Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The special forces' assault on Euromaidan was unsuccessful, President Yanukovych has been ousted and is currently nowhere to be found, the death toll is stable at 100+, journalists and economists are studying and publishing sheaths of inside accounting records from the presidential residence, dozens of influential politicians have left the Party of Regions, Tymoshenko has been freed from political imprisonment, those guilty for the military escalation are slowly being searched for and brought to justice. A new government is quickly being formed and gaining back control over the country.
All good news, right? Indeed, but there are very substantial risks ahead.
Domestic political risks
There is substantial risk of disappointment in the new political leaders, similar to what happened following the 2004 Orange Revolution. What will trigger this are things like: an overt focus on dividing portfolios and power amongst themselves without involving new leaders from Euromaidan, an absence of new faces, a focus on secondary issues such as the status of the Russian language versus Ukrainian, a lack of attention to systemic reforms in the judiciary and penitentiary system and in law enforcement, economic decline, etc.
These are very substantial risks, and it would seem that some are playing out right now.
Sovereign debt risks
Ukraine's currency has been rapidly losing value in recent weeks, and the country is close to bankruptcy. Its credit rating was lowered to CCC recently. The country's finances are in sorry shape, and the new government may have to make unpopular decisions in order to keep it afloat. European and Russian creditors are willing to help...
Risk of loss of territory
To try to understand Ukraine's delicate geopolitical situation and the vested interests of Russia and the West, I have found commentary by Polish-American analyst Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Putin aide Andrey Illarionov to be extremely helpful.
Basically, influential policymakers in the Kremlin, with Putin at the center, do not view Ukraine as a full-fledged country and are biding their time to get it — or a large chunk of it — back. Now is a time when Ukraine's strength and prosperity relative to Russia is at a historic low. The country is in the midst of political chaos. Russia's anti-Euromaidan propoganda machine is operating at full throttle and influencing the views of Russians and Ukrainians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine who follow Russian news sources.
Russian news channels have been calling Euromaidan protesters "extremists" and "terrorists" and have been making it seem like they hate Russians and present a physical risk to Russians in Ukraine. It would appear Moscow is preparing to use the pretext of danger to Russian citizens in Ukraine to use various "means" to "offer protection" to their citizens in such a "precarious state of affairs." As noted by former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili in recent publications, this tactic was put to use in Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia).
The greatest risk is that Crimea will be destabilized and pressured to secede from Ukraine. There is a somewhat smaller risk that eastern regions such as Donetsk, Lugansk, possibly Kharkiv, and possibly Odessa will follow.
To understand how Ukraine and the West can help avoid this, read Brzezinski's recent article in The Financial Times. I'm no expert on geopolitics, but what he's saying makes more sense than anything I've read from other western analysts.
Cause for optimism
This time around, compared to 2004, Ukrainians seem to be quite a bit wiser and better educated. Social networks (i.e. Facebook, vkontakte, Twitter) have been key in distributing information during and following the Euromaidan demonstrations and confrontation. People are better aware of Russia's motives and the many risks involved. They are more prone to action, petitions, demonstrating, and are more courageous than ever before.
I am very proud of my Ukrainian friends and the Ukrainian people in general and thrilled to see them come to feel more united and empowered. But not everyone is on the bandwagon, though its numbers are growing. Ukraine will need to pursue careful reforms at home without disenchanting large parts of the populace, and wise policies abroad given its position between Europe and Russia.
Monday, February 24, 2014
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Who exactly is behind the violent elements in the standoff with "Berkut" special forces is unclear — provocateurs or genuine protesters. The Ukrainian Internet is filled with inside reports and rumors, and information from government sources paints a very different pictures.
My friends in Kiev are all very concerned. They fear that Ukraine is rapidly being taken down a "Belarussian scenario" towards a Kremlin-controlled dictatorship.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Today was my first full-time day at the Euromaidan. The Maidan is nearly three weeks old. I am assisting foreign reporters. I've been to both headquarters at Kiev City Hall and the Union Building.
To those who are against the Maidan I wish to say: do you actually like the system that we all live in? I'm one of those who goes to the Maidan not because of the EU issue. I'm simply fed up with bureaucracy, corruption, and the incompetence of government officials high and low, as well as the everyday manifestations of all this.
