Friday, December 24, 2004

Channel 5 held a "TV Bridge" last night between Luhansk and Lviv. The Kyiv host asked the participants to avoid talking about divisive issues and instead focus on the stuff that united us - because no matter which of the candidates wins, we'll still have to live in this country, all together. So it wasn't the most exciting thing to watch, even though the participants on both sides weren't really trying to be overly nice to each other. The language issue came up several times; one guy from Lviv tried to refute the myth of Luhansk and Donetsk regions feeding the rest of Ukraine by referring to the budget figures, but he ran out of time and was interrupted; a Lviv journalist woman laughed at the allegation that pro-Yanukovych people were getting fired from their jobs because of their politicals views.

Idiotically, my favorite part of the show was the last name of one Luhansk man: Gnilorybov - Rotten Fish.

I have a terrible bias to confess: I hate Luhansk. I've been there once, on a work trip, and it was a total disaster. It was one of my last trips at that NGO job, at the end of 2000, and by that time I had visited all but two of the 25 Ukrainian regions. Each one was paradise compared to Luhansk.

In Luhansk, we had to find a connection in the regional government (through the American Chamber of Commerce), to buy our train tickets back to Kyiv - such a 1980s kind of idiocy, we call it blat (not to be confused with blyad', which is a curse word). In Luhansk, people working in small and medium businesses kept telling us that the infamous neighboring region of Donetsk was an idyllic place compared to Luhansk, because it had a relatively low level of corruption.

It was awful and I hate to remember that one week we spent there, but I do have some notes from the trip in St. Pete, so maybe one day I'll post some of it here or elsewhere. I'm not going back there, ever - so I'll have to rely on the stuff I have as well as the memories of my colleagues when I decide to write about Luhansk.

I do not think it's a coincidence that Luhansk prefers Yanukovych to Yushchenko. In one of the previous elections, they all voted for Natalya Vitrenko, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, who promised to shut down all international airports when she came to power, to protect us from America and other such evils.

Anyway, I am totally biased against the gloomy city of Luhansk and, by extension, against the whole Luhansk region. Call it unjournalistic but at least I'm honest.

Lviv, on the other hand, is my favorite place in Ukraine, even though it's a bit too polluted in summer and they always have problems with water (one of my dear Lviv friends used to live in New York for several years, and even when she had time to sleep in, she'd still jump up before 7 am and run to the shower, before the water is shut off for the rest of the day - which, of course, never happened because it was New York, not her native Lviv).

I can write about Lviv forever, and then about Uzhgorod, and the Carpathian Mountains, and then about Odesa, a city I also adore, even though they vote for Yanukovych, and then about Crimea... but it's 3:45 am now, so I better stop.

A non-sequitur conclusion to this post is this: I wish we Ukrainians could be as efficient as the Turks in making the beautiful parts of our country - the ones I've just named - more comfortable for tourists. That would help the economy or, at least, we'd be able to take that imaginary load of feeding the whole country off the shoulders of Luhansk and Donetsk.

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