Tag Archives: Kiev

A message from Kiev this morning

Kiev1_18feb2014 Kiev2_18feb2014 Kiev3_18feb2014

Above, BBC News reports from Kiev.

I know someone who lives in Kiev. I got a message this morning.

It’s been an amazing time in Ukraine the last three months and no more than the last five days, it became quite scary but thankfully the worst is over now – well as long as Russia doesn’t get too involved. I am very proud of the Ukrainian people. What a fight they had to put up against such a dictator, thankfully who is now on the run!

I asked if the person I know wanted to say anything on my blog.

They did. This is it:

The situation in Ukraine is chaotic, and out of chaos DOES NOT come democracy.

If the EU does not act now with genuine help and money – lots of money – Ukraine will end right back where they just came from.

The EU needs to send experts to help the National Bank of Ukraine, experts to help support businesses and again lots of money to make sure the country does not go bankrupt.

The EU gave Greece an obscene amount of money for a much smaller country where almost all citizens were part of sucking their own country dry and into bankruptcy. In Ukraine a very small group of people have been sucking the state coffers and 99% of the 45 million population have suffered.

If Ukraine goes bankrupt, the Hrivna (the Ukrainian currency) will collapse, which is already well underway, Ukrainians will eventually largely blame the events happening over the last three months for this and they will end right back in corruption with leaders that will suck the coffers for anything they can get their hands on. They will want to choose a strong man/woman that will again have too much power and democracy will be lost again.

The EU have to act FAST and ignore Russia, because Russia can never act against a blooming democracy. But Russia CAN act against an ongoing chaotic situation as we have now.

EU foreign ministers – Get together again immediately, stop patting each other backs thinking you saved Ukraine from (ex-President) Yanukovich. The people of Ukraine kicked out Yanukovich, but NOW they need you to help building up and keep the country united fast, before the situation becomes even worse. Please use the momentum, do not let a chance of getting the biggest country in Europe on a correct democratic path slip away. Because it WILL slip away if you do not act NOW.

And NOW does not mean within the next 3-4 weeks where you just want to see where events go in Ukraine, since you do not want to interfere too much… The time for waiting is over, action is needed and it is needed NOW.

Ukraine needs experts to help them hold a free and fair election before May 25th  that can unite the country.

Ukraine needs financial help so the Hrivna will not collapse further.

Ukraine needs help to set up democratic institutions as we know in western Europe.

Ukraine needs to know that the EU is there to support them and not just in words  – Remember people have died for this!

EU will NEVER get a better chance to get the biggest country in Europe on the right track than right now, so why are the foreign ministers and heads of states in the EU not sitting right now in Brussels talking about this ??

Please EU, show us why you exist.

* * * * *

There is a video, posted on YouTube last Thursday, of people being shot in the street by government snipers.

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A spectacular Lions party in Kiev with sword fights and Red Hot Chilli Pipers

(This piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Honestly! I had to have breakfast in Kiev to hear about the current protection rackets of Glasgow gangsters and Glasgow Council officers. Other people’s lives!

Stuart McKenzie - master of spectacular events in the Ukraine

Stuart McKenzie – master of highly spectacular events in the Ukraine

But, really, I was in Kiev to attend the annual Burns Night celebration which, it seems, is never held anywhere near Burns Night in the calendar.

The only thing I can say about it is that Stuart McKenzie (stepson of the late Scots comedian Jimmy Logan) sure knows how to throw a charity party. I was at last year’s celebration, which was wonderful, but this year he has outdone himself.

Iconic Scots TV presenter Dougie Donnelly flew over to present 11 acts, 55 entertainers, multi-lingual addresses to the Haggis and genuine sword-fighting.

