Month: March 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Man’s best friend

Ukrainian Dog Fetches Vodka

Speed is no substitute for style

Train travel in eastern Europe might not be fast, but for those who have time it remains one of the most rewarding travel experiences on the continent.

Unlike train systems in western Europe which were built with efficiency and profit in mind, the whole system in the former socialist states was built with two far simpler goals: employ people and transport people.

Unrestricted by space or time, Ukraine’s train system, like many others in eastern Europe is expansive, inexpensive and generally wholly enjoyable.

Wagons wait at the starting station about one hour before departing, cabins have heating, hot water, an ‘attendant’ and beds, and the journey itself is a leisurely slow meander through the vast expanses of greenery interspersed with villages and shady looking old factories.  However, anyone who’s ever been on one of these journeys  knows that it is inside that counts. The cabin culture makes Ukrainian train travel so special.

Depending on your ticket type, you will be stuck with one or three fellow passengers in one small compartment. Or, if you choose for a cheaper ticket (platskart), you’ll share your living and sleeping place with around 60 other people. (see foto, courtesy of Google)

Dutch writer Geert Mak describes one such journey in his 2004 best seller ‘In Europe’…

“Inside the compartment it is the very picture of conviviality. The professional busybody assigned to our carriage shooed me and Pete and settled down in the last compartment. Why would she want to be anywhere else? Her whole life is laid out in her home on wheels, with coloured cushions, flowers, her own curtains, an icon on the wall and a singing kettle on the stove. Always on the road.

Our first-class compartment is also like a salon, with two velveteen pull-out beds, red draperies, white lace curtains and plastic flowers on the table.

The train pulls away, outside there is nothing but Russian countryside, here and there a chimney, from the speakers the soft sound of Russian songs, and quite soon the day begins to fade…”

…and that’s exactly how I like my train travel.

Furthermore, as you wind away the hours drinking beer, eating boiled eggs or smoking with your train friends – you start to learn the culture of the country. People will tell you their life story, share food (and occasionally vodka) with you and ask endless personal questions about your life and your family. You see how and what they eat, how they drink. You can befriend a village grandmother, a young soilder or a student travelling home to see her mama. You have time, you have company and you have little else to do but talk.

However, all this is set to change with the recent arrival of two Hyundai Rotem fast trains, recently delivered to Odessa. The two are part of a pack of six South Korean trains that will transport football fans during the European football championships, and with a speed 160 km per hour they will diminish the travel time between the hosting cities by almost 50 percent. (foto below: courtesy  of the Port of Odessa, Alexey Stecuchenko)

The Korean trains are seen a blessing by many in Ukraine (a step into modernity), but for many (call us old-school romantics) they are a nail in the coffin of train travel. The old trains run as a thread though Soviet history, and they are a lovable window into a time gone by.

The new Hyundai’s will be equipped with wifi, connecting people with the outside of the carriage, and with a reduction in travel time comes less time to talk. Less time in a good old style soviet train.

If you have time, and you’d like to explore train travel in Ukraine, I recommend you read the following two stories. Both do a wonderful job of capturing the spirit (both good and bad) of train travel in the year 2012.

Every train ride, a roll of the dice, by Christopher Miller

“The drunk deaf boy squirmed and moaned in his aisle-side bunk above the devoutly religious woman with the white head wrap, who was sleeping below. His three friends had literally thrown him up there just five minutes earlier, then they went to have a cigarette in the back of the wagon…more” 


Crimea I – Marriage agency, by Patrick Evans

“I’m heading to Crimea for a couple of days. Into the coupé compartment bustles a sturdy 40-something shrouded in a garlicky aroma and dressed in skintight leggings, her hair pulled back pragmatically into a pony-tail. Her eyes immediately light onto mine…more

Ukraine A-Z

K. The Klitchko Brothers (undisputed champions of the world)

A. Allo (алло). ‘ring…ring…алло! …MAma, privet!’
B. Beetroot and Borsch (Ukraine’s famous, tasty and much-loved contribution to global cuisine)
C. Corruption (the thorn in Ukraine’s side) and Crimea (the diamond in Ukraine’s crown)
D. Dnipro (the mighty river that brings life to Ukraine) and Devushki (the girls. There are lots of them and they are all wonderful, even the old babushkas who keep the country alive)
E. Euro (EURO 2012, euro-repair, euro-quality, euro-style… you can’t avoid euro-fanaticism in Ukraine)
F. Flowers & Fish (from the modern sushi to the old dried-fish-with-beer, Ukrainians love to eat aquatic animals. They also love flowers more than life itself)
G = H (Gary Potter, Gollywood, Gamburger etc)  …and gopniks (chavs)
H. High Heels.
I. Inquisitiveness. The curiosity and intrigue of Ukrainian’s means you’re likely to answer a lot of questions about a lot of things.
J . Jews and Jingoism (the two are not related)
K. The Klitchko Brothers (undisputed champions of the world) and Kitschy (the default national style)
L. Leopard skin patterns (on everything AND its still cool)
M. Marshrutkas and the Metro (small yellow minibuses and the metro/subway/underground)
N. Na kortochkah (squatting)
O. Oleg, Olga and the Oligarchy
P. Pedestrians vs Parking vs Pavements
Q. Queuing …the complete absence of. (Ukraine’s communists queued, Ukraine’s capitalists wouldn’t dream of it)
R. Remont (repair)
S. Smoking, Salo, Semki and Steppes
T. Taras Shevchenko (The poet and the 1 million things named after him)
U. Ukrop (Dill. They eat this like they breath air)
V. Vanity, vodka and Vkontake (Russian Facebook)
W. Wine. Much of it is impressively tasty and wonderfully inexpensive.
X. хорошо (horosho, its Russian for ‘ok’ and given the number of times you’ll hear this word – almost everything in Ukraine is ‘OK’)
Y.Yanukovych (the president), Yushchenko (the ex-president) and Yulia Tymoshenko (the wannabe president who the elected president doesn’t like).
Z. Zjtoni (little tokens for the metro)

Mini Look Kiev

MiniLook Kiev from threeshot on Vimeo.

Created by Efim Graboy & Daria Turetski

Music: Adam Burns / Jez Burns – May Flowers

“Because of our sentiments to the city and the incoming spring, we bring you a miniature day in a life of Kiev.”

