It's been a week and a half since my last update. Profuse apologies to the both of you that still read this piffle. So let's get up to date here.


Well, we tested the waters first hand and if you're an American citizen coming to Ukraine for no more than 90 days in a 6 month period you don't need an entry visa. My brother arrived here on Tuesday evening and there were (thankfully) no problems at all. I called the U.S. embassy up the day he arrived to see if there had been any further reports of Americans getting turned away. They clarified to me that the only problems that had been reported to them were of a U.S. journalist trying to get into the country to report about something getting turned away for not having a visa.

So to recap, if you're American and you want to come to Ukraine you apparently do not need a visa if you're coming here as a tourist or on business. If you're here for anything else, including doing any reporting, get the visa.


My electricity (knock on wood) seems to have been working fine since the literal blow up. We've bitched to our landlord about the obvious fire hazard the rewiring work posesa and we've been told that someone will be out to replace the fuse. Sometime. We're still waiting. In the meantime we've managed to have a lot more utility fun coming in the form of plumbing issues. Shortly after we got our power back, one of our hot water pipes sprung a leak when the hot water was turned back on after sprin cleaning. This didn't bother us too much, but did cause the ceiling of our neighbor below us to start leaking. Sorry about that! We were able to get someone out suprisingly quickly to fix the situation...but that hasn't changed the fact that our water pressure is so freaking low that we haven't been able to use our showers for the past week. It's been bathing in the tubby pouring water over yourself. Perfectly fine in the summer...but I hope this doesn't become routine come October. The explanation from ZhEK is absolutely priceless too. Rather than trying to fix the freaking problem they've just said "Well, it's summer and more people are using more water. There's nothing we can do about it." Thanks guys.


A few people have asked me about this article, which showed up on fark yesterday. Yes, it's true. Yushenko recently disbanded the Ukrainian traffic police. Pretty smart move actually. They were hideously corrupt and would pull people over just to collect bribes. I've been in plenty of taxis when it's happened. Nothing you could do about it. So in one fell swoop, you manage to look like you're doing something about corruption and the only people that are going to be unhappy about it are the people that won't be able to harass drivers anymore.

The only negative comment I have seen about this appeared in the last print issue of the Kiev Post, wherein a stereotypically disgruntled Taxi driver said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that nothing would be truly be accomplished until people started enforcing traffic laws against the government officials, oligarchs, and their families, who drive like maniacs. Which leads me to the following item


There's a brewing mini scandal over here regarding the lifestyle of Yushenko's son. A series of articles have appeared in a Ukrainian Newspaper (entitled "Son of God?") that reveal that Yushenko's 19 year old son drives an (unmarked) $120,000 BMW M6, carries a $43,000 Vertu cell phone, lives in a ridiculously expensive apartment, regularly goes clubbing and goes through $1000 bottles of Cristal, and has a retinue of bodyguards that regularly shoo away police that try to get him to move the above mentioned M6 when he parks it in the middle of the street. Additionally, resident's in his neighborhood report that "he speeds up to 62,14 mph, shifts to the wrong lane, blocks other vehicles."

And the best part is that this 19 year old kid is able to live that lifestyle on a salary ostensibly earned from a part-time consulting gig.

In a country where the offspring of the rich and powerful typically steal entire factories and TV Stations something like this would probably just blow over...were it not for Yushenko's outburst when questioned about his son's conduct and resources. He called the journalist who wrote the story a "hired killer that has never worked a minute towards defending the freedom of the press." Ummm...ok.

Anyway, this whole thing is kind of funny to follow and Neeka and Abdymok are all over it. Just go to either site and start scrolling.


ZhEK sucks

No blogging for the past two days...because I didn't have power the past two days. Wednesday night the power went out in the building. Happens enough that, while annoying, it really isn't a big deal. Someone came out to get things back on line about after about an hour of darkness and we got light back...for about 10 seconds.

It seems that whatever was done to the building was a bit too much for the large, old fuse for apartment in the junction box in our podyezd to take. Rather than just flipping off, the thing blew up, causing the sight above.

The real fun began when we called ZhEK (communal services) the next morning to get them to send someone out to fix the whole thing. ZhEK's initial position was "We already sent someone else out to fix this last night, they said it was fixed and your neighbors haven't been complaining. Therefore, you don't have a problem." I guess they get lots of calls from people lying about their utilities not working. Maybe it's a communal services version of hypochondria.

