Month: November 2011 (Page 1 of 3)

Why do Ukrainians fear drafts?

A few weeks ago my eye started to hurt. Actually, it was the bottom part of my eyelid – the soft part where tears well and where flies always end up if they get into your eye.

It wasn’t a bad pain, but I kept rubbing it and it swelled up a bit and went red. It was a small infection and it looked funny.

However, the funniest thing about my eye infection wasn’t my puffy face, it was the ‘medical’ advice I recieved from my well-meaning and genuinely concerned Ukrainian friends.

Apparently, in Ukraine, small eye infections can be ‘cured’ in the following ways:

  • holding a hot egg against it
  • eating bread crusts in the toilet
  • Some kind of Ukrainian voodoo spell performed by an old woman
  • washing it with tea
  • taking a thread (preferably white) and tie it around the middle and ring fingers (fix with a knot) on the hand opposite to the side where you have the infection. Then bury the thread.
  • Strapping up (criss-crossed) two fingers (third and fourth finger after thumb) on the opposite hand

You don’t believe me? well, I can’t confirm or deny any of these medical ‘facts’ because I walked across to the pharmacy, pointed at my eye and said ‘u menya yest problema’ (I have a problem) in my best Russian accent and walked away with some ointment.   This seemed to fix the problem in less than 48 hours.

However, the episode did inspire me to gather as much info as possible on Ukrainian medical advice, beliefs and fears. Trust me, there are many.  I will write them up as soon as I have all the info.

In the meantime, here’s a great article about drafts. Yes, those deadly breezes that Slavic people fear so much. It was posted by a guy called Christopher who’s living in Eastern Ukraine. You can read the original here.

Why do Ukrainians fear drafts?

Ukrainian drafts can kill you. Seriously

Last summer, in the August heat, I was on a bus with two other volunteers on our way to visit our friend in Novaazovsk. People were packed into this bus like sardines in a can, many standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the aisle way.

The three of us occupied most of the rear bench seat. The temperature outside was somewhere near 40 degrees, putting the temperature on the bus somewhere near an unbearable 43 degrees. The trip would take about five hours.

The minimal free-flowing air on the bus came from a ceiling vent positioned near the front. It felt like our only lifeline. Leaning toward the center of the bus, into the airstream of that vent, was all I could do to keep from inhaling what felt like everyone else’s exhalations.

An hour into the trip, the vent was shut, my lifeline closed. Hot, moist, stagnant air. I felt panicky, overwhelmed with a feeling similar to that of being trapped under a dense pillow. Slow suffocation.

I wasn’t sure during the bus ride, when the woman closed the overhead vent, why someone would choose to cut off the only fresh air supply to a bus full of sweaty, overheated people.

Later, I told the story to a Ukrainian friend of mine. What she said to me made very little sense to this American.

“A cross breeze can make you ill,” she said. “It’s called skvazniak.” It might be an old Ukrainian superstition, but a lot of people believe it can make you sick and lead to death.”

Death? I was shocked. Letting your hair blow in the wind while driving down the highway is what many Americans live for. I looked forward to doing that very thing each summer while cruising Oregon’s Highway 101, tracing the curves of the Pacific coastline, chasing the sun.

I guess that doesn’t cross over into this culture.


In the same vein as skvazniak is the idea that drinking cold water will make you ill.

In America, we prefer our drinks cold, often times with ice in them. Iced tea, iced lemonade and iced coffee are just a few examples.

In my time in Ukraine, I can recall seeing ice just once (the kind used in drinks, not the stuff that forms on the streets in winter, which there is plenty of) and it was when I was at the apartment of another American volunteer. Her parents had sent an ice cube tray to her as a gift.


To my surprise, as miserable as it was, I didn’t die on that bus. In fact, no one did – not from heatstroke, or skvazniak.

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t prove whether gusts of wind can cause illness, just like I can’t prove that when that woman closed the vent on the bus she saved my life. All I know is that I haven’t died from driving in my car with the windows down yet. Perhaps I just have a strong immune system.

These are crazy days, but they make me shine

The postman delivered a parcel this week. It was sent from Wales with a book and six chocolate bars inside. It arrived with no book and no chocolate. The postman posted me an envelope. Thanks postman.

This morning a small street-dog walked onto the bus. He sat down and waited 5 stops and then got-off at Lukianivka metro. He didn’t pay. 
This afternoon I provided a voice-overs for the Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 
The girl who comes to my gym with no bra and a see-thru top has returned. 
Artema Street last night 
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Back to black

Every year as Ukrainian bursts into colour for its autumnal display of reds, oranges, yellows and browns, the Ukrainians do the exact opposite. Almost everyone retreats into their winter uniform of black.

In fact, the contrast between summer and autumn Ukrainian fashion is almost as striking at the contrast between seasons. By early November, their ‘anything goes’ approach to fashion and colour is replaced with black leather jackets, black fur jackets, black gloves and (of course) a black hat.

A few bold (maybe crazy) citizens buck the trend and opt for a dark grey or even a deep brown, but you wont see many yellows, oranges and reds. These are tree-only coulors in cold Ukraine.

The strange thing is, many Ukrainians are crazy about Skiing and most of them probably own a bright coloured and toasty-warm ski jacket. However, unlike in the rest of Europe, you wont see Ukrainians wearing these during the week. In fact, I made the mistake of wearing my bright-blue ski jacket to work a few times last year (because its lightweight and 100% waterproof) and I was quickly held to account. Why are you wearing a sports jacket? my colleague asked as if I was crazy.