The Making:
“We shot MiniLook Kiev with Canon 550D, during 5 days and 2 nights, shoted over 25,000 frames,
from all of them we used about 4,500. The post-production was the hardest part of the creation, it took us a few good months, but finally it’s done!”

How to: use the metro in Kiev

Kiev’s metro (subway) system can be quite intimidating, especially if you’re new to Ukraine, don’t speak the local language and can’t read cyrillic.

However, fear not because it is actually a very cheap, convenient, fast, safe and reliable way to travel around the city.

First, you will need to find a station, then you will need to access it, then you will need to locate and get to your stop. This guide will help you get there and will take the pain out of underground travel – Ukrainian style.

The full guide is available below, but first here’s some basic information and a short history of the metro system.

1. It was first proposed in 1916, put on hold during WWII (known at the Great Patriotic War here in Ukraine) and then restarted in 1949. Eleven years later, in 1960, the first line opened running from the central train station to the river.

2.  At the end of 2010 the Kiev Metro was using 774 individual carriages.

3. There are three lines. Red, Blue and Green. The lines cross each other in a triangle in the city centre. See the map.

4. The cost of a token/ticket is just 2 hrivna! (approximately 20 Euro cents). You pay once and you can travel as far as you like. You only repay if you leave the metro system and want to re-enter.

You can switch lines where they cross in the city centre. Also, ignore the dotted lines, they don't exist yet.

How To: Use the Metro in Kiev

The guide has the following sections

1. Finding the metro
2. Accessing the Metro
3. On the platform
4. Boarding and train etiquette
5. Leaving the train and the platform


1. Finding the metro. 

To find the entrance to the metro, look for the big green M.

The ‘M’ marks the stairs that lead underground, but be aware that there is often a busy collection of kiosks, tunnels, cash machines (ATMs) and grandma’s selling stuff like bread or knickers before you get to the metro itself.

2. Accessing the metro 

Enter > buy a ticket > get through the gates

Your first big challenge will be the swinging doors that guard the metro. These glass and metal doors swing (fast) in both directions, they are  heavy enough to kill a bear and unless you’re old, it is unlikely that the person in front of you will hold the door open for you.  So, just be ready and be careful to catch the thing as it swings back in your face.

TIP: If you’re clever, you can pass the door as the wind coming from the station blows it open, or as it swings open after the last person entered. However, both of these are advanced metro skills and shouldn’t be tried in your first week.

There are two sets of doors for each station. One set to enter (вхід) and one to exit (вихід). Can you see the difference? No?  Well, don’t worry, I still have trouble remembering the difference.

Enter (вхід)
Exit (вихід)

four letters = enter
five letters = exit

To make life more difficult, вхід (enter) is often written in red, while вихід (exit) can be written in green – but not always.  Hopefully they’ll fix all this before the EURO 2012 championships, but if they don’t the best thing to do is follow everyone else and try not to enter a door that people are walking out from.

 Buying a ‘ticket’ 

Actually you need a token or ‘zjeton’. These are small plastic coins and you need one token to enter.

A token costs 2 UAH and there are three ways to buy them.

1. Go to the window, give the woman your money and indicate the number of tokens you need with your fingers

2. Go to the small orange dispenser machines. It the dispenser has a 2 on it, enter 2 UAH and you’ll get one coin. If the dispenser has a 10 on it, enter a 10 UAH and you’ll get 5 coins.  NB, the machines only accept the exact notes. If you try to enter anything but a 2 or 10 you will get nowhere and people will get annoyed with you.

3. Use the new touch screen terminals that they have just installed. If you can understand the English – good luck to you.

TIP: For the benefit of everyone, please have your money ready BEFORE you get to the window or the machine. If you don’t you’ll get a lot of frustrated sighs.
TIP: The small blue tokens make for very cheap souvenirs

Go through the gates

Ukrainian access gates are the exact opposite of English gates.  The token goes in the right side, and you walk through the LEFT side. I repeat, token right, body left.

Its also wise to leave a 1 second pause before you enter to give the token time to register. Listen for the beep.

If you don’t do this, or you forget the token altogether the turnstile wont open (if it has a turnstile) or an angry barrier will shoot-out from both sides and squash you.

Assuming, you get through OK – Congratulations! you’re in the system.

Now get down to the platform.

Usually, this means a trip on a long and fast escalator, but don’t worry – you’ll survive it. I’ve seen 90-year-old bag-carrying women get onto those escalators and blind people. They move fast, but the steps are quite big so don’t be scared.

3. On the platform

Once you’re on the platform, you’ve made it. All you need to do is wait by the correct side (one side for each direction) and then wait for the Metro train.

Unlike the London Underground, each station serves one line. So, one side of the platform goes in one direction, the other side goes in the opposite direction. Its simple.

By the time you arrive here in Kiev, you should find that each station has a name and a number. If you don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, I would use the numbers because the names can be hard to say.  However, if you are asking for a station, you will need to know the name. The station numbers are new and have been introduced in March 2012. They don’t mean anything to the locals who live here.

4. Boarding and train etiquette


Getting on or off the train can be fun and/or annoying because Ukrainians do not like to wait. They will try to get on the train before you have time to get off and they will push straight past you in order to get on first.

You’ll encounter this ‘me first’ attitude a lot in Ukraine where in other countries you might expect a queue. However, try not to get angry. Ukrainians are often pushy, but they are very rarely (if ever) violent. Just accept that they don’t queue, and join in the fun.

Also, don’t expect to get on the train before any middle-aged or old women. They will push there way on before you. Get over it.

On the train

If you’re lucky you’ll have space to breath or even a seat, but its unlikely. Normally you’ll need to stand, squeezed firmly in the middle of a crowd of train ‘friends’ .

To keep these train friends happy, try to remember these three rules:

1. give up your seat for old people, for people with kids (even if the kid is old enough to stand) and for couples. Yes, the last one is strange, but you’ll love it when someone moves so you can sit by your lover.

2. Don’t move or talk too much. Ukrainians are very well behaved in public, and they like it when other people are too. Joking loudly with your friends or waving your arms during conversation is frowned upon. Talking or moving is not illegal, but its not encouraged either.

