Category: Life (Page 2 of 34)

You are a good joker :)

After bouncing back to Brussels and Oxford for the umpteenth time this year, I’m back in Kyiv and back on the sofa-sized seat of the cycling machine at SportLife in Podil.

The guy who looks like he’s from Finland is running, as usual, on the machine infront of me and, as usual, he’s wearing two t-shirts a woolly hat and full length leggings. Next to him is a man who’s almost as round as he is tall and in front of the both loads of swimmers are doing lengths in their Speedos and rubber hats.

Having swum in about 10 different countries European countries, I can say with considerable expertise that even something as simple as swimming cones with a fair amount of cultural baggage. Ukraine is no different. This place is Speedo and regulation-heavy up to the point that all swimmers have to visit a doctor and obtain permission to swim. Yeah, it’s pretty weird.

Anyway, it’s nice to be back and after a few weeks of heavy-work and very little cycling I’m looking forward to tipping the balance in favour of more cycling and many hours on the bike on Ukraine’s sunny but painfully bumpy streets.

Next week I’m booked onto a cycling tour to some Ukrainian castle and after that I might attempt to cycle 150k back from Chernigov which is somewhere up-north near Belarus.

Before any of those things we have our next ‘Open Mic’ event (tonight) and as it’s now in its 3rd month it looks increasingly ‘stable’ and therefore likely to continue. This is good news for Kyiv.Cool and for everyone who likes to entertain and be entertained :)

I may not be up so early tomorrow…

The desperate state of Ukrainian business reform 

As the owner of a small IT company from the UK which has been working with Ukrainian freelancers for the past two years, I recently decided increase my support for Ukraine and commit to opening a local branch of the company here in Kyiv. By doing so, I should, in theory be able to hire full-time staff and pay my share of taxes to support the desperately underfunded national authorities.

It feels like the right thing to do and when I registered my company in the UK a few years ago I had been pleasantly surprised with how easy it was. I did one Google search, made one phone call and sent one email. The next day, my company had been registered.

Of course, this being Ukraine and me being a foreigner etc I expected more than a little bureaucracy, but with so much talk of civil, political and economic reform I was confident that doing business here would be an easier process now than it was before the revolution. Besides this, I also read an article recently in the Kyiv Post about new rules which had been introduced in support of IT and tech companies to simplify registration and encourage them to invest here. This is exactly the kind of motivation I needed.

From this point on and for the past two months I have failed to progress even once millimeter towards opening our Ukrainian office.

Unwilling to pay a local lawyer for basic and public information on how to register a company, I set out to find the info myself. I simply wanted to know: How do you open a small business in Ukraine? and what support is available for small companies wanting to invest in Ukraine?

Here’s what happened…

  1. Everyone’s favourite database, Google failed to find any useful or meaningful information.
  2. The Ukrainian Embassy in London failed to responded to an email request for info.
  3. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (economic section) failed to respond to an email request for information.
  4. The European Union Embassy in Ukraine failed to respond to an email request for information (yeah, we suck too)
  5. …and the UK Embassy in Ukraine responded but didn’t have any info they could provide (other than a link to the same article I had read in the Kyiv Post). Thanks anyway guys.

After two phone calls and two or three more emails (a common requirement when dealing with the EU Embassy in Ukraine) I finally received the first ‘useful information’ from a guy called Boris Filipov who works in the Private Sector Development section of the Embassy- a list of support programmes aimed at Ukrainian SMEs hoping to trade with the EU.

This is almost what I need, and may indeed be useful if I ever manage to become a Ukrainian SME but that’s proving to be way harder than it should be. In fact, it either doesn’t exist in English, it is being guarded as a national secret, or perhaps most likely – it is only available via an expensive lawyer or business association.

All of this is less than ideal.

