My girlfriend Yana had the chance to pass by Kiev on the way back home from Belarus. A sunny walk in the city was a good start of the day, but my foot had decided to malfunction for some reason, so driving was a better option than walking for the rest of the day. Where do you go if you have a few hours for road tripping starting from the centre of Kiev? Ukrainka town is the answer, just the name makes it attractive. With an old Lada, you will arrive there in less than 1 hour and you will see a beautiful coastline of Dnepr just next to a beautiful park. You can also go around the city and get the whole view from the hill above a beautiful place for the sunset. That’s all from Rootbeet travel stories for today.
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!?
On Sunday I was reached by some very unfortunate news, the much beloved grandfather of my girlfriend, Boris, passed away at the age of 80 in Bobrujsk, Belarus. He was a great man who has been through a lot, and was appreciated for his positive attitude until the very end. I had gotten to know him well through my visits to Belarus as well as Boris own trip to Gothenburg earlier this year when he put himself on a train between Stockholm and Gothenburg without speaking a word in neither English or Swedish, just like that.
According to Russian traditions a funeral should be performed within three days which meant today. I put a lot of effort into finding a way to get into Belarus, but for a Swedish citizen, it would take at least 4 days to get a Visa done. Earlier you could even get the visa at the airport in Minsk, but this option is closed nowadays. Maybe because of Swedes throwing teddy bears from airplanes, what do I know? 400 km or 9 hours by train is too far away if there is too much of a boarder in between. Let’s hope that the future will make it possible to travel without visa in the centre of Europe. From another perspective, this is how travelling is in general for the people of Belarus, Ukraine or Russia to mention a few.
This week has passed by really quickly, but it has been packed with lots of progress on the recruitment side and plenty of interesting experiences, I will share just a few. On Tuesday evening we took the night-train from Kiev to Kharkov. It’s quite a perfect distance since it takes around 9 hours and as long as you get some good roommates in the coupé, you can get a good night’s sleep and arrive in Kharkov in a perfect time to start a workday. It also helps that we have our favorite little hostel to visit were you can rent a bed in a big room for just a couple of dollars, and normally stay there alone, with your own key and everything.
We had planned to stay Wednesday and Thursday to follow up on some of our connections that we found on our little scouting tour in April, as well as meeting some new ones. On Wednesday it came to our knowledge that the Swedish IT company Sigma was arranging a karting competition for IT companies on Saturday, and since karting is sort of what I focused my life on from 2002-2009 this chance of some publicity couldn’t be missed. Beetroot Resources were out for some aggressive recruitment on Thursday and Friday and managed to form a team of 4 IT specialists and one taxi driver for the competition day. It was an action packed day of racing between 40 drivers from 8 companies. Beetroot Resources performed well all day long and entered the Kharkov IT scene in style taking the victory in front of the reigning champions, Sigma Ukraine, Champagne!!
Driving an old Lada means putting yourself in interesting situations now and then. One thing that realistically could happen is that you simply drop the whole exhaust system in the centre of Kiev in rush hours, it just recently happened to us… It doesn’t necessarily need to be a huge problem though, not if you like Gustav has a habit to carry around a string in your backpack with which you can tie up the exhaust system and loudly drive to the nearest “Avtoremont” (auto service). Here you can meet with great guys like in our case, Stas, who can estimate the price of reparation from just a push up under the car. 100 UAH, or about 12 dollar and your Lada is both silent and ready to drive for another month or so according to Stas estimations. If you ever need an Avtoremont in Kiev, just write me an email, and I will send you the number of Stas.
Kiev is showing itself from its bright side, weather is still summerish, people are both cheerful and helpful, it’s alive, but not harmfully stressful in the Moscow way. It’s also full of opportunities for two young Swedish entrepreneurs; we are incessantly met with positive reactions on what we are up to in Ukraine, both in business and private. Frankly speaking, we feel welcomed. As far as we have understood, the thousands of Swedes who were here for the European football championship earlier this year’s also felt welcomed and according to the Ukrainians, behaved well also after losing some ball-kicking games. Actually so well that you nowadays can find a classical Swedish “Dalahäst” (Dala horse) monument together with a Swedish flag in the very center of Kiev, there to symbolize the friendship between our countries.
