it was amazing.

Podil, as seen from the top of the NAS hospital.

The rest of the pictures are available here:

Merchants of the under passage

Crossing a street in the UK normally involves traffic lights and a short wait while cars stop to let you go. Sometimes it involves a bridge and some steps. Very rarely, you can cross through a tunnel that goes under the street.
However, in Ukraine, as in other ex-Soviet states – the tunnel rules and a walk in the city almost always involves a trip to the underworld.
To cross a street or road you usually go downstairs, through a dark passage and then back up again. In doing so, you will walk through a dark, cool alley of trade and commerce.

Going down. Two girls try to hide their excitement as they descend into the underworld

Lets compare. In Oxford, if you wish to pass from the city centre to the train station, you must wait for two sets of traffic lights and walk across a bus station. It’s not very exciting.
In Kyiv. To get from my house on Konstatinovskaya street to the metro station, you will pass under Niznihy Val and in doing so you have the change to buy any of the following products:
  • Web cams, Keyboards and computer accessories
  • Watches
  • Souvenirs
  • Coffee and novelty teas Household supplies and toiletries
  • Pots and pans
  • Flowers
  • Knickers, tights and pants
  • Socks
  • Mobile phones + phone chargers and accessories
  • Bread and snacks
  • Hats
  • Fruit
  • Magazines
  • T-shirts
  • Sweets
  • …and I mean a LOT of sweets!

  • Make-up and cosmetics
  • Electronics (radios and batteries etc)
  • Novelty cutlery
  • Bras
  • …and I mean a LOT of bras!

  • Earrings and Jewellery
  • Wallets, belts, gloves and shoes
  • Stuff for cleaning leather shoes and belts etc
  • Pet food
  • Pens and stationary
  • Sunglasses and umbrellas
  • Hunting and fishing knives
  • National flags
  • Locks and keys
  • Kids toys
  • Hair dryers and beard trimmers
  • traditional costumes
  • wooden spoons and boxes
  • passport holders
  • Hair-dye
  • Handbags
  • Pizza and ice cream
  • Tupperware
  • greetings cards and wrapping paper
  • Tablecloths and bedsheets
  • Theatre tickets
  • Chopping boards
  • Novelty garden statues
  • Dresses
  • Novelty plastic bags
  • Towels and tea towels
  • Kids clothes
  • Cossack clubs
  • Sexy calendars
It is really quite amazing, and while its easy to pass these little shops without thinking, they are very much part of every day Kyiv life. They even have their own special sweet/damp smell which is unmistakable.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also find some musicians playing for money and a small group of Babushkas (old women) selling fruit, veg and (of course) flowers on the steps.
I was delighted to see that this has been going on since 1989. Look here

Look how happy he is! He probably brought that ridiculous shirt two minutes ago, there under the street. 

Merchants of the under passage

Crossing a street in the UK normally involves traffic lights and a short wait while cars stop to let you go. Sometimes it involves a bridge and some steps. Very rarely, you can cross through a tunnel that goes under the street.
However, in Ukraine, as in other ex-Soviet states – the tunnel rules and a walk in the city almost always involves a trip to the underworld.
To cross a street or road you usually go downstairs, through a dark passage and then back up again. In doing so, you will walk through a dark, cool alley of trade and commerce.

Going down. Two girls try to hide their excitement as they descend into the underworld

Lets compare. In Oxford, if you wish to pass from the city centre to the train station, you must wait for two sets of traffic lights and walk across a bus station. It’s not very exciting.
In Kyiv. To get from my house on Konstatinovskaya street to the metro station, you will pass under Niznihy Val and in doing so you have the change to buy any of the following products:
  • Web cams, Keyboards and computer accessories
  • Watches
  • Souvenirs
  • Coffee and novelty teas Household supplies and toiletries
  • Pots and pans
  • Flowers
  • Knickers, tights and pants
  • Socks
  • Mobile phones + phone chargers and accessories
  • Bread and snacks
  • Hats
  • Fruit
  • Magazines
  • T-shirts
  • Sweets
  • …and I mean a LOT of sweets!

