Marina Lewycka ‘Two Caravans’. Penguin, 2008.

Marina Lewycka is well known as the author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, albeit people might not recognise the name. This sequel is not blessed by a catchy title (published in America under the better ‘Strawberry Fields’) but it gives a great deal of insight into the problems faced by migrant workers in Britain and also the tensions in modern Ukraine between Russian / Soviet looking mostly former industrial south east and intellectual European looking modern Ukrainian youth. This from a book that is ten years old – I was surprised as I didn’t think the Short History of Tractors (which I have never actually read) was as old as that. Sourced for me by Nicholas Willmott, bookdealer of Cardiff,* I was surprised to find this book was published in 2001. It is a tale of Ukrainian, Polish, Chinese, Malaysian, and a Malawian worker picking strawberries in Kent, of Russian and Moldovan gangsters, dodgy agri-business practice, and English and European eccentricities. It visits, in reality (a eco-protest camp) or in the personal tales (Moldovan / Transdniestrian border / post industrial post Soviet Ukraine) places I have been and paints pictures that I recognise (albeit the world of people trafficking is something I only read about in reports and articles).

Ukraine of course is not in the European Union (many people in Britain don’t realise it is in Europe) so the novel illustrates the truism that there have always been European migrant workers before the EU and from non-EU European countries. The difference in treatment is played out in surprising ways. Does Brazilians pretending to be Portuguese explain why there are so many South Americans in Liverpool more than ten years ago (which I think is great) despite Labour and Tory governments being ostensibly anti-immigration? Just as in the book, the mix of people makes for a much more interesting city and country, but a key problem is that the new workers and existing residents get little chance to meet and interact. Hence the difficulties of the young hero and heroine (intellectual student Irina from Kyiv, and ex-coalminer Andriy, from Donbass) meeting the English gentleman and glamorous lady of their dreams or textbooks. The picture that Ukrainian / Russian textbooks paint of idealised English men and women in an idealised England is what students in Ukraine still tell me today (though they also believe our country is covered in fog, has terrible food, and we are cold because we can’t afford to heat our homes).

David Blunkett gets an affectionate cameo role, as do a large cast of supporting characters from Australian chef to African care home nurse. Some of the poetry of the cheerful young evangelical Christian from Emanuel I find a bit much (he is infectiously cheerful) and I come to like the mysterious dog that just appears but wonder if the explanation for tragi-comic dog was somehow cut out by mistake. At the time of the acclaim for A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian I assumed that the author was a young emerging or new Ukrainian writer. I had no idea that Marina Lewycka is the daughter of Ukrainian refugees, born in Kiel, grew up in Yorkshire and elsewhere; educated at Keele and had her first book published at 59.
I don’t know the situation for migrant workers in Britain today. Would the book be the same if written now? A new account for our times is needed.

* & father in law.

12 things you may not know about Ukraine – 5 minute talk to Ignite Liverpool.

Thanks to Ignite Liverpool for uploading my five minute talk from 17 May on Twelve things that you may not know about Ukraine. And thanks for inviting me to be one of the contributors that day. Here is a link to the video on YouTube. It is also available on their Facebook page and Twitter feed.

The introductory blurb says “I’ve spent much time in Ukraine over the last nearly three years and have become quite a fan. Not many people in Britain know much about Ukraine and I try to tell them what it is really like – the good and the bad, the unusual stuff and the normal stuff.”

With many thanks to Adrian, Neil, Lydia, Dan, Will and all the Ignite Liverpool team, to everyone who came along, who watched or listened in and to the other inspiring speakers. This talk was based on a talk to Liverpool UNA in April last year.

I attach a copy of the short script. Ignite talk Twelve things about Ukraine K Reid 2

Ignite Liverpool website:

Kyiv tips for Eurovision & other visitors.

As Eurovision 2017 gets underway in Kyiv (usually known as Kiev still in the UK) here are some tips from early last year, which may be of use to fans attending. The original post seems to have dropped off my website in conversion to the new WordPress one which I only spotted when looking for these tips. They are originally aimed at UK football fans, as you can see. I’m assuming visitors are heading to the Dynamo Kyiv stadium. I would just add three things. I’ve read the UK FCO travel advice for visitors for Eurovision and think it is good practical advice, I agree with nearly every word. People in Kyiv and in Ukraine in general are usually very friendly and helpful, there are the usual exceptions. So if stuck on something do try and ask. Finally, while I wanted Eurovision to be in the wonderful city of Odessa, there is no doubt that the Ukrainian authorities and people of Kyiv will be passionate to ensure that visitors have a good time and enjoy the culture and hospitality of Ukraine’s capital city. Do enjoy, and good luck to all competitors.

Kyiv tips for football fans

For any friends who can join Wales on the trip to Kyiv next week. Some tips in case you know anyone going or thinking of going. I really recommend it to all your Wales friends. Worth making a mini-break of it.
It’s a lovely stadium.
Accommodation is cheap.
Food and drink is cheap even in the centre.
There is quite a lot of English spoken in Kyiv, usually someone around will speak some English; Quite a lot of signs are in English as well as Cyrillic.

Top tips, get a map in Ukrainian and English;
practice reading the Cyrillic alphabet;
look up a few phrases for food and drink. Pivo is an obvious one and coffee (sounds same) / cava (Russian / Ukrainian) chai.

