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.
There is also a TV station broadcasting live in Ukrainian: http://hromadske.tv/
A summary of events can be read on Wikipedia in English.
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.
No one likes having established activities, plans, and relationships in a place and yet not knowing whether they will even be allowed to stay there. This sense of insecurity and unsettledness is a fact of life not only for countless foreign citizens residing in Ukraine, but also for many Ukrainians who live in a system with constantly changing rules that often threaten their livelihoods. Of course, insecurity is not unique to Ukraine or to the former Soviet Union.
Moving to Georgia has given me a new perspective on the process of adapting to a new country and language. I had almost forgotten what it was like to not understand Russian or Ukrainian, to not be able to read signs on the street, to feel awkward addressing people in a foreign language (e.g. Russian or English) not knowing if they'll understand you, to feel slightly tense and disoriented because of your unfamiliarity with my surroundings and with the cultural norms of a place.
For me, the formula for overcoming these initial challenges is to 1) learn as much of the language as possible, 2) make friends with whom I can relax and talk about what's on my mind, based on common interests, and 3) familiarize myself with the place by walking around a lot and seeing what's going on, by studying maps and by reading about the place.
I have tackled all three of these areas at once by 1) arranging in advance for private Georgian lessons 5 days a week starting 3 days after my arrival, 2) staying with couchsurfers (see couchsurfing.org) for the first few days until I found an apartment (through them, by the way), getting involved with Spanish club activities, and taking guitar lessons with a Russian-speaking teacher I found through street advertisements, and 3) picking up maps at the tourist information office and walking around the city center and outlying hills a lot to get to know the place. It has not been painless, but it's been immensely better than starting out with none of the above. Admittedly, my fluency in Russian has given me a big advantage because about half of Georgians are fairly fluent in Russian.
Georgia is like Ukraine in that it has a strange alphabet that creates significant obstacles to learning the language and understanding your surroundings. It takes quite a while to be able to read signs with a speed even remotely approaching your familiarity with your own alphabet.
Based on my experience so far adapting to Georgia, I would like to give some specific recommendations for foreigners who visit Ukraine under similar circumstances (for several months, knowing nobody or almost nobody before arrival). My insight comes from having gone through this multiple times in different countries where different languages are spoken. Georgian will be the ninth language I have studied (counting English) and the fifth country I've lived in for an extended period of time.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
- Perhaps the main reason is that there are large amounts of edible waste around. This is what probably first attracted wolves to human settlements where they began to get used to humans and eventually became domesticated. In Ukraine as in other countries large amounts of food are thrown away, and garbage collection is often slow and/or incomplete. This readily available source of food will end up feeding somebody, whether it's rats, cats, or dogs. I don't recall ever seeing rats in Ukraine. Perhaps that's because of the large numbers of stray cats and dogs. I saw rats in Oslo, but no stray dogs. Rats are much harder to liquidate.
- Many Ukrainians are lenient with their pets. They like to let them off their leashes during walks so that they can run around freely. People who own private homes often let their dogs off their leash, perhaps for improved home security or perhaps to allow the dog to forage for itself, saving them some food expense. People in rural areas or dachas often never put their dogs on leashes in the first place, and they roam around freely and do "who knows what" during their nightly patrols around the neighborhood. The same goes for cats in districts with private homes or dachas. This behavior on the part of pet owners ensures a steady stream of escaped animals or animals born in the wild that then become part of the stray animal community. Occasionally owners may consciously release their pets because they are unable or unwilling to care for them, but I believe this happens less frequently.
- By not becoming official caretakers of pets, property owners can enjoy all the benefits of having a pet without the responsibility. For instance, a lumberyard or similar industrial lot can simply allow some local stray dogs to hang around on their lot and occasionally give them something to eat, and they will effectively enjoy all the benefits of canine security without feeling obligated to do anything for the dogs (take care of their health, etc.). People in a dacha cooperative might see a cute kitten playing in their yard one day and start offering it food so that they can pet it, play with it, and watch it grow. If they leave for the week, they don't have to leave food for the kitten, knowing that it has other sources and isn't limited to their plot alone and that it will visit them the following weekend when they come back.
- For whatever reasons, local governments usually do not do much to enforce official regulations regarding pet ownership or deal with the stray animal situation until someone is seriously mauled or even bitten to death or catches rabies. When something like this happens, temporary solutions are usually pursued, such as rounding up a particular pack of stray dogs (usually only part of the pack, as the rest escape).
Friday, October 21, 2011
- Georgia is the lowest-GNI country in the top 44.
- Belarus and Kazakhstan are both substantially higher-income and easier for doing business than Ukraine.
- Ukraine is ranked lowest in Europe in terms of ease of doing business.
- Russia is three times wealthier per capita but nearly as hard to do business in as Ukraine.
- The 3 Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) are at nearly the same level of income and ease of doing business, as are the 3 Transcaucasian states (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan).
- Of the Central Asian republics, Kazakhstan is both by far the wealthiest and the easiest for doing business.
- Among the bottom 35 countries, Ukraine is 3rd in terms of income per capita. Only Venezuela and Angola are "better off."
- Most of the most populous FSU countries (Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan) are in the bottom half of the ranking, while all of the least populous (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Moldova, and Georgia) are in the top half.