Saturday, July 13, 2013

11 things I'm still getting used to in Ukraine

It's been almost two years (very, very good years!) but some things here can still throw me for a loop.

1. Buying water from the water truck.

a rare quiet moment at the water truck
Water trucks show up several times a week, if not daily. Just listen for the loud honking and you'll know that the truck has arrived. Next, a line forms as people approach the water truck with empty plastic jugs in hand. There's always a water-dealing duo, a man (the driver) and a woman (the money collector) working together. Some days they'll fill up your container with sparkling water, other days with regular water. It's really quite simple to buy water this way, the only tricky part is remembering when the truck will come.

2. Clothes sold by the kilogram.

"Today's price for 1 kilogram: 40 uah"
This pricing plan is popular at secondhand shops filled with "clothes from Europe!". Prices are highest on the day the clothes are delivered and get cheaper and cheaper as the stock gets lower.

3. Fairytale churches.

4. Drinking age of 18.

Also, no using a giant wrench!

5. McFoxy, the McDonald's copycat. 

Often located within spitting distance of McDonald's.
Another blogger wrote about McFoxy too!

6. While 'reduce' and 'recycle' are only starting to gain popularity, 'reuse' is going strong.

For example, instead of being retired or repaired, one day our three dumpsters all received gleaming coats of fresh green paint (see below). They continue to serve the community to this day, not necessarily containing all the trash but definitely looking much prettier.
Plastic bags, meanwhile, are no longer scarce but continue to be treated as valuable commodities. Many times I've carelessly gone to throw one away only to have it snatched out of my hands- "that's a perfectly fine plastic bag! I'll just take it home and wash it." The city workers who clean up Pushkin street reach into the garbage bags, pull out the garbage and put it in another bag, thus allowing the bag already in place to live another day. Gotta say, this is totally awesome for the environment and the whole reusing plastic bags is something we all should do.

6. GORGEOUS metro stations.

WOW! Way to go, Kiev metro!

7. Old gas stoves. 

(aka, the scary stoves)
"When you smell gas, call 104 immediately". Public service announcement in our apartment building.

8. Superstitions I'm not familiar with. 

Like this situation- do you go under or around telephone poles?
Correct answer- you go around! All those fools who walked under them are said to now be cursed with anything from a headache to a case of bad luck. 

9. Pickled watermelon.

Ambitiously purchased and eaten by D.

10. все вокруг колхозное, все вокруг мое, Everything around belongs to the collective farm, everything around belongs to me. 

"Everything around belongs to the collective farm, everything around belongs to me," goes a famous song from the 1940s. But that can also imply how people would take light bulbs from hallways and street lamps when they needed them, cut away parts of the railing from the staircase when they needed metal, or do things like this. We spotted the above scene one afternoon. "Hmm, someone must have needed a bathtub", my friend remarked. Or was he just pulling my leg?

D tells me that when he was growing up, the news was filled with reports of people stealing power lines to sell for scrap. Unfortunately this often led to electrocution. Another time the news reported that someone stole an entire water tower from a local village. Your guess is as good as mine on that one!
"Who here is last in line to steal the wires?" source

11. Reminders of World War II. 

Many of its battles were fought in Ukraine, including several right here in Kharkov. Monuments and memorials are everywhere, a sobering reminder of those bloody years.
One of several tanks on display near Constitution Plaza.
"Here lives a veteran of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), please treat him with respect!" Seen on an apartment building on  Morozova street.

What appeals to you the most? Would you like to buy your clothes by the kilogram? Try pickled watermelon? Is there anything you've had trouble adapting to when you traveled abroad?