People are friendly, I find the Metro horrendously confusing – look out for little tiny green M signs to indicate the stations – they are very hard to spot. (If you do take the metro you buy a green plastic token that you put in a slot – they cost next to nothing).

There are regular airport shuttle buses (small mini buses, that you may be crammed in on with luggage), labelled Sky buses, for just a few pounds that run between the airport and the modern side of the main Kyiv Voxhal (railway station): central railway station (центральний вокзал), Southern Station. You pay the driver the fare as he is about to leave. The journey can take about an hour (if very quick only 40 minutes). Traffic in Kyiv is very heavy at peak times so allow plenty of time for bus or taxi.

While the modern both late communist and capitalist parts of Kyiv, and modern capitalist outskirts are pretty ugly, the old historic central areas are very nice. As it happens the British Embassy is in one of the nicest locations.

The Kyiv in your pocket guide is good:
You can download a .pdf of it, and will see copies and tourist maps in places around the city.

This site also seems useful:

Definitely take a walk to the Maydan Square (about 40 minutes from the stadium) and up the main Khreshchatyk Street (Bul.) [ вул. Хрещатик ] (the nearer end is about 20 minutes from the stadium). There is a giant shopping centre under the Maydan. The domed Bessarabian market at the end of Khreshchatyk nearer the stadium is also worth popping into. And the big gold domed Cathedrals are really quite spectacular. St. Sophia’s. St. Michael’s.

Good tea and coffee and cake everywhere. You can get the currency from cash machines easily.
As it’s currently about 38 Hryvnias (sounds like Grivnia) to the pound, an expensive beer or coffee may cost about £1.50 but it can be a lot less. Maybe 30p for a large bottle of water from a kiosk (expensive in restaurants, cheap elsewhere). A pizza or burger is likely to cost a few pounds in a restaurant. Kiosks / supermarkets are really cheap. Of course there are also very expensive restaurants / bars if you want them. Oh, and they really do eat Chicken Kiev – it’s called cutlet Kyivski style and isn’t at all 1970s 🙂 .

The tourism site the FCO travel advice recommends looks good. On the food section if you scroll down a few lines you actually get to stuff I’d recommend eating!! [That site does not seem to have been updated for 2017]

Oddly it doesn’t have a map. Nor does the next guide.

The Eurovision 2017 Kyiv tips by Vladyslav Tieriekhov is good. It includes phrases in Ukrainian:

For a guide book the Lonely Planet guide to Ukraine is a good book.

You usually sit at a table, and order food as well as drink, in a bar. Even the few that look like pubs are more like cafe bar / restaurants. Most people will always eat and drink at the same time.

Ukrainian and Russian are used interchangeably. Younger / professional people may speak French / German / Italian as well.

A couple of bars I recommend:
Slavutych Shato Brewery
вул. Хрещатик, 24
Half way along Kreshchatyk on the left as you walk towards Maydan. You can’t miss the giant illuminated pint plass outside.

Porter Pub. Портер паб.
These look quite like Irish bars at home, they look quite like pubs. There are quite a few of them around Kyiv including just off either end of Kreshchatyk.

Milk Bar. This is a very nice Cafe / coffee / cake shop quite near the football stadium. It is expensive (UK type prices) but very good. As trendy as Manchester.
Shota Rustaveli St, 16

There is a food hall several floors up the Gulliver shopping mall – inside the huge Gulliver business centre complex near the stadium, and there is a good supermarket in the basement of the Gulliver complex. Gulliver has a huge illuminated yellow sign on top – it looks like an office block at the front and the entrance to a mall near the Palats Sportu metro at the back.

Other food tips.
I was going to start listing and recommending places but actually they are far too numerous to recommend good, good value (from very cheap to very expensive) coffee, tea and cafés and café bars and restaurants and other eating and drinking places. (I know a few cheap fast food joints as well of varying quality but always friendly). Everything will have a Ukrainian twist. We can certainly recommend cheap Ukrainian, or good pizza (Пицца – пиццерия Pizzeria – Pizza Celentano is a popular chain serving decent quality pizza found in both Poland and Ukraine), or nice restaurants where locals also eat. Passata Kharta (ask your hotel staff for proper Ukrainian and transliteration) is a good inexpensive self-service Ukrainian food chain, that also serves drinks. There is one very near the Bessarabian market. They look like terrible theme restaurants but serve authentic Ukrainian food.

PS The alphabet. Like in English, the upper case and lower case letters can look quite different, and the handwritten characters (including various old fashioned and stylised typed ‘handwritten’ scripts) look completely different to the printed upper case standard letters. They pronounce the name of their alphabet Kirillick (rather than as we say Cyrillic).


British sports teams seem to be regularly making the trip to Kyiv for international football matches. Having visited Kyiv (known in Britain mostly as Kiev) many times here are a few very simple tips for fans travelling to the city. Originally written in case any Man City, and then Wales fan friends were travelling to Ukraine or had friends who were. I’ve made 9 short visits to the city over the last 20 months, and am still very much finding my own way around. I also attach a few pictures of phrases in Ukrainian and Russian in case useful. These are from the Lonely Planet guides and Berlitz phrasebook. [On original website post not yet uploaded here]

2 April 2016.

Original post 19/02/2016 for Dynamo Kyiv v Man City, revised 21/03/2016 for Ukraine v Wales.

8/9 May 2017 Eurovision edit.