1980’s shell-suits, white trousers and white shoes, mustaches and mullets, leather waistcoats and leopard skin anything are all acceptable fashion choices in summertime Ukraine, but bright jackets in winter? God forbid.

The best places to watch this seasonal spectacular is probably Kiev Metro, however if you’re not in Ukraine or you don’t like to leave the house. Here are some photos as proof…

…oh, and yes – of course I have a black jacket 🙂

State Air Museum

Have you every wanted to see a MiG-28 do a 4G negative dive?

Well, you can’t because MiG 28’s don’t exist. However, the State Air Museum of Ukraine does and it is paradise for Top Gun movie fans, plane enthusiasts, and everyone else in Kiev with some time to kill.

The museum is actually located on the same airfield as Kiev’s Zhulanay airport in the south East of the city (see map below) but you’ll need to find the museum entrance because its different from the main airport. The address is: 1,  Medova street, Kiev, Ukraine, 03048,

What’s there? well, lots of planes, helicopters and missiles.

Ukraine today may not be wealthy, but this country has a rich history of military innovation and the USSR built some amazing flying machines. This is the place to see them.

The museum is all outdoors, so choose a nice day to visit (or take your hat and gloves) and if you plan to stay for along time take some food and drinks because I didn’t see anywhere there to buy any.

Oh, and this day trip wont break the bank because it cost about 10UAH – that’s about 1 Euro.

State Air Museum, Ukraine

State Air Museum, Ukraine

State Air Museum, Kiev

State Air Museum, Kiev

State Air Museum, Kiev

State Air Museum, Kiev

For a more detailed explanation about the planes on show, follow this link

To see a lot more pictures, follow this link.

Gallery: Trukhaniv Island

Trukhaniv Island, Kiev

Bang in the center of Kiev is this beautifully undeveloped forest island. Walk, talk, cycle or enjoy a picnic on the beach and forget that you’re in the middle of a city of 5 million people.

Gallery: City at Night

Kiev city by night

Monkey business

Amazing as this might sound, many Ukrainians actually open bananas from the wrong end!

I mean, they turn the banana upside down, ignore the stem (accepted by most of the world to be the part that opens the banana) and then open the fruit from the closed end. – the bit without the handle!!!

How do you open yours?

Bananas: How do you open yours?

The first time I saw this I thought it was a joke, or perhaps I was watching a crazy person?. Well, No. As time has passed I’ve watched in amazement as many other Ukrainians have done the same thing. There really is no ‘right’ way to open a banana in Ukraine.

Maybe its a anarchistic statement, a complete rejection of the dominant social order. Or perhaps its a subtle rejection of communism – I just don’t know, but its barmy.

If you’re in Ukraine, take a look, you might witness this crazy behaviour yourself.

Fall off the table, get swept under

Hot on the heels of my professional TV début, I made another début this week in print in Kyiv’s ‘What’s On’ magazine.

This isn’t the first time I’ve appeared in print because I edited text for the European Business Associations weekly adverts for almost a year (not to mention my full page spread in Slovenia’s Anja magazine) but as far as I can remember this is the 1st time I have willingly contributed directly to the creative content of a publication.

It’s a modest start, but still I wanted to find a copy to keep as a souvenir, so I used this as an excuse for an expensive breakfast in Vernisage.  Of course they had a copy and as I thumbed through the magazine over breakfast, I came across an interview by a guy called Martin Nunn – a PR executive and long-time immigrant here in Kyiv. I liked it for two reasons:

Firstly because it is hard not to agree with many of his observations about Ukraine, Ukrainians and Russians. Such as:

“Russians, particularly Moscow-based Russians, tend to have a glorified opinion of their own superiority.”


“…the roads [in Ukraine] are in a terrible state, but instead of fixing them people buy bigger jeeps. If you go into the tower blocks, the apartments themselves are beautiful, but the communal areas are in a terrible state. It’s this crazy mentality. You have people wearing very expensive clothes, and very expensive shoes, with very expensive cars, walking through some of the worst states of decay I’ve ever seen, into these mini-palaces. Nobody’s doing anything about the gap in between because nobody thinks it’s their responsibility. Until people realise it is their responsibility, nothing will change. The only people going to save the country is the people themselves.”

Secondly, because he picks up on the shockingly bad state of the countries PR industry, or more specifically political relations.

“The PR people in government have done more damage to the image of the President than anyone else. There’s a supreme arrogance in the way they work, and it’s probably been one of the most deplorable cases of non-PR I’ve ever experienced”

If you have any doubt how bad it is, read their ‘newsletter’ here. It embarrasses me and I’m not even Ukrainian.

Anyway, I ‘Googled’ him and found another interesting article from Mr Nunn here If you’re curious and have nothing better to do, I recommend it.

As for me and my media fame, I’m currently working on a plan to move from free magazines to Hollywood film stardom.

I’ll keep you posted.


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Video: Fairy tale of Troeshina

A Ukrainian woman has transformed her depressed Soviet-style floor into a fairy tale. The 13th floor of house 26 in Kiev’s dormintory subburb of Troeshina attracts many visitors. Some are horrified by the scene, others impressed.

Gallery: Kiev

Scenes and shots from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

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