07 March 2009

Touring Ukraine's Economy - Day 4 Odesa

08:00 Breakfast with Ilich at the Grand Hotel Ukraine, Dnipropetrovsk.

09:30 Exiting Dnipropetrovsk. The navigation, now my companion, is silent. Fog and white frost covered steppes on the road to Kryvij Rih. -4 DegC.

11:10 The sign reads welcome to Sofiivka. I’m willing to put money on a bet that Sofiivka is the most popular village name in Ukraine. I feel like I’ve gone through a dozen of them.

12:00 My first time in Kryvih Rih. The city immediately strikes me as neat and well kept. From the roads to the apartment buildings to the orderly landscaping by individual cottages. A mayor who cares perhaps?

The "Anti-crisis Staff of the Party of Regions" has a billboard campaign throughout the city. If I understand correctly the board reads: "In place of unreliability - trust(or confidence?)"

12:10 Kryvih Rih economic indicators. Not one but two McDonald’s with full parking lots. Good coffee "to go". Many small shopping malls, also full parking lots. A shiny new Renault dealership

12:20 Leaving Kryvih Rih I am looking for the road to Mykolaiv. The navigation system is as uncertain as I am, staying silent and then announcing, with an almost discernable sigh: “re-calculating”. I end up on a huge cloverleaf intersection which looks relatively recently built. Unfortunately there is not a single sign before any of the ramps indicating where the road may lead. The navigation seems unfamiliar with the new intersection and is staying quiet. I take the first ramp and wonder how it’s possible to spend millions of dollars on building this interchange and then not have the money to throw up a few signs?

13:42 The road from Kryvih Rih to Mykolaiv is ridiculously bad. The worst yet. Huge potholes all over the road and large missing swaths of road on the sides, the ancient fields well on their way to reclaiming the road. There does appear to be some concern for the cleanliness of the shoulder of the road, a sign reads "Thank you for the clean shoulders":

13:55 Novyj Buh. A village with a sign at the entrance that reads “Caution Intense Movement of Pedestrians”. There is no way to drive quickly even if I wanted to with all the massive potholes and undulations in the road. As I bounce through the center of town I see a large WWII hero statue and a little further down a silvery metallic statue of Taras Shevchenko.

14:00 I’m “jonesing” for a large Americano coffee from a McD’s. Using my phone I find one in Mykolaiv. I try to put it into the navigation but apparently it does not have a detailed map of Mykolaiv. There is a cool statue by the McD's in Mykolaiv. In memory of ship builders, sailors, navigators, and all those involved things nautical.

14:15 A green old truck with some kind of missile launching apparatus appears out of the fog. The plaque says it was used in the war in 1944.

Odesa. Our dealer in Odesa and his wife invite me to dinner along with another couple. They are warm and friendly “Odesyty”. The conversation begins as a spirited sharing of funny travel experiences. They are extremely well traveled.

The crisis is touched upon as a topic of conversation and a brief debate as to whether Ukraine will default or not ensues. One of the men, a clothing, watch, and shoe importer says sales are 20% off prior year. He did not seem too concerned with the downturn in the short term. The general theme of the conversation about the economy was a feeling of frustration that the leadership of the country was so incompetent. They raise the rhetorical question: why do we have to be such a chaotic country where there is absolutely no order, no rule of law, no stability?

Another couple joins the group and suddenly two of the men are discussing western Ukraine and their travel experiences there, almost as if it was a different country. They recount acts of great hospitality and friendliness. Then the conversation takes a political turn and the two begin debating the history of western Ukraine. One from the side of Soviet taught history, and the other from the western taught history (the way I learned it). By this time we have moved one floor down into a “whisky club” and were sampling whiskies. They are amazed that an American can speak Ukrainian but not Russian. One of the men starts proudly speaking broken Ukrainian much to the teasing banter of the rest of the group. I sit mostly quiet while the debate about the history of Halichyna and western Ukraine continues and try to grasp the point of view of Soviet history out of curiousity. When directly asked, I recount the history the way I learned it from my parents and from the Subtelny book.

