Month: November 2009

hola chica guapa

Five days in Barcelona…

Click here to see the originals.

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The www of wwwonders….

I just re-discovered a masterpiece of web/film production about a ‘silent’ city called Minsk – capital of our northern neighbours in Belarus. The story is simple, the artwork superb and the artistic talent impressive. The site Hush City is well worth a look.

..this, thanks to its nomination, led me to the webby awards website

which took me to the fascinating ‘Big Picture’ site which thus landed me at reportage – an amazing collection of stories told through stunning photography.

That’s a lot of talent for very little effort πŸ™‚

Actually, if you have time to kill – the webby awards website will kill it.

So, what are you still doing here? eh?

It’s not enough? OK, there’s a few good things here too:

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I will put my breath into you, and you shall live again

Today, Kiev was completely enveloped by a big grey cloud. Not raining but the dampness meant that you could really feel the cold and taste it every time you took a breath.

Anyway, braving his depressing weather, I took a trip today to one of the saddest places I’ve even been in Europe. This small park/ravine in Kiev (Babi Yar) was the site of an unimaginable act of mass murder by the occupying German forces during WWII.

A full description of the massacre is given here: However, in brief, 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation on September 29–30, 1941.

“One after the other, they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and overgarments and also underwear … Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep … When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot … The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun … I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other … The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him”

According to data online, executions of Jews, Ukrainians, Gypsies and others continued in Babi Yar throughout the period of the Nazi occupation of Kiev, ending with the liberation of Kiev in November 1943, totalling up to 120,000 victims.

Having read this before, I was expecting a huge, wide valley with steep slopes but this isn’t the case, the park is small and sad which strangely adds to the emotion of the place.

Unlike Auschwitz, with it’s guides, museums and entrance fee, this park just sits in a sadly unimpressive residential suburb between two main roads and next to a metro station. A large Soviet era monument stands in the middle of the valley and people walk their dogs, play with kids and drink beer. In fact, dotted around the park are numerous pairs of empty beer bottles. Not discarded or broken, just stood together on the floor as if they’re also mini grave-stones to mark past conversations.

A few other plaques exist, a Soviet one that (not wanting to acknowledge differences amoungst the soviet people) desn’t refer to the Jewish aspect of this crime and one, a Jewish one that, although faded almost completely, reads: “I will put my breath into you, and you shall live again”

In a sick ‘final insult’ the retreating German army attempted to hide the evidence of this crime using chained Jewish prisoners to exhume the bodies, burn them and scatter the ashes on the surrounding fields.

Another troubling but happy-happy ending (if anything associated with this place can be happy) story is that of Dina Pronicheva, an actress of the Kiev Puppet Theatre. According to wikipedia, “She was one of those ordered to march to the ravine, forced to undress, and then shot. Jumping before being shot and falling on other bodies, she played dead in a pile of corpses. She held perfectly still while the Nazis continued to shoot the wounded or gasping victims. Although the SS had covered the mass grave with earth, she eventually managed to climb through the soil and escape. Since it was dark, she had to avoid the flashlights of the Nazis finishing off the remaining victims still alive, wounded and gasping in the grave. She was one of the very few survivors of the massacre.”

She survived and told her horrifying story to author Anatoly Kuznetsov who documented the massacre.

Anyway, I walked around the park, watched an old man approach and pay his respects at the plaque at the bottom of the memorial, tried to imagine the horror of those two days and left much sadder than when I arrived. I also left convinced that, whatever they like us to believe – life was absolutely not better in our grandparents era. Thanks to their efforts it is a lot better in ours.

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Trust, recipts and evil foreigners…

So far, so good – I’m not bed-ridden with any swine nastiness. Actually, as I wrote that, I just realised how (despite my joking) I’ve been taken in by the hysteria here. Old Swiney has been killing people in the UK for months now but I didn’t even think twice about it. It hardly got a mention amoungst friends and life went on as usual, perhaps with the odd missing colleague for a week or two, however, the fear here is much more obvious and like the flu it seems to be contagious.

Anyway, it’s Tuesday morning and I’m writing from a warm apartment in the belly of Kiev. Later I’m hoping to invade Obolon – a new and popular region of Kiev that would most probably be described as ‘up and coming’ by most British estate agents. However, it’s one of those grey, wet but not-quite raining days and it’s killing my motivation to explore. If I do, I’ll add some pictures here for you later.

So, as you can probably guess from the fact I’m at home on a Tuesday – I’m not working. Although I’ve been trying, nothings come up yet. OK, this might be expected in Ukraine in the midst of a financial crises however, as I’m not even asking for a salary it’s a little perplexing. The fact that almost nobody has the common courtesy to reply to my emails with a “thanks but, no thanks” doesn’t help. I tend to use more expletives but “how rude” is enough to explain my opinion on this.

To increase my chances of success I was reading some advice online yesterday and I stumbled accross this little pearl of wisdom…

“Make sure you are able to explain to employers why you are in Ukraine in the first place and for how long. They need to understand your motives for moving from a wealthy country to a poor one.”

It comes from an article at and it hit a note with me because it’s not just relevant to work. I mean, it’s not just future employers you’ll need to convince, it’s pretty much everyone you meet if you decide to move here.

In a country where, given the chance, most people would leave to work in the ‘rich’ and ‘civilised’ Western side of Europa – almost nobody can understand why I’m here. It’s normally the first question off most peoples lips but even the people who know me quite well have given in eventually. The sad thing is, it reveals both a negative self image (of Ukraine) and an annoying suspicion of foreigners. Of course, there’s normally a good reason for most stereotypes but the question gets a little tiresome . (NB, if you’re not British that’s an intentional understatement).

