Month: January 2012

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.


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

Where to find foreigners in Kyiv

The French: in the French restaurants
The Italians: in the discos/nightclubs
The English: in an Irish Pub
The Germans: anywhere there’s beer
The Turks: Hanging around outside and in shopping centers

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You know you’ve been in Ukraine too long when…

Feeling like a Ukrainian

Feeling like a Ukrainian?

Have you been in Ukraine too long? Have you assimilated, forgotten your native personality and started to behave like a Ukrainian?

Here’s a check-list to help you find out. You know you’ve been in Ukraine too long when…

  1. You put ukrop (dill) on everything. I mean EVERYTHING.
  2. Your not scared of the street dogs.
  3. You know how to shout at taxi-drivers to get a better price.
  4. You have two SIM cards.
  5. Cyrillic doesn’t confuse you.
  6. You understand that if you put your girlfriends handbag on the table or (god forbid) the floor – she will probably leave you.
  7. You have perfected your own borsch recipe.
  8. You can pronounce Dnipropetrovsk without having a seizure.
  9. You walk past a litter bin which is on fire and has flames coming out of it, and you think its normal.
  10. You say ‘pajowlusta’ without thinking when someone says thanks.
  11. You only wear a black jacket in winter and think anyone in a sports jacket must be a foreigner.
  12. You have forgotten that the fur industry is cruel and inhumane and started to think that fur is glamorous.
  13. Unless its +20C you would never let a child out of the house without a hat and gloves.
  14. You want to drive a large 4×4 to make yourself feel like a man.
  15. You start to hate Marshrutkas.
  16. You can drink beer like you used to drink coffee –morning, day and night.
  17. You can eat semki with one hand and finish a whole bag during a 90 minute football game.
  18. You have developed a working system for separating all the Yulias and Marias in your phonebook.
  19. You accept that your date will be 30 minutes late.
  20. You’ve forgotten what a queue is.
  21. You stop calling it PECTOPAH and start calling it a restaurant.
  22. You are able to get on the bus before the babushkas.
  23. You have discovered a certain charm in the absolute rudeness of shop staff
  24. People stop assuming you are a sex tourist
  25. You buy flowers for people and you think its sweet.
  26. You play Mafia and take it seriously.
  27. You love Karaoke.
  28. You can use the squat toilets without having an accident.
  29. You go into an Italian restaurant and expect to be able to order Japanese food.
  30. You have forgotten how to use definitive article.
  31. You look at people’s shoes and make judgments about their personality.
  32. You let yourself wear a vest, white trousers and white shoes.
  33. You boil eggs and make a picnic before you take a train.
  34. You’ve forgotten what the following words are or mean: copyright, eco-friendly, modesty.
  35. You are comfortable sitting naked in the sauna.
  36. You give confusing and contradictory answers like ‘da nijet’, ‘mojit bit da’ and ‘mojit bit nijet’.
  37. You stand still and don’t talk on the metro. In fact, you’ve pretty much stopped any public displays of emotion.
  38. You fear drafts and think you’ll die if you walk on a cold floor without shoes.
  39. You stare at foreigners out of curiosity. Especially people with dark skin.
  40. You’ve stopped trying to teach people that politics and governance can be different
  41. For no obv.ious reason, you know the name of 6 oligarchs.
  42. You do NOT think rules are for breaking, no matter how stupid or petty they are.
  43. You no longer need to be drunk to dance and sing.
  44. You ask complete strangers for a cigarette.
  45. You know what a gopnik is.
  46. You don’t panic or call a plumber when your hot water stops. In fact, you don’t even think twice when the water stops altogether because you know someone  else will fix it.
  47. You keep a large water bottle behind the toilet to flush when there’s no water.
  48. You can walk on anything. Broken paths, ice, half-a-meter of snow – you can keep your balance on anything. If you are a girl, you can walk on anything in high-heels.
  49. Buying a ticket for the train, which once took 2 minutes, now takes you 15 minutes because you have a long discussion with the ticket officer about all possible options and prices.
  50. You can (and do) run down the escalators.
  51. You make your self look ‘beautiful’ whenever you leave the house, even if you are going to buy toilet paper or potatoes from the supermarket.
  52. You speak Russian but think Ukrainian should be the only national language.
  53. You are not surprised by anything and you dismiss everything by shrugging your shoulders and saying ‘its Ukraine’
  54. …and finally, the absolute test of  your ‘Ukrainianess’… you can sit/squat on your feet and smoke for more than two minutes.  This squat (also known as the Ukrainian chair),  is the ultimate test of how Ukrainian someone is. If you can do it, your at least 95% genetically Ukrainian.

Get your slow dance on

Having been a ‘freelancer’ or ‘contract worker’ for as long as I can remember, I’m not normally invited to corporate Christmas parties. In fact, I think the last one I went to was while on my work placement at Nominet when I was at University, and that’s a seriously long time ago.