If the Ukrainian authorities have indeed simplified things for foreign IT companies, then what is the benefit of this if finding info on the new simplified rules is near impossible? (and dear Ukrainian authorities why should I invest in Ukraine (and help save your arses from bankruptcy) if you can’t be bothered to reply to my emails?)

As for the EU and UK delegations, is it really so hard to provide one or two pages of info that would support your own companies wishing to expand to Ukraine? Wouldn’t this be a smart idea and a simple way to ensure that the millions of EUR of aid being poured into Ukraine by the EU (entirely funded by European tax payers such as myself and my company) go to benefit us – your citizens and businesses – as much as it benefits locals?

Has anyone from the ‘competent authorities’ ever setup or run a small business? Are plans being made to change the situation? Time will tell, but for now I haven’t given up on my plans for Ukrainian business success. I will keep searching for information (next stop the various business associations) and when I find it, I will share it here for the benefit of anyone and everyone else who believes in Ukraine and wants to do business here.

In the meantime, here’s the info I received from the EU delegation:

EU support to businessess in Ukraine.doc

And in case you’re curious, here’s how the UK government help foreign companies:

Set up a business in the UK


Update: 

It seems like I’m not the only one having trouble. Since writing this article on Wednesday, I have seen two other articles published this week and both complaining about the same problem.

The first is the Kyiv Posts ‘Doing Bussiness in Ukraine’ leaflet/magazine in which a young Ukrainian entrepreneur complains about difficulties opening a business.

“Ukraine needs adequate procedures for company registration and a fair culture of doing business,” says 23-year-old Pavlo Matvienko, chief executive officer at Chooos. “In Ukraine, in order to register a company you have to wait in long queues for weeks.”

See: http://www.kyivpost.com/media/pdf/db.pdf

The second is an interview with a Danish guy who runs an Engineering company here.

“What legal difficulties did you experience when opening your company in Ukraine?

In Denmark I can go online create a company in 5 minutes with my digital signature. Here it takes 3-4 months, and that’s the problem. But this will get better. If you are in business, your goals are also set on the long-goal horizon. And if you have a commitment to investing in Ukraine, it’s then it’s just things you have to accept. I must admit that I was frustrated when we started, but things managed to work out.”

See: http://euromaidanpress.com/2015/06/04/danish-entrepreneur-now-is-the-time-to-invest-in-ukraine/

 

Down by the Dnipr

Surprisingly, even after the killer race on Saturday I bounced out of bed on Sunday, grabbed my bike and set-off to get some morning sunshine.

This week I fitted my new seat-post and ‘tweaked’ the saddle to give what seems like a better ‘fit’. So, I wanted to test my handy work.

I found the seat-post via Google because it offered an extended ‘head’ which would push the seat slightly further back. It’s made by a company called ‘Velo Orange’ and I like it its shiny silver style more than the original black one.

Kyiv is now in full spring blossom and I managed 24.5 KM before arriving back at Podil.

I discovered some cool new places down by the river and stopped for breakfast at Milkbar in the city center where Jeff and Anna joined me for Eggs Benedict which had fish instead of ham. A weirdly tasty alternative.

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This graffitti announces that a popular online trading site has changed its name.

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18.5 (today) in 1944, Stalin ordered the mass deportation of Crimean Tartars from Crimea as a form of collective punishment. Following Russia’s recent invasion of Crimea, once again they are living under Russian occupation. This graffiti in Kyiv is a tribute to their struggle.

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The Nation Race

A few weeks ago my colleague Yana wrote an article about a new race that will take place near Kyiv, modelled on the famously hard ‘tough mudder‘ races from the UK. The pointlessly patriotically-named ‘Nation Race’ puts participants through various physical challenges during a run around a very hilly and quite muddy course which covers part of a dirt-bike race track on the outskirts of Kyiv.

After publishing the article, Yana then declared that she would enter the race and ‘give it a go’, bravely declaring that she didn’t care if it defeated her because it would be fun. This inspired me and a week later I also declared that I would run. We could run together and support each other as two totally unprepared but enthusiastic novices.