3. Don’t stand on peoples shoes. Shoes are a big deal in Ukraine, a very big deal. You have been warned 🙂

Finally, please note how clean and tidy the metro stations are. They are meticulously cared for and regularly cleaned by hand. Ukrainians almost never drop litter inside the metro system and you shouldn’t either. If you have any rubbish, hold onto it until you exit the station, there are bins next to each entrance and exit.

5. Leaving the train and the platform

When you get to your platform, gently push your way off the train, try not to hit the people who are trying to get on the train (as you’re still getting off)  and look for your exit/вихід.

6. Useful info

Here’s the best map of the Metro network

The head office is located on, Prospekt Pobedy 35, next to the “Polytechnic Institute” metro station on the red line.

You can call them on:
+38 (044) 238-58-55
+38 (044) 238-58-98
+38 (044) 238-58-73

Read More

Follow the floor


There’s an interesting trend in Kiev of ‘floor advertising’.

It is not uncommon to see yellow or white painted messages advertising business, taxis and even yoga classes!

If you follow the cute little aeroplanes on Artema street, you’ll find your way to Aeropub – a charming little pub which sells good Guiness.

Moving Pictures from the USSR. Part 2

Here it is, part 2 of my brief and uneducated exploration of animation from the USSR.

First up, we have Slow Bistro. The name is (I assume intentionally) ironic because the word ‘Bistro’ comes from the Russian word ‘bistra’ which means ‘quick’ …the video is amusingly abstract and it reminds me of so many Bearder family dinners. This one could quite easily be about Bicester School.

Next we have the funny and beautifully well defined Masyanya. What can I say? – I know many-many Masyanyas.

Here we have some more modern (web-type) animations called ‘Vs’ …they short, simple, stupid and have cool sound effects. You can watch loads more on youtube.

Back to the oldskool stuff, we have “Prostokvashino or Buttermilk Village which is set in a a fictional rural village in Moscow Oblast of Russia (Russian: Простоквашино, from простоквашa, prostokvasha, buttermilk). Due to immense popularity of the cartoon the geographic name came into real life, and some Russian villages and city neighborhoods got this unofficial name, sometimes reflected in the names of bus stops, stores etc.”

The cartoon also captures the Russian/Ukrainian personalities perfectly. Proof (if ever you need it) that woman rule this part of the world and will always get what they want …after a tantrum 😉
I see the cat grinning at me every morning from the label on my milk bottle.

Magic flower” (1948). The stuff that Soviet dreams are made of…

There are singing cats (and noisy people) in ‘Cat Concert’

and finally, here’s a powerfully simple look at war from a country that’s been subject to an awful lot of it.

Getting Gonta. By Alex Frishberg. Part 2

Getting Gonta is a story, written for by Alex Frishberg.

Based on a true story, Alex tells the tale of two Ukrainian friends who set off across the globe to rescue their beloved Gonta.  This is the second of part in a three part series. Read part 1 here.



The voyage from Vladivostok to Australia began innocently enough. The longliner Volga was a rust-streaked, run-down looking vessel, yet it carried the latest, the most sophisticated communications equipment. It slowly moved along the rugged, fir-trimmed coastline, passing remote villages.

Through the Sea of Japan their ship sailed to the East China Sea, then from the Philippine Sea to the Indian Ocean, crossing the equator, towards their final desination, Australia. Delivering their daily catch to tiny, unlit ports of questionable repute, they worked long days in harsh weather and slept the rest of the time, without an opportunity to go ashore. Naturally, Nikolai and Alexei did not recall the string of exotic Asian ports the ship had visited on their voyage to Patagonia: Pusan, Nagasaki, Hong Kong, Manila, Davao.

While living on Volga, Nikolai and Alexei learned just how difficult a fisherman’s life really was. Soaked by waves of frigid ocean water and blasted by wind chill below zero, it was truly hard labor. Cold, noise and stress were an integral part of the fisherman’s daily routine. In fact, the only respite from work was in their turbulent bunks or in the stifling galleys, where men would gulp a few shots of vodka between shifts. Otherwise, for Alexei the waking hours consisted of cooking tasteless meals, while Nikolai would be buried in the engine room with homemade ear-plugs sticking out of his head. The rare glimpses of the ocean were anything but majestic. Every day, the same steel-gray, dreary sky and dark, murky water.

Eventually Volga cleared the bottom of the Indian Ocean after bucking weeks of gale-force head winds, just so that Alexei and Nikolai could get to sunny, warm Australia. Instead, they ended up drifting endlessly in the choppy, freezing waters of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

For those who have never been there before, the Southern Ocean is the ring of ocean that circles Antarctica. Its greatest depth is around four kilometres. Very few boats tend to venture out this far. And that is precisely where the captain wanted to be: near the Heard Island and McDonald Islands, those barren and uninhabited isles that lie in Sub-Antarctic waters on the little-known Kerguelen Plateau about four thousand kilometres south-west of the Australian continent.

Pristine and remote, they have no indigenous culture or population. In fact, no human had ever seen these islands until 1853, when an American sealer, Captain John Heard, accidentally spotted one of the islands while sailing from Boston to Melbourne on a mission to kill lots of seals. He reported the discovery and, thus, the island was named after him. Six weeks later Captain William McDonald similarly discovered the nearby McDonald Islands, thereby immortalizing himself, too.

To this very day, Heard and McDonald islands have the least disturbed sub-Antarctic environment on earth. And the freezing ocean water around them is home of the Patagonian toothfish, a delicacy also known as Chilean Sea Bass. Technically speaking, the Patagonian toothfish is not even related to the sea bass family. Rather, it is a demersal species found at the sea bottom, primarily off islands in the southern oceans close to Antarctica, like Heard and McDonalds territories. As it happens, the toothfish are one of the largest species of fish occurring in the Antarctic, reaching 7 feet in length and up to 220 pounds in weight, and they often live up to 50 years in deep water, until they are caught on longlines by poachers.

The delicious and lucrative toothfish is so highly prized among the pirate community that it’s branded ‘white gold’ by industrial long-range fishing fleets. In fact, a full catch is often worth more than the sophisticated long-line fishing vessels like Volga that poach them. The high market value, together with the remoteness of the fishing grounds and lack of surveillance, provided ideal circumstances for Volga’s poaching.

