Month: August 2011

Kiev is Kyiv is Київ is Киев

The Black Sea will smile and grandfather Dnipro will rejoice…

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Happy Birthday Ukraine

Maidan Nezalezhnosti, aged 20.

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Hop on, but don’t hop off…

Kyiv is fast becoming a hot tourist destination. I’m being serious – this year it even has a ‘hop on, hop off’ tourist bus which will take you around the city! (amazing huh!?)

The only problem is, it really is a tourist bus. If you hop-off, you won’t see it again for hours.

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Ukraine’s political playschool

I’ll try and provide some context to this video when I have time, but here’s a short clip from down-town Kyiv today, filmed on my way to work.

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in balaclava, having a riot

“We advanced down a gradual descent of more than three-quarters of a mile, with the batteries vomiting forth upon us shells and shot, round and grape, with one battery on our right flank and another on the left, and all the intermediate ground covered with the Russian riflemen…”

James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan describes the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War.

My arrival at Balaclava was mildly less dramatic (we stepped off a bus and stumbled through some bushes towards a memorial and quiet valley of vinyards) but the drama described by Cardigan was easy to imagine from the viewpoint across the valley. One thing which struck me was how far Balaclava feels from home. Ukraine is a big place and tucked away in the far South-east Crimea is at the far end of it. Balaclava is a long way from Kyiv (15 hours by train to be exact) let alone from London and this is 2011. Fighting 1850’s style on behalf of another country (in this case the Ottoman empire) after sailing so far from home must have been hell.

Today, there’s not much to see from the viewpoint of the memorial (which is almost exactly the same as the viewpoint from the painting above) except the edges of Balaclava town and that’s where we were heading and so, in true Ukrainian fashion we waved down a car, jumped in and weaved down the valley to the town.

Having given its name to the famous headgear which was still being put to good (bad) use by rioting crowds across the UK last week, the tiny alcove settlement was also a super top-secret USSR submarine depot. As a result, the cost is punctured with a series of concrete cave entrances which disappear into the mountains. They are exactly like the dessert island evil headquarters depicted in James Bond movies and Thunderbirds. If you wanted to destroy the world, those caves are exactly the kind of place you’d take your white cat.

Despite this, Balaclava today is a friendly holiday town with a lively harbor, new shiny hotels and all the same tacky theme restaurants you’d expect to find at a seafront resorts from Brighton to Alicante. However, with the crumbling concrete military complex and the numerous old Ladas zipping around the streets, it’s not hard to imagine yourself back in the USSR and that’s what makes the place so cool. You can wander through 150 years of military history, then jump on a boat, watch black-sea dolphins and dump yourself on a beach for a beer and a dried fish. What more could you ask for? …a bus to Sevastopol? bez problem.

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The real cost of the UK’s most expensive apartment

In April this year, numerous UK newspapers revealed that Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, had paid the highest price ever for a UK residence.

He paid a record £136.4m for an apartment in the One Hyde Park development in Knightsbridge.

Last week, on the 29th July a methane blast at a coal mine owned by Akhmetov claimed the lives of 28 workers.

In just five days two other mining accidents in Ukraine have raised the death toll to 40.

Here’s a statement by one of the employees at Akhmetov’s mine.

The coking coal costs huge money and people are expendable. They will blame the mountain master who died and all will be okay. Please show this. I know I probably have no chance for working here after this, I am now jobless, but I want you to show this.

Yesterday I helped bringing up the dead guys to the surface. I cried half a night after this. I overheard the conversation [that] there was five percent of methane, instead of a half-percent. If there is a leak, nobody leaves. They just add some fresh air and keep working. Otherwise, you would lose your job.

In wintertime, the shower has no heating. There are no robes, nothing.

We get [used] like animals. It’s minus 30 outside. You have to wash yourself in cold water, you come out – there is no heating. Your robe gets covered with mold.

You work so hard, you sweat really bad. If you sit down, you are out in the dump for Hr 800 ($80) a month. If you unzip you robe, you also go to the dump, or you have to pay Hr 2,000-Hr 3,000 ($200-$300) [as a bribe] to get better treatment.

They pay kopecks and take back everything they give. I want to tell them, take my robe, take my life, my shoes. What else do you want from me?

The full text is here:

…and here’s a statement by SCM, Rinat Akhmetov’s holding company

That’s why investing into the most modern infrastructure and technology to ensure safe labor is the main task for the holdings’ managers. SCM constantly invests into coal mines’ modernization and labor safety. And will keep investing, to make coal miners’ work safe to the maximum! 

The complete statement is here:

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