5 days before the race I attempted the first ‘run’ of this year and covered 3km without dying. On Thursday I did 5km and it almost died. Then I hobbled to work and first Yana called to tell me she was sick and couldn’t race and then Anastasia (who booked my ticket) came to confess that she had booked me on the ‘Elite’ race!

In one day I went from being part of a ‘have-a-go’ team, to being the most un-elite ‘Elite’ athlete who’s ever entered a race.

“F**k that!” I said. “I’m not doing it”.

However, over the next two days we hatched a plan which would allow me to enter the ‘standard race’ (albeit unofficially) and so I decided to give it a go. I warmed-up with a hotdog and a coffee and at 9:30 on Saturday morning I was running around a muddy obstacle course on a hill outside Kyiv. It was hard (as expected) but not impossible and amazingly I survived the full race with only one penalty (30 burpees) for not climbing a rope. About an hour later I jumped through some fire and ran through a large muddy puddle to the finish line accompanied by a girl who had travelled from Russia to participate.

My reward: a free t-shirt, a banana and an Obolon beer.

Nice touch!

I gave the banana to Anastasia and drank the celebratory beer.

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On tour in Oxford

…OK, it’s not quite the Tour de France, I’m on a ‘foreign’ cycling machine at Brookes gym in Headington, but it’s still something and especially needed after a cycle-free and food-rich week in Brussels.

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ITS Ukraine

It’s Friday lunchtime, it’s a beautifully sunny day here in Kyiv and nobody is working because it’s May Day.

Unsurprisingly I’m sitting on the cycling machine and in front of me is a swimming pool full of Ukrainians who have decided to spend their afternoon jiggling and dancing at some kind of water aerobics class.

It’s been a crazy but fun week as we finalised preperations for the launch of the Ukrainian Association of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS Ukraine). See www.its-ukraine.org.

We had hoped to launch ITS Ukraine this week, but delayed slightly so we could get all the admin in place and finish a few procedural things. Still, we are basically ready to roll and I look forward to getting stuck in to ITS Ukraine when I get back to Kyiv on 13th May after a week in Brussels and the UK.

At 14:30 today I also have a meeting with Fryday’s here in Kyiv who may support our new ‘open mic’ evening that Kyiv.Cool are organising. More on that soon, but if you’re curious about life in Kyiv then head to www.Kyiv.Cool.

OK, I’m done and off for a sauna.

Happy May Day and here’s hoping everything stays peaceful in Odessa today and in the weeks ahead.

Ian

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Exhaustion and Boredom

Don’t worry, I’m not bored yet. However I met a guy on Friday last week who runs a cycling club here in Ukraine (Actually the national association of cyclists) and unsurprisingly he’s done quite a lot of long distance cycling.

Dealing with boredom he’s said was one of the challenges. Getting bored during training (or bored of training) and getting bored during long days of cycling.

He has a point.

OK, I’m hardly going to suffer Terry Waite-style and I’ve done enough solo travelling to know that I’m quite comfortable with long days without company, but during my only previous experience of anything that could be considered an ‘endurance’ sport (two 10-day mountain hikes) I learned that once exhaustion sets in – it’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Being able to lay in bed and sleep when you are tired is perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of modern life. I’m quite delighted that, should I wake up feeling lethargic, I don’t have to go out to chase, kill and then cook my breakfast. Mattresses and fridges don’t get the recognition they deserve these days, but I’m a big fan.

On the other hand, waking up when you’re knackered after a full day of physical abuse and hauling yourself out of bed for another day of physical abuse, day after day, messes with you. In my case it leads to bouts of serious grumpiness and this in turn leads to the inevitable “I’m bored of this now”.

The fact is that being super-f-ing-exhausted on some distant path or mountain really doesn’t compare with laying in a sauna, scratching your belly and thinking about dinner.

