Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Garbage Scenes Around Kiev

Taking pictures of garbage is one of my favorite pastimes. I do it when I go hiking in Crimea or the Carpathians (where garbage is most out of place) and recently have been pulling out my camera more and more often in Kiev.

Garbage has its own aesthetics. It can be strikingly dramatic, colorful, grotesque. It tells a story about the side of things we don't always see.

Here are some recent shots from Kiev:

This is a view of the artists' market on Andreevsky Spusk that so many foreigners know so well. Paintings are put up in makeshift sheds covered with plastic on an empty plot of bare ground. Behind the impromptu market is a communal waste heap of plastic, glass, food scraps and waste (left by homeless people). Right next to these heaps there is a nice old building with expensive apartments. With little vegetation to stabilize it, the slope is gradually eroding.

Here's a lake near Petrovka metro station.

A closer look at the garbage reveals the usual plastic and glass bottles, drink cartons, and a bit of furniture.

Ukraine National Clean-up Day: April 16, 2011

Want to help Ukrainians get out and clean up their own parks, streets, and squares? Check out the website http://letsdoit.org.ua/ (Ukrainian only). All over the country, on April 16 at 10:45 pm groups of people will be given garbage bags and tools (if necessary) and will spend 3 hours cleaning up.

To participate, you'll need to sign up at http://letsdoit.org.ua/node/add/join, call their phone number 099 24-54-838 or write to the e-mail given on the website. They'll give you your location for the day to make sure that volunteers (they're calling them "activists") will be evenly spread out around the city.

Credit Card Fraud in Ukraine: "It Can't Happen to Me"

All of us know that credit card fraud happens, but many believe that "it can't happen to me." Here's a story I recently learned of first-hand from an expat who makes frequent trips to Ukraine for periods of several weeks or months at a time.

This man experienced bank card fraud twice in one year in Ukraine. The first time the bank figured something was amiss and gave him a call to notify they were cancelling a suspicious transaction. The second time no action was taken by the bank. The expat printed out withdrawal statements and was preparing to scan them and send them to his bank to contest withdrawals amounting to many thousands of dollars.

These withdrawals were all performed in St. Petersburg, Russia over a span of a week or more. One was on the same day that he withdrew money in China (an obvious sign of fraud). He hopes his bank will cancel the withdrawals and he will not lose the money.

I asked how he might have prevented this situation. He said he used his bank card (a debit card) to get cash out of ATMs and to pay at restaurants and stores. He didn't know where his information might have been stolen. Since this happened to him twice in one year, he suspects it might be fairly common among expats in Ukraine. (That's why I'm writing this post.)

I have spent a total of 10 years in Ukraine and Russia and have not had any experiences like this, but I have only used my debit cards to withdraw money from ATMs. I have never used them to pay for things in Ukraine/Russia. I have also not been particularly discriminate in which ATMs I use; usually I just use whatever ATM is handiest. So far so good... But other expats have recommended using only ATMs located inside banks. This is probably sound advice.

Perhaps the most important thing one can to do protect against fraud is to use a debit card rather than a credit card, and to keep the balance in the account reasonably low so that if fraud occurs you will not lose very much money. The expat I talked to was preparing to set up another account from which he will transfer money to his checking account as necessary rather than storing funds in the checking account that is tied to the debit card.

This is something worth thinking about and preparing for. Have you taken steps to protect yourself from bank fraud?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bila Tserkva: a Quick Getaway Trip from Kiev

I don't know about you, but I'm always on the lookout for places to take outings around Kiev to unwind and get work done at the same time. The best destinations can be reached efficiently with a minimum of waiting around or trying to find what you're looking for.

Bila Tserkva definitely falls into that category. Below is my description of how to get there and have an enjoyable and unusually efficient trip. It's not exactly how we did it (with a lot of trial and error), but it's definitely how we'll do it when we go again in 2 or 3 weeks to enjoy the springtime flowers and budding trees.


Sometime in the morning or afternoon (depending on when you can get off work and other obligations) head down to Lybedska metro station and ask around for the minibuses ("marshrutki") to Bila Tserkva ("Belaya Tserkov" in Russian). Buses leave every 30 minutes, and the trip takes 70 to 80 minutes total. Cost: 20 UAH ($2.50 USD).

The end stop in Bila Tserkva is right in front of the hotel where I recommend staying. It's called "Klark" but is commonly known by its former name — "Dom priezzhikh" (Дом приезжих in Russian). If you arrive after 14.00 you can check in immediately, otherwise you'll need to come back later after you've done some sightseeing (another reason to pack as light as possible and wear a comfortable backpack!).

A simple double room at Klark costs 220 UAH ($28 USD) and comes with its own bathroom with hot and cold water, a TV, and — if you're lucky — Wi-Fi. If the wireless signal does not reach your room, it is available in the halls and lounges and the restaurant. There are outlets in the lounges and the network is not password protected. Internet seems to be reliable and fast.

The main attraction in Bila Tserkva is famous Aleksandria Park. If you get tired of large landscape parks, there are more usual sights in the center of town — i.e. churches, shopping centers, a central square with a Lenin statue, and other characteristic Soviet buildings and infrastructure.

It's easy to get to Aleksandria Park. If you're looking out from the entrance of Klark hotel, walk right about 100 yards to the nearest bus stop and take any one of several buses. #22 seems to run the most often. Fare is 1.50 UAH and you'll need to get off in about 4 stops. If you're uncertain, ask for Aleksandria Park. When you get out, look across the street diagonally and you'll see the park entrance with busts of Pushkin and Taras Shevchenko on either side (these famous Russian and Ukrainian poets and writers visited Bila Tserkva).

An entrance ticket costs 8 UAH ($1 USD) unless you're a student or pensioner. The park is really nice — one of my all-time favorites. Up there with Pavlovskiy Park outside of St. Petersburg, and certainly more interesting than Kiev's Pirohovo Museum from a purely landscape design perspective. There are a number of cascading lakes, and the river Ros forms one of the boundaries of the park.

The best time of year to visit the park is probably between April 10th to the end of October. Spring and fall are particularly spectacular.

Personally, I am happy to spend 3-4 hours in a park like this exploring its perimeter. It is a large park — you've been warned. You can walk 12-15 km here without repeating any routes. Note that working hours are 8 am to 4:45 pm, so you'll need to be careful to get out in time.

After visiting the park, you can head back to the hotel and work online (my option), have dinner, etc. Taking your own food from home is a good way to save time and money, but there are also inexpensive dining options right next to the hotel.

The restaurant on the first floor of Klark hotel seems pretty decent, and you get a 10% discount if you tell the hotel administrator you're going to be going to the restaurant. A full dinner for two will probably cost between 120 and 240 UAH ($15-30 USD) depending on your appetite and taste for expensive drinks. The restaurant has a distinctly Soviet interior, as does the hotel — not necessarily a bad thing, but actually strangely nostalgic.

Another option is "Mirage" cafe located about 100 meters further down the street from the above mentioned bus stop. The cafe offers a rather staggering array of meat dishes and is quite busy, which is a good sign. Here two people can have a full meal for about 120 UAH ($15 USD).


Sleep in or work online or whatever till no later than noon, when you'll need to check out of the hotel. Head to Aleksandria Park for round 2 and leave for Kiev in the later afternoon. Minibuses leave from right in front of Klark hotel and take you to Lybedska metro station for 20 UAH.


(shot with a simple iPod camera)

Entrance to the park, with busts of Alexander Pushkin and Taras Shevchenko on either side.

Church in the center of Bila Tserkva.

"Klark" hotel and restaurant.