The Lions Club in Kiev is the biggest in Eastern Europe and, judging from last night, no wonder they manage to raise around $300,000 every year for charity, with this annual event contributing mightily.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers playing in Kiev last night

Red Hot Chilli Pipers left Kiev reeling & rocking last night

Classical music, bagpiping, the aforementioned swordfighting by The Clann, Dutch singer Mark Enthoven and the extraordinary Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

Plus 38 ‘silent’ auctions in which people bid for everything from a $500 Muhammed Ali autograph to a $3,000 two-day training prize for up to 15 people… plus ten ‘live’ auctions which started with an $11,000 bid and ended with the auction of a $23,000 holiday-for-two in the Seychelles (all money going to charity).

The various holiday auction prizes included two separate Seychelles holidays, two Kenyan holidays and a $7,000 London holiday all put together by Fred Finn, the Guinness Book of Records’ title holder as ‘most travelled person’.

Zap, the magician, mystifying a glamorous guest last night

Zap, the magician, mystifying a glamorous guest last night

Fred had also arranged for the magician Zap to perform table magic during the show. I am ashamed to say I had never seen Zap before but, as a close-up magician, he is flawless. One trick involves taking a low-value note given to him by a punter and changing it into a high-value note ‘before your very eyes’.

Fred told me: “I took Zap to Kenya where he changed low bills into high ones and some of the guys there got a bit rough and took him outside to make him do it for all their money. And then there was the occasion with the UK celebrity where he turned £5 into £50 and the celebrity just walked off with the £50…”

Andrei Trilev got into the Chilli Piping spirit of last night’s event

Profile of publisher Andrei Trilev air guitaring

The six hour long but astonishingly fast-moving Burns Night event yesterday evening was quite something.

I was on an interesting table with, among others, Andrei Trilev, founder of the ultra-glossy Profiles magazine. He is a man unafraid to join in the fun.

And let’s not even mention the Scots croft in the foyer, the Scots castle set on stage or the live sheep.

Not surprisingly, Stuart McKenzie co-owns Ukrainian events company Pulse.

He has been in Kiev since 1994 and his company interests now include entertainment, events, logistics, marketing, property, research and training and his attitude is far from that of the cliché dour Scot.

His view is:

“The best marketers are in the game early and are always on the lookout for the next selling opportunity, the latest trend, the next unmet need. It’s enough to keep you awake at night – but from excitement, rather than from fear.

Some of The Clann members fighting during last night’s show

Some of The Clann members fighting during last night’s show

“My crystal ball has been in the repair shop for a long time. I have absolutely no inkling of what the future holds. Don’t ask me what the trends will be in 2015. I do not have a clue. I can say this, though, with absolute certainty: the future will be glorious for the optimists; the creative marketers who will set the trends and stand to profit from the opportunities that they represent!”

It was announced that, after 18 years of being involved in organising this annual Burns Night celebration in Kiev, it may be Stuart McKenzie’s last. If so, Kiev social life and local charities will be poorer for it.

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Toilet seats and the difference in the collapse of British & Russian empires

A bottom-shaped toilet seat as it was meant to be

A toilet seat as it was meant to be…

I flew to Kiev yesterday. I went to the toilet first.

They have tried hard at London’s Gatwick Airport.

There is a new ‘super-loo’.

The holes in the toilet seats are rectangular.

I checked my bottom before and after using one. My bottom is not rectangular. I was unable to check other people’s bottoms. But I suspect the design of these new ‘super’ toilet seats is a triumph of design over practicality.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Some seats in the Departure Lounge at Gatwick have little flat surfaces next to them with plug sockets and USB ports so you can use and charge your computers and mobile phones.

All the sockets and USB ports had been switched off.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Ukraine International Airlines were very attentive on the flight to Kiev. All the pilot and cabin announcements were, of course, in both Ukrainian… and in English as, I think, the rules say they have to be. At least, I think they were in English.

But the English was around 97% totally incomprehensible. It was like audio origami. I basically only knew it was English because of the polite addition of clear Thankyous at the end of sentences.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

A street in Kiev at 9.40am this morning

A central street in Kiev – or Kyiv –  at 9.40am this morning

So now I am in Kiev.

In an enlightening conversation last night, a local was telling me how the corruption system works.

