Tag: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 47)

Unexpectedly friendly? Not if you know Ukraine

It’s lunchtime on Tuesday 5th June and a huge streak of lightening just lit up the sky across Podil, followed quickly by a huge crack of thunder and the sound of heavy rain on the rooftops and pavement. The sky is grey and the air is hot and sticky.

It is storm season in Ukraine, and while the weather is spectacular, it’s not doing much to lift the mood of the city.
To anyone arriving in Ukraine this week for the European football championships, the weather may confirm their worst suspicions, that this is a country of doom and gloom.They’ll soon realise they are wrong.

Despite the intensely negative press that Ukraine has been getting recently, this is not an unfriendly country. It is not an intolerant place, it is safe and it is a lot of fun.
I don’t write this as a naive idiot who’s ignorant to the darker side of life in Ukraine, or as someone who’s love for this country harbours any rejection of those ‘western ideals’ and human rights I enjoy as a British citizen. I write this as someone who, unlike 99% of those commenting on Ukraine, has actually lived here for two years and as someone who has traveled to all 49 European countries. Yes, even the picturesque San Marino (where, incidentally, they proudly sell bottles of Hitler beer complete with a picture of the Führer).I know this continent better than most people, and Ukraine is one of my favourite places to be.

But what about the dogs they killed? what about the profiteering hoteliers? what about the BBC stadiums of hate?Of course they are awful, they have disgraced Ukraine and they shouldn’t have happened, but what did UEFA expect? This is a poor country run by an incompetent and corrupt ‘elite’. Are we to believe that UEFA officials didn’t see the 1000s of stray dogs and the shortage of hotels when they awarded Ukraine the tournament? Are we to believe that UEFA officials said yes to Poland and Ukraine without ever attending a local football match at which, as the BBC has shown, you can find racism and anti-Semitism? Of course not.

Despite all the talk of ‘sport uniting people’ UEFA is self-interested and profit seeking. It deals almost exclusively with wealthy sponsors and cares little for the social or political rights of the citizens who are ‘lucky’ enough to host one of their prestigious tournaments. The same goes for FIFA. Football knew these were risks, but ‘the beautiful game’ is a grubby business. So are most other international sports competitions.Ask yourself, did Russia win the right to host the 2012 Winter Olympics or 2018 World Cup because of its fair treatment of journalists, its inclusive form of governance and its acceptance of homosexuality? I think not.

Is anyone really surprised? …I doubt it, so why is Ukraine getting a hard time? Well, probably because its easy to bash a country with this many problems, and because bad news (verging on hysteria) sells. The Daily Mail and much of the UK tabloid press is built on this model and for once it has the opportunity to take a break from attacking ‘broken Britain’ and throw mud at its neighbours.
Do they *really* care about the things that they are writing about? Of course not, or they would have been writing about them for years. Ukraine’s problems hardly started two months ago.
So, if we put the hysteria to one side, what’s left? Well, what’s left is a nation of passionate and friendly people who can’t wait to welcome people to their country and who cant wait to prove the Daily Mail wrong …and to practice their English while they’re at it.Ukrainians hold Europe in extremely high regard, sometimes embarrassingly so, and the word ‘euro’ is attached to almost everything here to mean ‘not from one of the former USSR countries’. But while Ukrainians all study hard to learn English and a rainbow of other languages, or study international relations to be successful in the global economy – we continue to shun them. We don’t visit them, and to make things worse we make it impossibly difficulty for them to visit us. We humiliate them when they apply for visas, especially if they show any desire to live in our country, while we bend over backwards to accommodate their oligarch rulers and sell them houses. (London’s most expensive apartment was recently sold to Ukraine’s number one thief and richest man – Rinat Akhmetov)

Yet despite this treatment and despite the insane amount of money that has been wasted on this tournament and stolen via dodgy deals and murky contracts, I’ve seen nothing at all this year to suggest that Ukrainian’s wont welcome international visitors with open arms. In fact, this week in Kiev, Ukrainian friendliness has been in overdrive.
Of course, nobody is smiling in public, they will still queue-jump if you show any sign of hesitancy and the metro is still unbelievably crowded. However, every time I have left my house this week, I’ve had a wonderful conversation (in English) with a Ukrainian. There’s a tangible sense of excitement. Finally these weird ‘Euro’ people are arriving in town and Ukrainians want to impress them. They also want to question us. What are we like?, where are we from?, is it true that London is always covered in fog? …do we like Ukraine?
As a bit of fun, last week me and a friend decided to take pictures of Ukrainians who were wearing British flags. The union flag has become something of a fashion here, and despite our limited Russian, all bar one, person that we asked was happy to oblige. True to form, almost all of them posed with huge smiles and tremendous pride. These are not bashful people.
In a small corner-shop/cafe in an industrial centre, miles from the tourist traps in central Kyiv, we enjoyed some friendly banter with two middle aged women who wanted to know if we were here for the football or the girls. We joked with them for a few minutes and as we left, they were still laughing loudly as we left their modest business. Even in the bleakest industrial estate they were both friendly and curious.
So, while 20th century stereotypes about the ‘evil empire’ have combined with 21st century stereotypes about prostitution and poverty to give Ukraine a less than glamorous reputation. The reality is that Ukraine is a big and beautiful country, with dramatic weather, vast and beautiful open spaces and ancient cities whose poorly renovated buildings give them an old-colonial feel that is as romantic as it is intriguing.
If you come, like most of the people who visit, I’m sure you’ll love it. Just don’t come expecting German roads or a French trains. You wont find either. As the locals will tell you with a shrug ‘this is Ukraine!’
IanFor more on Ukraine, and to see why I haven’t updated this site since about January, visit www.bluetoyellow.com

For some recent pictures of Kyiv, click here
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Where to find foreigners in Kyiv

The French: in the French restaurants
The Italians: in the discos/nightclubs
The English: in an Irish Pub
The Germans: anywhere there’s beer
The Turks: Hanging around outside and in shopping centers

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Kiev looks naked

Having completely shed its autumn clothes ready to be wrapped in winter snow, Kiev is currently standing almost embarrassingly naked.

