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Sunday, 29 September 2013

In the midst of the hectic Christmas preparations, I came across something that stopped my in my tracks, and get a few things in perspective.

A couple of years ago on Christmas eve, the boys and I were in nearby ‘Market Town’, I can’t even remember what it was, that was so important to our festive arrangements that I felt the need to venture into town on Christmas eve. The boys were with me and seizing the moment I herded them in to the shoe shop for some new school shoes, they were not impressed they were on a mission to go to ‘Game’, to suss the PS2 games; the shoe shop has a traditional sort of ethos in that it offers good service from pleasant staff, but it is by no means frumpy, it sells shoes that tempt (apart from school shoes) its not difficult to part with money.
The shop was full of children, one boy was jumping up and down with excitement, he was thrilled to bits with his new trainers, the sort with flashing lights in the heels; despite the sparkle in his eyes, he didn’t look well, his face was  pinched and thin, his complexion was that sallow yellow/blue of a fading bruise, it was not the hue of of healthy child. There was a cacophony of chatter in the shop, but not a word of it could we understand, (and we are local after all.) Then slowly it dawned on me, the party and their chaperones are all  from Belarus. The children live in the poisonous shadow of theChernobyl disaster.
Groups of children come to this area twice a year, for a recuperative holiday, most of then will be suffering from life shortening illnesses, or they are in remission from cancer or leukemia, the chances of them living a full and healthy life are slim,staying with host families, this break is to give their immune systems a boost. The children arrive in the UK, pretty much with just the clothes they stand up in, local businesses donate, clothes and in this case shoes, their visits are on the local fundraising calendar, so that by the time the children go home after their months stay, they have a case full of new clothes.
So there I am, in full ‘consumer mode’, fretting about some inconsequential detail that I think is essential to  the ‘perfect Christmas’ and sticking a couple of pairs of school shoes on the Visa bill along with the rest of the Christmas spend; when I am confronted by  10 children about the same age as my own, all of whom are and look very sick: the effect is as good as a slap across the face, It is not lost on me the contrast between all that my children have, good food, a warm home, health care and pretty much all they could wish for, including the most precious thing of all good health; these kids have so little, of so many things. Tears start to fill my eyes, Tom seeing my face asks ‘Mum, what’s the matter?’ trying to tell him what’s going on in the shop and in my head only goes to make matters worse, tears are now spilling down my cheeks; ‘Mum stop it, you are being embarrassing’ hisses Tom. As we leave the shop, the proprietor, is telling the chaperones they too must choose themselves a a pair of shoes each, what ever they fancy, I want to tell him what a generous gesture he is making, but the lump in my throat prevents me* One of the chaperones is trying on a sexy pair of high heeled shoes, may be warm boots would have been a practical choice, to take back to Belarus, but every girl needs pretty things.
We make our way back to the car, and in the shopping precinct, all the signs pointing the way to ‘Santa’s Grotto’ have been  sub titled in Russian; this set me off crying again; Tom is by now ‘so not impressed’ with me;
 ‘MUM will you stop it, you are so EMBARASSING’
Sorry son, sometimes it is important for parents to be embarrassing, it makes us realise just how very, very fortunate we are.

I hadn’t realised till I started writing this post, just how many towns up and down the country fund holidays like this, to all of you that are involved, happy Christmas you are special.
I re-told this experience to a friend who, is in a position to know what they are talking about, (unlike me) and they told me that, the children, are by no means the last, there will be many many more whose lives will be blighted if not cut short by the events of the 26th of April 1986, just how many, is open to wide debate, World Nuclear Association is cautious,Greenpeace is not; part of the problem seems to be in the lack of data before the incident, all I can tell you is what I saw one Christmas eve, I won’t forget.
* It was March before, I caught up with the shops proprietor, and told him how generous I thought he had been, he shrugged his shoulders, ‘I suppose it cost us a bit, but we think is worth it.’ I think he’s right.

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Saturday, 28 September 2013

Giant rubber duck arrives in Pittsburgh - video | World news |

Giant rubber duck arrives in Pittsburgh - video | World news |

"A giant rubber duck, created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, is towed up the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Friday. The 12-metre-high and nine-metre-wide inflatable has travelled to numerous international destinations including, Hong Kong, Sydney and Amsterdam since 2007, but its arrival in Pittsburgh marks its first visit to the US


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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Preparing for the Next Great Ukrainian Economic Crisis: Lessons Learned from 2008 - Opinion - News - Ukraine Business Online

Preparing for the Next Great Ukrainian Economic Crisis: Lessons Learned from 2008 - Opinion - News - Ukraine Business Online:

2013/9/25 12:25:03
An expat who has lived through one previous crisis in Ukraine offers his suggestions as to the best way to prepare for what he sees as the inevitable next crisis. Some of his Ukraine-centric suggestions have efficacy for many parts of the world.

