After a truly eventful winter and spring in Ukraine, the summer is still providing the world with headlines from a conflict-ridden Ukraine. The last few months they are however concentrated in origin mainly to the country´s mostly Russian speaking, heavy industry intense Donbass region. This is far away from Odessa, but we have been in the midst of some of the previous crucial events or have friends and relative who have got a little bit too close to their liking to other events.
However, a few truths about conflicts and events that turn into big global or at least international news can always be established. It is actually often perceived by a distant TV-viewer as something much worse and bigger than it usually is in reality for the people who are in the midst of the process, or at least standing next to it. A very interesting study was carried out in the US after the bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013. It actually turned out that people who consumed lots of media regarding the terror attack got more stressed about it than people who were at the actual site of the bombings!
The same things can in many ways be said about the events in Ukraine. I personally lived in Kiev during the Euromaidan and could get more worried about what was going on by following Kyivpost and Ukrainska Pravdas live coverage than by actually walking down to Maidan and see things with my own eyes. Luckily I did spend some time on Maidan and have my own view of the mass movement that really was there. I worked centrally in Kiev and used to go down to Maidan during lunch time and sometimes after work to get my own impression. During the last brutal days of Euromaidan I was however not on Maidan itself.
During the events here in Odessa on the 2nd of May we had difficulties understanding what all of sudden happened just a few blocks away and the high number of dead shocked the citizens, but the reactions here were probably not the ones a distant media consumer could anticipate. After the events here it has been very calm and a clear pro-Ukrainian government stance has been dominating, in an Odessa slowly moving into its usual relaxed summer mode.
The conclusion is that one always has to make up one’s mind, listen to what people on site say and that the situation on the ground here in Ukraine in many ways has been different for us living here than has been how it could be portrayed in foreign media. We did not walk between burning tanks when we went to work in the mornings and hide in bunkers after work, but that did not mean we took everything seriously and were prepared for a drastic change of the situation to the worse. This change did luckily never come here in Odessa and there is at the moment nothing that indicates that a spread of the violence outside the distant eastern Ukraine is likely. Therefore for us it is business as usual and we do our best to contribute to the struggling Ukrainian economy. Join us indirectly in this if you can!
I went up early to get going to Odessa and hit the road with two lives packed into the car and a good mood at around 09:00. I managed to drive for 20 min before the car stopped; I suspected an empty fuel-tank since I had my doubts about the fuel indicator’s correctness (which indicated the tank was fairly full). I am starting to get quite used to these situations – so I grabbed a taxi, luckily I found one of those great old guys who are ready to help you with anything, so that’s what he did. We got the fuel, but the Niva didn’t start anyway, the battery discharged – and once more I found myself in a Lada towed by a random Taxi. The car started from the towing and lack of fuel turned out to be the actual problem. I then discussed with my driver on how to negotiate the best price for a potential workshop visit. Taxidrivers masterplan: “I do all the talking, and if they ask, you are my friend from the Baltics, it will be 20 % cheaper than if you’re my friend from Sweden”. Luckily we didn’t have to execute the plan, and I took of towards Odessa after a warm hand shake and a after paying a very “democratic” (this is a very common way to describe anything that is fair) sum to the driver.
I arrived to Odessa without further problems. The roads between Kiev and Uman (half way) were awful, with literary thousands of holes in the road, the second part was better. Another surprising thing for me was to realize that Russian was not enough for me to be able to speak to the citizens of Uman. It’s in the middle of Ukraine, so sure, Ukrainian would be the normal language, but still surprising considering that both Kiev and Odessa are cities where Russian works very well.
The plan for the day was to move to Odessa, it didn’t happen that way. We had asked our guy Stas to make a full overview of our new Niva before the first master test, moving all of our stuff from Kiev to Odessa. I knew already that there would be a delay of some hours because some parts were missing, but I kept my hopes high and expected to get rolling at around 2 PM and do the 7 hour ride with style. When I arrived there were still some “details” left to do, so I was invited to sit down and have a coffee in the meantime. What was supposed to be a small coffe-break turned out to be a full day with the guys in the workshop, I finally left them at around midnight.
It was a quite interesting afternoon for me in any case. I found a good corner of the workshop where I sat and worked for much of the day; let’s say I gave quite a good contrast to everything else in the environment. I also got surprisingly open minded stories about Stas private life, his three wives (from which wife no. 2 is the present one) and about his favorite movie (Braveheart). At around 10 PM, the radio arrived, but the antenna was missing, so we raced through the city to get it from one of the night open car part shops. I was informed (as usual) that the seatbelt wasn’t needed, because Stas has a good friend he can call if the police would stop us. Stas took all of the safety measures needed though since he made the sign of the cross every time we swept by a church. When I left the workshop at midnight, (a time when new clients still arrived), I had passively inhaled smoke roughly equivalent to one year of cigarette consumption.
The other big event of the week took place yesterday. We had planned to do some cross country skiing with our room mate and his wife, but the weather wanted something else, and offered a couple of degrees above 0 and rain. What would you do on a rainy Saturday in Kiev? We decided to go buy a Lada Niva. Well, the plan was to at least start to look at Nivas to see what was out there. After all, life has felt a bit empty since the old Lada was parked in St Petersburg in November, and a Niva is actually a real car, which can be used both on and off the road…
We went out to the “Авто Ринок” (Avto Rinok) which is a car market some 20 mins drive outside of Kiev. People come here if they have a car to sell or buy. Judging of the amount of sellers and potential buyers at the location, it seemed to be the most common way of giving a car a new owner in Kiev. It could also be that car changes owners a lot. However, at the first, we were a bit disappointed with the low rate of “made in the USSR” cars that we were looking for. But after some minuets of walking we found what we were looking for, 3 Lada Nivas, in quite different conditions. We started in the low end, testing an old piece of eeehh, car, which seemed to have been painted with silver metallic spray just before arrival to the market to cover the worst beauty flaws. After a small test ride we realized there were more more to it than just flaws.