I am overjoyed to see people finally gathering the courage to speak out. It was always easier for me, too, to say to myself, "I can't do anything about it." I'm happy to say I've begun to believe the opposite.
When I see politicians walking around the halls taking care of business, I can't help thinking: princesses have to poop, too. I can't say I care much for the opposition threesome [I think she means Yatseniuk, Klychko, and Tiagnibok] based on appearance alone; that's just my own issue. Ruslana [famous Ukrainian singer] is magical. She is incredibly tired, but her energy would fill stadiums, I am sure.
At City Hall today journalists were interviewing people from the crowd. A young man of about 20 said more substance per sentence than any politician I heard today.
There's not a single drunk on the street, not a single scuffle. I find myself looking suspiciously at men in striped "Abibas" pants and wondering if they're just petty hooligans or actual provocateurs [people who are paid to break the law or commit violent acts to justify the use of force against demonstrators].
The tea with lemon, ginger, and arrowwood that people are handing out is magnificent.
The weather is something fierce. Tomorrow I'll be wearing all the thermal underwear that I take hiking in the mountains. I just need to get ahold of some thermal skin.
No matter what happens next, things will never be as they were before.
Read about the significance of the Euromaidan at TryUkraine.com
Sunday, December 1, 2013
A substantial majority of Ukrainians support the path of European integration. This is not an issue that splits the country in half like the Orange Revolution. Most politicians consider the country's European course the only possible option. And yet Yanukovich abandoned negotiations.
The latest news can be read at the well-known Pravda.com.ua site in Ukrainian and Russian. Lenta.ru has faster and more news in Russian.
Pravda.com.ua now has a news feed in English.
There is also a TV station broadcasting live in Ukrainian: http://hromadske.tv/
A summary of events can be read on Wikipedia in English.
Read about the significance of the Euromaidan at TryUkraine.com
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
I was aware that everything I wanted to check up on can be arranged through private clinics. But choosing among a myriad of seemingly identical clinics is a nightmare, so I waited till I left Kiev for Sevastopol to get the work done there. I also figured the prices would be lower.
Sure enough, the number of private clinics in Sevastopol was somewhere between 5 and 10, which made it a lot easier to choose. Still, it was a bit daunting investing the different clinics and trying to make the best decision.
Finally, I went in for my first blood tests. I walked in, asked for the price list, and a few minutes later told the administrator which ones I wanted. I paid at another window, brought the slip back, and was directed into the testing room. Five minutes later I was out. I left my email with the administrator to get my results by email.
This first experience was very encouraging given the simplicity of the process. The registration process was quick and easy and no documents were necessary. Once I got the results back, I decided to see some doctors. I chose a different clinic on a whim and set up my first appointment over the phone. I ended up staying with this clinic. Luckily, in Sevastopol most medical services are provided in a specific neighborhood, making it easy to save time by scheduling doctors visits or analyses for a certain time of day.
The procedure for seeing a doctor is more complex than for doing blood tests. You need a passport, and they create a new account for you. Your citizenship doesn't matter. In Kiev these accounts are almost always on the computer, but the clinic I visited in Sevastopol actually registered me in a dedicated paper booklet that they recorded all my visits in and stored in an expansive shelf in the registration room.
The cost of seeing a doctor varies with the specialist, but it is currently about 100 to 150 UAH (12-19 USD) for the first visit and half that for follow-up visits if they take place within a month of the previous visit. 20 minutes are usually allotted per visit. It's wise to get there 10-15 minutes early in order to register at the front desk and pay for the visit before it's your time to see the doctor.
Both doctors I ended up seeing seemed reasonably professional. One was particularly responsive and listened carefully to what I was saying, and was positive about my online research in the field. I had read positive reviews about the doctor online on some Sevastopol Internet forum. The other doctor was also professional but was less positive about my online research, suggesting that "too much reading can make you think you're ill, blah blah blah." I had to defend my efforts and explain that I'm not prone to hypochondria. This doctor would get lower ratings from me because she seems less attuned to her patients' needs, but she was still sufficiently professional.
