Ukraine impressions February 2017.

As I arrive in Ukraine for my sixth visit since 2014, here are some as jotted impressions of my arrival and days in Ukraine last time, February last year. Photographs to follow.

Ukraine impressions February 2017.

Arriving at Zaporizhia airport. A small Soviet era regional airport – about the size of Derry, or Belfast city ten years ago, or Liverpool twenty years ago.

UN planes loom out of the lightening mist of dawn. Large aircraft and helicopters painted white with giant UN letters on the fuselage. From previous Ukrainian contributions to UN peacekeeping missions I presume.

Departing from the airport two weeks later, early on a Friday morning. The tiny terminal was crowded with two Kyiv flights and a Minsk flight within one hour of each other around 6.30 am. A small new departures hall required taking your bag off the one x-ray machine, out of the main building, around the side and a short walk towards the tarmac to the new departures. No one told me this, I followed another passenger fortunately.

30 – 40 minutes from the University side of the city (if no traffic); 40 (- 50 in traffic, a guess) to the river side of the city centre. Quicker if in a good car.
The airport is a couple of miles in the countryside on the edge of the city, past industrial, new suburban, and mixed industrial / residential district.

150 hr (about £4) in an unofficial taxi.

Information for tourists and travellers to Zaporizhzhia airport.*
The brand new (February 2017) tiny domestic departures lounge is located outside to the right (when you come out) of the bijou main terminal / check in. Round the corner and ahead 100 yards. It is big enough for 1 flight.
Internal flights are by UIA / МАУ, and Motor Sich, the airline associated with a giant local military and civilian aircraft and vehicle company. The Motor Sich plane was a new looking turbo prop. Slower but with customer service and a style that still feels like air travel is a special experience. The UIA plane was now a full size regular 737-800, unlike the smaller Boeing planes used in my first internal flights to then Dnipropetrovsk, & Zaporizhia in 2014 and 2015. Unlike the first time I took internal flights from this airport, 14 months earlier, the domestic flights were now almost entirely full (previously local residents, students and business people had stuck to the traditional train journeys, especially the overnight inexpensive sleepers).

[* For changing to internal from international flights in Kyiv & arriving at Dnipro airport see below, to be added. Arriving in 2018, the internal flights were again not entirely but very full].

A few Ukrainian festive traditions.
Pancake week. Not a pancake day (our Shrove Tuesday) but a whole week in the run up to Lent. Máslenitsa (Russian), Máslyana (Ukrainian). I was lucky to be visiting Ukraine in this week as Easter was very early.

Giving presents at midnight on New Year’s Eve, rather than on Christmas morning, Day or Eve.
Father Frost is the traditional Russian speaking world Father Christmas / Saint Nicholas / Saint Nicolaus / Santa Claus figure.
There is a New Year Tree rather than a Christmas Tree.

What noises animals make in the Russian speaking world.
Ducks – clack.
Frogs – crack.
Horses and crows – I think are the same as in Britain? I didn’t note a different noise in the amusing class where for some reason we discussed animal noises.

At and around the University.
Internet improved – the WiFi signal and coverage.
More classrooms and buildings improved.
Some buses more modern? [I’ve seen one modern bus so far on my first afternoon in Zap in 2018]. Locals were more used to the awful crowded mini-bus ‘buses’ marshrutkas.
Roads – no better. Still largely terrible. [2018, roads terrible, largely, and driving absolutely catastrophic, mostly, but not everyone, and still the cars avoid hitting people. Parts of the main intercity highway between Zaporizhia and Dnipro were improved, several sections were being worked on as we drove, and many sections were absolutely abysmal. My friend Eldar navigated the potholes as impressively as our leisure rally car team member, driver, Yuriy, had done when working in the Odessa rural districts].
More coffee shops and restaurants.

After a foot of snow or more and freeze in February came thaw and a huge volume of slush.
The University cleaners swept any of the laboriously cleared paths from the snow and even brushed any cleared patch, the paths were spotlessly clean. I even saw one brushing the ice clean. Possibly the only, vital, health and safety provision I have seen in Ukraine is the University taping off paths immediately underneath buildings – so that no one is hit by the giant icicles when they melt and break off.

The cleaners are gangs of old women and a few men (more for gardening), sometimes for clearing or gardening ‘volunteer students from Faculties’. Just as municipal sweepers and park horticultural workers (very committed to their work) across Ukraine seem to be usually old women and men. The same in Dnipro the municipality workers planting bedding plant displays along the river front beds, April 2018. Unlike in the UK Universities do not appear to have cut down on cleaning ladies (they are all ladies), though I doubt they are paid very much either.

Some prices.

ZNU 10/02/17.
In the student canteen
40 hr – £1.35 for borsch, salad and potatoes with meat and a juice drink.

In a trendy café a coffee could cost twice that, coffee & cake a fiver like in a regular coffee shop in the UK at the time (now rather dearer in more affluent areas). Though actually my latte in studenty bar / dancing venue ‘Amsterdam’ was only 20 hr (about 65p). It was dearer when the café bar had been part of the local Costa Coffee imitation chain, Coffee Life (and there was less competition from smart new expensive places). Alcoholic drinks (two or three) plus food for two cost £10.

In Tirlo / Тырло, my new favourite ‘bar’ it was £1 a pint (European 500ml or so) for national beer, more for stronger ones and rather more (expensive in Ukrainian terms) for imported or locally brewed branded as international / European brands. It is a chain type atmosphere but a nice one, (restaurant meets craft beer hall in Ukrainian terms).

[Note these are for a large post Soviet / post industrial city in SE Ukraine, more touristy places are dearer, but you can find expensive trendy places here, & both cheap & very / expensive places in the popular / main tourist cities just like here. In Dnipro, April 2018, I paid 50p for a national ordinary Ukrainian beer in the very cheap Hotel Dnipropetrovsk bar, an uninviting looking first floor room well stocked with national products, food & drink, with friendly staff; £2.60 for an imported Belgian Leffe brune on draught in the trendy friendly Reporter basement bar, £1.50 for their own branded one draught bland Ukrainian lager].

What I’ve been doing in Ukraine.
I first went to Ukraine as an election observer for the Presidential election when Petro Poreshenko was elected, after the former President fled. I liked it and returned three times (and this time) as a volunteer professor at Zaporizhzhya National University in a large city in SE Ukraine, and also for two months as a Long Term Observer of elections in two cities (with added after work contract ZNU Uni visit). Plus during third visit a few days tourism with my wife in Lviv / Lvov and Kiev / Kyiv, & other times meeting friends I’ve made. I was deployed as a Long Term Observer in 2015 in Odessa & Chernihiv for the OSCE/ODIHR mission.

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