Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Perfect Ukrainian Toilet

Oh, black tea. Your caffeinated kick lures me over to the electric kettle every morning, but it's thanks to you that I found myself shelling out 2.50 grivna and peeing over an odoriferous pit in the train station this morning. It's not easy to do that while trying to hold the broken stall door closed with your other hand and at the same time clutch the little scrap of toilet paper that you've been given. In fact, the whole situation reminded me of this email I got last year...

Sept 2011.
My email to D.
"At 10 AM this morning Myroslava came from the airport with a new arrival, this neurotic east-coaster who hadn't slept in about 30 hours. Instead of getting sleepier as the day wore on, he got more and more wound up, until he was like a New Yorker on Crack (NYoC for short) by the end of the day. [For brevity, I've edited out a long story about NYoC's first encounter with the toilets in an elementary school. Suffice to say, he went in the men's room confidently, having studied abroad for a while near Moscow, and promptly ran out in shock.]"

Sept 2011.
D's response.
"I enjoyed your story about NYoC vs Ukrainian toilets. Send him my regards and tell him that one of those days he will encounter the "PUT" (Perfect Ukrainian Toilet).

Usually it is hard to encounter the PUT but sometimes the heavenly bodies align just right and an unfortunate person steps through the portal that leads to the "Perfect Ukrainian Toilet".
A key to one such portal might be a decision to replenish bodily fluids 2 hours before some medium-sized Ukrainian city while traveling by train. The first introduction to his personal Divina Commedia will happen one hour before the city when all the bathrooms on the train will be locked. After an hour of unproductive negotiations with "provodnica" (the train cart attendant in charge of tea and toilets), he will learn that the train will stay in the city for 30 minutes and the train toilets will not be open for another 1.5 hours. Well, the decision is simple: find a toilet at the train station and be done with it.

After a little searching around he will locate an entrance coded М/Ж (or Ч/Ж). At the entrance an indestructible creature called a "babushka" will collect the coin toll. No greetings or any other words will be offered. In exchange for his coin he will receive a ticket in the form of three see-through squares of paper. He will then have to cross the river that spreads across the corridor from half-rotten sewer pipe himself. No rides will be offered. On the other side he will enter into a dimly lit rectangular room with a slippery floor. The only light will come from a barred murky window on the top of the far wall. Close to the entrance on the right side of the wall there will be some "umivalniki" (places where one is supposed to wash hands) with pieces of gray matter called "hozaistvennoe milo" (a kind of soap). Every person (except babushkas) has to take that gray matter into his hands and spray some water from a rusty faucet to ensure that all creatures living in that gray matter evenly spread to all newcomers. The room will be full of sufferers awaiting their turn.

Further along the wall with the faucets there will be a grim-looking wall with a ledge that starts at belt level and runs down the wall at a 15 degree angle to a little hole on the floor. The ledge will have a little ditch that is supposed to direct fluid into the hole. There will be about 8-10 grim looking men who thoughtfully stand next to this ledge and try to expel all the beer that they consumed on the train during the previous night. Right across from them there will be 4 holes in the floor. Even though the purpose of those holes will be clear from unmistakably smelly markings around the holes, there will be no doors, no walls, or even a hint of separation between them. One of them will be occupied by some angry-looking red-eyed "bizznesman" holding his fancy jacket in one hand and his "barsetka" (men's purse) in another while sounding like an angry Harley-Davidson. This poor soul fell for a tasty-looking treat that he bought at one of the little train stops from one of the babushkas. Now he pays dearly for that sin. At some point there will be space at the pee ledge and our hero will decide that since he came this far, he might as well go all the way. As soon as he will take his place at the ledge, the babushka will come out with the white powdered jewel of all PUTs. Chloride.

Chloride is one of the most vicious elements. It reacts with everything, it kills almost all living creatures, and it is cheap. Powdered chloride is widely used as a disinfection substance in Russian/Ukrainian public toilets. When the babushka starts generously spreading the powdered chloride all over the floor, the substance will start reacting with all the liquids and solids on the floor, turning into a highly toxic gas. During World War II US Marines were trained to keep their cool during a gas attack. Every trainee had to go through a room full of gaseous chloride. Maximum allowed time in the room was 30 seconds. Chloride starts reacting with eyes, nose, and throat even if you hold your breath. This is a very effective way to clear the room of all living creatures, including humans. If our hero survives the Perfect Ukrainian Toilet, every other facility will feel like a 5-star hotel."

OMG, at least I got a door! Now this morning doesn't seem quite so bad...


  1. That. Was. Awesome! I think there should be a medal of honor saying "PUT survivor" or something like that. I would have a few :) Your story brought back some dear memories from the past. And it totally freaked out my born and raised Texan girlfriend before our trip. I think she's just gonna hold it until we're back to the USofA.

    1. Your poor girlfriend! Now she'll never get on the plane to Ukraine :p

      You can reassure her that most of the toilets are fine, there's just a couple PUTs left out there... like the one at Nikitsky Botanical Gardens in Crimea, definitely avoid that one in the summertime! There were just two open squalid pits, no doors, and a long line of waiting women. I later asked my mom-in-law how she dealt with situations like that, and she said that's why women carry scarves and jackets with hoods- to disguise their faces and give them some privacy. I think she was joking.... probably...