It was interesting to read what doctors had written after each appointment with me when I came in the next time, picked up my account booklet and carried it to the doctor for our visit. I took photos of these notes for my personal records.
Both doctors then gave me recommendations — направления — indicating that I should get this or that test done just in case. I then took these to the places they recommended and had the tests done.
My experiences at these specialized labs were also relatively positive. At the first one, there was a confused crowd of people trying to figure out which line was for registration and which was for testing. I marvelled at the poor organization, given that each week the same thing must happen over and over again, and no one at the center takes it upon themselves to at least put clear instructions on the door. Nonetheless, the testing procedure itself was relatively quick and painless.
All along the way I thought of how much money and probably time I was saving over doing the same tests in the U.S., and the fact that at each step along the way I could ask questions and get additional information and was not simply an object on a conveyor belt.
ConclusionNow that this experience is behind me, I know that addressing health concerns in Ukraine is not difficult at all, and I won't be tempted again to keep putting things off because I don't understand the system. I also feel comfortable about not having health insurance of any kind. Pretty much any problem that has any likelihood of arising can be properly dealt with for a few thousand dollars at most. Having this amount of savings would seem to negate the need for insurance.
The second main lesson learned is that no matter which country you are in, you must take responsibility for your own health into your own hands. You cannot expect to meet a doctor who will examine all areas of your life and identify the cause and effect relationships between diet, lifestyle, emotional life, relationships, stress levels, and your health issues, whatever they may be. Each doctor focuses on his particular specialization and medical solutions to specific problems within that field. So, self-education is essential in order to see the bigger picture and avoid overdependence on doctors who often aren't sure of their diagnoses and lack perfect information about their clients.
More on Healthcare in Ukraine at TryUkraine.com.
Friday, May 11, 2012
Friday, March 9, 2012
On March 29-31 there will be an open-house of Ukrainian colleges and universities (62, from 13 regions of Ukraine) as well as 50 foreign institutions (mainly European). This presentation seems to be geared towards cooperation between institutions with the goal of attracting foreign students, but if you are already in Ukraine and interested in attending a Ukrainian university, this would probably be an excellent chance to talk to people directly and get some useful information. The complete announcement is below, in Ukrainian. The address is the "Ukrainian House" building on Khreschatyk Street, 2 (European Square).
29-31 березня 2012 року в Києві у приміщенні Центру ділового та культурного співробітництва "Український дім" (вул. Хрещатик, 2) відбудуться: щорічна міжнародна спеціалізована виставка "Освіта та кар'єра - 2012" та виставка закордонних навчальних закладів "Освіта за кордоном". В виставці «Освіта та кар'єра - 2012» приймуть участь 62 українські вищі навчальні заклади з 13 регіонів України, понад 50 закордонних навчальних закладів з Польщі, Греції, Німеччини, Чехії, Кіпру, Великої Британії, Туреччини, Литви, Латвії, Росії, США, Мальти, Австрії, Франції, Нідерландів, Фінляндії, Естонії, ОАЕ. Також у виставці візьмуть участь 20 міжнародних організацій та освітніх агенцій. 31 березня 2012 року (субота) об 11.00 в рамках виставки відбудеться презентація освітніх програм українських вищих навчальних закладів. У презентації приймуть участь представники міжнародних відділів українських вищих навчальних закладів. Запрошуємо до участі у презентації представників освітнього та культурного співробітництва іноземних представництв в Україні, іноземних фірм та представництв, які займаються набором студентів для навчання у вищих навчальних закладах України. Участь у даній презентації надасть можливість налагодити співпрацю та обмінятись контактами з представниками міжнародних відділів вищих навчальних закладів, дізнатись про програми навчання та перелік спеціальностей ВНЗ тощо. Участь у презентації є безкоштовною.
Friday, December 23, 2011
(This is a continuation of the previous post)
In the past I have recommended that people learn as much of the language before their arrival as possible. I would like to revise that. If you can set up language lessons immediately after arrival, then it is probably a better use of your time and energy to just come a few days or weeks earlier and fill that extra time with language study with a tutor, rather than trying (usually unsuccessfully) to find time for independent study while you are busy preparing for your trip. Learning in advance takes more self-discipline than learning on location, and is typically less effective.
