Let’s see how many MP’s use them ;)
As a gift to a very good (and long-time) friend of mine, this weekend we moved 500km West this weekend for two days in Ukrainie’s ‘capital of culture’ – Lviv.
As a man who’s been to many ‘capitals of culture’ (and almost all European capitals) I can honestly say Lviv is one of the most beautiful. It’s not only unique from a Ukrainian perspective bit it’s as diverse, quirky, inspiring and enjoyable as anywhere I’ve ever been anywhere in Europe – including and perhaps even more so than Ljubljana in Slovenia.
For those who know me, you’ll understand the significance of that last statement.
Lviv is special and like it or not, Lviv will be the hottest ‘must see’ city in Europe within the next 5 years.
Despite the war thousands of kilometres to the East, or perhaps because of the war, Ukraine is opening to the world like never before and the world now knows where UA is. For now Lviv and Western Ukraine may be the best kept secret for Poles looking for a romantic weekend away and for those of us in Ukraine, but that won’t last. Easyjet or RyanAir will arrive soon and when they do you’ll all be wondering why you never came before.
This is all the more remarkable for a city which, just 10 years ago was as drab and depressing as any of its post-Soviet neighbours.
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…
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…
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:
And in case you’re curious, here’s how the UK government help foreign companies:
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.”
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.”
This week has been an interesting week both on and off the bike.
With the arrival of some delightful spring sunshine (early May is perhaps the most beautiful time to be in Kyiv) I have been out on the real-bike almost every evening and Im still not bored of exploring Podil and the islands on the Dnipr.
Off the bike, the transformation of Kyiv continues at a dizzy pace and since Friday I have attended a public debate on the future of public transport, met with a group who are installing electric car charging points accross Ukraine, visited yet another new art galley (exploring the imagery used by people to create ‘imaginary’ nations on undivided physical territories), found a website promoting the top 10 social projects in Ukraine and, this might sound trivial but, I discovered a bike rack outside the restaurant I stopped at for lunch!
Finallly, I learned that there are plans to install a network of public rental bikes – something similar to the ‘Boris bikes’ in London or the grey velo network in Brussels.
In Kyiv, you can be 99% sure they will be blue and yellow.
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.
This graffitti announces that a popular online trading site has changed its name.
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.
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.
I gave the banana to Anastasia and drank the celebratory beer.
Terminal D at Boryspil Airport is a large, modern and newly constructed terminal for international flights to and from Ukraine.
Built in 2012 at a cost of UAH 1.661 billion (USD 208 million) it apparently has the capacity to process 3000 passengers an hour.
Quite how is anyone’s guess.
In this post I will describe what happened this morning before boarding my flight to Brussels and is a good example of how inefficient the airport actually is.
However, before I start, I need to provide some background information on Ukraine’s immigration rules which, it has to be said, are considerably more open and forgiving than British or EU rules.
If you’re in a rush and just want to know what happens if you over-stay your 90 day allowance in Ukraine, then you can skip this section and just straight to ‘The Rube Goldberg penalty machine’
Background: The power of music
Following Ruslana’s success in the Eurovision song contest in 2004 Ukraine decided to remove existing visa requirements to make it easier for foreigners to attend the event in Kyiv and to visit the otherwise overlooked (and relatively poor) country.
Such was the success of the tournament that Ukraine never reintroduced the visa regime and has allowed us foreigners to visit for free for up to 90 days in any six month period. Even then, for many years and until sometime in 2011 this rule was rarely enforced. The only requirement was that you left the country after 90 days and got a stamp in your passport – then you were allowed to return without a problem.
Naturally, most foreigners played the system by making ‘border runs’ every 90 days to Moldova or Belarus where you could usually buy a stamp without actually leaving.
However, under the Yanukovich government, the rules were tightened in 2011 and border guards started enforcing the ’90 day in 180’ rule – essentially meaning that you can stay for 90 days in any six month period – thus ending the unlimited free entry available via the border runs.
All fair and well and about time too given the widespread abuse of the system.
The problem with the 90 day rule is that its hard to monitor. For people who travel in and out of Ukraine almost constantly, then its pretty hard to keep track of the number of days stayed because its an ever shifting variable and you first have to deduct 180 days from your date of departure and then calculate the total days in Ukraine between the two dates. It’s easier said than done and in practice (and given the relatively low fine incurred for breaking the rule) I usually estimate how many days I’ve stayed in order to comply.
It’s just a quick fine and you’re on your way, right?
You see, it’s not just foreign visitors who struggle with the calculations, all the border guards have to do it manually as well and for every single foreigner who comes through their border posts. So if, after a 10 minutes counting-session, they suspect you might be close to our over the 90 day limit, you have to do the ‘walk of same’ and sit outside the ‘office of judgement’ on the ‘seat of despair’.
It doesn’t matter if you have actually over-stayed or not, you just have to be close and you’ll be forced to endure this inexplicably lengthy procedure.
Today was not my lucky day, so after 5-10 minutes at the border gate I was taken to the office of judgement and took my place on the seat of despair. After a further 10 minutes the guy cam out and explained that I had indeed overstayed and he needed my address in Ukraine and in Oxford so he could produce some form. So far, so good and as I was in clear breach of the rules I didn’t mind. Rules are rules and I don’t mind paying the official penalty for breaking them. However, from here, things went from bad to worse.
After sitting there for an additional 30 minutes I started to get nervous that I would miss my flight, so I went to enquire about the ‘form’ and I found a guy slowly typing (I mean slower than a tortoise) a whole pile of these documents while chatting to other staff and dealing with a bunch of other border guards who wandered in and out for unknown reasons.