It is a triumph of actual effectiveness over good intentions.

I say I am in Kiev… but actually I am in Kyiv. Because ‘Kiev’ was the Russian-approved Western spelling used in the Soviet era. Now Ukraine is independent. So now it is written as ‘Kyiv’.

As with all ex-Soviet states, there was and is a problem with the Russians.

I remember a historian (not British born) telling me in the 1990s what he thought was the difference between the collapse of the British Empire and the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

I do not know if he is right or wrong, but it is an interesting viewpoint.

The way he saw it, the British had conquered an empire but had, by-and-large, not fully integrated themselves within the local community, particularly in India.

In the Raj, they tended to live in British communities, go to British clubs and continue living their British lives separate from the local communities. Britain was always seen as their home country. They lived consciously as ex-pats.

With the Soviet Empire, the Russians, to a greater extent, colonised each country and moved their families and lives lock, stock and family barrel into them because they, perhaps, felt that all these other countries really were part of one great Socialist country.

When India got independence, by and large, most British families simply upped-sticks and left, mostly going back to their ‘home’ country – the UK.

But, when the Soviet Empire collapsed and satellite countries got independence, the Russian populations within those countries had psychologically, economically and physically integrated their families’ lives within the communities. They had no actual close family ties back in Russia. They were not expats living away from mother Russia. They were Russians who felt fully part of the satellite countries.

For example, in Uzbekistan, they were not Uzbeks yet, in Russia, they were not ‘real’ Russians. They had nowhere to ‘go home’ to. These were Russians who had been in Uzbekistan for generations and were now left stranded in what had been their home country and was now a foreign country.

Same thing in the Ukraine… exacerbated by a history of invasions over the centuries.

There is a heavy Russian presence in the east and in the south of modern, independent Ukraine. According to a 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their ‘native’ language and 29.6 percent declared Russian.

They considered Russian their ‘native’ language.

Almost 30% of the country.

Almost all in the east and south.

This is not good.

Some people talk of splitting the country.

Mostly the Russians in the Ukraine. And the Russians in the Kremlin.

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What Scotsmen do in Eastern Europe: Burns Night on March 9th in Ukraine

A bizarre but effective Burns Night last night in Kiev

Burns Night celebrations in Kyiv were also in March last year

Burns Night was on 25th January this year. It is every year. It is Rabbie Burns’ birthday.

But I am allegedly going over to the Ukraine for a Burns Night charity event in Kiev – or in Kyiv, depending on your spelling – on 9th March.

Kiev was the Russian-approved spelling in the Soviet era. So, obviously, since independence, the officially-approved Ukrainian spelling is Kyiv, just to be different.

But this does not explain why Burns Night is being celebrated on 9th March.

Last year in Kyiv, it was celebrated on 31st March.

The explanation is that it is being organised by a canny Scotsman.

Stuart McKenzie at the 2012 Burns Night

Stuart McKenzie at 2012 Burns Night in the Ukraine

Stuart McKenzie owns a company in the Ukraine which handles events, PR, marketing, training, e-commerce and research. He also owns hotels and restaurants. And he is also the late Scottish comedian Jimmy Logan’s stepson.

“I organise the Burns Night event with other Kyiv Lions Club members as part of our contribution of time to the club,” Stuart tells me. “Most Kyiv business people are away from 20th December to the 15th of January. So it’s therefore better for me to push the date of Burns Night forward to give me more time to speak to these companies and get sponsorship support. It simply means we can raise more money. Also pipers and entertainers are a lot cheaper to bring over to Kyiv if I’m not competing with the 25th January date.”

Canny and successful.

Sponsors for this year’s Burns Night in Kyiv include Coca Cola, Hyatt Regency, Radisson and Ukraine International Airlines.

“It’s our 18th anniversary this year,” Stuart tells me, “and, over the last eight years, we’ve raised over $700,000 for Kyiv Lions Club projects.”

This year, the Burns Night celebration also coincides with a Women’s Day Celebration.