However, whatever I’ve missed out on over the years was all made up for last night at the MIG/JN1 Corporate party for Christmas/New Year/Hanukkah/Old New Year/Arsenal Kyiv football club’s birthday.

Yeah, I know its a bit late for most of those things, but what can I say? logic doesn’t always apply here in Ukraine.

Anyway, let me try to describe…

Held in a large nightclub, the place was kitted out with all the usual ‘corporate party stuff’ but with the addition of loud nighclub speakers and lots of disco lights.  On each table was wine (two bottles), Champagne, soft-drinks, food, water and two litres of the amusingly-named ‘Status’ vodka. One litre of ‘Platinum’ and one bottle of ‘Black Diamond’, but there was some disagreement over which one was the bestest.

I don’t know what ‘status’ the vodka gives you other than ‘drunk as hell’ but still, you get the idea. The party was, like many thinks in Ukraine, big, loud, colourful and lots of booze was involved.  And, if this wasn’t enough – we had a stage show. No, we had a stage extravaganza! and as everyone around me threw-back more and more vodka, I sat and watched some sadomasochistic Ukrainian girls in skimpy leather leotards wiggling and singing about being ‘Oligarch girls’ – complete with a Janet Jackson nipple-slip incident.

The singing underwear

This was followed by some relatively normal singing until normality went back out the window when some almost-naked g-string wearing ‘dancers’ arrived to dance around, under, over and on-top of a pole.


It was quite a show and it was all interspersed by some bizarrely random comparing and party games which included a showdown between a man with a mullet who had to make a loud horse noise, my colleague Larisa who had to laugh out loud like a demented baby, and Vasya (Woody) the sound engineer who had to make a noise like a Donkey.  After some serious looking mental preparation, Woody won with the loudest human-donkey-orgasm noise I’ve ever heard.

Horse-noise mullet man

Oh, and there was a guy who looked like a chubby David Baddiel who sang loud songs and made everyone do the conga around the tables.

On the screen above the stage, we were treated to a weird selection of Nirvana videos, fish swimming, men playing drums, and occasional English language texts that said stuff like “I’m very bored”.

This wasn’t a dream. Its all 100% true.  …and then the dancing began!

Woody going at it

Now, if you don’t know any Ukrainians, there’s one thing you should know – they love to dance! and, while a singing Gypsy (yes I’m serious) sang a funky bunch of pop songs, his sexy backing dancers and most of my company bounced the night away on the dance floor.

The whole thing was, as my colleague described it ‘relentless’.

But, it was relentless in an entertaining way and also a lot of fun to watch. The food was good and its really nice to see everyone outside of the relative calm of our office.  It was also brilliant to see some good-old-fashioned slow dancing.  I haven’t seen slow dancing since I was at a school disco, but the Ukrainians never gave it up. The UK really needs to bring back slow dancing.

Happy New Year

No prizes for guessing what’s excited Dan and Rahim

JN1 people after too much Status

More ‘official’ photos here

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The awesomeness of borsch, bortsch, borstch, borsh, borshch, борщ!

enjoy today, tomorrow and all week!

Unlike the British Ukrainians have a deep emotional, social, physical and probably metaphysical attachment to soup.

In England, soup generally belongs at the two extremes of our social hierarchy. At the lower end, soup is served to the poor and homeless in ‘soup kitchens’ because its economical,  hot and mostly made from cheap left-overs. At the higher end of the social spectrum soup is the ‘starter’ course in upper-class households where they have both the time and money to eat three-course meals regular basis.   Soup doesn’t really exist for the UK’s middle-class unless its a cuppa-soup (instant soup) which is not real, or as an occasional luxury when they are celebrating or trying to be extravagant or posh.

Not so in Ukraine. Soup here is the cornerstone of any meal and eating/drinking soup is a daily ritual akin to the way the British drink tea.

It should be no surprise therefore, to discover that they are bloody-good at making it!  And, of course, the queen of all Ukrainian soups is the mighty borsch.

In fact, that statement will probably cause outrage among my Ukrainian friends because,  having such a ‘soup’ culture, means that most Ukrainians are as nuanced with soup descriptions and names as the Italians are with coffee. Borsch to them is not soup – its borsch!

However, as a Brit, I’m classifying all liquid foods as ‘soup’ in the same way I classify all coffee as coffee regardless of how big or small it is or how fluffy the milk is.

Anyway, back to the borsch. Borsch is probably best known because of its bright red colour which comes from its key ingredient – beetroot. However, it is much more than just beetroot soup. It may or may not contain meat and it definitely will contain a bundle of other healthy vegetables. This includes carrots, potatoes, onion and the other Ukrainian favourite – cabbage.

It is often finished with parsley or dill and served with garlic bread and a dollop of sour-cream. Its delicious.