OK, so it is kind of novel to be here in December and not be freezing one’s tits off, but its doesn’t feel right. The city trees look like they’ve just emerged from some skinny dipping, only to find that the bushes have run off with their clothes.

However, the absence of -30C temperatures does mean I can still enjoy the city on my days off. 
Kiev hides a fascinating world behind the main streets and tacky shop-fronts, so I went exploring yesterday to see what I could find near my apartment. I’ve been here on Artema street for more than 6 months, but hardly know the area. I found all of this within less than a kilometer from my door…

Oh, and finally, there’s Kiev’s much ridiculed and highly ridiculous Christmas cone, point, tree. 
Complete with LCD televisions as decorations! It is impossible to to admire such unashamed kitsch.  

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Sing while you’re winning

At the gym this afternoon, I sat in the changing rooms and watched an angry dad shouting at his three year-old kid. The little boy (Bogdan) was completely unmoved by his dad yelling “Богдан давай!” and he sat there defiantly singing a happy song. As dad got louder, Bogdan kept smiling and singing.

Amused, I turned around to leave reflecting on the need for more ‘little revolutionaries’ like this in Ukraine. As I stood up, a man was standing right in front of me wearing nothing but a thong.

Ukraine needs a lot less of these.
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God created Polish by dropping his scrabble box

I’ve never wanted to go to Warsaw. I don’t know why, I’ve been to pretty much every other capital city on the continent but never to Warsaw. Maybe this is because I have read way-too-many descriptions of the city that start with lines such as: ‘Warsaw is not as pretty as Cracow, but…’ and perhaps this put me off, but given my disturbingly-passionate admiration for depressed looking housing estates and Soviet concrete ‘art’ – I doubt it. I think its just in an awkward location and not ‘between’ any other places like, for example, Budapest is. You can’t really move in Europe without going through Budapest but to pass through Warsaw you’d have to be taking an unlikely journey from somewhere like Belgium to Belarus. Who does that?  Besides, I’ve never had a reason to visit Warsaw.

All this changed this summer when two very good reasons (Kasia and Justa) arrived in Kiev. They found me on CouchSurfing, I found them at the Metro, and the rest is история.

The flight from Kiev to Warsaw (Varshava in Polish and Russian) is just one hour, so getting there is easy and as the airport in Warsaw is very close to the center, getting into the city is also easy – especially if you have detailed instructions, bus numbers and a map provided by Kasia.

The place really won me over. OK, it’s not Ljubljana and it is more similar to Brussels than I would wish on any city, but it is very cool and boy does it have a history.  You feel it.

I’ll save the gory details, but I had a great time. The Poles I met were all, without exception; friendly, hospitable, talkative, optimistic and more than anything – extremely likable.  The only crazy thing is the language. In fact, its no so much the language but the spelling.  For the first time in my life, I was wishing things were written in Russian.

While I was there, I bought a copy of Norman Davies epic Rising ’44, in an attempt to understand both Warsaw and Poland and on page five he hits on some of the problems this language craziness creates.    

“From hard experience, I know that foreign names and places can create havoc in the psyche of English-speaking readers. Indeed, in the case of some languages like Polish, I believe they constitute a near insurmountable barrier to a full understanding of the country’s affairs. For it is not just a problem of unfamiliarity. It is unfamiliarity compounded by an incomprehensible system of orthography and by the unique, jaw-breaking combinations of consonants and syllables that are uniquely disturbing. Charles Dickens, who met a number of Polish emigres in London after the rising of 1863 had a wonderful ear for this problem: ‘A gentleman called on me this morning,’ he once remarked, ‘with two thirds of all the English consonants in his name ,and none of the vowels.’  The joke is that God created Polish by dropping his scrabble box.  But this is not just a laughing matter. If readers cannot retain the names in a narrative, they cannot be expected to analyse or to understand it.”

So true, and so true of Ukraine too.

Anyway, thanks Kasia and dziękuję to everyone I met this weekend.

The pictures are here

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These are crazy days, but they make me shine

The postman delivered a parcel this week. It was sent from Wales with a book and six chocolate bars inside. It arrived with no book and no chocolate. The postman posted me an envelope. Thanks postman.

This morning a small street-dog walked onto the bus. He sat down and waited 5 stops and then got-off at Lukianivka metro. He didn’t pay. 
This afternoon I provided a voice-overs for the Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 
The girl who comes to my gym with no bra and a see-thru top has returned. 
Artema Street last night 
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Can you save me from the borrowed cloud I’m on?


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Lippy Kids

Hurmah, or ‘Date-Plums’ I’ve never seen, or heard of them then before but they are good. Thanks to Yulia for introducing them 🙂

The ‘Dutch Oven’ Jerom, his wife and a Pumkin coloured Englishman

A pumpkin

Kiev city administration

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The Pushcha-Voditsa forest tram

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Roll up and shine

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