Ivan's 2003 tour through Ukraine....

I flew straight thro to Europe on 14th April 03 with the intention to create the minimum contact with USA soil, as at the time of confirming the ticket the "war" had just started and you never knew what the reaction was likely to be, as it was I had wasted the effort in two directions, (1) the "war" was more or less over at the time of flying and (2) all passengers have to clear customs and immigration no matter what you were you are going.

Jet lag reared its ugly head after flying more or less straight thro, but the old exercise of staying up till the time I would normally go to bed helped, however two matchsticks to keep my eyes open were the order of the day.

I stayed at the Sheraton at the airport, expensive, but minimum bother getting to and from the airport, I guess when it is all added up staying off site in a cheaper location you would have to spend on transport.

Frankfurt Airport, eventually the flight to Kiev was called, they asked for you to allow a minimum of 2 hours for check-in, so I wandered over from the hotel 2.5 hours early, traveling business class when straight thro, so spent the next two hours in the business lounge. Hope I have learnt something from that exercise.

It was a two hour 25 min flight so the they had time to serve a uneatable breakfast, goodness knows what they served back in economy.

I was first off the plane at Kiev, which was just as well as on arrival you had to find a emigration form and fill it in after reading all of the instructions in Russian or as Ukrainian is the official language may be it was that, for all of the difference it made, as I was studying the form wondering what to do a guy came out of a office and beckoned me over, (maybe that was one of the benefits of being well dressed) and he filled the form in for me asking some questions in English which was just better than my no existent Russian.

Then it was thro emigration and then to find another form for customs, I had $US4000 with me so I had to go thro the "goods to declare" aisle, which only took a few moments, more time was spent trying to get past the trolley piled high with suitcases, I assume was someone returning home.

Eugene Snezhkin,(E), who was going to be my driver & guide for the next month, (I found Eugene Snezhkin thro the internet and many letters later decided to employ him for the time I was in the Ukraine. We settled on his price by E telling me "I will try to save you money each time I'll see opportunity for it and it will be your second discount" I was to remember those words throughout the trip.)
Eugene was waiting outside customs with Slav, who's home I was staying in, so then we drove the 30km towards the city and started driving past, it must have been hundreds of 15 story high "Russian" apartments, it is impossible to describe how many there are, I know of no measure in the west that I can use to illustrate the sight. Can you visualize 4.5 million people, and 99.9% of them live in these apartments, does this give you some comprehension of the numbers I saw.

So whenever I think of Kiev, I will think of those apartments.

At Slava's apartment I met his wife Olga, and later their two daughters Lesia and Julia, who were both at university. Their 100 square meter apartment had three bedrooms and the 18 and 20 year old girls shared one leaving one empty for a paying guest. Slava had an Internet Club or in our words a internet Café. Slava had a well worn Lada car.

They had a washing machine in the SMALL bathroom. ALL of the hot water is piped into the building from a central heating system and often there were many apartment buildings supplied from the same source so in Kiev they had unlimited hot water, this was not the case in other locations. With three women in the one house one very small bathroom, makeup scattered around every flat service, poor Slav must have had problems at times! They, and others to follow, did not use a large bath towel, but what we would call a small hand towel, I think that the large bath towels is a item we have collected from the States???

There was a shortage of mirrors, and this was to prove to be a common occurrence.

I noticed that Olga was very tidy and I realized if she wasn't the house would be unlivable, she was collecting all of the things Lesya had been using and passed them to her to take to her room.

We left the suitcases at the house and took the camera, and went for a look around Kiev.

Made some interesting exposures, we parked the car close to one of the squares and went for a good walk around the area where I photographed some interesting Russian Churches with beautiful golden domes.

The girls (ladies) were very beautifully dressed and most were wearing beautiful high stiletto heels, being a old "shoe salesman" I really appreciated the beautiful shoes being worn by beautifully dressed, slim ladies, after the super ugly shoes I see back home being worn by some of the overweight, badly dresses NZ broads.

I took so many photos of this I was beginning to think I had a super shoe fetish!