  • Make-up and cosmetics
  • Electronics (radios and batteries etc)
  • Novelty cutlery
  • Bras
  • …and I mean a LOT of bras!

  • Earrings and Jewellery
  • Wallets, belts, gloves and shoes
  • Stuff for cleaning leather shoes and belts etc
  • Pet food
  • Pens and stationary
  • Sunglasses and umbrellas
  • Hunting and fishing knives
  • National flags
  • Locks and keys
  • Kids toys
  • Hair dryers and beard trimmers
  • traditional costumes
  • wooden spoons and boxes
  • passport holders
  • Hair-dye
  • Handbags
  • Pizza and ice cream
  • Tupperware
  • greetings cards and wrapping paper
  • Tablecloths and bedsheets
  • Theatre tickets
  • Chopping boards
  • Novelty garden statues
  • Dresses
  • Novelty plastic bags
  • Towels and tea towels
  • Kids clothes
  • Cossack clubs
  • Sexy calendars
It is really quite amazing, and while its easy to pass these little shops without thinking, they are very much part of every day Kyiv life. They even have their own special sweet/damp smell which is unmistakable.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also find some musicians playing for money and a small group of Babushkas (old women) selling fruit, veg and (of course) flowers on the steps.
I was delighted to see that this has been going on since 1989. Look here

Look how happy he is! He probably brought that ridiculous shirt two minutes ago, there under the street. 

Unexpectedly friendly? Not if you know Ukraine

It’s lunchtime on Tuesday 5th June and a huge streak of lightning just lit up the sky across Podil, followed quickly by a huge crack of thunder and the sound of heavy rain on the rooftops and pavement. The sky is grey and the air is hot and sticky.

Its storm season in Ukraine, and while the weather is spectacular, it’s not doing much to lift the mood of the city.

To anyone arriving in Ukraine this week for the European football championships, the weather may confirm their worst suspicions that this is a country of doom and gloom.

They’ll soon realise they are wrong.

Despite the intensely negative press that Ukraine has been getting recently, this is not an unfriendly country. It is not an intolerant place, it is safe and it is a lot of fun.

I don’t write this as a naive idiot who’s ignorant to the darker side of life in Ukraine, or as someone who’s love for this country harbours any rejection of those ‘western ideals’ and human rights I enjoy as a British citizen. I write this as someone who, unlike 99% of those commenting on Ukraine, has actually lived here for two years and as someone who has travelled to all 49 European countries. Yes, even the picturesque San Marino (where, incidentally, they were proudly selling bottles of Hitler beer complete with a picture of the Führer).I know this continent better than most people and Ukraine is one of my favourite places to be.

But what about the dogs they killed? what about the profiteering hoteliers? what about the BBC stadiums of hate?Of course they are awful, they have disgraced Ukraine and they shouldn’t have happened, but what did UEFA expect? This is a poor country run by an incompetent and corrupt ‘elite’. Are we to believe that UEFA officials didn’t see the 1000s of stray dogs and the shortage of hotels when they awarded Ukraine the tournament? Are we to believe that UEFA officials said yes to Poland and Ukraine without ever attending a local football match at which, as the BBC has shown, you can find racism and anti-Semitism? Of course not.

Despite all the talk of ‘sport uniting people’ UEFA is a self-interested profit seeking monster. It deals almost exclusively with wealthy sponsors and cares little for the social or political rights of the citizens who are ‘lucky’ enough to host one of their prestigious tournaments. The same goes for FIFA. Football knew these were risks, but ‘the beautiful game’ is a grubby business. So are most other international sports competitions.Did Russia win the right to host the 2012 Winter Olympics or 2018 World Cup because of its fair treatment of journalists, its inclusive form of governance and its acceptance of homosexuality? I think not.