By Ben Scott*

In my last article, I explained why I was worried about the Ukrainian hryvnia. If/when this thing ever budges from its current peg to the US dollar, it has the potential to gum up life on the street here even more. I was here last time when the hryvnia fell and I’ve got some practical advice for all of the newcomers out there - now is the time to get prepared.

Here are my top seven tips for how to get ready for the next (not so) great Ukrainian economic crisis, based on my lessons learned from the 2007-2008 financial crisis:

1. Don’t keep (much of) your money in hryvnias.

This might seem obvious, but it’s important to not overlook the basics. If depreciation happens, your money will instantly be worth less. If you get paid in hryvnias or have an elaborate collection hiding out tucked in your mattress or buried at dacha - now is the time to pull them out and exchange them for another international currency. In 2007-2008, there were weeks where it was nearly impossible to find any hard international currency on hand in any bank, even in central Kyiv.

2. Create an emergency fund for yourself.

If you can manage it, build up a bit of your savings into a personal fund to be used exclusively for emergency purposes. This can come in handy if your employer encounters any problems with processing pay checks or has to resort to downsizing. In such pinches, this will help to ensure you can keep a roof over your head and food on your table. Experts advise anywhere from 3-12 months of monthly expenses as a suitable buffer.

3. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

If you keep your money in Ukrainian banks, know that their responses to the 2008 crisis varied wildly. There were times when it was impossible to get deposits back while other banks imposed limits on withdrawals, paid out foreign-currency denominated accounts in hryvnias, or simply closed their doors. Spreading your money between banks or asset types prevents it from ever being completely locked up and inaccessible.

4. Diversify your income sources.

Consider your employment situation and whether your employer’s business (or your own) is susceptible to economic shocks. If there are doubts, it might be prudent to diversify your income sources, whether that means taking on a tutoring gig or moonlighting as a translator or work-from-home entrepreneur. It’s far easier to make key contacts and start these initiatives when you are not pressured for time, money, or instant success.

5. Pay off debt.

This is near universal financial advice, but is perhaps particularly true in Ukraine. We’ve all heard horror stories of unpredictable Ukrainian lenders unilaterally changing contract terms or otherwise creating problems for debtors. If you can avoid being in that situation, do it.

6. Max out your benefits and vacation time beforehand.

In 2007-2008, one of the first things to be cut by progressive Ukrainian employers that offered such things in the first place were benefits like medical insurance and housing assistance. So take advantage of such perks while they are still available to you. Also, if you’ve been considering a vacation, I’d strongly consider doing so before the next crisis strikes. Not only will you be in a more savings-minded mode afterward, but if your job could become uncertain, you will be less likely to want to spend much time slacking off away from the office – and even if you did, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it much.

7. Renew relationships with former coworkers, family, and friends.

Quite simply, you never know what help you might need down the road or from whom. You’re not setting yourself up very well if you only reach out to certain people in times of dire need. So my advice is to nurture these relationships, not necessarily with the expectation of getting anything back - they might be just as likely to need to call on you at some point.


*Ben Scott is a U.S. citizen and, against his occasional better judgment and the advice of friends and numerous acquaintances, remains a long-time resident of Ukraine.

Editor’s Note: Ukraine Business Online invites comments from readers on this or any other subject of interest to the Ukrainian people. You may provide feedback to any news story by use of the reply function at the bottom of the page. If you have more general thoughts you would like to share, send commentary of any length to:

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Thursday, 19 September 2013

Caricatures: What EU Integration Means For Ukraine

Caricatures: What EU Integration Means For Ukraine:

""Europe's best side" -- that's what the Institute of World Politics in Ukraine called its latest campaign on Ukraine's European integration. It implies that Ukraine has always been part of Europe but that there is a better side of Europe: the European Union. And the closer Ukraine is to the EU, the more opportunities it will have to develop, the campaign proclaims. The institute came up with a booklet of cartoons that depict two realities -- the Ukrainian and the European reality. The cartoonists aimed to demonstrate why Ukraine is still not the "best side" of Europe. They want Ukrainians to stop blaming others for their country's failures, to change their mindsets, and to learn about the best things the EU has to offer. (By Maryna Turovska, Kostyantyn Kazanchev, Ihor Bezhuk, and Oleksiy Kustovsky)

Doing business. Ukraine ranked 137th in the 2013 World Bank survey of countries with simple business rules. Neighboring Slovakia was ranked 46th. State offices like the tax authorities or fire inspectors are the most common barriers that small business have to overcome when registering their firms. Also, businesses are reluctant to invest in a country that lacks independent courts.