After some arguing we finally got them to create a work order. This ended up being all for naught, as the technician they assigned the work order to, Oleg, never bothered to show up. Get on the phone with ZhEK again. This time they give us Oleg's cell number and tell us to just call him directly. We call Oleg. Oleg says that he's sick...and will be for the next 2-3 weeks. Good to know that ZhEK electricans are also doctors.

So we call ZhEK back again. They say that they can't send anyone else out because they already created a work order for us...that HAS to be fulfilled by sickly Oleg. However, since this means that we'll be powerless for the next 2-3 weeks, they tell us what we can do is call back in the evening report it as new to the night cres and they can send out the "emergency service" who will then fix it. Oh, and we can't tell emergency services that we already called this in.

Taking ZhEK's advice we call them back and file a new complaint. Emergency Service shows up around 10:00. Their first question: "why didn't you call this in earlier?" Then they get to work.

What did their repair consist of? Rather than replacing the fusebox for our apartment...they just tied in our apartment's line with one of the neighbor's ancient fuses...meaning that this is even more likely to happen the next time the power in our building goes out and gets turned back on. Except this time our neighbors will be just as pissed as we are!

Now we're looking for an independant electrician in Kiev to come out and get this mess sorted out before our building burns down.


Ukrainian Visa Update

Yesterday the US Embassy in Kiev sent out a warden message stating that U.S. citizens no longer require a visa for short-term travel to Ukraine.

I called the Embassy up to confirm that this was true and they said that it was. I additionally asked them if this meant that Americans would continue to get turned away at the border for not having a visa. Their answer: "Hopefully not."

So for the US Embassy to actually acknowledge visa-free travel, I would be inclined to think that this is actually the case. This was reinforced today when I read that the U.S. Embassy in Kiev is waiving visa issuance fees (as opposed to the $100 visa application fee) for Ukrainians and is setting up a seperate visa application process for Ukrainians that have been issued U.S. visas in the past.

Additionally, a Russian speaking friend of my brother's called up the Ukrainian Embassy in London to try to get clarification from them on the issue. They acknowledged that "there has been some confusion about this subject" but insisted that there were no longer procedures in place to isse single entry visas to American passport holders.

I guess this is all good news, but I remain thoroughly baffled by this. The website of the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington clearly says: Ukraine Sets Visa Free Regime for Revisiting U.S. Citizens

And the text of the presidential decree clearly says: "visa free regime... if they visit Ukraine for the second time within 6 months from the date of their first visit to Ukraine."

Was the Presidential decree wrong? Is MFA just making their own policy about this? Was it just a mistranslation or typo?

To quote Vince Lombardi, what the hell is going on here?

I guess we'll see when my bro arrives on the 25th.


Ukrainian Bureaucratic Bullshit - Part 2

So earlier this month, Ukraine finally decided to institute a visa-free travel regime for American citizens...except for that they really didn't.

A cursory read of the presidential decree shows that U.S. Citizen visas requirements have been lifted for travel conducted AFTER you have received your first visa and concluded your first trip. Let's look:

With the aim to develop and realize into practice principles of the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States of America and guided by the aspirations to simplify the regime for mutual travels and to foster bilateral contacts in all fields of relationships, I issue a decree:
1. To introduce on July 1, 2005 visa free regime for the US citizens for entering Ukraine and for transit through the territory of Ukraine, if they visit Ukraine for the second time within 6 months from the date of their first visit to Ukraine for the period which doesn’t exceed 90 days. [bold type is mine]

Not quite visa-free...but still pretty good for frequent travelers and to help encourage business travel to Ukraine.

Oh, and there's the small problem in that the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs doesn't seem to be able to read their own freaking president's decrees:

On 30 June 2005, President of Ukraine Victor Yuschenko signed the Decree on the Establishment of Visa-Free Regime for Citizens of the United States of America, which introduced visa-free regime of entry to Ukraine and transit through it territory for U.S. citizens who may stay in Ukraine up to 90 days with at least six month intervals between visits.

So one hand of the government here doesn't seem to know what the other is doing. Typical...except that this lack of understanding of their own laws has lead to Ukrainian Embassies around the world returning visa applications back to the applicants, telling them that they don't need the visas. This is followed up by people getting turned away at the Ukrainian border because it's their first visit and they don't have a visa.

How do I know this? First, the Ukranian Embassy in London returned my brother's recently filed visa application back to him with no action taken, only telling himunofficiallyy by a phone call that he didn't need a visa. Second, when I called up citizen services at the American Embassy in Kiev to try to find out what the official policy is...they refused to give me an answer since no one seems to know what theofficiall Ukrainian position is. What they could tell me was that they had received several phone calls from Americans complaining that a Ukrainian Embassy had not issued them a visa because they "didn't need one" and were then turned away at a Ukrainian border point because THEY DIDN'T HAVE A VISA.

