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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kyiv in 1983

Kyiv spans more than fifteen centuries of history. The city was destroyed and rebuilt many times: from the days of Kyiv Rus to WW II. Roman coins and Stone Age settlements were discovered on its soil.

Today, the city celebrates its 1527th official anniversary. We call it Kyiv Day (the last Sunday in May).

Here's what Kyiv looked like in 1983, behind the Iron Curtain.

Києве мій” (Kyiv of Mine”)
Music: I. Shamo
Lyrics: D. Lutsenko
Vocals: D. Hnatyuk

Київський вальс” (“Kyiv Waltz”)
Music: L. Maiboroda
Lyrics: A. Malyshko
Vocals: A. Shevchenko, M. Fokin

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Friday, May 29, 2009

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State: ‘No Country Is a Bargaining Chip’

VOA’s Myroslava Gongadze, wife of the murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, interviews Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who visited Kyiv in late April.

Interestingly, Steinberg fails to mention presidential candidate Obama’s view of Ukraine as being ready for a NATO Membership Action Plan.

On YouTube, VOA Ukrainian Service offers a collection of must-see interviews for Ukraine watchers.

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador William Taylor echoes Steinberg’s “don’t worry” position. In the interview below, he explores the benefits of a Yushchenko-Tymoshenko truce, talks about his role in having the U.S. government switch from Kiev to Kyiv, and discusses Obama's travel schedule.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fast & Furious & Free? (Updated)

Case Summary
Date of crime: May 15, 2009
Artem Kryvoruchko
Age: 23
Mercedes ML 63 AMG ($100,000)

Raced around town like crazy all night; hit other vehicles; made threats using a knife

Political affiliation:
stepson of MP Ihor Lysov (PRU)

Another rich lawless mazhor rocks Kyiv. Luckily, no casualties this time. Police caught him in the nick of time. Actually, they say they spent the whole night chasing him.

At about 4:00 a.m. on May 15, he hits a road washer and starts arguing with its driver. Two guys, watching from a nearby car, decide to step in. He pulls a knife on them. They jump back into their car and speed away. He pursues them and hits them with his car. They hit him with plastic bullets. Finally, police arrive and use pepper spray to subdue him.

Nice T-shirt!

Artem Kryvoruchko is currently being charged with “disorderly conduct that put lives in danger.” But this may change. He happens to be the stepson of MP Ihor Lysov (PRU), a local businessman and former Kyiv mayor Omelchenko's deputy. Lysov did not immediately return phone calls. Neither did his assistant.

Later, in comments to Ukrayinska Pravda and Korrespondent, MP Lysov said this:

I haven’t made a single phone call and I won’t. He will be held responsible for his deeds. Let the court make the final decision.

The information I have is controversial. The incident was witnessed by many people, and the truth will be revealed at the court hearings.

To purify himself, Artem has to undergo the punishmet that the court will set, and it will be his lesson for the rest of his life.

Artem lives on his own and makes a living on his own. But I will do everything so that nothing of the kind will happen in the future.

Sounds too good to be true.

Kryvoruchko has been released on an order from Pechersk District Court in Kyiv, on condition of not leaving town. The prosecution plans to appeal.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yushchenko Talks to Himself

He expects Ukraine to post a 20-23% GDP contraction in Q1. He bewails the country's 145th position on the Doing Business 2009 index. He even elaborates on Lenin’s famous quote “You’re on the right path, comrades!”

Who is he? A former communist. A former banker. A former PM. A former MP. Ukraine’s current president. A man who vowed to separate business from government, put the corrupt ones in jail and lead Ukraine up the economic ladder.

President Yushchenko: The World Bank gives the following estimates of the attractiveness of the entrepreneurial environment: Ukraine, based on 2008 figures, occupies the 145th position...[long pause]...145th...out of, 175 countries analyzed in the given group. Before that, a year ago, we ranked 139th. So I just want to say that, “You’re on the wrong path, comrades!”

There’s another one: the Index of Economic Freedom. Ukraine ranks 152nd out of the 179 countries surveyed.

It’s the economy, Mr. President! It's the obsolete, commodity-cursed, energy-inefficient, oligarch-controlled economy. And you don’t preach Capital when you meet with the oligarchs, do you?

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Yushchenko to Tymoshenko: You’re the Bad One!

PM Tymoshenko recently accused Defense Minister Yekhanurov of corruption.

