Thursday, March 24, 2005

A few more backlog notes from our last week's visit to Kyiv :

- Our Moscow friends were coming over and asked us to book a nice hotel room for them. One of the hotels at Andriyivsky Uzviz charges nearly $200 a night for a tiny little room, clean and not remindful of the Soviet Union, but nothing really special still.

With the Eurovision contest approaching, the contrast between Kyiv and Istanbul is getting more and more alarming: in Istanbul, you literally stumble over all those little and decently priced hotels, while in Kyiv a cheaper alternative would most likely be an ugly room with ugly furniture in an ugly Soviet hotel with ugly Soviet-style service. Or a rented apartment.

- A large, bearded man approached me just off Khreshchatyk during my Saturday walk and asked me if I spoke English. When I said I did, he thanked God and produced a payphone card from his pocket. I thought he needed help in making a phone call, so I offered him to use my cell phone, because I didn't really remember how to use those cards anymore plus I was feeling too lazy and cold to walk around with him looking for a payphone. But he interrupted me and said in a slightly accented English that he needed me to buy this card from him for 5 hryvnias ($1) or so, because he'd lost all his money the day before and hadn't eaten since then: if he managed to sell the card, he'd be then able to buy himself some kefir and stuff like that, he said.

I felt uneasy for a moment: it reminded me of how stupid I was to have lost all that money to a Bengali bastard on the day of the third round of the election. But this man was asking for 5 hryvnias, not 200, and I could survive that.

I asked him where he was from and what had happened and he replied - in a very whining voice, which was poignant, considering his size and manliness - that he was a journalist from Austria and that he'd lost all his money together with the keys from an apartment he was sharing here with a BBC journalist friend. He did look like a bum a bit, a foreign bum, so I kind of believed his story. I asked for the friend's name - Mike Whitlock or something: I haven't heard it before so maybe I got it wrong. I asked if he knew his way around Kyiv and he told me he used to work for some Western airline and knew Ukraine like his own palm, including Kyiv, and because of that it was even more ironic that such a terrible thing had happened to him here.

At some point, he looked like he was beginning to cry, so I quickly gave him 6 hryvnias. He thanked God and me profusely, turned around and went off in the direction of the food store.

- My Yushchenko Administration friend (formerly known as "my Kuchma Administration friend") is complaining his ass off about his new boss.

My friend didn't lose his job, as he had expected, with Yushchenko's victory, but his former boss obviously did. The new guy, according to my friend, is highly unprofessional, treats him like shit, criticizes the old system but offers few ideas on how to improve things, never gives my friend credit for his work but often steals his ideas and presents them as his own.

I'm no insider there, so it is as easy for me to suspect that my friend is exaggerating as it is to believe that, after all, not everyone on Yushchenko's team is worth the time and the health of the people who spent a month freezing at Maidan. But my friend was so upset and pissed that I couldn't help but talk some stuff over with him.

My main suggestion was for my friend to catch this new guy doing something outrageously unprofessional and then confront him with one simple truth: the guy should be aware that even though my friend isn't drawing negative conclusions about all those who came on board with Yushchenko on the basis of one particular person's lack of qualification, such inadequate behavior may eventually tarnish the reputations of others, unjustly. Which wouldn't be a good thing at all.

At the end of this part of our conversation, my friend said: "This is one of the reasons I love you so much, Neeka: because you always come up with very sober ideas." And I laughed so hard: I took it as a huge compliment because at that very moment I was finishing up my fifth beer.

- A Moscow friend who used to teasingly - and annoyingly - call me a banderovka every time I mentioned something totally apolitical but somehow related to Ukraine (like, the weather in Kyiv), had beer with us at a Kyiv bar frequented by Stepan Bandera's grandson. I told him about it and he shrugged and looked just slightly uncomforable for an instant (though, in general, he was enjoying Kyiv and this particular bar immensely). Minutes after our friend left, Stephen Bandera, the grandson, showed up - and I was introduced to him as a banderivka currently living in Moscow!

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