Is anyone really surprised? …I doubt it, so why is Ukraine getting a hard time? Well, probably because its easy to bash a country with this many problems, and because bad news (verging on hysteria) sells. The Daily Mail and much of the UK tabloid press is built on this model and for once it has the opportunity to take a break from attacking ‘broken Britain’ and throw mud at its neighbours.

Do they really care about these terrible things that they are writing about? Of course not or they would have been writing about them for years. Ukraine’s problems hardly started two months ago.

So, if we put the hysteria to one side, what’s left? Well, what’s left is a nation of passionate and friendly people who can’t wait to welcome people to their country and who cant wait to prove the Daily Mail wrong …and to practice their English!

Ukrainians hold Europe in extremely high regard, sometimes embarrassingly so, and the word ‘euro’ is attached to almost everything here to mean ‘not from one of the former USSR countries’. But while Ukrainians all study hard to learn English and a rainbow of other languages, or study international relations to be successful in the global economy – we continue to shun them. We don’t visit them, and to make things worse, we make it impossibly difficulty for them to visit us. We humiliate them when they apply for visas, especially if they show any desire to live in our country, while we bend over backwards to accommodate their oligarch rulers and sell them houses. (London’s most expensive apartment was recently sold to Ukraine’s number one thief and richest man – Rinat Akhmetov)

Yet despite this treatment and despite the insane amount of money that has been wasted on this tournament and stolen via dodgy deals and murky contracts, I’ve seen nothing at all this year to suggest that Ukrainian’s wont welcome international visitors with open arms. In fact, this week in Kiev, Ukrainian friendliness has been in overdrive.

Of course, nobody is smiling in public, they will still queue-jump if you show any sign of hesitancy and the metro is still unbelievably crowded. However, every time I have left my house this week, I’ve had a wonderful conversation (in English) with a Ukrainian. There’s a tangible sense of excitement. Finally these weird ‘Euro’ people are arriving in town and Ukrainians want to impress them. They also want to question us. What are we like?, where are we from?, is it true that London is always covered in fog? …do we like Ukraine?

As a bit of fun, last week me and a friend decided to take pictures of Ukrainians who were wearing British flags. The union flag has become something of a fashion here, and despite our limited Russian, all bar one, person that we asked was happy to oblige. True to form, almost all of them posed with huge smiles and tremendous pride. These are not bashful people.

In a small corner-shop/cafe in an industrial centre, miles from the tourist traps in central Kyiv, we enjoyed some friendly banter with two middle-aged women who wanted to know if we were here for the football or the girls (Ukrainians indulge in negative stereotypes too). We joked with them for a few minutes and as we left, they were still laughing loudly as we left their modest business. Even in the bleakest industrial estate they were both friendly and curious.

So, while 20th century stereotypes about the ‘evil empire’ have combined with 21st century stereotypes about prostitution and poverty to give Ukraine a less than glamorous reputation. The reality is that Ukraine is a big and beautiful country, with dramatic weather, vast and beautiful open spaces and ancient cities whose poorly renovated buildings give them an old-colonial feel that is as romantic as it is intriguing.

If you come, like most of the people who visit, I’m sure you’ll love it. Just don’t come expecting German roads or a French trains. You wont find either. As the locals will tell you with a shrug ‘this is Ukraine!

Unexpectedly friendly? Not if you know Ukraine

It’s lunchtime on Tuesday 5th June and a huge streak of lightening just lit up the sky across Podil, followed quickly by a huge crack of thunder and the sound of heavy rain on the rooftops and pavement. The sky is grey and the air is hot and sticky.

It is storm season in Ukraine, and while the weather is spectacular, it’s not doing much to lift the mood of the city.
To anyone arriving in Ukraine this week for the European football championships, the weather may confirm their worst suspicions, that this is a country of doom and gloom.They’ll soon realise they are wrong.

