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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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