Yet another Kyiv cab driver story.
A hideous old Zhiguli car. A very skinny, mustachioed, greasy-haired middle-aged driver, with a suntan of someone who spends long hours working in the garden. The odor of sweat permeates the car, even though all four windows are rolled down.
We talk about the weather. He speaks Ukrainian - a villager's Ukrainian, very distant from the literary language, as beautiful, and impossible to imitate, unless you've been exposed to it since childhood. As impossible to imitate as the fluent surzhik (which I consider a language in its own right).
After a few near-accidents caused by people who don't know how to drive, we begin talking about the general mess that's now a norm in Kyiv.
The driver says things were great in the Soviet times: from the 1970s to the 1990s, there was order and life was easy.
I diplomatically respond that although I tend not to have any illusions about the Soviet period, I do agree with him 100 percent on certain points.
One or two intersections later, we somehow start talking international politics.
"Ukraine needs to join NATO as soon as possible, or else Russia will swallow us," the driver says.
I find this switch quite hilarious, but tell him we still shouldn't rely on others too much, citing Sarajevo and Srebrenica as examples.
By the end of our ride, I tell him I'm on my way to the dentist, and he complains that he's got almost no teeth left, but isn't doing anything about it because he's scared: they use the same needle on all their patients, and he fears he might get AIDS this way.
"I'm telling her [the dentist], 'You, silly idiot, get me a clean needle!' and she replies, 'No way, we haven't got enough needles for all of you!'"