Tuesday, May 30, 2006


UKRAINE - The first of four overseas visits in the next 6 weeks .... USA, Holland and Germany to go...

I'm standing in 4 inches of water, in the most spectacular electric storm, bump starting a Lada that had up until two minutes previously, been towing a broken down Russian motorcycle.

I'm in the Ukraine, somewhere. Apart from being a couple of hours from Kiev. I have absolutely no idea where I am. Having done battle as a passenger in rush hour traffic, travelled the wrong way down a motorway to negotiate the aftermath of a six truck pile up I am now quite glad to be eight floors up in a very modest apartment - all be it over looking a slowly sinking Lada in boggy wasteground. The next few days would see a further six road accidents within earshot, narrowly miss being wiped out by a drunk driver who did clatter head on into my friend on his bike seriously injuring him.

Ukranian hospitals are as bleak as the housing estates and the toilet in the police station was decidedly below average - no better in fact than the tin bucket the majority of village dwellers still use in their back gardens.

Mechanised farming remains non existent despite the thousands of square miles of arable land and grazing pasture. In the city the air is thick with diesel and petrol fumes as ancient Russian and Ukrainian made vehicles defy all odds and keep propelling forwards, probably without brakes.

Reminders of the Soviet state are everywhere balanced by the struggle of the young to reach out and embrace the West. McDonalds has arrived and so have American TV Evangelist channels for those priviledged enough to own a working TV - neither a step in the right direction in my opinion. The dark memory of Chernobyl is evident in the scarred skin conditions of many twenty years on as is the anger that the rest of the world and their government has tried to forget it.

How bleak it can sound - allowing the tragedy, discomforts, misfortunes and time gap of maybe 40 years, to crowd out vital signs of life. Within an hour of stepping out of the airport, Pasha, my contact man in Ukraine took me to meet some friends as we happened to be passing. The interest is motorcycles, as a 42 year old family heir loom was wheeled out of the shed. I am welcomed into the family home and greeted by a grubby two year old and his mother shows me some family photos on the wall. Ten teenage children no less, as I discover I am sittting in an orphanage for teenagers.

The journey continues to Pasha's home - a very small dwelling of two rooms where he, his young wife and their baby son live. Amid an obvious struggle to make ends meet, I am treated to a agenerous meal of chicken soup and potatoes. This tale of generosity would continue at sparse home in tower blocks and in basic dirt poor simple lifestyle homes in out lying villages.

As I consider putting my head to rest, in a third home of the day, (that of another couple who work in an orphanage), after nearly 24 hours of travel, I am reminded of the definition of someone who is poor in spirit - is that you know who they are just that because when you have been in their company, you say to yourself, 'my life has been enriched by the experience of being in their company'.

Sounds not too far off the mark from what the papers were saying this week about a better off society has got very little to do with how much money the economy gives us and more to do with whats going on inside.