My first impression about the generous Ukrainian people, but also the rotten Ukrainian system that makes one’s life intolerable began with an incident at the airplane. I was flying with Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA), which I strongly don’t recommend to anyone else. This is because the personnel working on board did not fulfill their obligation. When I bought my ticket I paid for a meal, which I was supposed to get during my journey. However, despite the indication of this information in my ticket, the personnel tried to find various excuses and persuaded me that UIA did not inform them about this. I was told that I have to pay for my meal anew. Seeing me somewhat disappointed Ukrainian passengers sided with me and criticized the personnel of UIA. A middle aged man who was sitting next to me said ironically: “welcome to Ukraine”! Then I thought and wondered how bad the situation should be in this country that the “best” airlines skimped on its passengers.
I did not know what to expect from a country that has experienced a revolution, coup d’etat, annexation of its territories and military conflict during the last five years. Moreover, Ukraine is literally on the verge of bankruptcy. I recall what the man sitting next to me in the airplane said when we went into conversation. He said that “people in Ukraine do not live, they survive, and make a living as they can”. Nevertheless, Ukrainian people are very kind, hospitable and always willing to help. When I arrived to Odessa a friend of mine came to the airport to meet me and followed with me to my accomodation. This was very kind of my friend who lives in Odessa. Because when taxi drivers see visitors and tourists, the price from airport to downtown can vary from 50 to 100 $. Thanks to the local knowledge of my friend the taxi costed only 5 $. In general, during my short period in Ukriane I clearly understood one thing that Catherine Wanner wrote for more than twenty years ago in her book called “Burden of Dreams: History and Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine”. Ukraine is one of those post-Soviet countries where you still have to know someone or to have “blat” so that things can work efficiently.
The city of Odessa is located in the south of the country. It is also called the pearl of Black Sea. The city was founded in the 18th century. One can encounter plenty of buildings and other architecture built during Tsarist and Soviet eras. Everyone who has visited Odessa would say that this city is frozen in time. It is still possible to see plenty of Soviet cars in the streets that were manufactured in the Soviet Union. Even some people I have met here express Soviet nostalgia from time to time.
Russian language is widely spoken in Odessa, which makes my everyday encounter with locals somewhat easy due to my proficiency in Russian. The city of Odessa is very multicultural, and beside the majority Ukrainians the city is home to Russians, Bulgarians, Jews, Moldovans and other ethnic groups. Potemkin stairs, the famous Deribasovskaya street and Arkadiya beach are the favourite sites visited by tourists.
There is one thing about Odessa that I can not be silent about. Although there are beggars in almost every city of the world, the poverty in Odessa is expressed differently, especially by the youth. Instead of asking for money, teenager boys and girls can approach someone in the street and simply ask to buy them food, water or a bus ticket. It is heartbreaking to see the young generation in such condition!
I could not meet my second contact person at the Odessa National Mechnikov University this week since most of the lecturers were busy due to the ongoing examinations. My gatekeeper had also a tight schedule at work and could not meet me this week. So, I will meet my contact person at the University, as well as my gatekeeper next week. My gatekeeper will inform me about the Right Sector’s activities and introduce me to the research participants that I plan to interview and observe.
It was all from me for this time but I will be back with new stories next week!