According to the Constitution, the Defense Minister answers to the President. Whew, the President already has an answer!

President Yushchenko: Apparently, the goal is to have a government of empty seats...when everyone is an acting minister...and there’s one solo. I gave orders to the Prosecutor have this issue reviewed’s all the more often that the subject of fighting corruption is raised by those whose hats are burning.

Since when does she wear a hat?

You know she’s bad
She’s bad
You know it
You know
And the whole world has to answer right now right now
Just to tell you once again
Who’s bad

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Tymoshenko Helps a Tycoon Bag a Hr. 900M Contract

Q: What does it take to cancel an open bid and instead choose a certain company as the lead contractor?

A: The Tymoshenko Cabinet.

In yet another must-read article, Ukrayinska Pravda's Mustafa Nayem continues exploring the unstoppable wheeling and dealing in the world of Ukrainian government.

As part of preparing Lviv Airport for Euro 2012, the government initially planned to award a Hr. 900M/$118M modernization contract in an open bid. To organize the bid, Transport Minister Yosyp Vinsky sent a directive to Lviv Airport Director Oleksandr Zahreva in late January.

Four companies applied.

However, on March 17, Minister Vinsky issued another directive. This time, he ordered Lviv Airport to cancel the open bid, citing orders from PM Tymoshenko.

That’s despite the fact that reversing the course put Vinsky and Tymoshenko in violation of a host of Cabinet regulations, Nayem reports.

Guess who emerged as the lead contractor? Azovintex, a company owned by Serhiy Taruta, one of the richest men in Ukraine’s rust belt and one of the two men who serve as Tymoshenko’s allies in a region otherwise controlled by the Party of Regions.

Taruta’s partner, Vitaliy Haiduk, has been a prominent figure in the Tymoshenko Cabinet, leading a staff of advisers. He reportedly owns a plant in Hungary and, last year, had a hand in a controversial decision that set sub-domestic rates for Ukraine’s electricity exports.

Such conflicts of interests raise no eyebrows from Tymoshenko and Yushchenko, except in theatrics and in rivalry. At a recent Cabinet meeting, Tymoshenko raised the roof on Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, amid allegations of fraud in the army’s food supply contracts and land management. She demanded that Yushchenko fire him. (The Defense Minister reports directly to the President. The President's response? You're the one who's corrupt.)

Both Tymoshenko and Yushchenko came to power during the Orange Revolution, after promising to separate business from government. Once in power, they soon ended up separating themselves from their promises.

They may not be aware of it, but their selective ethical compasses bode well for companies like Azovintex.

By the time Azovintex won the Lviv Airport contract, it had already won business government-wise. In November 2008, a Turkish contractor lost the Lviv Stadium contract to Azovintex, after lobbying by Economy Minister Bohdan Danylyshyn and Vice Premier Ivan Vasyunyk, the article says.

Asked about Azovintex, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi praised the contractor and said that the open bid procedure would have taken too long.

In neighboring Poland, which co-hosts Euro 2012, the public can’t wait to get corrupt officials fired or jailed. Not so in Ukraine.

In a country where the Prime Minister ducks questions about her husband’s sources of income and the President taps people like this to run his staff, it’s “business as usual.”


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mother Knows Best

Labor Minister Lyudmyla Denysova, who hired her daughter out of college to run the price controls board in Sevastopol, carries a lot of weight in the family.

During a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, a camera-armed reporter intercepted a text message on her cell phone's screen.

Lenochka: Mommy, dad got a call from the min of housing and utilities of ukraine with an offer of deputy ministership:) He’s asking should he go for it? They’re expecting an answer in the afternoon.

Note: Lenochka (diminutive for Olena in Ukrainian/Yelena in Russian) is obviously Denysova's daughter.

There she comes...

The Ukrainian government: connecting people:)

No judgment day
To be afraid
No heart-shaped check marks colored red to give away
No jobs in spring
No growth to sing
In fact, here’s just another profitable day
No moral pain
No powerless gloom
No getting fired for a debt that has ballooned
But what she is
Is nothing new
Made up of things that make this country poor and blue

I just called to say dad loves you
I just called to say how much he cares
I just called to say dad loves you
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart


Craziness in Crimea

On Sunday, Ukraine commemorated the tragedy at Bykivnia and the deportation of Crimean Tatars.

Unlike the Russian population of Crimea, Crimean Tatars remain loyal to the Ukrainian state, despite its corruption and inability to compensate them for the ancestral land they lost 65 years ago.

