27 July 2006

A Fort for the Wolf to Blow Down

The future of the Ukrainian government hangs in the balance and the only thing I can think about is how hard it is to get a 2x4. You know, the standard cheap six-foot softwood stud. The kind one uses to build a loft in a college dorm room. The kind one uses to frame out a basement with, before the metal studs arrived and quickly became commonplace. The kids and I need them desperately so we can build our Fortetsia (fort). We can’t find this basic building supply here in Ukraine. They just don’t seem to be in circulation here. The kids and I canvass Velyka Okruzhna (the ring road). Through the swirling dust we look at the long lines of ancient Kamaz trucks standing on the side of the road, tilting precariously under the weight of their cargo. Their tail gates are open, displaying massive quantities of bricks, flagstone, garden stepping stones, large boulders, and quite an array of gravel varieties. Occasionally between the massive olive-green trucks sits a broad babushka, on a tiny stool, selling hand made brooms made of twigs strapped together on wooden poles. This was all very intriguing for us but it did not help us buy any 2x4’s. A lumber dilemma. “Maybe we should build the fort out of bricks” says Roman after seeing the mass of overloaded trucks of red bricks. “No” says Maya “We’re the middle pig, we’re building the fort out of wood.” Kalyna, chimes in “yeah, the wolf will huff and puff and blow our fort down”.

We arrive at EPICENTER. Each time I go into this store I am taken aback by it’s monstrous size: bigger than any Lowe’s or Home Depot I’ve seen in the U.S. More than 30 cashiers are hacking away at their registers. Sweating, socks and sandal clad shoppers dutifully wait in long lines with hardware piled high on their shopping carts waiting to pay 300 hryvnia for an imported German garden hose for example. I’m not an economist, but to me it’s some kind of an indicator of how disposal income is increasing, at least among Ukrainians in Kyiv. I didn’t run into a single foreigner in the place.

Again, the same lumber problem. The store seemingly has everything one could desire, in terms of hardware, but no 2x4’s. The kids grow impatient and start requesting a visit to the EPICENTER café, famous in our household. I actually like it. It’s large, modern and decorated in a trendy, New York style not to mention the great Ukrainian food served up cafeteria style.

Standing in this crowded mega-store, café pressure mounting from three hungry and thirsty mouths, I opt for these crazy 1.5 meter 1x5.5 pine boards that look like they are a composite of many smaller pieces (like scraps). Crazy to the tune of 35 hryvnia each (compared to a couple of dollars for a 2x4 in the U.S.). Expensive Kyiv.

So, in the end, we wind up building our fort with the 1x5.5’s and it seems to be going ok. Project completion is targeted for this weekend. Here is the construction team hard at work:

26 July 2006

Kivalov in the News

Ok, he's become a pet peeve of mine. I admit it. The latest is that he is about to put forth the VR's candidates for the Constitutional Court. The absurdity is unreal, beyond the baseline "surrealness" of politics here. (see article)

22 July 2006

Idiot Boy

Do you remember Kivalov? The head of the CEC when the presidential election was ripped off? The one who accepted a huge bribe to deceive the whole country?  Well, how disgusting is it to hear him on the radio (he’s a deputy now) giving his commentary on the political situation.  Are you kidding me? Is there anyone who is not disgusted by hearing him? I hope you google your name and read my words. YOU SHOULD BE IN JAIL LOSER.  SIT DOWN AND STAY QUIET FOOL.  Just to make sure google picks up on this: Kivalov, Kivalov, Kivalov, Kivalov, Kivalov, Kivalov, Kivalov, Kivalov, Kivalov.   Now go google yourself.

10 July 2006

BBC: Ukraine a Banana Republic?

My friend reports to me that BBC just called Ukraine a "banana republic". What does it mean exactly? Research item resulting in:

Banana republic is a pejorative term for a small, often Latin American or Caribbean country, which is politically unstable, dependent on limited agriculture, and ruled by a small, wealthy and corrupt clique. (from wikipedia)

Ok. Small? No. Politically unstable? Yes. Dependent on limited agriculture? No. Ruled by a small, wealthy and corrupt clique? um...wait that's a tough one...Yes?

I have been receiving emails from the U.S. asking if any of the local Kyivites care about the situation. From where I sit, if they do care, they sure are doing a good job of hiding it, because all appearances indicate that they could give 2 sh**s.

Tomorrow should be interesting as our soap opera continues to unfold. Tonight's cliffhangers: Will ByuT block the trybuna? Will the calls for a second maydan protest outside the VR be heeded (see maidan )? Will anyone listen to Yanukovych’s calls for a rally of his supporters at the VR?

Enough to keep me up at night? Not really. More like a story line of a third rate reality show.

Ukraine has more to offer than bananas and crooks.

Ukr-Folk Hip-Hop

That's how one of the bands performing at "Spivoche Pole" during Oleh Skrypka's incredible festival of Ukrainian folk art, craft and music introduced themselves. Multiple music stages. Singing groups that toured specific parts of Ukraine reported their findings by sharing the songs they learned there. Folk music from other countries (e.g. France) was also heard from the main stage as well as the whole gamut of Ukrainian music from traditional to hip-hop.

I relished one of those "aha moments" of how good it is to live in Ukraine. Sitting outdoors, in the open air with a view of the Dnipro and Patona bridge. The rhythmic music mixing with our kids laughing as they run through the trees and bushes building "forts". Beer taps flowing alongside trays of fresh dyruny. Spontaneous encounters with random friends leading to animated conversations. More music --- and the bonus educational piece: our kids seeing how a bandura is carved out of a single block of wood, and how a vyshyvka is weaved on an ancient wooden foot-treadle loom.

We visited the festival twice on Saturday and returned on Sunday for the grand finale: Oleh Skrypka's performance, while the moon ascended above the evergreens, and the two giant straw men (seemingly in the middle of the crowd) were set ablaze.

A world away from the pathetic political drama just a few kilometers away. Highly recommended.

07 July 2006


I immersed myself in the disgusting unfolding "drama" last night via Ukr. television. Now I feel unclean. I am very glad I didn't waste time following the whole agonizing formation of the so-called "Orange Coalition", only to see it lay dying a week later.

Yushchenko will not stop supporting Poroshenko. What's with that? My freind's astute observation: "I wonder what Yushchenko owes Poroshenko?"