Day after day, the exhausted fishermen would drop countless longlines, which are baited and barbed fishing lures attached to monofilament line, set two kilometers down into the icy ocean to catch the coveted Patagonian toothfish. A longline that is used to catch this fish can stretch for more then a dozen miles and carry more then 15,000 baited hooks. While hunting after the precious toothfish, Volga’s long-range fishing lines would inevitably capture an array of wild-looking creatures from the deep waters: rabbitfish, sea-bat, snotfish and even hagfish, which suffocates its prey with slime. Most exotic of all to Nikolai and Alexei, however, was the monster squid that was accidentally caught on one of the deep-sea longlines. The whole crew got to see it.

The colossal squid tried to swim away with its muscular fins, using its big funnel for powerful jet propulsion, but it was a futile fight. With a great struggle the crew lanced the animal and then maneuvered it into their net and painstakingly hauled it aboard—a two-hour process—leaving it limp on the deck for all to see. And what a sight it was!

“Holy shit!” the men would gasp, staring at the deadly deep-ocean giant.
“So all those stories were true,” Nikolai whispered to Alexei, as if the squid would overhear him.
“What stories?”
“That this thing would capsize entire ships and then swallow all the people alive. Just look at it!”

By this time, Alexei and Nikolai were used to the countless albatross and other seabirds that drown on these baited lines, but the landing of that colossal squid, a massive monster weighing 990 pounds, was rather disturbing. The sheer size of the beast overwhelmed everyone because it was a frightening glimpse into the mysterious world deep beneath the waves, awaiting any unfortunate sailor that accidentally ends up overboard. Indeed, the gigantic squid was a very impressive, fearsome sight. It had eyes as wide as dinner plates and larger than a blue whale’s, a sharp slicing beak and a tongue covered in sharp teeth.

Its eight arms and two long feeding tentacles were armed with toothed suckers and sharp hooks. It was the stuff sea legends were made of, a genuine monster of the deep. Nobody on board slept that night, knowing that other creatures like him were waiting in the waters right below them.

* * *

By now, Alexei and Nikolai had lived deep in the Southern Ocean for weeks, wearing wet foul-weather gear. They slept in cold cabins dripping with condensation, moist with seawater that somehow found a way in. Eventually it became clear to Alexei and Nikolai that the captain had no intention of coming anywhere near Australia, though they could not figure out why. To be so close to Gonta, and not to be able to get her, was simply unbearable.

At night, as Volga rocked heavily in the powerful gusts of wind, they would fall asleep, dreaming of different ways to reach their destination. Yet no practical solutions would come to mind, other than to simply jump off at the very next port and hope to find work on anything that sailed towards Australia. Admittedly, it was not a very good plan, but it was all Nikolai and Alexei could come up with.



One day, an Australian survey vessel accidentally spotted the Russian-flagged longliner fishing in Australia’s exclusive economic zone near the McDonald and Heard Islands. It promptly alerted the Australian Maritime Patrol and Response Unit within the Enforcement Operations Branch of Customs, which was designed specifically to combat illegal foreign fishing in Australia’s northern and southern waters. Of course, Triton came to the rescue as fast as its powerful engines would allow. Triton was a large armed patrol and response vessel, the Customs’ latest acquisition. It was operated by a civilian crew of fourteen and carried twenty eight heavily armed Customs Boarding Party officers.

The Triton was accompanied by the Oceanic Viking, a vessel used to conduct armed patrols of the Southern Ocean year-round in virtually all weather conditions. The 105-meter Oceanic Viking was fitted with two deck mounted 0.50 calibre machine guns and had a fully equipped medical center. Naturally, it carried an extra crew that was capable of sailing any apprehended vessel. It also had a so-called “Boarding Party” of specially trained Customs officers, armed with loaded guns, ready to fire anytime.

As soon as Volga’s captain noticed Australian ships on the horizon, he knew that he was in very big trouble. An arrest of his vessel meant that litigation costs would eat away his share of the profits, not those of Volga’s owners. An old, crusty sailor, who perpetually reeked of cheap vodka, the captain screamed over the intercom to the engine room, slurring his words, “let’s get the fuck out of here! On the double!”
“Yes, Captain,” Nikolai replied, gunning the engines to the hilt. It took several minutes for Volga to begin slowly moving forward, away from the authorities.
“Faster, faster, go, go, go!” the Captain yelled to Nikolai. “Move it, you bastard!”

The captain had no fear before man or God, and he valiantly pulled out all the stops to make a run for the Island of Mauritius. From personal experience the captain knew that Mauritius always turned a blind eye to pirate boats landing their illegal catch in its port. It was his only chance, so the captain went for it.

Indeed, Mauritius is one of the major trans-shipment points of illegally caught toothfish to markets around the world, followed by Namibia, Uruguay and, increasingly, Indonesia. Like the others, it does not officially report the volume value and destination of its toothfish exports, but anyone in the business knows that Mauritius ships fish to Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and the United States. In fact, Mauritius is the port of choice for landings of pirate-caught toothfish. From there, this “Chilean Seabass” finds its way to the fish counter all over the world.

Despite Nikolai’s valiant efforts to squeeze some speed out of Volga, the fish-heavy longliner was no match for the Customs Southern Ocean Maritime Patrol and Response Unit, whose troops fast-roped onto Volga’s stern and boarded the ship without any delay. In a short while, Alexei and Nikolai, along with the rest of the crew, were busted for illegal fishing near Heard Island, with a self-incriminating catch of Patagonian toothfish weighing 200 tons, estimated to be worth $2.5 million, tightly packed away in the fish hold. It did not help that Volga was also transporting various types of illegal equipment, including nets which pick up just about everything, including small fish, as well as baited longlines. They were accused of poaching toothfish in Australian waters and promptly arrested. Navy crews were put aboard the vessel, which set course for Fremantle, Western Australia.

On the day of Alexei and Nikolai’s arrival to Fremantle, the Prime Minister proudly announced on television that “a new breed of pirates is plundering Australia’s fisheries. As a result, we must boost protection of our sovereign interests in the Southern Ocean with full-time armed patrols to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in Australia’s ecologically fragile sub-Antarctic waters.”