I suspect Rabbie Burns would have approved.

Stuart certainly knows how to put on a party.

Part of the entertainment on Burns Night in Kyiv will be the Red Hot Chilli Pipers:

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Robert Burns money but chicken-sexing is the thing that brings home the bacon

Spot the cock

For those who have read my blog in the last couple of days… Stuart McKenzie made $132,000 for the Lions Club charities with his Burns Night Supper in Kiev.

He tells me the reason it is held late (Burns Night is actually on 25th January) is simply that the later date will generate more money for the charities – 25th January being too near the Christmas/New Year holidays.

Interesting people are everywhere.

At Kiev airport this morning, on the way back to London, I got chatting to an Ulsterman who travels the world as a dairy consultant; he is currently working in Saudi Arabia for eight years (after which he can retire). Where he is based with his cows in Saudi, they have to pipe the water up from 3.5 miles underground. He tells me the Chinese are importing the crème de la crème of cows and bulls to build up gigantic top-of-the-range herds ten or so years hence.

“I suppose cows are recession-proof,” I said. “People always want beef and milk…”

“You’re on the nail there,” he replied. “Nail on the head.”

He says he was pursued for three years before agreeing to work for his current employer. When he met his current employer, the man pushed a piece of paper across the desk with a salary offer written on it.

Yer man the Ulsterman pushed it back without looking at it and said: “It’s not enough.”

His prospective employer, surprised, said, “No-one’s ever done that before,” turned the paper over, wrote a much higher figure and shoved the piece of paper back again.

Which is how yer man is now working in Saudi Arabia with a weekend break in Kiev and regular flights to literally anywhere in the world he wants to go for breaks.

Perhaps I should have gone into cows in my youth.

Though I remember reading a few years ago that chicken-sexers (apparently a very highly skilled job and who am I to doubt it) are always in great demand and can attract very large salaries.

I imagine chicken-sexing may also be recession-proof. And interesting.

We live in an interesting world.

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The new Wild West of Eastern Europe and its new stag party capital of Kiev

Dancing the night away in the Wild West of Eastern Europe

(This piece was also published in the Huffington Post and on the Indian news site WeSpeakNews)

I was in a basement disco in Kiev a couple of nights ago at three o’clock in the morning.

Anyone who knows me will tell you this is not my natural habitat. I hated dancing and strobe lights in the late 1960s and early 1970s when people not only dressed in primary-coloured clothes and juddered in bright flashing lights, but also wore flared trousers.

I remember going to a very jolly Saturday night party in someone’s house in London around 1981. The colours, the lights, the loud pulsing music. It was very well done but, that morning I had been in the studio in Birmingham for the live three-hour mayhem that was the Tiswas children’s TV show – and I think it was towards the end of that season’s 39-week run.

For people at the party, bright exciting colours, lights and noise were a good thing. I just wanted to stare at a beige wall for three hours. Sensory overload was not excitingly stimulating; it was more of what I had already had all morning, minus the smell of shaving-foam-filled ‘custard pies’ and whatever the sweet-smelling ingredient of the occasional explosive puffs was.

Which brings me to a basement disco in Kiev at three o’clock in the morning and me being there with a runny nose and a hacking cough.

Unmarried twenty somethings with disposable incomes way beyond the wild imaginings of their parents at the same age were dancing and drinking the Thursday night away to 0730 on Friday morning

Kiev’s streets are busy with Range Rovers and other 4-wheel drive vehicles and occasional nightclubs and 24/7 restaurants.

“It’s a cross between the decadent remnants of a Communist state and the Wild West with mobile phones,” I told my eternally-unnamed friend back in the UK via Skype and the free WiFi in my very good room at the Impressa Hotel. “It’s young people with money for the first time,” I added, knowing what I meant but not knowing if that phrase communicated what I meant.

In The West in the mid-to-late 1950s, ‘teenagers’ first appeared. Before then, people in their late teens had been schoolchildren or students or a living-with-their parents underclass with no money. But then they suddenly had disposable incomes and could afford to build their own lifestyles.

