Tag: Corruption

Kyiv Life: Sausage Dogs and Fluffy Poo

Sausage Dogs.

Kyivian’s favourite hound

Remarkable as it might seem, this week I noticed that the people of Kyiv have developed a fashionable love for the Sausage Dog.  Given that the main feature of these canine-chorizos is their stupid shape, I can’t  explain why they have become so popular but after two and a half years here in Ukraine, I have stopped trying to understand the absurd.

If you spend more than 20 minutes in a Kyiv park, your likely to spot one of these fluffy Frankfurters on the end of a leash.  There’s one in Podil which has a doggy-wheelchair. His back legs are strapped onto a two-wheeled chariot and he pulls himself around using his front legs.  Like many things in Kyiv – it’s both cute and ridiculous.

Gated ‘communities’

Kyiv’s ‘gated communities‘ are some of the ugliest things I’ve seen in Ukraine since I’ve been here  – they’re even, uglier than your average O’Briens customer at 3am on Saturday morning.   Situated mostly outside the suburbs, they are grossly oversized mansions where the rich and powerful live, hidden away behind concrete fences.

Are they hiding from fear?, from embarrassment?, shame?

Of course, owning one of these would be infinitely more comfortable than living in one of Ukraine’s Soviet-era apartment blocks, and yes we have similarly ugly estates in the UK, but if Ukraine’s ‘elite’ think this is any way to foster ‘community’ then I suspect they a sorely wrong.

Free communities

For those of us who live in the ‘real world’ and who enjoy interacting with common people, there are some FREE communities in Ukraine that make life a little easier, more interesting and wonderfully more enjoyable.

Do you want to learn a new language or help others to master your mother tongue? …for free??  Then check out Language Exchange Club. (LEC) at: http://languageexchangekyiv.ning.com/

Do you need a place to stay in Ukraine? would you like to stay in a small town or village that doesn’t have a hotel? Would you like to live with some locals …for free?? Then check out www.couchsurfing.com or, if you’re coming for the football championships, try: http://rooms4free.org.ua/

Would you like to join a FREE tour of the city?  Visit: http://freetours.kiev.ua/

 The city is covered in ‘poo’ 

…but don’t worry, it’s not as bad (or smelly) as it sounds. Ukrainian poo (written ‘puh’) is soft, white and fluffy and comes from flowers.  It’s nice ‘puh’ and it’s everywhere.

I think it must be nature’s contribution to Kiev Day (like everything else in Ukraine, Kiev has a day) and this weekend we celebrated under a cloud of soft floating seeds. It’s quite hard to describe it you haven’t seen it, but it is called ‘puh’ because its soft like Vinnie Puh (the USSR’s Winnie Poo) and the sky was full of the stuff. Even three stories up this stuff was floating around my apartment and inside my window.

‘puh’ …its everywhere

Downstairs  and downtown, Kievians were out en mass to drink, dance and celebrate Kiev Day, turning Maidan Square and Kreshatik into a large carnival for the weekend. I walked through the city on Sunday night (about 1.30am) and the entire centre was covered in beer cans and bottles. There were many many people still celebrating and the whole place had a friendly, if slightly inebriated, feel to it.

When I got to Podil, there was a gang of pedal-powered bikers who were all riding cycles which were made to look like choppers. One of them had a dog sitting on a platform mounted on the front of the bike. It wasn’t shaped like a sausage.


I quit my job this week and because I will be hiking around Mont Blanc in July, I will spend most of my free time walking around Ukraine. In Kyiv this is a fun way to kill time, but you really need to get off the street and into the courtyards. If you are in Kyiv, don’t be scared to try this – they’re fascinating.   Most have a colourful painted play area for the kids, some have a friendly drunk, and all have small benches where old people watch, gossip and keep order.   I will try to post some pictures of what I find next week.

Feeding the horse

Much has been made about Ukraine’s preps for the EURO 2012 championships and especially about the training that police have had in dealing with foreign ‘guests’.  Well, this may be, but that doesn’t mean the Ukrainian police are any less corrupt than they were six months ago.

On Friday I joined some friends and colleagues on Trukhaniv Island for a BBQ to celebrate a birthday.  It was a beautiful evening and much had been done to make the day special. A small fire was cooking the essential (and deeply cultural)  ‘shashlik’ while everyone stood around talking or preparing the picnic table – complete with TWO bunches of flowers (Ukrainians see nothing special in having huge bouquets at a bbq in the middle of a forest).

Not many people know, but the word ‘Ukraine’ actually means ‘BBQ & Shashlik in a forest with friends’

Then, the police arrived. In fact they were mounted police and they arrived on two magnificent looking horses.

However, instead of looking magnificent and upholding the law… they immediately set about disgracing themselves and their country.

While one ‘extracted’ the two most senior Ukrainians for a ‘talk’ the other started hassling everyone for ID.

Out of earshot, the ‘talking’ policeman was lecturing his subjects about BBQs etc etc which basically means ‘pay up’ or we will cause problems. I couldn’t hear what he was saying (that’s why they were taken away from the crowd) but it probably involved some sob-story and a mild threat.

Note the flowers. Flowers at a BBQ!!

Even the horse was embarrassed by the situation

Finally, one of my friends asked ‘OK, how much does it  cost to feed your horse?’