Personally, I’ll eat borsch however it comes. With meat (pork, beef or chicken), without meat, and with or without anything else. If its hot, red and tastes mostly of beetroot – I’ll eat it.  However, when I’m cooking it – I’m almost exclusively vegetarian borsch man. There’s two reasons for this. The first is called Dasha and she was my vegetarian housemate and the second is time. Cooking borsch with meat requires a level of dedication and preparation which I lack in the kitchen and in most other things in life.

Nevertheless, while it is easier – cooking vegetarian borsch is still suitably rewarding, its delicious, and once you’ve cooked it, you can live on it for days.

So, without further ado, here is the world exclusive guide to cooking Bearder’s spicy vegetarian Ukrainian borsch(ish) 

To make Bearders’s spicy vegetarian Ukrainian borsch(ish)  you will need:

  • 2 or 3 potatoes
  • two medium sized carrots
  • one large or, preferably two smallish beetroots. For some reason, I think borsch always looks and tastes better if you combine two beetroots.
  • One medium sized or two small onions (any type)
  • Two or three garlic gloves
  • Tomato puree
  • A cabbage
  • Two carrots
  • A single red chili-pepper
  • A pepper (red or yellow, it doesn’t matter – everything in borsch ends up red!)
  • Water (about two liters) or ‘stock’ if you’re some kinda master chef.
  • Salt and pepper
  • A bay leaf or two if you have any.

Optional extras to garnish and eat the soup with:

  • Garlic bread
  • Fresh herbs
  • Sour cream

NB: If you’re in Ukraine, you’ll probably find all of these things on a street corner near your house. If that fails, walk to a metro station and look for the babushka’s. They’ll fix you up with everything you need.

Also, all veg should be as dirty and ugly as possible. There’s no place for translucent supermarket carrots in my borsch.

OK. Here’s what to do…

1. Get the ingredients

Get everything ready

2. Peel and chop the potatoes into small chunks.

Chop the potatoes into small bits - its easy

3. Put the chopped potato pieces into a large pan. Fill it with about 2 litres of water, add salt, cover and turn up the heat. Basically, put the spuds on to boil.

boil the potatoes

4. Now start on the other veg. First the onions. Chop them up into REALLY small pieces and then add them to a frying pan with a good splash of oil. Not having enough oil normally means they will burn.  Fry on a low heat.

don't cry

Also don't turn the heat up too high or they will burn

5. Now you have about 10 minutes to get everything else ready. Start with the chili-pepper. Chop it into very small pieces and throw it in with the onion.

6. Add ground herbs and/or garlic to the onion and chilli and, if you want, chop and add the garlic too. Stir it all up and let it fry while you prepare the red stuff.

7. First ‘shave’ or peel the beetroot removing the crusty outside layer, but leaving the bottom knot.  You should have red fingers after this so be careful what you touch.

Peel or 'shave' the beetroot

8. Great the beetroot(s) with a cheese grater. Now you should look like you have committed murder.

You should look like you've murdered someone

9. Add the grated beetroot to the pan, mix it all up and fry it.

Add the beetroot to the onion and fry

10.  Peel and grate the carrots and chop the cabbage.

Grate the carrot and chop the cabbage

11. Throw the carrots, cabbage and (if you didn’t fry it ) the garlic in with the boiling potatoes

Add the carrot and the cabbage to the boiling potatoes

12. Add two big spoons of tomato purée to the beetroot mix and fry it for another 5-10 minutes until the whole thing is a soft sticky red mess. If needed you can add a little water to help.

fry the beetroot etc until it is soft and pasty

13. Throw the red sticky stuff in with the boiling vegetable stuff.  Give it a good stir, cover it and let it simmer for 20-minutes

Throw it ALL into the pan, cover and boil

14. While you’re waiting, clean the sink, wash up and chop some parsley

Sinks are the best place for catching peelings

15. After half an hour, turn off the heat, and serve-up your tasty spicy borsch. Add the parsley and a big dollop of sour cream.

Add parsley, salt and pepper (if needed) and sour cream

16. Eat the tasty borsh and be happy. Repeat tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day etc until the borsch is gone. You be as fit as a Ukrainian.

enjoy today, tomorrow and all week!

Video: The Pushcha-Voditsa forest tram

The Pushcha-Voditsa tram was described by one online nutcase as ‘the most incredible tram journey in the world’. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is quite cool. It leaves Kyiv and chugs off through some forests before arriving at a small, sleep yet beautiful spa town.

Kyiv trams were built in Czechoslovakia in the bronze age, they are almost always driven by tough looking women, they are cold, they are uncomfortable and they are slow. However, this just adds to the experience.

You can read more about the journey and the town here and view more pictures here.


The tube

The …?

Ukrainians will pose next to anything

Ghost town, somewhere in Podil 

Pub Rock 

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