Then, starting in the Swinging Sixties though the Seventies, sexual liberation added a whole testosterone-fuelled extra dimension and (a phrase I hate) the Working Class British kids found they could be as decadent as the upper classes had always been because, suddenly, their parents were going on holiday to Spain not Blackpool and ‘Working Class Yoof’ was ‘in’.

From the early 1990s, post-Soviet Union kids had a theoretical new freedom, though without the money to fuel any real new lifestyles. I worked in Prague in the mid-1990s and saw this after it started but before it fully happened – there, the change I saw seemed to be heavily-fuelled by foreigners and tourists finding an open-minded country with relatively cheap living costs.

A Brit who has been coming to Kiev since around 1992 told me: “You could really see the changes happen from about 1999 onwards.”

The old Soviet Union is the new Wild West. Not an original thought, but true nonetheless. I vividly remember being behind a young couple in 1996 who were walking hand-in-hand down Wenceslas Square in Prague. He was wearing a dark jacket which clearly marked him as working for some private security company. Out of the bottom corner of my eye, I saw something bouncing on his right hip as he walked with his left arm round his girlfriend and it was then I saw it was a handgun in a hip holster.

It really was the Wild eastern West.

There was much talk in Prague at that time of the various mafias – German, Italian, Russian – who controlled parts of the city’s and country’s economy – one mafia ran most of the taxis. There is talk today in Kiev of the mafias and a surprising number of people – taxi drivers, shop assistants et al – without prompting, show extreme verbal dislike of the current President, openly calling him a ‘criminal’.

Where all this goes, only time will tell.

I do not know if the testosterone-fuelled mating rituals in that Kiev basement disco are a sign of a new awakening or the last belated gasp of a decadent Europe before the inexorable rise of China.

When I was in Prague in the mid-1990s, it was becoming (with Dublin for Brits) the weekend party capital of Europe. In last week’s edition, the Kyiv Post was touting Kiev as the “new stag party capital of world”.

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Burns Night in the Ukraine in March

Stuart McKenzie - the Celt is their delight

The last time I flew to Eastern Europe it was to Moscow on Aeroflot in 1985 – they served you caviar to show what a People’s Paradise the Soviet Union was. Mikhail Gorbachev had just succeeded from Yuri Andropov, who died after an unusually and some might think suspiciously short stint in power.

Once you accepted that all Aeroflot staff scowled at all Westerners – partly because of the traditional Russian aversion to smiling at strangers and partly lest the KGB thought they sympathised with the evils of Capitalism – and that the interior decor of the planes appeared to be based on a Lambeth council flat circa 1952 – flying Aeroflot was a fairly relaxing experience.

Yesterday, I was flying to Kiev on the more smiley Ukraine International Airlines to meet up with Fred Finn (the Guinness Book of Records’ most travelled person). He arranged the sponsorship for Gorbachev’s first UK trip after the Soviet Union collapsed, has flown 15 million miles, had 718 flights in Concorde and is now an advisor to the Euro 2012 football championship and a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ to Ukraine International Airlines, for whom he writes a travel blog.

At his behest, at Gatwick Airport, I bought two bottles of vodka for people in the Ukraine. Yes indeed, as requested, I carried two bottles of vodka from London to Kiev. Over the years, I have come to accept such things as normal.

But I am actually in Kiev to attend a Burns Night Supper tomorrow. Yes, that’s tomorrow – the 31st March – and, yes, I realise Burns Night is/was on 25th January. And, no, I have no idea why the Kiev version is being held tomorrow either.

This Burns Night Supper is organised annually for a local charity by Stuart McKenzie, a highly-successful entrepreneur from Edinburgh.

Last year, apparently, his Burns Night Supper was combined with a St Patrick’s Night party.

It sounds like a great idea and one which I think should be picked up elsewhere. Lateral thinking is always to be encouraged, especially when unexplained.

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