200 UAH was the price (about 20 Euros) but , she wasn’t letting them off that easily. If a bribe was too be paid, she wanted to ride the horse …and so she did, and we all stood there like naughty school kids while the policeman walked my colleague around on his horse.

I’m sure that selling rides on your horse alone breaks some ethical if not legal code, but during the ‘ride’ he also asked if she was married and had children, and when she said no – he offered his number and suggested that she visit him at the stables!

So, lets be clear, foreigners might not be targeted at the football, but Ukraine’s police have proven once again that they are corrupt, incompetent and prepared to hit on the girls they are supposed to protect.

If anyone in Ukraine was serious about police reform, then most obvious place to start would be a ‘badge number’. Neither of these police (or any others I’ve seen) have a police number that you can see on their uniforms. It means they can act with almost complete anonymity. Especially when operating in pairs.

Needless to say, the warmth and hospitality of my hosts and the dam-good shashlik more than made up for the idiot cops, but the whole show a sad reminder of the incompetence of Ukraine’s ruling class.

Things to do in Ukraine before you die…

As there’s a good chance I’ll have to leave Ukraine (unless I find  new job) I decided tp make a list of things I’d like to do before I leave.  As regular readers will know, I’m very fond of lists, but I think completing this list will be exceptionally fun..

Here’s what I plan to do before the end of June

1. Drive a Pabeda, a Volga, a Lada and a Zaporozets.
2. Take a banya (traditional hot-bath). Amazingly, I haven’t been to a banya yet.
3. Spend time at a Datcha (summer-house)… I haven’t done this either
4. Ride a horse
5. Attend a Ukrainian wedding (might be difficult, but I’ll try)
6. Visit the zoo
7. Spend a night in a village
8. Go fishing
9. Go hiking

If you have any other suggestions of things to do in Ukraine… please add them to the comments section.

Until next week… poka-bye

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)

Polyominos, corruption and style

I emerged from the Metro this morning, walked towards the office, looked up and right in front of me was… (get this) Domino’s Pizza! In Kyiv!

Now, if you’re from anywhere else in the modern world this isn’t a big deal, but this is Ukraine! This is a country that has, so far, resisted the large-scale universal adoption of global brands. OK, it has some (MacDonalds, Metro Cash & Carry, Marks & Spencers) but not many.

But why not?

Well, I’m sorry to say but it’s not because:
a) Ukrainians value local producers over global mega-brands, or that they (as a society) reject multi-nationals
b) The multi-nationals haven’t been trying
c) Their is no market here for greasy fast-food

The problem is, as it always is in Ukraine, a problem of corruption, of a lack of transparency and accountability. It’s a problem with selective law enforcement and a murky and compromised legal system which exists to support vested local interests. It’s a problem with licensing, bribery and the refusal of the government to return taxes on time (if at all) or to honour contracts. A problem with tax police and the customs officers who can seize your assets and refuse to return them until a large sum has been paid to the fat controller. It’s a problem.

Would Ukrainians like to shop in Ikea? Of course they would. Just like the rest of us they like modern funky designs, high quality and cheap prices. Would Ikea like to embrace a market of 46 million people keen to invest their hard earned Grivna in a Malmo bed? Of course. Are they prepared to bribe regional Governors, buy the ‘correct’ people to get the licences, fund the government in unreturned VAT payments? It seems not. Despite owning land and some manufacturers here in Ukraine, Ikea pulled out of the country earlier this year and for me that’s why it is interesting.

Whatever your views of multi-national companies, it seems that many-many companies are prepared to put transparency and honest business before profit. Or, at least reputation matters and playing by the rules is seen as important. This must be seen as a victory for the numerous campaigns, lobby groups and prosecutors who have fought so hard against anything-goes corporate greed. Ask anyone from Siemens if they’d like to bribe a Russian official in 2010.

I interviewed the German Ambassador to Ukraine on Friday and he said himself – their is a long list of German companies who would happily invest in Ukraine but they won’t do it if civil rights are being curtailed, if there is no transparency and if the government steals your tax returns to fill its budget deficit. More alarming still, there are Germany companies involved in the upgrade of the countries diabolical healthcare system, who have put their projects on hold because the new authorities under President Yanukovych refuse to honour the contracts signed under the previous administration.

Anyway, back to Domino’s Pizza. Initially I thought wow – finally Ukraine is opening up! …but then I looked around and groaned. The huge (and it is HUGE) fascia DOMINOS on a big blue background looks out over one of Kyiv’s oldest and most picturesque squares. It sits uncomfortably squashed under the fantastic national chain of canteen-style eateries Puzata Hata and next to the colourful buildings of the National Bank and, it be honest – its impressively ugly. It does (whatever you think of their pizza) ruin its surroundings. Is it written in the Cyrillic alphabet? No, corporate branding doesn’t allow it. Is it unique, interesting or in anyway keeping with its surroundings? No. Is it really a sign of an opening up of trade and markets? or did they give-in and bribe the right guy? Who knows…

So, why the long rambling post about it? Well, basically because the whole globalization debate is playing itself out here in Ukraine right in front of me. Ukraine desperately needs many of the things we take for granted: better governance, a free and fair trading environment and a great deal more companies who value their staff, their social responsibility and their reputation. Will this enhance the culture here or the look and feel of Ukraine? No way.

Therefore, however large they make their sign – Dommino’s Pizza will never stop me eating at Puzata Hata. I’m happy they’re here but I don’t like their style.

Posted from: www.bearder.com

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