On the way back to the car we walked thro a large indoor vegetables, fruit, meat market place, which they told me was one of the more expensive markets, too late in the day to get photos inside, so nothing to show!

So we were back to the apartment after dusk to be greeted by the No 1 daughter, a beautiful 6 foot Ukrainian beauty, who could speak English and was on her last year as a law student. She was concerned as to where she would get a job and is also studying the German Language at the same time as doing her law degree. I suggest she go to another country and get a law degree there also and would be more employable in some form of country to country law and she had already thought of that and would do her degree in Germany where university is free even to foreigners. It is interesting how this generation has adapted to capitalism easy and the older ones are having major problems with just the thinking.

Then it was time to do my first download from my camera onto my computer of the days images, view them, delete the ones that did not work, renumber them with a special code, then it was time to have a late evening meal, answer all the questions about NZ, how we lived, state of the economy etc, they found it hard to understand why we had a socialist government, and I told the that I had the same problem.

Tried connecting to the Internet with the system that works in almost every country of the world, but it was a no go!

Friday 18 April
Today we went first out to the outdoor museum where they had rebuilt houses from all over the Ukraine so there were samples of every type of house that was used in the past in this country. It was on a very large area of land and the distance was so great I missed, by choice, one large section, never the less there were some interesting photographs.

Then it was briefly back to the apartment to collect Slav, back into town to re-photograph one of the churches I found Slav's head in where he wandered into the frame, on this occasion we walked twice the distance of yesterday because of the parking, passing many souvenir stands on the side of the footpath, as the were on the way or beside one of the famous churches they were overpriced,

It as interesting seeing two MINT Leica 3A's one with the German Air force symbol and the other with the Submarine symbol. Now knowing how valuable Leica's were in 1946 I found it hard to believe that they could be in mint condition and only worth $US350, and when I said no to buying them was asked for a offer!

So took the bottom plate off took out the film spool, which had to be pulled out with a pair of pliers, to see that it was not an original part, so it was probably a Russian "Leica" re-machined for the tourists.

More photos for my "shoe fetish" then back home for supper and a download, just as I was sitting down at the table there was a beautiful sunset so out with the camera, did a couple of exposures, deciding that I should be three stories higher and one block to the right for the ideal photo.

Down to Salva's internet club to see if I could connect thro his system, (like I did in NZ at a Café), but another "No go" so it looks like NO internet thro my computer while in the Ukraine.

Today was cold with a wind that I would say was coming straight out of Siberia.

Saturday 19 April
Time to pay my host and asked E "how much" he said what do you think it is worth, that got my goat, and I was not playing that game so said get Slav to come up with a price & I will pay it (thinking this must be settled at the start), the price was $US60 for two nights including meals and laundry.

Time to start to head south to the Crimea, had two routes and I chose the one that went beside the Dnieper River, not that we saw it more than a couple of times, some interesting photos of one of the villages we went thro, and with a lack of road signs it was a interesting job navigating thro some of the very large cities with the roads that were almost beyond repair.

There was one bit of the road where the workmen had dug up some of the tar seal for resealing leaving a hole 500mm deep with no signs, no barriers, just there to drive into, and the rest of the road was so bad it was a matter of driving at about 5 kms a hour to save wiping out the shock absorbers.

We eventually arrived at the schoolteachers 1950's apartment in Zaporozhye, it had been her (Luda) parents and she had lived in it for the last 40 years, she, like Slav both owned their apartments. Her apartment was showing the signs of 50+ years of wear and not neglect, but no money.

She had hot water for the first time in I think it was a week.

I observed that the apartments are as rough as guts on the outside but inside they are decorated to the best of the peoples income.

It was interesting that the State set the teachers salary at $US45 a month and set the hotel rooms at a minimum of $US100 a night, some at $US1000 a night

This ($45) appears to be the average wage in this country and she told me that 50% went to pay for the "body corporate" (my words) and rates and out of the rest she had to pay for electricity and telephone and food and if there was something left for clothing etc. Yes it was a struggle all the time and you just hoped you did not get sick because if you went into hospital they may not have the medicine to treat you unless you could pay extra for it.