The Prime Minister added that the new budget would allocate nearly $90 million for additional surveillance and enforcement capability of the Exclusive Economic Zone surrounding Heard Island and McDonald Islands, in addition to the $217 million for a customs-managed, armed Southern Ocean patrol program “in order to allow Customs Southern Ocean Maritime Patrol to intercept and bring to court those suspected of illegally plundering Australia’s fisheries.”

In the next few days, while the crew was locked down in Volga with armed guards posted outside, the Australian legal system delivered its first judgment: as a matter of principle, Australia will refuse to release the vessel unless a hefty bail was handed over pending prosecution of Volga’s crew. Vilified in the press as a pirate with a gang of hardened criminals “who put personal profit before the future of marine ecosystem,” and rightfully accused of illegally plundering Australian fisheries, the captain died rather unfortunately after drinking a bottle of cleaning fluid while the boat was detained. For the record, the captain was not suicidal; he simply ran out of vodka.

To avoid similar incidents of civil disobedience, the crew was asked to surrender their passports. Afterwards, they were promptly released on their own recognizance, pending litigation. With no money, the men had to spend their nights sleeping in a homelessshelter, hoping to be taken in by the local families. Unlike the rest of the crew, however, Nikolai and Alexei immediately recognized their unexpected change of fortune, and they did not waste any time waiting around for litigation to begin.

* * *


Downtown Perth

Perth is a very nice, quiet city on the west coast of Australia. It’s blessed with a Mediterranean climate, beautiful beaches, excellent seafood, and smiling, friendly people. By the time Nikolai and Alexei reached the city, however, they did not appreciate its ambiance. Being flat broke and hitch hiking in Australia meant sitting in the back of a rusty, flat-bed pick-up truck, flying at eighty miles per hour down a red dirt road in the suffocating desert heat. It was quite a shocking contrast to their life aboard Volga in the middle of the freezing ocean.

Although Fremantle is only nineteen kilometers southwest of Perth, Nikolai and Alexei felt drained by the uncomfortable, bumpy ride under the scorching midday sun. Yet somehow they managed to arrive to the harbor that was circled on their well-worn map, the one where Gonta has been moored for over a year.

At long last, Alexei and Nikolai stood on the promenade, facing thousands of sailboats, large and small. Instead of feeling the triumph of victory, however, they were totally lost. Even worse, they were stranded in a strange land without any currency or even an English dictionary. And with so many boats out there, how would they find Gonta?

“So what do we do now?” Alexei wondered aloud. “Which one of them is her?”
“Let’s ask someone,” Nikolai offered helpfully. “I’ll show them her name in English, and let ‘em figure it out. I mean, it’s their country and they all speak English, even if we can’t understand them. A child could probably do it.”

Alexei looked at Nikolai skeptically, and for good reason. Having just arrived from a long haul around the globe in a Soviet-era fishing boat, they both looked like pre-historic cavemen who, by pure accident, came into contact with civilization. Their sun-burned skin, clumps of unwashed hair and red dust that settled on those coarse, bearded faces, would surely frighten off any Australian human being, Alexei thought.

At the same time, Alexei had no other solutions, so he shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “go ahead, might as well give it a try.” Sure enough, it did not take long for Nikolai to find a friendly native. After a few poor pantomime attempts to describe the sailboat and repeatedly pointing to other boats, Nikolai persuaded the Australian gentleman to allow the use of his motorized dinghy.

They searched for Gonta severan hours, but eventually, while checking the northwestern corner of the enormous harbor, Alexei and Nikolai stumbled upon an old sailboat only they could recognize. It was her, no doubt about it. Somehow, their new-found Australian friend did not seem surprised to learn that such an unkempt boat would belong to them, but he smiled politely and even waived good-bye before leaving Nikolai and Alexei on board.

Working together side-by-side day and night, it took Nikolai and Alexei nearly ten days to scrape off the layer of feces, which the seagulls had been dumping on their beloved Gonta for more than a year. During the first week they made acquaintance with a few natives, who helped them get their bearings. Thus, despite Nikolai and Alexei’s pre-historic appearance, in a short while their life in this exotic part of the world became better than anyone could have imagined. Money was not necessary. Neither was knowledge of the English language.

It turned out that Australians living around the harbor could always use an extra pair of “golden hands” that would fix everything from boats to cars to houses. All they had to do was point at the root of the problem, and Nikolai and Alexei would fix it on the spot, in return for food. Or a few beers. And with the salty ocean air eating away at the boats, cars and houses, Nikolai and Alexei had plenty of work to keep them occupied and well-fed. This way, money and language were completely unnecessary to live well in a paradise under the sun called Perth.

In time, some of the natives even became friends. One of the locals who adopted Nikolai and Alexei was father Orest Havrylyshyn, an eccentric old priest. Father Orest came from a long line of proud convicts, and although he was born in Perth, his heart was firmly implanted in Ukraine. Perhaps it was because Ukraine was the country of his great-great-grandfather, Konstantin, the original trouble-maker.

It was on April 27, 1815, while wandering around the London docks, that Konstantin Havrylyshyn stole 17 pounds of bacon from a store in Wapping Hall. He was a hungry seaman in a strange land, who considered himself very lucky to find his much beloved salo, a unique Ukrainian delicacy. So lucky that he did not think twice about taking it. Unfortunately, the shop owner, John Watkinson, caught Konstantin red-handed and called the police.

A trial followed soon, and the court’s unequivocal verdict was “guilty. To deport for 7 years for theft of 17 pounds of bacon worth of 11 shillings.” That is how Konstantin arrived in Perth on the English ship called Ramillies on July 22, 1816, with a cargo of convicts. For several years he was kept behind bars, spending much of that time on bread and water for misbehavior. A rebellious man by nature, he was once sentenced to a flogging of seventy five long and painful lashes.

Konstantin was clearly the first Ukrainian convict in Australia, and Father Orest was very proud of this fact. He was equally proud of being Ukrainian. It was the nation where his roots came from, and no small symbol of that glorious past was forgotten. For example, as his father had taught him before passing into the next world, Father Orest knew how to work the still on his farm. That’s how he produced arguably the finest moonshine in Perth.