Absolute hierarchy. Bosses in Ukraine consider themselves a tsar, and their employees as slaves. But in many firms in Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries, the boss is just a senior partner whom you call by his/her first name.

Level of trust. In Ukraine, as in other former Soviet republics, people often trust only their closest circles -- usually relatives or best friends. People are constantly worried they will be cheated. The level of trust among people is related to the overall quality of life. Generally, the poorer the living conditions the less people trust each other.

Do police protect the people? In Ukraine there are 780 police officers for every 100,000 citizens. It is more police per capita than in any EU country, as Poland has 264 per 100,000 and Germany 301. But the high number of police does not guarantee a higher level of protection for Ukrainians. Only 29 percent of Ukrainians trust the police; 80 percent do not believe Ukraine's police are honest or impartial. In Austria, Germany, and Finland the level of trust in police is more than 85 percent.

The divide between VIPs and non-VIPs. Soviet "egalitarianism" led to an unhealthy desire among modern Ukrainians to show off their wealth. The "VIP" sign became very popular for taxi services, concerts, and stadiums, it even appeared on some tickets for the zoo.

Women's rights. Ukrainian women find it hard to get senior managerial positions in companies. Ukraine also has far fewer women in parliament than other European countries. More than one-third of the members of the European Parliament are women. In Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada only 10 percent of the members are women.

Intolerance. Only 5 percent of Ukrainians are ready to protest against discrimination (according to a KIIS survey in 2011). Just 36 percent of Ukrainians say they would vote for a presidential candidate who is Jewish and 18 percent for a black candidate.

Life expectancy. In the EU it is 77 years for men and 83 for women while in Ukraine it is 68 and 72 years, for men and women, respectively.

Life expectancy. The average person in the European Union lives 10 years longer than the average Ukrainian and 13 years longer than the average Russian.

Pension plans. The European Union is a world leader in providing social security for its citizens. Such expenditures constitute 30 percent of the EU's GDP. In Ukraine they total only 8 percent. It is especially noticeable when comparing pensions: in the United Kingdom a pension is 760 euros while in Ukraine it is the equivalent of 137 euros.

Health care. Only 18 percent of Ukrainians are satisfied with the level of their medical services. This is one of the lowest rates in the world, according to a 2012 Gallup survey. In this regard, Ukraine can compete only with Yemen, where 19 percent of those surveyed were happy with their health care. In Britain, Germany, and Sweden more the 90 percent of the population expressed satisfaction with their doctors and hospitals.

Clean water. Only 42 percent of Ukrainians are satisfied with the quality of their drinking water. In many EU states, tap water is as good or better than water sold in bottles. EU standards for drinking water are some 28 percent higher than in Ukraine.

Going green. It's very difficult to protect forests in Ukraine from illegal cutting, compared to the EU, where forests have greater protection. Moreover, because of the climate, only 15.7 percent of Ukrainian territory is covered by forests, while EU territory is about 42 percent forested.

Sports mean better health. In EU countries, sports clubs are ubiquitous, even in small towns. But some 66 percent of Ukrainians say they are uninterested in physical activity.

Fear of innovation and reform. Many Ukrainians are afraid of change, a fear that goes back to Soviet times during the years of collectivization and industrialization. This fear was reinforced by many of the failed economic reforms of the 1990s.

In 2012 only 3 percent of Ukrainians said they trust the courts. Ukraine is the fifth biggest justice seeker at the European Court of Human Rights, with 10,400 claims submitted by Ukrainians last year.

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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The mystical beauty of the Carpathians #Ukraine - tks

The Carpathian Mountains is the mountain range located in Central Europe. Ukrainian Carpathians are situated in the west of Ukraine mainly in Lviv,Ivano-FrankivskZakarpattia and Chernivtsi regions.
Mountainous terrain stretches for about 280 km. Hoverla Mountain (2061 meters) is the highest point of Ukraine. In rainy and foggy weather, this region is particularly dark and mysterious. Photos by Richard Zorge
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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A savage satirist

THE British illustrator invites The Economist into his studio in Kent, where he reflects on his career, draws a bird and plays a tune