I guess the trouble I have is that I can’t give a simple, one-line reply to confirm or diffuse their suspicion when they’re already thinking…

A: “aha, you’re here for the girls. I thought so …dirty sex tourist” or
B: “You’re working here? Oh, you poor thing! they sent you to Ukraine”

Trying to explain any longer or non-standard scenarios doesn’t usually work. It is, I guess ‘not normal’.

This article was written, on the topic by a local girl working for a travel services company in Kiev. However, it just wound me up even more. Maybe I misunderstood her point but it seems a little confused. She tries to explain the stereotype whilst happily subscribing to it, writing “even if it’s not their goal on their first time [finding love] it definitely is on their second visit to the country”. sheeesh…

Anyway, I’ll stop ranting (for now) and the website has some useful info if you are every here and looking for work. I take heart from the fact that the article exists as they seem to understand here the ‘adventurous souls’.

Another great website for anyone interested in Ukraine is:

I can’t remember how I discovered this website but, I spent hours reading it and it remains one of my favourite sites about Ukraine. I copied the following from one of her posts…

“Chewing gum I remember much better – we were told at school to never take it from the evil foreigners because they put needles inside to kill the innocent Soviet kids. But we gladly took gum and candies and little souvenirs – and survived.”

Not only does it show the INCORRECT suspicion of foreigners in it’s historical perspective but also how kids, whichever country they come from, will happily ignore their parents and trust other people – especially when sweets are involved. There’s no cold-war thinking in a toddlers mind.

It’s also where I found Masyanya, an amusing Russian cartoon about a somewhat crazy Russian girl. If you’re lucky you can find the videos on Youtube with English subtitles.

…pizza pizza! (intentionally sounds like ‘pizda pizda!’ which translates along the lines of ‘fuck fuck’)

The weekend just gone I spent Saturday daytime walking around Kiev with Cee, a Chinese student who’s studying Russian here and, after dinner, drinks and a ‘question and answer’ session at home with Maria and Vika we spent the night drinking and dancing with a group of Georgians in a bar opposite my house. It didn’t end so well but that’s not for public discussion, you’ll have to ask in person if you want all the details.

On Sunday evening I met up with Olya, Olya’s cousin and her cousins boyfriend Pasha. The three of them did a great job of confirming my faith in Ukrainian hospitality as they took me for a beer (and wouldn’t let me pay of course), showed me the sights, showed me how to read a receipt (and check it for extra items!) and told me all about each other, their histories, hopes and dreams. Pasha and Olya’s cousin were expecting a child and were clearly very happy and although I’d only met them 2 hours before, I left them after a big round of kisses, hugs, handshakes and smiles. I can’t speak Russian but that all translates quite well.

and now? well, I’m pretending to be at home by listening to Radio 4 online. Yes, it’s for old people but there are few things in Britain that are more British than Radio 4. Google also just sent me back to primary school with today’s topical picture. I had no idea Sesame Street was still going.

Oh, and I forgot to mention my wallet. My never-ending wallet that’s been in (and sometimes out) of my pocket for the last 13 years was finally lost last Sunday. It, my drivers licence, cash-card, the lot – all gone. Well, all gone for a day! My phone rand on Monday evening and, thanks to some handy translation work by Maria – 2 hours later my wallet was safely back in its old home, my pocket. A golden toothed, leather-coat-wearing, tough-guy security guard had found it and instead of stealing it all, he’d done everything he could to get it back to me. Thankfully for me he did and in doing so he proved beyond doubt (to me at least) that this place isn’t half as bad as people might think.


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Ukrainian Logic

In 2007 there were 9,481 road accident deaths in Ukraine . That’s just over 200 deaths per million and one of the highest death rates in Europe after Russia (1st place) and Lithuania (2nd).

I’ve driven in all three of these countries and the grim statistics are easy to beleive. Road and car safety aren’t exactly high and driver attitudes aren’t far behind. So, with those kinda statistics, you’d think that everyone wears a seatbelt right? Haha.. nooooo way. In fact, most of the time you can’t – the belt clip is missing or doesn’t work. I was even told NOT to wear mine in Belarus by a wild-eyed taxi driver who took it as an insult to his rally driving skills.

So, the ‘whatever happens will happen’ fatalism approach to life wins and 1000s of Ukrainians die prematurely as a result.

So when 100 people die from the recent swine flu outbreak in Ukraine – you’d think it would be shrugged off with the same fatalism, right? Oh noooo, that’s too logical. This is Ukraine. 100 people die of H1N1 or other flu like illnesses and politicians jump on the subject, cities and civilians get quarantined, fear takes hold and everyone drives around, WITHOUT a seatbelt but WITH a little white flu mask!

Some kids entering an art gallery in Kiev yesterday even had chemical-warfare style masks with air filters n’all. It’s amazing.

Now, its possible that the mask wearers are also the few sensible Ukrainians who wear seatbelts but, I doubt it. I also understand that, by not wearing a mask but insisting on a seatbelt I’m committing the same crime in reverse but I’m justifying this position (using Bearder logic) by comparing the statistics.

What’s more, if all the evidence in favour of the benefit of seatbelts was a blacked-out 4×4 …the evidence in favour of the ‘benefits’ of flu masks would be a red and white painted Micro Machine

Ukrainians… ditch the masks and belt-up. For your own sakes.


PS, I understand that I’ve tempted fate now but if I’m struck down and die from swine related complications because I didn’t wear a little mask …please use my fortune to pay for a road saftey ad in the Kiev Post.

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