Despite the intensely negative press that Ukraine has been getting recently, this is not an unfriendly country. It is not an intolerant place, it is safe and it is a lot of fun.
I don’t write this as a naive idiot who’s ignorant to the darker side of life in Ukraine, or as someone who’s love for this country harbours any rejection of those ‘western ideals’ and human rights I enjoy as a British citizen. I write this as someone who, unlike 99% of those commenting on Ukraine, has actually lived here for two years and as someone who has traveled to all 49 European countries. Yes, even the picturesque San Marino (where, incidentally, they proudly sell bottles of Hitler beer complete with a picture of the Führer).I know this continent better than most people, and Ukraine is one of my favourite places to be.

But what about the dogs they killed? what about the profiteering hoteliers? what about the BBC stadiums of hate?Of course they are awful, they have disgraced Ukraine and they shouldn’t have happened, but what did UEFA expect? This is a poor country run by an incompetent and corrupt ‘elite’. Are we to believe that UEFA officials didn’t see the 1000s of stray dogs and the shortage of hotels when they awarded Ukraine the tournament? Are we to believe that UEFA officials said yes to Poland and Ukraine without ever attending a local football match at which, as the BBC has shown, you can find racism and anti-Semitism? Of course not.

Despite all the talk of ‘sport uniting people’ UEFA is self-interested and profit seeking. It deals almost exclusively with wealthy sponsors and cares little for the social or political rights of the citizens who are ‘lucky’ enough to host one of their prestigious tournaments. The same goes for FIFA. Football knew these were risks, but ‘the beautiful game’ is a grubby business. So are most other international sports competitions.Ask yourself, did Russia win the right to host the 2012 Winter Olympics or 2018 World Cup because of its fair treatment of journalists, its inclusive form of governance and its acceptance of homosexuality? I think not.

Is anyone really surprised? …I doubt it, so why is Ukraine getting a hard time? Well, probably because its easy to bash a country with this many problems, and because bad news (verging on hysteria) sells. The Daily Mail and much of the UK tabloid press is built on this model and for once it has the opportunity to take a break from attacking ‘broken Britain’ and throw mud at its neighbours.
Do they *really* care about the things that they are writing about? Of course not, or they would have been writing about them for years. Ukraine’s problems hardly started two months ago.
So, if we put the hysteria to one side, what’s left? Well, what’s left is a nation of passionate and friendly people who can’t wait to welcome people to their country and who cant wait to prove the Daily Mail wrong …and to practice their English while they’re at it.Ukrainians hold Europe in extremely high regard, sometimes embarrassingly so, and the word ‘euro’ is attached to almost everything here to mean ‘not from one of the former USSR countries’. But while Ukrainians all study hard to learn English and a rainbow of other languages, or study international relations to be successful in the global economy – we continue to shun them. We don’t visit them, and to make things worse we make it impossibly difficulty for them to visit us. We humiliate them when they apply for visas, especially if they show any desire to live in our country, while we bend over backwards to accommodate their oligarch rulers and sell them houses. (London’s most expensive apartment was recently sold to Ukraine’s number one thief and richest man – Rinat Akhmetov)

Yet despite this treatment and despite the insane amount of money that has been wasted on this tournament and stolen via dodgy deals and murky contracts, I’ve seen nothing at all this year to suggest that Ukrainian’s wont welcome international visitors with open arms. In fact, this week in Kiev, Ukrainian friendliness has been in overdrive.
Of course, nobody is smiling in public, they will still queue-jump if you show any sign of hesitancy and the metro is still unbelievably crowded. However, every time I have left my house this week, I’ve had a wonderful conversation (in English) with a Ukrainian. There’s a tangible sense of excitement. Finally these weird ‘Euro’ people are arriving in town and Ukrainians want to impress them. They also want to question us. What are we like?, where are we from?, is it true that London is always covered in fog? …do we like Ukraine?
As a bit of fun, last week me and a friend decided to take pictures of Ukrainians who were wearing British flags. The union flag has become something of a fashion here, and despite our limited Russian, all bar one, person that we asked was happy to oblige. True to form, almost all of them posed with huge smiles and tremendous pride. These are not bashful people.
In a small corner-shop/cafe in an industrial centre, miles from the tourist traps in central Kyiv, we enjoyed some friendly banter with two middle aged women who wanted to know if we were here for the football or the girls. We joked with them for a few minutes and as we left, they were still laughing loudly as we left their modest business. Even in the bleakest industrial estate they were both friendly and curious.
So, while 20th century stereotypes about the ‘evil empire’ have combined with 21st century stereotypes about prostitution and poverty to give Ukraine a less than glamorous reputation. The reality is that Ukraine is a big and beautiful country, with dramatic weather, vast and beautiful open spaces and ancient cities whose poorly renovated buildings give them an old-colonial feel that is as romantic as it is intriguing.
If you come, like most of the people who visit, I’m sure you’ll love it. Just don’t come expecting German roads or a French trains. You wont find either. As the locals will tell you with a shrug ‘this is Ukraine!’
IanFor more on Ukraine, and to see why I haven’t updated this site since about January, visit www.bluetoyellow.com