And what the locals would derogatorily refer to as “bacon” was lovely salo to Father Orest, with its crust salted just like it was done in Ukraine, the home of his forefathers. Plus, salo was the real reason why Father Orest was born in Perth in the first place.

A sworn enemy of the evil Soviet empire that annexed his beloved Ukraine, in his spare time Father Orest worked for the Australian branch of “Voice of America,” a CIA-sponsored radio program that brought “truth” to the Ukrainian-speakers in Australia, New Zealand and Papua, New Guinea (where cannibalism was recently prohibited but, regrettably, the prohibition was never strictly enforced).

It was largely due to Father Orest’s moonshine and smoky, salty salo that Nikolai and Alexei became so comfortable in their new surroundings. At night, they would all sit in the moonlight on their sailboat, fishing poles baited with freshly caught minnows, toasting each other with Father Orest’s hooch on having found heaven on earth. Life just could not get any better…

A blast from a powerful horn announced arrival of the first fishing boat. Seagulls followed the boat, which meant that there was plenty of fish for Alexei and Nikolai to unload.

“Ready to work for your supper?” Nikolai yawned and stretched, sitting up on his bed.
“Always ready.” Alexei pulled the wool sweater over his head before heading outside. It was a cool, foggy morning. He was hoping the fishing boats would hit a patch of wild salmon again today, like they did a few days ago.

Ever since settling into their new, Australian life, Alexei and Nikolai continued to discover the unexpected benefits of living and working in a harbor marina. One of them was an endless supply of delicious, freshly-caught ocean fish, which the local skippers regularly hauled in. In exchange for a few hours of work Alexei and Nikolai were paid in large barramundi, yellowtail kingfish, snapper, tuna and their all-time favorite, atlantic salmon.

In addition to the daily catch, Alexei and Nikolai took every opportunity to sample exotic crustaceans, including the tropical lobster, the soft-shelled crab, the black tiger, the brown tiger and the kuruma prawns. Their all-time favorite, however, became Australian oysters, courtesy of Edwin Jones, a small, part-time oyster “gardnener.”

Edwin was one of about dozen hobbyists who take their shellfish to neighborhood markets on the weekends. Like the other boutique oyster growers in the region, Edwin was in permanent need of manual labor. In turn, Alexei and Nikolai wanted to taste lots and lots of oysters, so they readily agreed to tend to Edwin’s underwater lots for one week in exchange for his exotic food.

The first day Edwin kept them busy trimming the edges of his oyster shells to cultivate oysters with deeper cups and meatier bodies. In early morning hours they waded waist-deep into the frigid bay waters and pulled trays of oysters onto the shore to check the crop. The biggest ones were picked out and driven to the oyster packing house. There, Edwin set aside some of the bigger adult oysters for sale and motioned for Alexei and Nikolai to carry the rest of lead-heavy bushels to the stainless steel mesh tumbler. The oysters would spin inside, breaking off the crisp, feathery lips of their shells so that they would grow stronger, fuller, deeper cups with better meat. Then Alexei and Nikolai had to re-plant the tumbled oysters in the bay.

The next day they had to move the oysters to another part of the bay. In the process, Alexei and Nikolai understood that oysters are children of their environment. If you grow two oysters in different parts of the same bay, they will taste differently.

If the water is too salty, for instance, the oyster will be salty also. They learned that the perfect balance of flavors depends on the sea grasses, the water temperature, its salinity, the timing of the tides. That is why many oyster farmers, including Edwin, start in one part of the bay and then move several times.

By the end of their week, Alexei and Nikolai were exhausted, but happy. They got exactly what they wanted: four large bushels, filled with top-quality, hand-picked fresh oysters. Then Edwin shook their calloused hands, and drove them back to their marina. As a sign of personal appreciation, he picked up a handful of lemons at a grocery store, squeezing them while pointing at the oysters. On their way back home, Alexei and Nikolai sat inside Edwin’s car, not in the back of some pick-up truck. And waiting for them, on their very own yacht, was a feast of a lifetime: a bucket full of fresh oysters, something nobody in Kiev had ever sampled on such a grand scale.

It was a night neither Nikolai nor Alexei would ever forget. The chilly breeze continued blowing from the northeast. They could hear the waves slapping against Gonta’s sides and the seagulls squawking somewhere above. There they were, on their own yacht, about to feast on a world-class delicacy that was grown in clear blue oceanic bays. Alexei and Nikolai knew that oysters were expensive, eaten only on special occasions, and therefore enjoyed this splurge all the more. In a way, it was an indicator of the overall quality of life for them in Australia.

Of course, Alexei and Nikolai have heard that oysters are usually eaten alive, but neither of them knew quite what to expect since neither of them had eaten a live animal before. The big question was how to open them. The shells were craggy, with razor sharp edges, so Nikolai wisely decided to wear his glove. When opening the first oyster, Nikolai held the little beast securely in one hand while forcing a sharp knife between its shells. With a twist of the handle, the shell snapped open, releasing the tender, succulent meat.

“And now, the lemon,” Nikolai held out his hand, as if he was a priest in a solemn religious procession
“But it’s still alive,” Alexei protested.
“Alright, then, I’ll do it.” Nikolai raised the half-shell to his lips and downed the slippery oyster quickly, not daring to chew it for fear of retaliation. He paused cautiously, but found no immediate cause for alarm. The freshly harvested oyster was spectacular; a little salty, with a slightly metallic flavor. It slid down so quickly that Nikolai did not even have a chance to taste it properly.