Speaking about Swedes in Ukraine losing something big, Ukraine has probably not seen so many Swedes since the battle in Poltava in 1709. It’s seen as the battle in which Sweden lost its status as a “big power” and it has also resulted in the Russian saying “Like the Swedes in Poltava” (Как шведы под Полтавой) which is a common expression for someone who chickens out of something. Nowadays, we are fairly underrepresented in my opinion with some 150 Swedes permanently living in Ukraine. Yesterday we met two of them on a Fryday Kiev event – a good meeting place for professionals. It was started by the two Swedes in Kiev a couple of years ago and is now active in a growing number of cities in the CIS region.
We had left much of the practical issues to solve upon arrival, assuming that opportunities would be much more likely to show up when physically in Kiev. So we arrived, informed all of our acquaintances about our arrival and need of a place to live and work, and waited for roughly 22 hours before receiving a positive answer of the type “I have some free space in my office you might rent for a while, come have a look”. The offer came from an architect who Gustav got to know briefly during his 1 month stay in Odessa last summer. For a lean start up, the solution offered was rather optimal, with a space just big enough for two persons to both live and work, and with absolutely minimized distance from work to bed, approximated to 20 centimeters – no waste!
We started our 900 km trip from Moscow to Kiev on the Saturday afternoon, well rested and with a hope that the border cues would be shorter if we passed it in the middle of the night. It turned out to be a good choice, we had some rain in the night but traffic wasn’t too much and the boarder was crossed in some 3 hours or so. The only real hassle there was the green insurance card that we should have bought before the border, but instead I had to take a little run to the Ukrainian side, buy the card in the border insurance shop, and run back again.
One thing that we noticed then, and have noticed much more later is that every person in Ukraine seems to know at least someone who is a programmer, this goes also for the woman who works in the boarder insurance shop, so I came back with not only the insurance card but also the phone number of some random programmer in Kiev. This was around 4 AM in the morning, always at work? The trip to Kiev took in total 22 hours, including border break, ice cream break, sleeping in Lada break and breakfast break. We arrived to Kiev early afternoon and hit the address where we stayed for the first couple of days, with a fast internet connection it also served as our very first temporary office in Kiev.
We decided to take the my Lada, or in Russian “Zhiguli (Жигули)” model 2105 from 1990 that had been standing in Kirovsk, close to St Petersburg since I bought it the summer 2010, while I studied Russian in St Petersburg. Why? Because it really adds to the experience moving in this way, plus Gustav had a lot of his stuff in Moscow after having studied one year at Bauman. The roads seemed to have improved since last I used them and they were of good standard most of the time.
One observation during the distance between St Petersburg to Moscow was the deterioration of many of the small villages on the way. It seems as if time has stopped in these places, and decided to move to the big cities instead. I counted to around 3-4 wooden houses with fallen roofs in each small village plus dozens of really skewed ones with old people still living. Another observation that stayed in my memory was the hundreds of “babushkas” – grandmothers, but the much fewer “dedushkas” grandfathers, who have their small stands with various eatable things for sale.
Arriving to Moscow, it quickly became clear where all the people from the village have gone… The 690 first km where done in some 9 hours and the last 10 km in another 3 hours. Moscow is just one big “probka” – traffic jam. 15 million doubtfully happy people in one place is just a bit crazy, too crazy for my taste. We were still in time to meet up some friends in the centre and finished with a night out at “Gipsy”, probably the best club in Moscow, try it if you have the chance!
[local /wp-content/uploads/2012/09/2012-09-15-15.33.34.mov Starting a Lada]
I found one of the really helpful Russians, in fact they are everywhere and this time it was a man called “Juriy” who was my roommate on the boat. About 60 years old and with a great willingness for a chit chat. I asked him where he is from, which is a question that often yields interesting stories from people of the former Soviet Union since the answer might be that parents and grandparents have many different origins because of the big mobility of people in the old times. It therefore also gives a good chance to learn something new about some place that you haven’t heard too much about before.
It also helps that Russians often love to tell the story of their life even on the very first meeting. Another thing to appreciate is that Russians are often very helpful to strangers (or let’s say, helpful to people they feel that they know, which can be a really quick process). Juriy was originally from a small city near the Ukrainian border on the way between Moscow and Kiev. When I told him about our planned road trip with an old Lada from St Petersburg to Moscow, he offered to call his cousin still living there, and ask him if we could stay in his place over night if need would be. From my previous experience of Russia, this is not a surprising or strange offering in any way, and I am also quite comfortable in thinking that his cousin would probably be happy to put aside whatever plans he had in order to show some hospitality.