Way to improve your country's image as a backwards soviet relic with a nightmare of abureaucracyy. Let's tell...no, encourage... people to come visit...then turn them away when they get here.

Who needs that hotel anyway?

This was pretty funny to read.

Apparently engineers looking to demolish a hotel in Moscow found about a ton of explosives that had been placed there in WWII. That tactic was a favorite of the Red Army at the time and was put to extensive use in Kiev after the fascists invaded. Just about all of Kreshatik was blown up and I've been told that the original Uspensiky Cathedral at the Lavra here was also blown up by the departing Red Army. As I wrote last week, it was this targeted demolition that gave the Germans an excuse for the Babi Yar massacre.

Anyway, interesting to see the effects of this stuff 60 years later. And you gotta love quotes like this:

"The boxes held only explosives without detonators so there was no risk of an (accidental) explosion in the hotel,"

Uh huh...



Ivana Kupala

Today is a quasi-holiday in Slavic Parts of the world called "Ivan Kupal Day." From what I understand, it's a holiday with pagan roots related to the summer solstice and co-opted by the Russian Orthodox Church to mark the birthday of St. John the Baptist. Traditional celebrations include jumping over fires and swimming.

I know the summer solstice was two weeks ago...but the dates got all screwed up with the calendar switch.

The picture above is a Soviet-era poster for Ivan Kupal that I picked up since Ivan Kupal day is also my birthday.

It's also apparently the birthday of Tom at digenis...so go over there and give him some well wishes.

Most. Overrated. Song. Ever.

This list immediately endeared itself to me by placing "American Pie" in the number one spot. My god that song has always annoyed me...pretty much for the exact same reasons posited here.

Were I to have been eligible to nominate a song for the list, it would have to be Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville."

I've never understood the whole Jimmy Buffett/"Parrothead" thing and this song is the anthem of that movement. What anyone finds appealing about paying fifty bucks or so to go to a suburban amphitheater with a bunch of stumbling drunk baby boomers and frat boys while you listen to some hack in a Hawaiian shirt play the same trite songs he's been playing for the past 30 years is beyond me.

And they lyrics! Absolutely awful. You get these faux-blues observations like I blew out my flip-flop/Stepped on a pop-top/Cut my heel had to cruise on back home mixed with such a clever progressively-changing line in the chorus wherein our narrator slowly comes to admit that his "problems" (Problems? Only if you define hanging out at a beach all summer and getting drunk as a sorrowful existence) are actually his own fault, apparently for driving his woman away.

Spare me.

WTO Push

Looks like team Yushenko is finally making an effort to push through legislation necessary for Ukraine to join the WTO and get US trade restrictions lifted. Sound like it wasn't without difficulty.

The Financial Times says that: Yulia Tymoshenko, prime minister, and Volodymyr Lytvyn, the parliamentary speaker, needed to shout as opponents sounded sirens and scuffled briefly with pro-government deputies.

The Kiev Post paints an even more vivid picture: As WTO-related bills came onto the slate that day, members of parliament's left and center-left factions stormed the podium to block the bill from coming up to vote, snatching the microphone from Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn before he could floor the legislation. Scuffling broke out; they even reportedly broke the microphone. The usual suspects were responsible for the obstruction:
members of the Communist and Socialist party factions, and of the bitterly oppositionist Regions of Ukraine and Social Democratic Party of Ukraine
(united) parties.

The Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united) are my next door neighbors...and I didn't see any injuries yesterday so I guess at the least they're ok.

Part of the legislation that WAS passed apparently includes "criminal liability for illegal circulation of compact discs, equipment and raw materials for their production, and moulds." This can't bode well for the local piracy market.

More on this WTO fracas as it develops.


Babi Yar

This past weekend I finally finished reading A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (decent book, a little too cutesy and some of the characters were too two dimensional, but I enjoyed it on the whole). In one passage in the book, a character makes reference to some streets in Kiev where people in their family lived before WWII. In conjunction with this reference was an side-note about how thier living at this location meant that they didn't have to walk very far when they were called to Babi Yar in September of '41.

This made me pause for a second, because I knew where those streets were (two metro stops from my apartment) but I had always thought that Babi Yar was a bit outside of town, because accounts of the massacre that I had read usually noted that Babi Yar was "northwest of Kiev."

