Tag: podil

Look after your heart. A peek inside the NAS hospital in Kyiv

‘At least they have a healthcare infrastructure’ explained Anna, who works for thye World Health Organisation, as we stumbled home after England’s EURO 2012 win over Ukraine.

‘In Indonesia and Thailand’ she said, ‘nobody has ever built one’.

It might be old and outdated, but this is true – Ukraine does have an extensive healthcare system and, at least in Kyiv, those with money can be treated in what Ukrainians would call ‘Western standard’ hospitals.

Sadly, those without money don’t have that luxury. If you are a teacher for instance or a boffin with a bad heart, you might end up in the National Acadamy of Sciences hospital in Podil.

A spooky doctor watches us from a balcony of the NAS hospital in Podil.

Actually, I don’t know if it is in Podil, but it sits on a hill that links Podil to the city centre and I’ve always wondered what the view would be like from the top floor of its tall concrete buildings.

I mentioned this to Monika, a Polish couch-surfer who was staying with me a few weeks ago. We were walking up the hill at the start of my well trodden ‘tour de Kyiv’ and without hesitating she said ‘lets go’.

‘OK’ I said,‘why not’…’
‘but I think they have security’

This wasn’t a problem, because he (the ‘security’) wasn’t securing anything. I’m not even sure if he was alive.

So, we walked straight on in, through the back door and into the lift. It was quite an adventure (if you like weird old buildings like me) and a sobering insight into the realities of Ukraine’s less-than-healthy hospitals.

Here’s what we found…

The rooms, like the patients, are in need of treatment.

The reception service wasn’t too ‘hot’ …but had it been better, we might not have been allowed in.

There are two old lifts. One for the doctors and one for the patients.

The lifts worked (albeit with a loud noise) but the buttons were quite grim. This one had a hole in it.

As you exit the lift, the windows have been painted with images/graphics to indicate where you are. On this floor there was a gym.

…for your heart?


There were people in the hospital, and nobody seemed to mind us being there. Two foreigners with a camera wasn’t a problem.

This is my favourite picture. Two cult-like figures float in a blue forest behind a flower pot. I’m curious why/how they were semi-defaced?

Outside, someone with a sense of humour but very little imagination has been expressing themselves.

…and finally, the view from the top. Yes, it was amazing.

Podil, as seen from the top of the NAS hospital.

The rest of the pictures are available here:

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

Kyiv Life. Bombs, Babushkas and Sunshine


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

Dnepr river in Kiev

Dnepr river in Kiev (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Running Babushkas

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.

Pilot Iryna. Flying a plane in sunny Ukraine

‘Look!’ Iryna said pointing out of the car window at a Stork standing proudly on top of a huge nest.

‘Oh, yeah’ I said, ‘they bring babies, right?’ I said, knowing full well that this was a common fable across eastern Europe.

‘Yes’ she said, ‘or you can find them inside a cabbage

‘a cabbage?!’ I laughed as Iryna explained a few other well known sources of Ukrainian babies such as inside bread.

Stork nest in Silves, Portugal

Storks delivering babies is a common fable in eastern Europe.

We were on our way to a small airfield about 50km outside of Kyiv so Iryna could fly a plane, and to be honest I was a little bit nervous.

My impression of flying in Ukraine has been largely influenced by the numerous crashes and disasters that plagued the late Soviet Union and continue to plague modern day Russia. Flying in this part of the world, my instinct tells me, should be avoided.

Iryna, however, is clearly much braver than me and seemed to harbour no fear whatsoever about buzzing around the sky in a Ukrainian made flying machine. As it turns out, I’m happy to say she was correct.

On the outskirts of Kyiv we got slightly lost in one of those scrawling suburban estates that line the edges of many eastern European cities which are made up of a strange mix of slapdash cottages and ‘new money’ villas. The kind of estate you get when everyone is tending to their own patch and nobody gives a shit about the surrounding infrastructure that links it together. Where village kids and stray dogs play under the wheels of their neighbours expensive SUVs and where ‘urban planning’ stops before the word ‘planning’ begins.

Anyway, once we found the road again, we were well on our way and the weather was amazing even by Ukrainian standards.  As we cut through a number of small villages, we were treated to an amazing show of springtime blossom and sunny countryside scenery.