  1. As always Kate a great read and great photos. You make me long to return to Ukraine, a truly fascinating country.

    1. Thanks, Al : ) Ukraine will be happy to see you when you get here!

  2. 1. I usually drink either bottled clean water from supermarket or boil it before drinking if it is from a tap (водопроводная). Some people drink raw tap water but I believe it is dangerous in Ukraine. I think in Kharkiv tap water is even dirtier than in my location so I'm not wondered that water trucks are in demand in bigger sities like Kharkiv.
    2. There are a lot of poor people living in Ukraine. Unfortunately that's reality.
    Some people are not so poor but they buy second hand because they believe its quality is much better then at a market and for much lower price, maybe other reasons, anyway it's all about their mentality. I would never bought second hand clothes but for some people it's ok. Why by kilograms? I don't know, maybe because it is easier for sellers not to attach a pricetag to every single thing.
    4. As I know beer from 18, stronger drinks like vodka or wine - 21 . Anyway law restrictions in our country are not the barier for young persons willing to violate it.
    5. Mentality of the population, again... I wonder if it was not aged unkind woman who snatched the bag out of your hands.
    7. At least someone corrected the phone number from old "04" to "104" =)
    8. I don't believe in all of these superstitions anymore but I keep trying not to step on a hatch and observe it if a black cat or someone with an empty bucket cross my way. I don't believe in it, but why I still notice it?=)
    9. Wow! That's interesting. I've never tasted it.
    10. Alcoholics steal metal and sell it for scrap to buy vodka or moonshine. Nobody cares because we do not have proper authorities, we have no worthy police, a lot of the population is uncivilized uneducated egoistic (sorry for my bad Russian) "быдло", nobody respects laws and there is complete mess everywhere.
    But, you know, I adore your blog, it is always so positive and optimistic. It's really great!!!
    And I think you should visit Western Ukraine one day, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk region, Zakarpattia, Carpathian mountains and a lot of other interesting places=)

    1. Hi Andrew! You have some great observations here. Hmm, maybe pickled watermelon is more of a regional delicacy than a national thing? Anyways, I'd love to visit Western Ukraine... people say so many wonderful things about it. I've heard there are fairly cheap bus multi-day bus tours than can take you through that part of the country.

      By the way, have you heard about the Good News Ukraine series via Kyiv Post? They've also got a Facebook page. Only positive things about Ukraine are posted and it can be a really inspiring read!

  3. Russia also sekls second hand clothes by the kilo - what's up with that? It kind of makes me crazy, and it's totally not cost efficient with winter items!

    1. Ouch, I never thought of buying winter clothes that way. That would be pricey! I guess it's most cost-efficient to buy only tank tops and flips flops if you're buying by the kilo :p

  4. Just FYI - we are promoting your blog on Cheers!

  5. I still can't make myself try a pickled watermelon :)

    1. They're so strange!!! They taste kind of like a pickle... a logical taste, I guess : ) Are they popular in your area?

  6. Pickled watermelons no stranger than pickled eggs. And it's KharkIv, not KharkOv.

    1. You're right on, anonymous. It is Kharkiv when transliterating from Ukrainian.

    2. And what other language can it be transliterated from in Ukraine?

  7. Ok, I'd agree about Kharkiv. Don't try to learn Ukraine from Soviet maps. And also our capital is Kyiv :)
    Couple of remarks from your "wonders":
    1. Don't buy water from trucks, it's better to drink bottled water or even boiled and/or filtered tap water. That's because every day you have different company (sparkling/not), which suplies water. Nobody cares about all of them, they never clean their tanks and people say, that some of them are selling...tap water, sometimes additionally sparkled for you to not to guess the truth...
    2. Kilos are not in every second-hand shops, but all of them began from price per kilo. I think not only because of labels, but to easier suppose the income on the "higher level". I think buying winter things with feather inside is cheap in this kind of dimension system :)
    3. Why didn't you post Blagovischenskyi Sobor? ;)
    4. Beer and light-alcohol only. For visky, vodka (horilka) and similar - 21
    5. Thank you. I saw it on that only place, but thought it has smt in common with McDonald's. McCafees, I hope, still has?
    6. Very ironic))))) But it's truth
    7. Which is "old" for you? and or (in the middle)? ))))) real photos of flats on sale in Kharkiv
    8. In this case I'll go straight, but usually I don't do so))))
    9. Picklin watermelon? I tried it once in one Jewish family in Kharkiv. And I don't like it :)
    10. The worst thing is: "everything is common, so nobody is on duty, nobody cares", which is another "side" of the same principle
    11. You were lucky you didn't pasted nearrest English Mark photo (which cames from the First World War). That just comes from SU. And at least 50% of district(or wider-)known streets named after people of that time.
    12. I think switching off hot water in for a month during the summer (for prevention of accidents...with then in Autumn accidents happen) with rising the gas bill (while you PROBABLY use gas to boil the water for having a shower) have to be noticed already. I still can't get accustomed for this "tradition"

    1. 1. Hmmm, I always wondered how often they cleaned (or didn't clean) their tanks....
      7. Okay, definitely the last one ( is the scariest one. Yikes! But the whole gas stove is a new concept for me in general. At first I was really afraid of trying to light them.
      12. Cold showers are definitely not for the faint of heart :p I used to do that (boil water) but now instead we have a boiler and pay an exorbitant electricity bill during the summer months.

      Btw, it was really nice to meet you last weekend!

  8. Well, America is backwards with drinking age. You can drive and be killed in war at younger than the drinking age. That just makes no sense