So I pulled out a city map and did some orienteering. Sure enough, there was Babi Yar, sitting just north of the Dorohozhychi metro station. I decided to take advantage of the Monday holiday and check it out during what was a workday for everyone else in the city.

For a site where more than 30,000 people were executed in two days during WWII, there really isn't much to see. There is a plaza in the park where a memorial was erected about 10 years ago. And further in the woods there are a couple of crosses (pictured above) that were put up at the site where people were actually shot. Considering that the VAST majority of people murdered here Jewish, I found the crosses to be slightly unusual...but better than nothing, I guess.

But that's all there was to the place. It was a pretty nice park actually, very quiet, lots of people sitting out and picnicing, heavily wooded, and quite isolated from the urban grime that is downtown Kiev.


How asinine is this?

It's shit like this that drives me absolutely nuts sometimes about DC. Never mind that DC Baseball teams have been wearing a "W" on their cap since 1908 (for the years there was a team in Washington)... some morons can't bring themselves to buy a Washington Nationals cap because they hate the other "W" so freaking much.

"They say, 'W? Does that stand for Bush?' " said Gary Berned, speaking of fans that visit his kiosk.

Argh! How about this. If you're going to go to a Nats' home game and you have to ask what the "W" on their hats stands for, you're just not allowed to buy that hat or any other merchandise. Period. Someone put me in charge so I can decree this.

Seriously, do you think there were people in Boston that stopped (or started) wearing Boston College gear or were people running out and trying to find British Colombia Lions hats between 1992 and 2000 just because the initials matched up with the then-president?

And than there's this quote from the same article: It's not unlike the difference between people who call the airport by the Potomac "National" and those who refer to it as "Reagan."

Errr...no. For sane people, the dividing line between calling the airport "Reagan" and calling it "National" is whether or not you lived in Washington before 1998 when National Airport was renamed.

Goddammit, keep Washington for Washingtonians!


Moscow Olympics

"The Man"Norman Chad on Moscow's Olympic Bid:

Pluses: Crooked gymnastics judges get to sleep in their own beds. . . . Russian mob runs a tight ship. . . . United States led a boycott of 1980 Summer Games here. I wouldn't mind seeing that happen again. . . . 'A Night With Yakov Smirnoff' at the Anton Chekhov Playhouse to add Wednesday and Saturday matinees in fall 2011. . . . Hard to find USA Today.

Minuses: Don't get me wrong -- it's a beautiful city and I like the Lenin Mausoleum as much as the next guy, but after a full day of Olympic archery and equestrian, I don't know if I'm in the mood for cabbage schi, fish colbasa and pickled tomatoes. . . . Bolshoi Theater crowd can get pretty rowdy coming out of most weekend shows. . . . Hard to find those neat fur hats in the summer. . . . I'll bet they have a lot of soccer on TV over there.

My only correction...Yakov Smirnoff is actually from Odessa and he currently resides in Branson, Missouri (where he can be seen regularly performing at the Yakov Smirnoff Theater). What a country!


Two Links

Two things that I read this morning that caused me to nod my head in deep agreement.

The first, from Slashdot. Yes, when you can't write a coherent English sentence, electronically or otherwise, it makes you look stupid.

The other, from Kevin Drum. Being over here, I'm not subjected to all this Tom Cruise nonsense unless I seek it out. But I do wonder why, when the subject of Scientology and Psychiatry comes up with this moron, no one asks him basic questions about Scientology? Sure, the basic tenants of Christianity would sound a bit wacky too, if you changed the names and the time period and removed a lot of the aspects of it that we are all familiar with. But that's the point; everyone is familiar with them. You don't have to ask professed Christians if they really believe that 2000 years ago some carpenter was born to a Virgin, performed some miracles, was executed, rose from the dead, and then ascended into heaven in corporeal form, thus ensuring that humanity can spend their after-life in heaven. Everyone knows that!

I doubt much of the world is familiar with the basic tenets of Scientology; namely that 75 million years agoan alien dictator crashed rockets (that looked just like a DC-8!) full of millions of aliens into the earth then subsequently nuked them with H-bombs, all to deal with an overpopulation problem. Now the spirits of those aliens are inhabiting your body, causing you problems, and holding you back from your full potential. Oh, and that alien dictator is still alive and imprisoned in volcanos.

If journalists would actually ask questions of these wackadoo celebrities, people might stop taking them so seriously and the "church" of Scientology might be stopped from suckering people out of the money and their lives.