I assume every one of the people in the pile also had a plane to catch and were also quite stressed.
I made some ‘I don’t have much time’ gestures and some 30-40 minutes since arriving at the border post, I was finally given the penalty form and was directed back out of the security section towards a bank – the only bank in the departure lounge – to pay the fine.
But, the bank was closed.
There was no further information – only a man standing outside saying its closed until 10:00am, and so, if I waited for it to open I would miss my flight.
Irritated firstly by the fact that bank was closed and secondly that the border guard who issues these fines all day had sent me to this closed bank, I asked another border guard what I was supposed to do. She looked at my ticket, looked at the document and shrugged.
Only when I asked her quite angrily how I am supposed to pay a fine at a closed bank did her brain engage long enough to mention the bank downstairs in the arrivals area.
So, I quickly ran down there, found the bank (on the left side at the back near the exit) and handed everything to the cashier who then looked at it like it was an alien from another planet. Then, after five minutes, she pointed at two figures. One said 850 UAH and the other said 1700 UAH. Which one did I want to pay? Apparently she had no idea what she was doing, so with about 30 minutes to the departure of my plane, I decided to play it safe and pay the 1700 UAH just in case.
After another five minutes of shuffling paper she stuffed a pin code number pad under the window of her kiosk (which required lost of pushing and stuffing to get to me and back to her) and then asked me for my passport. At this point I almost lost my cool and barked back at her that my passport was, of course, with the border guards (as must be the case for all other people and there was a steady line of them) who come to this bank every day to pay this kind of fine.
Unsurprisingly, the passport was suddenly unnecessary and she slowly continued to produce bits of paper (at least five) for me to sign.
With these in hand, I rushed back to the passport control, through security again (removing and replacing my belt, emptying pockets etc etc) and handed them the paper.
‘What’, I asked, ‘is the difference between the two numbers 850 and 1,700 UAH? ‘Oh’, said they guy, ‘we only need 850. 1,700 is the fee if you don’t pay for 10 days’.
‘So’, I replied as calmly as possible, ‘you just sent me to a closed bank and the only other bank is run by a woman who has no idea what she’s doing’. Yes, he replied ’she is very stupid. Do you have a time?, we must go back to the bank and change everything.’
‘No’, I replied, ‘I’m not missing my flight to recover 850 UAH’. (approximately £25)
Then I rushed through the border, ran the length of the terminal building and arrived at the gate as they were closing. It was more than one hour after I arrived at the border and I very, very nearly missed my flight.
Now, I know some of you are probably reading this thinking: If you break the rules, then its tough shit for you. And, to some extent you’re right. However, as I explained, it’s not easy to count the total number of days and overstaying is an administrative offence – not a criminal one. It is entirely possible to over-stay by mistake or because of unexpected circumstances. And anyway, I’m not complaining about the fine or the need to pay it.
What is ridiculous and what I am complaining about is the complete cluelessness of everyone involved in the process of processing the fine. Issuing fines that need to be paid at the bank when the bank is closed, not knowing that the only bank is closed, working in a bank that spends all day processing fines and being completely clueless about the cost of the fine etc etc.
All of this is unnecessary and leaves an incredibly bad impression of the country you are leaving, even for people like me who love Ukraine.
Is it really so hard to employ someone who can count, type and process a credit card payment in one place? Especially at an airport where departure times are absolute.
Should I fall foul of this rule again, and I sincerely hope I don’t, I will use this process as a litmus test for the pace of reform in Ukraine. Fining someone 25 EUR and issuing a penalty notice shouldn’t take more than an hour and everyone involved in the process should not be completely clueless about what needs to be done.
Ukraine. Please sort it out.
Footnote: Having calmed down after a some in-flight food and a snooze, I think it is fair to acknowledge that our own visa requirements and immigration controls are far stricter for Ukrainians and as a result the level of bureaucracy they endure to visit Europe is significantly higher than any annoying border fine – however badly it is administered. Ukrainians are regularly turned away from EU borders, occasionally even when they have all the correct paper work and visas etc. Also, despite this and ever since the ‘EuroMaidan’ revolution, Ukrainians still split their passport checks into two categories: ‘International’ and ‘Ukraine & EU’. You see, their bureaucracy might be unnecessary and annoying but they still treat us as equals even if we treat them as second-class Europeans.
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.
Winter refused to leave without a fight this year in Ukraine and twice last week we had fits if snow and sleet mixed with the bright spring sunshine.
This weekend all that changed. Spring arrived, the sun shone, everything turned green and everywhere you went Ukrainians were making the most of it. There was the Kyiv half-marathon, old car fest, retro bike fest, the Ukrazyans exhibition and thousands of ‘BBQs with friends’.
I tried to make the most of it by taking the bike out early on Sunday so I could enjoy the rest of the day at one of the above…
I cycled down the river past the Lavra and up to Big Mama (Rodina Mat).
During my trip I realised that there’s one massive difference between walking/hiking up a hill and cycling up a hill. When you walk, you have to walk back down and this is often harder than walking up. However, when you reach the top on a bike, the way down is a high-speed freebie.
Instead of grumbling about sore knees you can stop working and enjoy an effortless descent – in this case across most of Kyiv city centre from Pechersk to Podil – as you admire Kyivs 1000s of new burger bars and coffee kiosks.
Now it’s Tuesday morning and I’m back on the cycling machine (level 6!) and wondering why the guy in front of me is running every morning in full-length leggings, long shorts, a long-sleeved top and a large woolly hat. Seriously!
I dont know why but he looks like he might be from Finland so maybe it’s some kind of Nordic running.