Thankfully though it is way more memorable, you tend to meet more interesting people and it is the end result that matters. For some reason we have evolved to enjoy suffering and overcoming exhaustion as strangely rewarding activities if you achieve your ultimate goal.

So, I will try to remember these thoughts when the thoughts of “I’m bored of this/I can’t be bothered/I’d rather be relaxing in a sauna drinking a watermelon smoothie” start to kick-in.

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Passport Index – How free are you?

Passport Index is an interactive tool, which collects, displays and ranks the passports of the world.

You can discover the world’s passports on a map, by country name, by Passport Power Rank and even by the color of their cover.

Visa Free Score

Passports accumulate points for each visa free country that their holders can visit without a visa, or they can obtain a visa on arrival.

Passport Power Rank

Passports are ranked based on their Visa Free Score. The higher the Visa Free Score, the better the Passport Power Rank.

Passport Index – World’s passports in one place.

Polesia

Out on the Bike in Kyiv (again)…

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Up in smoke

Ukraine is a heavy smoker – that’s no secret, and anyone who’s ever been will know that smoking is pretty much a national sport. According to a report published in 2009,‘Ukraine has about 16.5 million smokers and one of the highest rates of male smoking prevalence in the world’.

Cigarettes are advertised everywhere, cigarettes are cheap, you can smoke inside (almost anywhere) and cigarette brands even manufacture a wide range of trendy brands to cater for the huge market of fashion conscious Ukrainian smokers. Slims, menthols, normal cigarettes with a menthol ‘button’, super slims, apple slims, rainbow coloured slims with golden filters, cigarettes without filters… Marlborough white, silver, gold… the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, as we all know, smoking isn’t a healthy habit and tobacco-related diseases are believed to be responsible for approximately 115,000 premature deaths a year. That’s a lot in a country with a declining life expectancy and population.

The cost to the Ukrainian economy is obviously huge, but while I was reading some other blog about Ukraine last week, I realised this was part of a bigger trend. The author explained that, in Ukraine…

“Financial literacy is generally quite low even among intellectuals. When ordinary Ukrainians start making decent money, they tend to “waste” it on friends and relatives rather than hold on to it to build personal wealth.”

This certainly seems to be true in my experience too, and I’m sure it explains the ridiculous number of high-end luxury jeeps and cars which Ukrainians drive. Ukrainians don’t often save and they don’t invest so much in the future – they live for the moment and they want everyone to know about it.

In some cases, and certainly on a personal level, this short-term ‘live for the day’ approach to money is endearing. Extravagance at weddings and birthdays etc is as fun as it is frivolous and on more than one occasion I’ve heard Ukrainians complain that westerners are ‘penny pinchers’ and not generous etc. We’re ‘boring’ and cold.

The same goes for efficiency and economizing. Heating in the cities comes on in October and stays on, full-blast, until it gets warm again. If you want to cool down, you have to open the window.  I once heard another story about a Ukrainian who went to London and was outraged because the family she was staying with told her not to take a long shower because it used all the hot water. This was interpreted by the unhappy Ukrainian (whose was presumably used to un-metered and therefore unlimited hot water and heating) as supreme stinginess.  How can the UK possibly limit something as simple as hot-water?, right?  Our little princess was not happy with the idea of individual restraint.

It seems that western Europeans and Ukrainians really are at different ends of the spectrum on some things. Efficiency and conservation are not concepts that are taken very seriously, if at all, here.

Sadly, despite all this extravagance, the reality is that Ukraine is not a wealthy country and it is a country which is desperately in need of investment. Yet, every time a Ukrainian gets his or her hands $20K they blow it on a Mercedes and make German pension funds ever richer. What money they have left literally goes up in smoke, either fueling a 4 liter engine or fueling a 20-a-day smoking habit.

Ian

Blue to yellow, is sponsored by Ukraine Business Online, the only site you need for English language news about business in Ukraine. 

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