“So?” Alexei was impatient. “Do you feel it? What’s it doing inside of you?”
“Nothing, as far as I can tell,” Nikolai replied thoughtfully. “Let’s try another one.” This time, instead of swallowing in disgust, he was chewing slowly, clearly enjoying every single bite. Uncommonly plump and sweet, it had a lovely mineral finish. He simply had to have another. Nikolai raised his glass, filled to the rim with Father Orest’s booze, and then looked over at the mountain of lovely oysters in deeply cupped shells. “To oysters, Alexei!”
A mountain of oysters awaits Alexei and Nikolai
“Aren’t you going to open one up for me?”
“With great pleasure,” Nikolai replied, quickly shucking two more oysters, but his mind was elsewhere. While popping open the second shell, he dreamed up an experimental culinary masterpiece, worthy of praises from the finest Japanese chefs. The experiment was performed
rather quickly: Nikolai casually slid his oyster from the silky lining of its shell into a glass that contained Father Orests’ fiery liquid. Then he squeezed out a healthy portion of lemon juice and admired his creation. “Look, Alexei, here’s a drink that we could surely patent.”
Nikolai prepares a few oyster shooters before the main meal
“Looks promising,” Alexei nodded in approval.
“It’s called ‘an oyster shot,’ and here is how it works.” Nikolai threw the oyster, along with the rest of the moonshine, with down his throat and chewed away.
“This is truly an excellent idea, Nikolai, one of your best. You definitely have to file for a patent.”
“Here, let me fix one for you.”
“With great pleasure,” purred Alexei, tasting his first oyster of the evening. It was fresh-smelling and crunchy, with a slightly nutty flavor. But how on earth could they possibly eat all the oysters they had, he wondered?

Anyone who tasted succulent oysters knows that appetite for these sea creatures grows with each open shell. After a couple of hours, Alexei and Nikolai were able to detect specific characteristics of each animal. Alexei preferred them fat and creamy, while Nikolai liked the sharp brine and seawater aftertaste. By the end of the night, no fewer then fifty two dozen oysters were consumed in just over three hours, raw on the half shell, slurped directly from the shell with a squirt of lemon juice.

It was paradise, no doubt, but with one small caveat: there had to be an easier way for Nikolai and Alexei to get their hands on those magnificent brown mollusks from an ocean bed than toiling on some oyster farm. That’s where Nikolai’s engineering proficiency and common sense produced a highly useful invention: the dredge. It was basically a basket, attached to a toothed bar, which is dragged by a boat over an oyster bed. In theory, the bar would scrape the precious oysters off the sea bottom, where they would get caught in the basket and then hauled aboard.

Nikolai scrounged around several days for the necessary scraps of steel and rusty chains, but eventually he was able to put together a sturdy dredge. The following morning Gonta sailed out of the harbor on her maiden “oyster run.” There was a steady wind from north west, accompanied by chilly, drizzling rain, but otherwise no ominous signs of hurricanes. The plan was to stay close to the shore and scout all the bays, inlets and sheltered estuaries along the south west coast until they found their shellfish bed. Alexei and Nikolai had no clue how many oysters were floating in those cold waters, but they were determined to get as many of them as Gonta would hold.

Eventually, Nikolai and Alexei found themselves in an intertidal zone. Due to the amazing clarity of water, one of Southern Australia’s many unusual features, they were easily able to follow the wide dark spots on the ocean floor. Nikolai dropped off his dredge at about three meters below the water and Gonta slowly eased forward, towing the dredge through the oyster beds, picking up anything in its path.

On the first run Nikolai’s clever invention worked entirely too well, picking up nearly two hundred oysters at once, some of which were obscenely large. Once the basket became unbearably heavy, Alexei and Nikolai had to work hard and fast, straining their backs to pull the catch into the boat. With great difficulty they dumped the whole mass on the floor. Then Alexei sorted through the pile of sea garbage to eliminate dead shells, seaweeds, sponges and other trash, while Nikolai turned Gonta back into the position and dropped the dredge to the bottom. Soon the next load would be coming in. They performed the whole process again and again, until there was no more room for oysters; Gonta was filled to maximum capacity.

Unfortunately, neither Nikolai nor Alexei knew how damaging their new harvesting technique was to the oyster beds, but in all fairness, this information probably would not have made much difference to these men, who were just following their primitive hunting and gathering instincts. Naturally, Alexei and Nikolai were thrilled with their results, and returned triumphantly to their marina for a hearty celebration. After this huge success, whenever the weather permitted, Alexei and Nikolai never missed an opportunity to take Gonta out for another “oyster run.”

Dredging for wild oysters was back-breaking work, involving lots of bending and pulling, working on your knees in the mud and shells. It is certainly not for the weak, but it had its rewards. For one thing, Alexei and Nikolai developed a steady supply of large oysters that would withstand the scrutiny of top French chefs who know their sweet-to-salt oyster ratio. They still did not have any money, and no clue about how to turn their regular catch into a profit-making venture, but a few neighbors would pick up several dozen fat and meaty beauties here and there for potlucks and parties, discreetly leaving behind a few wrinkled bills.

Another time Alexei and Nikolai sold their entire catch to a local oyster grower, who re-sold it at three times the price at the Oyster Fest, organized by the South Australian Oyster Growers Association. All of the customers who stopped by his tent to sample these oysters commented on their quality. Word of mouth spreads quickly in small communities, especially about cheap yet delicious oysters. Soon, money was pouring into their pockets without much effort, allowing Nikolai to stock an impressive collection of local beer and wine. Alexei, being the more cautious of the two, quietly stashed away most of his cash into a rusty tinned can “for a rainy day.” Unexpectedly, for the first time in their lives Alexei and Nikolai had too much money. Life was getting better and better each day.

The main benefit of their oyster runs, however, was the oyster itself, a delicious animal whose two impenetrable, calcified shells surround a delicious, soft body. Oysters breathe using both gills and mantle, which is lined with small, thin-walled blood vessels that extract oxygen from the water and expel carbon dioxide. A small, three-chambered heart lies just under the abductor muscle, pumping colorless blood to all parts of the body. Two tiny kidneys purify the blood of any waste products. And yet consuming a living and breathing organism was not a deterrent to Nikolai and Alexei, who fell hopelessly in love with raw Sydney rock oysters for their naturally complex flavors that range with age.

As a rule, oysters tend to be sweeter when mature and more briny if they are younger. Nikolai’s clever dredging invention allowed them to consume oysters of all ages, old and young alike. Some shells were nicely cupped, with large and silky mollusks. Soft and fleshy, yet crisp, they had buttery or even fruity notes. Others were lean and salty, with a sharp coppery flavor. And all of them had lots of bright brine and a crunchy texture, leaving a rich finish with a clean, mellow aftertaste.