With the next one, we fell in love, and bought 3 hours later. The start price was slightly over our budget, but the condition of it indicated very good value for money. To be really sure of this, we took it to our own car guru Mr “80 Hrivna” Stas (probably the coolest guy on earth btw). With the seller having his friends with him, we having Yana as our own negotiator, and Stas having is guys looking at the “soon to be ours” Niva, we were as most 10 people standing under the car and discussing the condition of this or that part. With mandatory ok from Stas, and some tough price negotiations from Yana, we are now one Lada Niva richer. Isn’t she beautiful?;)
The Fryday event was enjoyable as always, and this time extra valuable for Beetroot when being an official partner of the event together with the other “well known Swedish brands”. We heard an interesting presentation from the Swedish ambassador and we got a chance to mingle around with both Swedish and local business people in Kiev. Great fun!
I am writing on the bus between Lidköping and Göteborg. For once, I have spent a day at our official office address back in Sweden, I will spend another two later this week, doing some sales activities and paper work. I came back to Sweden on Friday last week after having spent two productive weeks in Ukraine. After some time for reflection over New Year, we spent a full day mini-conference to reflect backwards and plan our time forward in more detail. The biggest outcome was a decision for a relocation. By the end of February, we will leave Kiev and relocate to Odessa. Why? Because putting all the parameters on the table, it makes sense for us to do so… It has a slightly lower geographical availability seen from Sweden but it has better location seen from the perspective of where most of our Ukrainian and Moldovan development resources are located at the moment. Weighting costs, skills and a couple of other factors together Odessa itself should also give us a competitive advantage. Kiev will be missed, but not lost, there will be plenty of visits to Kiev and we intend to keep the good collaborations as well as friends we have made there. One of the later collaborations is the mentorship role both me and Gustav have taken at Eastlabs. Eastlabs is a start up accelerator based in Kiev which invests in, and help out hi-tech start-ups at the very first steps of their operations. As mentors, me and Gustav hope to be able to exchange some ideas with these bright minded entrepreneurs.
After spending a week in January in Kiev, we jumped onto two different night trains. Gustav’s taking him to Chisinau, where a bigger project as well as few good leads is about to get going. Mine taking me back to the very first location of our journey – Kharkov, also for client requests, but also to build stronger ties to our partner teams. We are happy to announce an official collaboration on Python development with anvil8.com. I also got the chance to try the Kharkov ski-slope not fully convincing called “Switzerland”, but still offering a good amount of fun together with the Anvil8 team.
On the 29th I will fly back to Kiev, and on the 30th Beetroot will be representing Swedish entrepreneurship in Ukraine at the Frydays event “Swedish Business in Ukraine”. Before that I will enjoy the IT Innovations Expo fair in Göteborg as well as meeting my group mates at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship.
The beginning of December was the time of pleasant visits to Kiev, first by Robert and Einar from CATE Ventures, and then by my own sister and her seconds half. The first one a great chance to discuss our concept in more detail and map out a future direction, and the second a chance to see some more things on the Kiev to see list which I haven’t been so good at yet. I went home to Gothenburg mid December to finish off the first part of my master thesis while Gustav went back to Moldova to kick start our first projects there. It’s great to spend some time back home, to catch up with both family and friends, and to focus on the thesis for a while. It took me only about 24 hours back in Sweden though before my thoughts where back to things to improve in Ukraine and Moldova…
I am just about to leave northwards, to Moscow with my good old Lada… She has had a bad week we could call it. It started with the battery being completely empty when I came back from Sweden. In times like this, it’s good to live on a hill, and it’s good to have 3 strong German business partners who can give her a push down the hill for a fresh restart. It didn’t help for long though since she decided to refuse to start two days in a row (at the same street), and we had to tow her home with a taxi, breaking the towline no less than 3 times in 3 km… An old Lada needs care, that’s why we pushed her down to Stas and his crew yesterday morning. I decided to take the chance to spend some time to get my hands dirty in the workshop environment, learn a few things about Lada mechanics, sit down with the guys for some coffee, some small talk and listen radio Chanson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_chanson) – by all means an invaluable life experiences.
My Lada is now in her very best mood and spins like a cat… I will try to keep her happy all the way to Moscow.
Use Google maps, hit in the address you have got, don’t question the location, and just drive. When you have been driving on a small, dark, bumpy, empty dirt road with pools of water everywhere for some 15-20 min, you can call yourself officially lost, and call the people you were supposed to meet with and inform them that you might be some one and a half hours late. As a learning experience to take with you from this, except from Ukrainians being very patient, is to always be sure in what language you got the address. Since each street address exist in both Ukrainian and Russian language, and those can be written both with Cyrillic and Latin letters, there are four ways to write each address. To add to the confusion, some street names exist in duplicates more or less. Learning experience, use “Yandex Karti” instead of “Google Maps”, and rather search for the name of the place than the street name, if you just have the street name, it could help to write it just in Cyrillic letters.
In our neighborhood, there are almost as many dogs as there are people. Normally they are ownerless, big, nagged and just dragging around watching their territory. On a regular basis, normally three times per day (at breakfast, lunch and late night) they have their prestigious dog fighting events where they gather in groups of 3-5 dogs just in order to make as much noise as possible, loudest wins. They are also fairly unused to Swedes in colorful T-shirts taking their daily jogging tour around the beautiful but abandoned park not far from here. I would normally see myself as a dog person but this specific situation doesn’t impress me. Who let the dogs out!?