Crimean Tatars started returning to Crimea after the collapse of the USSR and now total 250,000. While the local authorities have been selling land plots to everyone willing to bribe them, Crimean Tatar repatriates largely remain landless.

You’d think that redressing the rampant land injustices would be a pressing issue for Crimean lawmakers. Not way.

In Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, they have more important things to do: spilling ammonia on the City Council floor and coming to blows on television.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tymoshenko Explains Her Braidless Hairdo

Fame breeds fortune. Familiarity breeds contempt.

For an on-again, off-again Prime Minister, running for President means rekindling the honeymoon spirit — making a brand new start.

PM Yulia Tymoshenko: A normal woman has to change her hairstyle sometimes, and I think that, uh, sometimes I’ll be doing this, and I’m asking you not to link this to any political events, weather, mood or whatever. It’s just that a normal woman just has to change hairstyle sometimes. I too am constantly trying to become a normal woman, but the job interferes with it.

So getting another job — the president’s job — is the only way for her to become a normal woman again, right?

Her electionhairing cycles make me wanna play these songs again:

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Russian Imperialist Ads Appear and Disappear in Kyiv

“The potential of a Great country — the Power of a Great bank,” says VTB, Russia’s second-biggest bank, on a billboard in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

VTB, formerly known as Vneshtorgbank (Foreign Trade Bank), has been struggling in Russia amid the world financial crisis. That hasn’t prevented it from running a bombastic ad campaign in Ukraine. For a few months, Ukrainian television has shown ads whose inherent drama links the size of VTB’s business to the size of Russia.

On this particular billboard, however, the image of “big business” that VTB aims to project becomes big politics.

Highly symbolic, the billboard pictures St. Sophia Cathedral and the Bohdan Khmelnytsky Monument on the “Ukrainian side” and the Kremlin on the “Russian side.”

St. Sophia’s Cathedral symbolizes Christianity, being one of Kyiv’s best known landmarks and one of the oldest Orthodox shrines in Ukraine.

The Bohdan Khmelnytsky Monument symbolizes Ukraine’s alliance with Russia under the Treaty of Pereyaslav, concluded on condition of autonomy but gradually eroded by Russia.

The Kremlin symbolizes the government responsible for the erosion of Ukraine’s independence and for the death of millions of Ukrainians in wars and genocide.

For a financial institution accused of being the Kremlin’s “pocket bank,” the ensemble looks pretty natural.

Assuming the river pictured is the Dnipro River, then the ad either portrays Ukraine and Russia as one “great country” or hints at Russia’s occupation of left-bank Ukraine. How’s that for a banking ad? Would Deutsche Bank run ads in Jerusalem juxtaposing the Reichstag with the Wailing Wall?

Currently, lack of customer trust makes the top of the list of why Ukrainians stay out of banks. With the hryvnia losing more than 50% of its value against the dollar in September-November 2008, customers rushed to withdraw their devalued hryvnia deposits.

Not so fast, said the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), ordering a freeze on cash withdrawals.

Equally distressed were the many thousands of customers whose dollar-denominated loans suddenly became impossible to pay off due to an exchange rate gone wild. Meanwhile, with a little help from the National Bank, many banks used the bailout money to bet against the hryvnia, further destroying customer trust.

In other words, bank size may not be that big of an issue. During the last couple of years, major Ukrainian banks have been acquired by big European ones. Yet, for some reason, instead of addressing the issue of customer trust, VTB decided to bank on Russian imperialistic imagery. What a way to set yourself apart from the competition.

The billboard’s proximity to the city’s only remaining Lenin Monument adds another ironic edge to the story. In February 1918, the Bolshevik army shelled and pillaged Kyiv, seeking to overthrow a Ukrainian government that had declared independence from Russia. In March 1918, Lenin moved the Bolshevik government headquarters from the Smolny Institute in Petrograd to the Kremlin in Moscow.

So what target market does VTB have in mind? Pro-Kremlin Ukrainians or Ukrainians with a short memory/poor knowledge of history?

Even more outrageous ads had mushroomed in downtown Kyiv last month: “Project Russia.”

The ads, complete with a map that displayed Ukraine as part of Russia, sprang up outside the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. Behind these ads, it turned out, was Warriors of Creativity, a Russian movement that celebrates creativity in communications.