Then back to the humorous travel stories such as this one: somewhere while driving on historic route 66 one of the Odesa couples had stumbled across a space museum. In the museum was an exhibit about Soyuz-Apollo mission (known as Apollo-Soyuz to us). In the exhibit were two bottles of alcohol. Apparently when the two ships docked in orbit, the Soviet Cosmonauts gave the Americans a bottle of Vodka, and the Americans gave the Cosmonauts a bottle of whisky. Today, in the exhibit the Vodka bottle is full, and the whisky bottle is almost completely empty. Signed by all the Cosmonauts, but empty.

09:30 Sunday. A brilliant sun is out in the Odesa morning. We walk by the beach in the Arkadia part of town. Then we stroll past all the colorful, thematic bars now closed and boarded up for the winter. The Black Sea glistens in the sun. Sea gulls fly in groups around the pier. A line of cargo ships queues on the horizon.

The road to Kyiv is one of the best roads in Ukraine. The ride is smooth and peaceful. The Ukrainian steppe sprawling on either side of the road covered in snow. The sun pokes through the clouds but only in swathes, like huge floodlights from the heavens illuminating parts of fields, groves of birch trees, and rows of little cottages organized along meandering creeks, clinging to the gentle undulations of the black earth.

Despite the inept politicians, lack of leadership, and rampant corruption, I remain in awe of this country and its people.


Anderl said...

Thank you for this great travelogue. I forwarded links to many friends.

Where could I learn about the two different histories of Ukraine you mention?

petro said...

Anderl..thanks. You can learn the diaspora/western Ukraine version from Subtelny (link in the post), the soviet version...i don't know? some old text i guess. good question.

elmer said...

Look, Orest Subtelny is not a propagandist, and the history of Ukraine that he wrote is not a "diaspora/western Ukraine version" of Ukrainian history.

It is the result of research and scholarship - unbiased research and scholarship.

It is absolutely dishonest and irresponsible for you to dismiss it as a mere personal version of Ukraine's history.

It is not to be dismissed by a reckless, thoughtless comment from you.

Other than that, I do enjoy your travelogue.

petro said...

Elmer, thank you for your comment. If you read the post you should understand why I was referring to "versions". The Odesyt did have his own "version" of Ukrainian history that he was taught in the Soviet system. In no way did I mean to imply that Subtelny is a propagandist. In fact, his book is the one I study and refer people to. Nor did I intend to "dismiss it as a mere personal version". Sorry you read it that way.

It's not about me anyway, I'm an American that would give his life for this country (even with it's corrupt government). It's about the Odesyt who is convinced there are two versions of Ukrainian history and is trying to come to terms with which one is correct. Simply telling him that Subtelny is correct and unbiased won't do it. What will?

elmer said...

Як відповісти?

Well, for starters, he can look at the history pictures and movies where people somehow "disappeared" out of the picture or movie - a well-known phenomenon, notably during Stalin's era.

Unbiased history does not have people simply "disappear" from photos and movies.

Second, he can ask himself who had an agenda, and why.

Orest Subtelny does not have any sort of agenda, hidden or otherwise.

Most of the younger people that I've run into know that school in the sovok union was propaganda, and one had to pretend to believe it.

And, with some people, one simply throws up one's hands - no use trying to illuminate a brainwashed sovok. It's a lost cause. Especially when the sovok is habitually full of горілка, or водка.

Anyway, thank you for your response/explanation.

Anderl said...

Thanks for your tip. I bought a second-hand copy of Subtelny's first edition and have been reading avidly ever since I received it.

About him not having an agenda - hmmm, I guess that depends partly on what one means by agenda. He certainly has a viewpoint. I don't think his is the only possible coherent narrative of Ukraine. We always call those historians we agree with 'unbiased researchers' while all the others must by definition be scheming propagandists. Just ask the Russians...

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