My goal for learning Ukrainian or Russian would be very concrete. You need to get over the initial learning hump as quickly as possible so that your knowledge of the language can carry you from there without too much additional effort. Once you are already speaking in the language and understand a large amount of what is being said, moving onward from there is much easier and doesn't require a lot of willpower and study. All that is needed is simply to have people to talk to in the language for a minimum of half an hour to an hour a day and to have a good dictionary (more on this below).
It can take 2 months or less to reach this threshold of somewhere between 1000 and 2000 words (I'd say roughly 1600), or it can take years or even forever if the right conditions or willpower are lacking. If your approach is effective (more on this below), you can assimilate these 1600 or so most useful and oft-repeated words — which I call the "communicative core" of a language — with 150-200 hours of work, which can be compressed into as little as 1.5-3 months. If the process is too drawn out and you keep getting distracted, you may end up taking much longer to get there in terms of hours of effort invested.
If at all possible, I would try to find an independent Russian/Ukrainian tutor in advance or sign up for beginning group classes with a reputable school of Russian/Ukrainian. I would also get some kind of beginning-to-intermediate audiocourse and an electronic dictionary for personal use to complement classwork (more on this below). I would arrange for classes on a near-daily basis. If you're meeting fewer than 3 times a week, it will be easy to lose momentum between lessons.
The order in which you learn things is very important. It is important to focus on what is relevant to your life right now unless you are a bookworm who gets carried away learning the structural nuances of a language. Here is the order I would attack Ukrainian or Russian.
1. The most basic phrases (days 1-2). Things like "hello," "thank you," "please," "excuse me," "do you speak English?", "I don't speak Russian/Ukrainian," "I don't understand," "my name is…", etc., plus very basic grammar associated with these phrases — i.e. conjugating the verbs "to speak" and "to understand," pronouns, and a brief introduction to the most basic grammar principles of Russian/Ukrainian.
2. Cyrillic alphabet + pronunciation (days 2-3). Alphabet and pronunciation go together. Learn all the letters and their best approximate pronunciation. Learn how to write and pronounce your own name. Practice reading some of the signs you'll see all over town ("ресторан," "гастроном," "банк," etc.) and learn what they mean. From here on you can practice reading signs around town and look up or ask your teacher what they mean. Practice repeating words slowly after your teacher to try to grasp the proper pronunciation. Your teacher needs to be sufficiently patient and to be able to explain and demonstrate some of the difficult sounds now and in the future as necessary. It is important to introduce good pronunciation habits from the outset because it will make speaking easier after an initial "break-in" period. Note: all words learned should have accent marks above accented syllables, and nouns should be noted as masculine, feminine, or neuter.
3. An additional complication for Ukraine is that in many mostly Russian-speaking cities almost all the signs are in Ukrainian. This will cost you a bit of time early on, but if you're learning Russian you'll need to learn the Russian equivalents of the words on the signs you're seeing around town (weeks 1-2). Usually the words are very similar, so it shouldn't be terribly difficult. At some point later on (weeks 5-8?) you will also need to learn the fairly short list of differences in pronunciation of Cyrillic letters in Ukrainian vs. Russian, and if you are in a city where much Ukrainian is spoken (Kiev), near the end of the course (weeks 7-8?) it will be very useful to be introduced to the most basic Ukrainian vocabulary (same stuff you learned in the first couple days of Russian classes).
4. Basic vocabulary for specific everyday needs. About 150-200 words at first (weeks 1-2), growing to 2 or 3 times that number by the time you've assimilated the full "communicative core" of 1600 or so words, including names of things you need to buy (groceries, milk, water, beer, banana, ticket, phone card, etc.) or often need to refer to (mobile phone, computer, Internet, wi-fi, apartment, city center, metro, train station, marshrutka, bus stop, office, school, organization, etc.), basic professions and roles (teacher, student, programmer, volunteer, father, mother, children, etc. depending on your activities), countries, nationalities, and languages (America, English, German, Ukrainian, Ukraine, Kiev, France, French, Russia, etc. depending on where you're from), and the "connective vocabulary" necessary to use them ("I am a ___," "I speak ___," "I am from ___," "Do you have ___," "where is ___?", etc., to go, to buy, to want, to be able, to need, etc.), as well as just enough grammar to understand why you say these things the way you do in Russian/Ukrainian. All this new vocabulary should be written in Cyrillic. This will slow things down compared to using transliteration, but it will be much more effective in the long run because you will learn to read, write, and pronounce better in the process.