For some recent pictures of Kyiv, click here
Posted from: www.bearder.com

Pre-fabulous: Flower Pots

A study of prefabricated and moulded concrete. Part 2. 

A few weeks ago, I started a study of ‘Soviet concrete with a highly unscientific study of the pre-fabricated concrete fence.

Inspired by what I discovered, this week I ventured forth into Kyiv’s city jungle to study the fence’s small cousin – the flower pot.

Background 

In Russian 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”

In the Soviet Union it seems that they were big fans of prefabricating things from concrete and also of factory moulding various other objects. 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. This week I explored the moulded flower pots.

Results

Like the pre-fab fences, you might not notice these little concrete monuments when you first arrive in the city, but they are so ridiculously common that once you have noticed them – you wont be able to leave the house without spotting them on the street. The positive effect they have on the city is somewhat amplified by the dizzying colours in which they are painted. In fact, I suspect the Ukrainian obsession with uber-bright colourful paint is, in part, a rebellion against the grey monotony of this multifaceted material.

I discovered that most of the pot designs are available either as a full square or as a smaller half-square oblong pot. There are also round designs and vase-style pots which people are obviously very proud of because they are the most well painted.  By far the most common pot is the small ‘half-moon’ and after this, the similar ‘apple core’ design.

Here’s a small number of Kyiv pots for you to enjoy. Please bare in mind that I made myself look like a complete idiot  photographing these for you.

Sometimes they are used for grass and even trees

The Kyiv city administration building has them, but as you can see, they are especially decorative.

The full square

Two half-square ‘look at me, I’ve been painted’ pots. They have the four stripe design.

Some shop owners do not care for their concrete pots, leaving them unloved and flowerless.

Flower pot meets abstract art

The ‘Big Boss’ squared pot

Such is the level of respect for concrete, that moulded pots may be used to bare witness to business contracts.

Cute pink paint can be used to camouflage the pot’s role as guardian of the street. This pot stops SUVs from invading the residential street.

More pot-modernism that nobody understands, or cares for

The common ‘winged’ pot

End view of the common winged pot

The ‘half-moon’ on the left is the smallest and most common pot. Here it stands proud next to a painted vase-type pot.

The 4×4. For sides, four stripes, four colours

Creative use of the ‘half moon’ pots

Another ‘pinky’ stands alone but unashamed near Klovska metro

Some pot are big and round

…most are painted in dazzling colours

Fresh green plants compensate for the tired paintwork

A single happy flower sits proudly in her huge golden throne.

Ian

NB. This post is special birthday dedication for Sanela ‘funny name’ Stanišič. Многая Літа!! 

Old, cute, kitschy, cool

This week I’ve been exploring the weird and wonderful world that is Kyiv‘s left bank.

Like many foreigners here, I have to admit I spend way too much time in the city centre and view the left bank with a certain amount of suspicion and intrigue.

So, on Thursday I joined a mini tour of a left bank waste recycling centre with my journalist friend Jerom.  After the tour, our guide showed us the factory museum. It was a magnificent collection of old Ukrainian/Soviet artefacts.

As you can see, the left bank is full of surprises…

 

The full set of pictures is here:

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