On the 27th April, a series of bombs exploded in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk. The bombs were planted in dustbins around the city and whilst nobody were killed, many people were injured including a number of children. As far as I know, the blasts haven’t been claimed by any group and nobody has been arrested or charged over the attacks. Living in Kiev, the strangest thing for me was the complete absence of any security operation here. OK, something may have happened behind the scenes but I walked past the presidential buildings on the evening of the attacks and there was almost no security. If bombs went off in Birmingham, I’m sure the response in London would be considerable.
Oh, and for the record, Dnipropetrovsk is not a host city for the EURO 2012 finals. The international press seemed to have a problem with this.
Storms without rain
The weather this month has been amazing. We bounced from penguin weather to +30 almost overnight, and it has really put a smile on the face of the city. Ukrainian men swapped their flat-caps for gangster-esque sunglasses and the girls swapped their high-heels for summer high-heels.
Since Thursday we’ve had more rain and while the sunshine is still here, so are the thunders storms.
In the UK we get thunder about twice a year, you never see fork lightning and storms always bring rain. Here its a whole different ball game. Last Thursday I stood on a hill in Podil which overlooks half of the city and watched lightning flashes closed in from both sides of the river. We decided to move, but as the storms blew-over our heads we stayed outside for the rest of the evening in nothing but a light sprinkle of rain.
The same happened on Friday as I walked home from Pushcha Voditsa. Lots of noise, large cracks of lightning and no rain.
Trams and tramps
I went to Pushcha Voditsa because I need to do a serious amount of walking before I walk around Mt. Blanc at the beginning of July, and as the walk home is 50% forest paths, it’s the perfect place to do it. On the tram there, a round-face babushka who was wearing a baseball cap sat-down next to me and did what all good Ukrainians do when the suspect you’re a foreigner – she asked my the time. I told her in very bad Russian and she looked smug because she had ousted me. Maybe she learnt this in a communist youth camp or something, but when I said I was from Great Britain her boyish face lit-up like the sun. She gave me two thumbs-up and said it was a great country. Ukraine, she said, was awful and then she made a fist sign with one thumb stuck between her index and middle fingers. She looked mischievous and said something unpleasant about President Yanukovych. “Write about it” she said, after hearing that I was a journalist, and then she repeated the same thing again, this time in reverse (bad words about the president followed by the fist and thumb).
By the time we arrived at the edge of the city, she was involved in an animated conversation with a middle aged man and a 20 year-old Ukrainian boy who she thought was my friend.
I looked out of the window and another babushka was pulling the ear of a drunk tramp who had fallen asleep next to a bus shelter with his head on a rock. The guy sat-up and looked confused while the old woman told him to get up and kept pulling his arm. He didn’t look like he was going to move, but she looked equally determined to make him.
I didn’t see how it ended because the tram crawled off into the forest, but I wondered why Ukrainians do this. I saw it before outside my office when a guy in a suit climbed out of his expensive car and started laying into the tramp that was sleeping on the bench. Shouting at tramps seems to be fair game in Ukraine.
For the rest of the journey I answered the usual questions out not having a wife, the beauty of Ukrainian girls and the location of my parents etc. I climbed off the tram as we arrived, said goodbye and then walked off into the forest. They looked at me like I was a weirdo.
On Monday 7th May I finally took delivery of my first ever book. I can officially call myself an author.
There are adverts all over the Kyiv metro advertising a language school called Speak Up. If you’re Ukrainian and want to learn English, I seriously recommend you don’t study there. The single sentence on the poster in English, is incorrect. It’s quite incredible that a school advertising English classes could be that stupid, but there you go.
Kiev is better than Moscow
On Saturday my Italian friend came to visit for three days. She’s been working in Moscow for a year and before she left on Monday, she confirmed what everyone always tells me when they come here from Moscow – Kyiv is so much nicer. The people are friendlier, the air is cleaner, the city is nicer.
I was working the night-shift this week and this means I take the metro home early in the morning. Every time I do, I stare in amazement at the running babushkas (grandmas). Nobody has been able to explain why, but if you stand in Klovska metro at 6am, you’ll see 70 year-old women running (even sprinting) between the metro stations. Would it be wrong to film it and post it here?
Guys with guns
This week there appears to be more police standing at each metro station. There’s always been at least one, but now there’s almost always four or five. I’m not sure if this is meant to make me feel more secure, but it doesn’t. For those who are unfamiliar with Ukraine’s boys in blue, they mostly stand around looking bored/shifty, wearing uniforms that are slightly too big and smoking. They’re not unlike naughty schoolboys except they have guns.