Their $9M anti-Ukrainian campaign had kicked off with “American salo,” a series of teaser-hate ads placed in the Moscow subway.

A book of the same title soon found its way to the Russian State Duma and the Verkhovna Rada.
What makes salo “American” is obviously the Orange Revolution. Many Russians use the word salo as a gastro-ethnic slur for Ukrainians and widely believe the Orange Revolution to be an American plot.

Interestingly, some people in the Russian blogosphere totally missed the creative thrust of “American salo.”

Back in Kyiv, the SBU, the Ukrainian security service, soon ordered the “Project Russia” ads removed. Will the SBU respond creatively this time?

Note: I took the VTB billboard pictures on May 3.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Tons of Mercury at Abandoned Plant in Kyiv

Wanna play mercuryball? Some 200 tons of mercury, a highly toxic element, can be easily found on the premises of Radikal, a defunct Soviet-era chemical plant a few minutes’ walk from Lisova Station.

Much of the mercury has already polluted the soil underneath. Meanwhile, Radikal profits from renting out plant space to local businesses. Who cares?


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kosmos: No Utility Hike for Believers

After a monthlong vacation in Israel, where he resided at Herods Palace Hotel ($590 per night) and enjoyed the company of two masseuses ($1,000 per time), he’s back to his beloved babushkas. Back with more buckshit.

Kyiv Mayor Leonid “Kosmos” Chernovetsky: I promise that at least 500-800 thousand Kyivites will be paying not a single kopiyka more than they did. It is my decision in principle. We will immediately establish...subsidies for people who believe that there is a God and justice, and that the mayor of Kyiv will always be on their side.

Who says faith healing doesn’t work when it comes to Kyiv utility hikes?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lutsenko Tenders Resignation, Plans to Sue Bild

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, following the scandal at Frankfurt Airport, has tendered his resignation to the Verkhovna Rada, Ukrayinska Pravda reports.

At the same time, Lutsenko has denied wrongdoing, claiming that he only had a mug of beer, that he has no quarrel with German police and that the Hesse state police chief even apologized to him. (In official statements, German police and Lufthansa maintain otherwise. Deputy police chief Günter Hefner in the state of Hesse has denied Lutsenko's apology claim.)

Lutsenko plans to sue Bild, the German newspaper that first circulated the report, after accusing the tabloid of defamation. He has also alluded to his fellow party members as being behind what he called a “smear campaign” against him.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Victory Day 2009

On May 9, Ukraine celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany.

We lost 7 million men, women, and children in WW II, approximately one-third of the total casualties borne by the Soviet Union.

This number does not include the thousands of Ukrainian Americans and Ukrainian Canadians who fought in the European and Pacific theaters.

May the lives they lost and sacrificed never be forgotten. May the heroes who fought for their native land, through the cannon fodder reality of that war and into today’s poverty, never be forgotten.

For me, it’s always been a day of remembrance, a day of thanksgiving and — as I grew up and learned more history — a day of reconciliation.

On this warm sunny day, I took a walk to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Park of Glory, like I did last year. Then, passing through the Holodomor Memorial, I proceeded to the WW II Memorial.

WW II veterans descending into Arsenalna Station

It's their day. People greet them with flowers and thank them.

The Union of Left-Wing Forces

Soviet Navy

Entering the Communist sector

This day also serves as a forum for Communists, Stalinists and Russian imperialists.

“No Fascism in Ukraine!”

“Capitalism brought tragedy to Ukraine. Solution: reviving the socialist society. Down with capitalism!
Good point but wrong solution.

Nash BTR vpered letit

He does have a point about Ukraine currently being a criminal state with no future. The sad thing is, people like him helped make it happen.

The Usual Suspects: Yushchenko, Bandera, Shukhevych

“Thanks to the USSR and the Red Army, Ukraine was liberated from the Nazi-Fascist invaders.”
Was it because of Stalin, or despite him, that we won?

The All-Ukrainian Union of Soviet Soldiers

Thousands lie buried on the Dnipro River bed. They died liberating Kyiv from the Nazis in November 1943.

Left-bank Kyiv

Glory to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics!

The Holodomor Memorial

Gate Church of the Trinity at Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

Descending into the WW II Memorial

“Their sacrifice will live forever. Their names are immortal”

Mother Motherland

Look who's here!

The Eternal Flame

Same guy

“Eternal glory to the heroes!”
Greetings from President Yushchenko