5. Remaining basic general vocabulary for general communication (1000+ words). The most basic all-purpose vocabulary (my, your, me, him, her, it, that, who, what, when, where, why, because, here, there, today, now, again, at, in, on, etc., as well as numbers) should be introduced in weeks 1-2 with subsequent general vocabulary building upon previous words in order of usage and importance. For instance, "to forget" is appropriate for weeks 5-6 of an 8-week course designed to teach you the communicative core, but not for weeks 1-2. Months, days of the week, and telling time are appropriate for weeks 3-4, but talking about years ("in 1998," etc.) is for weeks 5-8. Grammar principles should be introduced as needed to create and explain dialogues appropriate to your level and current needs. Under no circumstances should your course commence with charts of endings and conjugations. You risk becoming discouraged and delaying your attainment of the communicative threshold by months or years. Introduced bit by bit in the context of things you have heard Ukrainians say or things you need to say yourself, Ukrainian or Russian grammar will be much more accessible and easy to grasp. Vocabulary and grammar that is timely is assimilated much better than untimely vocabulary and grammar. Remember that the connections between words are just as important as the words themselves; if you just know words and no constructions, then you will not be able to guess how to say things as simple as, "I need more time" or "I have a son." General vocabulary should be introduced along with common constructions for using it.
6. Along the way from the beginning to the end, it is necessary to have considerable amounts of unstructured exposure to the language outside of class. This is necessary so that your audial memory can engage in the language learning process by telling you things like "hey, I've heard that word before" and "what does «давай!» mean?" as well as gaining an intuitive feeling for how the language is spoken. Much of this can be achieved by walking around town and going about your daily activities (going to the store, restaurants, cafes, work, parties, people's houses, etc.), but the process can be sped up if you also spend time listening to special dialogues designed for the beginner or intermediate level. These dialogues will be spoken more clearly and slowly and will contain more of the words you have learned or will learn soon in class, so you will be able to get more out of them more quickly. I find it best when the dialogues are exclusively in the foreign language. If they are a complement to studies with a teacher or tutor, then an accompanying textbook is not necessary. If you find you are curious about grammar "ahead of schedule," then look for a grammar textbook to peruse on your own. But don't overdo it and get stressed out by all the things you don't understand. Just use it to satisfy your curiosity and get a second explanation of things in addition to what your teacher has told you, nothing more. Grammar study should assist speaking and comprehension, not vice versa.
7. You will also need a good dictionary — paper or electronic — to be able to look up words on your own. But you shouldn't get too carried away with this process. If you start writing down lots of words that you have not yet heard spoken (i.e. your audial memory is not yet engaged), chances are you will not be able to incorporate them into your active vocabulary until you actually start hearing them spoken around you. Therefore, focus on words you have heard or keep seeing around you, or on words you need right now to be able to say something important ("eggs," "the Internet doesn't work," "I have a cold," etc.). Ideally, the dictionary needs to show accent marks, any shifting accents, case requirements (e.g. "сказáть что кому, о чём" or "через что, кого"), and word morphology: declensions (changing endings) for nouns, conjugations and aspect (perfective or imperfective) for verbs. This way you will be able to obtain answers to most questions you will have about words and their proper usage. These days good electronic dictionaries for portable electronic devices make this easier than ever. For instance, the excellent and voluminous Oxford English-Russian dictionary is now available as an application for the iPhone/iPod/iPad. There is also a decent "Slovoed" dictionary app including other major European languages as well.
If you follow these recommendations, making minor adjustments for your individual needs and learning style, I can guarantee that you will get over that initial learning hump within a few months, making your life in Ukraine that much easier and more multidimensional.