Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Interview with a Kharkiv expat

 Meet João, a friendly Portugese expat currently living in Kharkiv, Ukraine!

João, tell us a little about yourself and your life before Ukraine.

I studied International Relations and this part of Europe got me interested, not only due to its history but also the Slavic culture. Before Ukraine I was not particularly happy with the path my life was taking so I decided to try something different and venture myself into this country. This way I practice international relations every day while learning a language that I love and experiencing this culture. And the best thing is that all this builds up to my medium to long term professional goals.

Why Kharkiv?

You can call it luck. My goal was eastern Ukraine because I wanted to become proficient in Russian language. But now that I’ve visited other Ukrainian cities I have to say I’m really glad I ended up coming to Kharkiv. I like the city a lot. It has something unique to it. It’s not too big and industrialized, it’s historic and cultural but in a different way than western Ukrainian cities I’ve visited before, it has a nice range of leisure places and I find people to be more genuine than in other touristic cities. [Editor's note: agree 100% with all of this!]

Can you remember your first impressions of the country?

My first impressions were something along the lines “Wow, this is nothing like what is portrayed by the western media”. Yes, infrastructures are in bad shape but apart from that I found Kharkiv to be quite a picturesque and cosmopolitan city. Having arrived in spring, I remember walking the neighborhoods and seeing lots of green and flowers, playgrounds everywhere with children and grandmothers watching over them, mothers taking care of their babies. Such a family oriented sight! And because the city is full of Universities, there are many youth events that make Kharkiv a city with a rich social life. As for first impressions on cultural differences, I found people here to be more reserved, yet when they have something to say they say it like they feel it. And contrary to popular belief, people are helpful and kind. Or maybe I’ve just been lucky so far.

Do you find it easy to earn a living in Ukraine?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The best place to blog

Do you have a favorite place to be creative? Some place that really inspires or energizes you?

There's an awesome tumblr thread called where bloggers blog that shows all kinds of brainstorming headquarters. My current picture would not be very impressive- it'd be a picture of the floor ; ) Right next to this lazy guy-

In 2013, though, we hit the jackpot when it came to creative space. The year we moved to this place I wrote a whopping one hundred and seventy seven posts for this blog while working, taking a Spanish class, volunteering, and surviving a 2-week visit of the in-laws.

The reason?

This balcony. 

The apartment was smack in the middle of the city- cosmopolitan Pushkin street and all its fancy shops just out the front door- but what completely sold us was the view. Nothing could compete with that view.

Not a single day passed when I wasn't on the balcony for at least a few minutes. Even the very evening we officially moved into the apartment- after a long day of hauling boxes on the metro- we grabbed some fast food and collapsed onto two stools the landlady had left out there, mesmerized by the view. From then on we took as many meals on the balcony as possible.

The balcony was almost empty, home to only a clothes-drying rack, an ironing board, and Kit's litter box (tucked away in the closet), but the windowsill was just wide enough for a stack of books or a laptop.

It was inspiring to lean out the windows and see how far Kharkiv stretched into the distance. Such a big city! We'd pick distant towers to later scout in person, trying to figure out which buildings we already recognized. When Metallist played, the stadium would blaze up with a thousand lights late into the night. Being on that balcony was an instant pick-me-up at any time of day. Even Kit got into the act, spying on the streets below for hours.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Kharkiv now

I never forget Ukraine.

It's always quietly in the corner of my vision, something that the eyes can't quite focus on, a word on the tip of the tongue.

D and I talk a lot about what's happening. I can't imagine what it would be like to still be living in Kharkiv. We were lucky to have the option to leave. Many can't. The landscape is changing fast: symbols of the past erased, cars set alight, more bomb threats in the metro. One of the tech companies at which I taught is moving its operations and staff out of the country. The grivna jumps up and down. 37 uah to the dollar not long ago, today at 21 uah to the dollar. "With the current prices in Ukraine, there is no choice but work hard for your supper", writes one friend.

At the same time, people are getting by. They're tired of it all, yes, but still hopeful. They have spring picnics, go to new cafes, change jobs, walk in Gorky Park, work out, start a new English class. This is the stuff you don't hear about in the news.

But still, it seems that Ukraine is headed toward something. Everyone is guessing (especially the entire internet!) but no one yet knows what exactly that will be.

The photos below are old; the quotes are not.

The war is close. It's the main thing people are talking about. You can't get ready for it, you can either try to escape it or accept it, being a part of it. No one wants it and everyone just hopes it won't begin or pass us by. It's safe in here but who knows how long for. - 23 years old, DevOps Engineer

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ukrainian reality TV (+ X Factor!)

Ukraine has a number of reality TV shows that you may already know:
  • The Bachelor, which is now on its fifth season in Ukraine. I stopped watching in Season 2, which got a little ludicrous as a vaguely-royal Scot who spoke neither Ukrainian nor Russian went on the show with his trusty earpiece.

I never watched much of these shows- our sole Ukrainian television only lived a few days- but enjoyed what I did see. Although reality TV might indeed rot the brain, there's a benefit to doing it this way: you get to do it in two languages. In most shows the narration is done in Ukrainian while the contestants speak Ukrainian, Russian, and/or surzhik. At the very least I could pretend to be studying.

There's one show in particular I wanted to share with you, since they came to Kharkiv a few times and one of my coworkers actually made it on the program.

Eric, another American teacher at the school where I worked, had his 15 minutes of fame when he went on the show last year.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The views from Crown Point

Oregon, I take back some of the things I said about you.

D's relatives swept into town this weekend. They easily qualify as a force of nature: unpredictable, always on the move, impossible to influence or sway. It works out favourably in the end, since D and I tend to be homebodies and they arrive with all the subtlety of a hurricane, enroll us in one of their minivan excursions, and add some who-knows-what-will-happen-next spice to the traditional days of rest. And so we blinked and found ourselves at Multnomah Falls this Sunday.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mustang Wanted

How are you with heights? Could you imagine doing what this guy is doing?

I wasn't too surprised to find out that he's Ukrainian (and how!) after observing these two men working in Kharkiv's Freedom Square one afternoon. Doesn't look too bad...

... until you see the full view!

Could only find a winter picture to show the full view. February 2014 actually, as the city prepared for/canceled Maslenitsa amid massive demonstrations.

But I imagine those two guys are up there in harnesses for the griven. The absolutely ropeless guy from Kyiv in the video- aka "Mustang Wanted"- well, who knows. Perhaps he started out repairing the tops of buildings before graduating to hanging off them? His true identity is a secret but he's not hiding a single one of his crazy climbs on his personal website. Take a peek and let me know below what you think!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

March in Portland

The past few weeks I stopped bringing a camera with me. Bad idea, because now I don't even remember much of what happened last month. D takes his camera (phone) around with him every day but he mainly takes photographs of mushrooms. Yes, you heard it here first!

You can take the guy out of Simferopol, but you can't take the Simferopol out of the guy ; )