With the apparent "Crooks" or "Mafia" running the country and big business it was becoming very hard for the ordinary people and pensioners to make ends meet.

She was a English teacher whose main subject was teaching French of which she had studied for 15 years only to find the were no positions for that subject so taught herself English which I think she spoke with a French Ukrainian accent.

She asked me to help her with a lesson she had to prepared, me who failed every exam I ever sat in English, never ask me what an adjective is, I still think it is a city in Alaska, but it appears I must have learn a bit over the years as I was able to help, could this be my missing career ?

She told me she had been to France twice and had each time bought two what I would call a steak knives, this was the only table knives, bread knife, pealing knife, every sort of knife she had.

She was struggling all of the time with money, she did like the old days as she liked the State looking after her, and could not come to grips with the capitalist system, felt that if you were in business you were into the business of ripping off the poor people, and you could not be honest and be in business.

It was interesting the E had only met her once, but had no hesitation of telephoning her for accommodation, reminds me of the 40's & 50's in NZ, of course we then also had no money thanks to the Socialist system NZ was living under.

Sunday 20
Today is a week before the Russian Easter and it is "remember your ancestors" day so many go to the cemeteries to place flowers and I was told some take some alcohol down and have a drink with the departed, at least the departed would not drink much!

We went for a walk around the centre of town, where the apartment was, and into a market place were there was loads of flowers being sold to be taken to the cemeteries and it was good to see the daffodils and bluebells of spring on sale.

My first battery on the D60 went flat after 124 photos I have marked this battery one.

We went for a good look thro the market place where almost everything was being sold, some good photos in the meat market.

Then into a internet café to go on line to look at my emails, much better if you can download, but it served the trick. There was a beautiful well dressed girl there whose job it was to sell mobile phones, I noticed she did not smile much and the teacher told me with all of the day to day problems they have most people seldom smile.

E had told me that the things he notice about westerners was how they smiled a lot and how the western women's eyes did not look as tired as the Ukrainians.

Lunch and then it was time to head on south for the six hour drive to Simferopol, and again was the time to "settle up" again the question was asked "what do you think" so this time I told him what I thought and said, she get paid $45 a month so $10 would equal one weeks work so that should be fair.

His comment was long, first the state did not pay a income that was enough for people to live, second she had saved me $100, I had the pleasure of talking to her, (funny and here was me thinking she was getting help from me), so he said pay her 100 Hryvnia (about $19), so I said sure but we must discuss this in the future FIRST, but I guess it is going to be about this rate all the way because of the reasoning.

Do not get me wrong I am very happy with finding E and what I am talking about is more the product of the system than anything else.

To date 205 photos

It was, apart from the bad road in a few places an uneventful drive. We were talking and I asked some more questions about life under Communism, E told me that if you had a relation overseas, or an acquaintance, in Stalin time, that was your death sentence, Stalin was paranoid about possible spies.

Until 1985 when Perestroika happened they knew NOTHING at all about the west what so ever, so it was a major shock when they started to get the news about life in the west. Life under Communism was the hardest for those living in the countryside and to find that they had fought and won a war and had spent all their life waiting for things to get better and to find out how the losers (Germans) were living, was the ultimate shock.

We stopped at a medium size restaurant but it only had about six tables, it was privately owned, but they were not busy however the were still open looking for business. E told me that this was a vast improvement over the old days where the restaurants were VERY badly decorated, incredible bad service, and closed early.

I had a pork schnitzel, mashed potatoes, Coke, and a small bar of chocolate, for 13 Hryvnia (about $2.45), it was a good meal.

My hostess for the next two nights was a widow of 60, whose daughter had got a green card and was working in the States and as she had three bedrooms she had done two up to take in paying guests, her rate was $20 a night, $5 for every meal ……Oh well! (She ended up not charging for Breakfast)

We arrived at a rough looking apartment block (on the outside) but her apartment was possibly the nicest decorated I have seen so far, I would assume the daughter is helping with $. I was told the hot water will go off at 10pm but it was on in the morning till 12 noon so I elected to shower then. She has a washing machine in the kitchen, the bathroom is about six feet square.