After about an hour, we arrived at the airfield in Nalyvaikivka.

The airfield is a small place which consists of a barn/hangar, a runway, a house which doubles as an air-traffic control tower/bar, and lots of tiny colourful planes and helicopters. Its basically a playground for people with money who like to fly.

Iryna had been inspired to take a flight by the husband of her friend who lives in Turkey.  She found the place online, arranged for us to catch a lift from Kyiv and as a result we were standing in a field in the baking hot sunshine waiting for her little yellow plane to be ready.

I’ll let the pictures and videos talk you through the experience…

Colourful planes line up along the airfield

Iryna prepares for take-off

Pre-flight checks

Airfield Health & Safety

As you would imagine, safety is a priority at the airfield and it is quite important not to get killed in (or by) a plane. Certain rules exist to help you stay alive such as ‘not standing at the end of the runway when a plane is landing in case it crashes or lands on you’.

In England I guess this rule would be explained before you can go on to the runway, or perhaps there would be a security barrier. In Ukraine, they don’t tell you about the rule, but if you break it – they chase you away by landing a helicopter on your head!!

Back home in Podil

We caught a lift home with a 22 year-old Ukrainian guy who was learning to fly. He introduced himself as Ian (pronounced ‘eye-anne’) and then looked a little bit embarrassed as I shook his hand and introduced myself as Ian (pronounced ‘Ian’).

He was training for his private pilots licence, he had studied English for most of his life and had a deep affection for the UK. Having spent some time at Uni in Liverpool, he was understandably proud of his excellent (and quite posh) English accent and had an ambition to be a fighter pilot in the RAF.

As a result, he was currently contemplating the quite considerable problem of obtaining UK citizenship and had some difficulty squaring the fact that he would be an immigrant with the fact that he didn’t like immigrants.

Apart from this mild Jingoism, he was a nice guy and refreshingly ambitious and he dropped us off on the outskirts of Kyiv close to the metro station at which we started our trip.

On the Metro, Iryna struck-up a conversation with an old lady (babushka) that sat down next to her. Actually, its probably more accurate to say the old woman struck-up a conversation with Iryna (as old people do), and as I sat there looking at two chav-esque guys wearing flat caps they chatted away until we reached the city centre.

The old woman was 72 and her husband had been a ‘good man’ but an alcoholic who regularly beat her until his death. Before dying he told her that she would only live for 10 years without him, and so for 10 years the old lady lived in increasing fear of death.

Not surprisingly, she didn’t die and now seems happily resigned to the fact that she’ll go on living. She certainly looked well for a 72 year-old and she was on her way to go dancing on Kyiv’s Hydropark. Old people regularly meet there and Waltz together in the sunshine – its quite a sight.

Sadly, not everything is well with the old lady as her grandson moved in with his wife who occasionally kicks her (they’re waiting for her to die so they can take the apartment) and she doesn’t trust the old men (dedushkas) at the dance club because according to her most of them also want to inherit her apartment.  But, she seems happy, she is enjoying what she can in life and clearly enjoys talking.

Back in Podil the old women are less friendly.

“What are you taking a picture of?” the an old lady snapped when she saw my camera.
“The building” Iryna replied politely.
“Why?” the old lady asked.
“because its interesting” Iryna explained, referring to the five Olympic-style rings that decorated the top of the entrance.
“go and take pictures of your own apartment” the old woman mumbled as she shuffled towards the door.
“…people coming here, taking pictures…grumble…grumble…”  she continued, looking at me with suspicion as I laughed and continued to take pictures.

Grumpy babushka

Someone gets creative with this old Podil staircase.

We had walked off the main street into an old Podil courtyard and, as if often the case, we discovered a hidden world of curios entrances, brightly painted plant pots, wooden play areas for children and rusty staircases.

If you’re ever walking in Kiev, this is the only way to see the city. Get off the main streets and into the courtyards – its amazing what you can find there, even if the old babushkas don’t like it.

Gallery: Flying fun at the end of April


The tube

The …?

Ukrainians will pose next to anything

Ghost town, somewhere in Podil 

Pub Rock 

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