A few tales from the Ukraine

A few tales from the Ukraine

2 April 2008 at 15:24

Just a few tales and stories from my time here in Donetsk. I recall arriving here in february, just over 2 month ago to be precise. I caught the overnight train from Kiev, and hadn’t really gotten to see too much of the countryside as I was staying right in the middle of Kiev and hadn’t really had the chance to look around too much. Internal connections in the Ukraine are by train, apparently take the plane has yet to catch on here – It’s deadly expensive. The train ride was a good 600 miles and took 11 hours, that’s 7pm till 6 am. This was after finishing work the day before, and the guys here wanting me to start on time the next morning, so sleep on the train was top priority. (more on that later) I was in a 4 bed cabin with 2 dudes I had never met before, and Evgeniy, who I had met 2 days previously. You’ve heard of places not big enough to swing cats? You’d wouldn’t have swung a field mouse in this cabin. Small is being very generous. The bit that got me was the total indifference that they all treated it with. No one complained about anything and before we knew it the two strangers were drinking with us for the next 4 hours. We arrived in Donetsk, had a couple of hours to check into the hotel, clean up and then get to work. The building I work in is a real horror of Soviet architecture (or lack of). Grey, drab, half falling apart, I remember saying to Evgeniy “this just cant be it… check the address again” sure enough this was it. You can imagine my surprise then when we get inside the Kyivstar office and find that we’re in the lap of luxury. The outside may be enough to give an architect a nervous breakdown, but the inside was quite a different story. Well impressed I was.

Russians are notorious for being hard bastards.. There’s more than a thread of truth to the rumour too – they are deadly hard bastards. In a very strange sort of way my trip to back Kiev the other day (by the way we had 24 hours notice that we had to be in Kiev for a meeting, and the deal is that you finish work, catch the night train, arrive in Kiev, do a full days work, catch the night train back and be back at work at 9am two days later. If you cant sleep on trains, now’s a good time to learn), anyway my trip to Kiev was the highlight of the stay so far. Zurab, the other Ericsson engineer and myself happened to be sharing a cabin with a former member of the Russian special forces. This guy was in the Afghan war. Now I may never know for sure whether he was spinning a good tale or not, but just his general demeanor suggested that he was most likely legit. And when he started telling me about how the Americans used to teach the Afghans how to beat the Russian’s tactics, that pretty much left me in no doubt. We spoke for hours and the guy was truly fascinating. He said the Russians always knew what was going on, but the Yanks always seemed to have a few tricks they weren’t ready for. And not to believe everything you read in the news – the Yanks as well as the Afghans copped an absolute battering there. If there was any fighting on the open battlefield the Russians would pretty much destroy everything, it was just they would run out of food beacuse the afghans had managed to find the supply convoy and blow it up. He said that was the way it always seemed to go. I don’t even remember the guy’s name. Hows that for bad…

Another big thing here is bananas. Everyone here loves bananas. I asked why and was told that during communism, there Russians didn’t really deal with too many banana producing countries, and bananas are a bit of a novelty item. So while Russia might have propped up a few banana republics in its time, those banana republics didn’t really produce any bananas for Russia. Now that it’s the 21st century and the iron curtain is a distant memory, everywhere has bananas. Bananas are in. Same for Pineapples.

There’s another stereotype that is pretty much bang on – Russians and Vodka. They drink it like water. Its actually more alcohol in general, the don’t stop at vodka… I was working last weekend when one of the subcontractors bought us lunch. There was the usual bread and cheese and slabs of meat, and lurking down the bottom of the bag was a bottle of Cognac. I thought to myself “surely this isn’t part of lunch?” and surely enough I was wrong! Once we’d gotten the sammys out of the way it was time to start on the main course. Andrey and Denis (the two other engineers I work with) put on a fairly brave show of enjoying the sandwiches, but they pointed out that this was good cognac and we need to eat quickly as there was no time to waste! Roger that. The sandwiches disappeared with alarming speed and it was onto the cognac! 5 minutes later there was no more cognac either. I remember thinking to myself after the second glass of cognac “what the fuck! These guys are fucking lunatics!” I did however match them drink for drink and we forgot about work shortly after and sat around and yakked for the rest of the day. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

That’s about it for now. I leave here in a few weeks, I am visiting Chernobyl before I go, my one and only chance, so I’ve got to go! Hopefully I wont be glowing in the dark when I get back.