After each oyster run Alexei would patiently sort through their treasure, setting aside small oysters, jokingly dismissing them as “membraneous seawater.” And in a way, he was right, because they did not reach the full sweetness and complexity, but he would always insist that Nikolai shuck them anyway. They would occupy prominent roles in Father Orests’ oyster-shooters. On those nights Alexei and Nikolai felt like unofficial oyster kings of Australia.


Australia’s friendly natives, tanned and tipsy children of ex-convicts enjoy Alexei and Nikolai’s catch of the day

They did not know anything about tried-and-true oyster-and-wine pairing, like Chablis, Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre, Muscadet. There was no fancy waiter service, no real silverware. Instead, there were plenty of lemons and fresh-shucked raw oysters in peak meat conditions, served on a half-shell. Unlike some of the better restaurants, these beauties came fresh and cool from South Australia’s oyster beds, arguably the finest oysters on the planet. And drinking oyster shooters instead of French white wine did not diminish their enjoyment of the food nor the setting in any significant way.

* * *

To be continued…

Picture perfect: Kyiv

Between 2003 and 2009 I went on a mission to visit every country in Europe. From Tampere in Finland to Athens in Greece, my mission took me through 49 different countries and two unrecognised territories.

It was an inspirational journey through some of the best and the worst places in Europe and left me with a deep and unshakable love for our continent. However, I’ve never met anyone else who’s done the same.

So, when I heard that Finnish ‘Couch Surfer‘ Tomi Tenetz was in Kyiv on a mission to photograph ALL the European capital cities, I was intrigued.

Here’s how he describes his mission:

Europe is in many ways very interesting continent as in a relatively small area there are so many distinctive countries with different languages and fascinating capital cities. It would be an enormous task to visit them all but who knows, one day I might be able to say I did it!

He’s right on both counts. It is facinating, but its also an enormous task, so I wish him the best of luck.

Mr T is also recording his adventures and sharing them with the world on Facebook. He kindly agreed to let me share his pictures with you here.


Further examples of his photographic excellence are available here:

Moving Pictures of the USSR. Part 1


I couldn’t work out the difference between a ‘cartoon’ and an ‘animation’ so I’ve settled for a literal description – moving pictures. I guess there is no difference, except the target audience, and that adults prefer to watch the formal ‘animations’ so they don’t sound childish…

Anyway, I’m not going to babble on about naming conventions and linguistic overlaps in the English language – this post is all about cartoons. More specifically, it’s about cartoons from the side of the Cold War which didn’t have Disney or the Warner Brothers.

Like all kids who grew up in the UK in the 70s and 80s I was heavily (and maybe unhealthily) exposed to hours and hours of Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Tweetie Pie etc and endless re-runs of older classics such as Bag Puss, King Rollo, Mr Ben and Postman Pat which was all postponed once a year for the Christmas animation cheese-fest, the Snowman. Actually, I could probably sit and type for another twenty minutes listing all the cartoons I remember, He-Man, Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds etc etc… but I think you get the picture.

Had I been sitting 1000 miles to the east, life would have been very different. Instead of Winnie the Pooh, I would have giggled away to Vinny Pooh and instead of Tom and Jerry, I would have fond memories of the USSR’s bad woolf in Nu Pogodi. I’m absolutely sure I would have wanted a Cheburashka toy.

Anyway, for the benefit of anyone who cares and everyone who didn’t grow up in the ex-USSR, I’ve compiled a list of the most popular animations and cartoons from the region. Yes, some are stupid and yes, some are strange but they’re all unique and offer a fascinating insight into a world which no-longer exists.

Thanks to Youtube and thanks to the people who added subtitles, we can all enjoy them. So, let’s start with the coolest… the amusingly simple Vinny Pooh

We have “Winnie the Phooh” because we have a ‘W’ and definitive articles, the Russians have the much funnier “Vinny Pooh”. Now, I’m not sure that they’re based on the same stories (presumably they are, at least loosely) but, in my opinion Vinny wins paws-down. I was never a fan of the American Winnie the Pooh cartoons but I’m a big fan of the Russian version. Here, see for yourself.

No money, no honey

For good measure, here’s a very funny adult parody where Vinny gets wasted on Honey.


Next up is probably the most famous, the cutest and the most iconic – Cheburashka. He’s not a bear, not a gremlin, not a monkey with elephant ears – he’s a Cheburashka. Even the zoo didn’t know what to do with him. Luckily, he befriended Crocodile Gena and the rest is animation history.

Jil byl pes (There once was a dog)

Next we have a Ukrainian cartoon and story about a village dog. I’m not 100% sure I understand the moral of the story but then I doubt that I will ever understand the Ukrainians. Anyway, it’s a nice tale about an old dog who lived in a Ukrainian village and his friendship with a wolf. There are some striking similarities between this story and the tale of my Moldovan friend’s dog called Bingo, but thankfully this story has a much happier ending …if you can work out the moral of the story, please let me know.

Большой секрет для маленькой компании (Big Secret for a Small Company)

You’ll have to work this one out for yourself. I have no idea what’s going on, it could be complete drug induced nonsense. I guess what is happening is the ‘big secret’.


Dilly dilly, trali-vali … you’ll be singing it all day.
According to the comments “it is about a lazy brother who wont do anything. his brothers and sister ask him to go pick potatoes and he says he didn’t learn that at school. Then they ask him to play accordion and he says again he didn’t learn dat in school. Then they ask him to go get the spoons for lunch and he says sure no problem …and that’s basically the whole thing! It sounds like it was written about my older brother, except he’s not a ginger. Tarrr-um-pum-pum

Nu Pogodi

Forget Tom from Tom & Jerry, the wolf in Nu Pogodi is the baddest cartoon character around. Like many guys I know here, the beer drinking, chain-smoking woolf is obsessed with a sweet little soviet bunny. However; much like today and despite his best efforts, the tasty bunny evades capture.

Finally, I’ll sign-off with the multi-award winning short animation about a hedgehog. ёжик в тумане (Hedgehog in the fog) is a dreamy story about a curious hedgehog who descends into a mysterious foggy world on his way to meet his friend the bear. Made in 1975, its a classic piece of storytelling and the neurotic bear is beautifully Russian in so many ways. There is a statue of the hedgehog ёжик on Reitarska street. Last time I saw him it was winter and someone had given him gloves and a hat.

Enjoy 🙂

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