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correspondent 18

From One Year to the Next: Looking Back on 2006 in Ukraine

By Paul Miazga

It’s hard to know where to begin regarding what 2006 meant for Ukraine. Forgetting for now the country’s political arena, which typically defied all conventional logic following the March 2006 parliamentary elections, the country continued its headlong march into a spastic and belabored drive to modernize and adopt western methods and business practices while still clinging to many elements of 20th-century Russian-style socialism.

In Kyiv, at least, the shopping and restaurant scene brightened a fair bit, which is saying quite a bit. Foreign investment aside, the city witnessed the opening of big-named British retailers, namely Peacocks, and that alone will help clue many Ukrainians in that good looking clothes can be affordable and found in colors other than black. Soon, Marks & Spencer will be here, hopefully IKEA as well, and maybe then this nonsense of limited competition in retail will make Ukrainians realize that quality western goods need not cost a fortune.

The city’s restaurant scene took a welcome turn this year, what with the huge swing in fashion in favor of reasonably priced Italian restaurants over the ubiquitous and price-gouging sushi restaurants that still seem to be doing a brisk business. On the riverbank, near Dnipro metro station, the bright and cheerful Ruccola of the Kozyrnaya Karta group, has charmed diners with its solid, tasty and affordably priced menu. Even the wine here doesn’t cost a fortune. The Andriyivsky Uzviz is now home to Parmezan, a slightly more upscale Italian restaurant, but not nearly as pricey as, say, Dolce or Da Vinci Fish Club. And the more restaurants and cafes on the famous, winding tourist street (in my humble opinion), the better.

Regional air travel truly came into its own in Ukraine in 2006, with Ukraine International Airlines taking advantage of price hikes on the nation’s passenger railway system and now offering flights to many major regional destinations for less than the cost of an overnight train. While nostalgia buffs might hold out for the train ride, the depravation and loss of a day in traveling will hopefully lure many more away out of the trains and into the skies. Consider the difference from Kyiv to the Carpathian Mountain gateway of Ivano-Frankivsk: Hr 120 for the one-hour return flight out of Boryspil Airport or a return overnight train ticket (about 11 hours one way) for Hr 150. It’s a no-brainer. And UIA is a great airline by regional standards; it should be commended for being the first to lead this revolution in cross-country travel.

On the flip side, customer service still needs a dramatic turnaround in this country lest it always be known as just a cheaper, quieter Russia. The no-visa access for tourists to Ukraine aside, Ukraine has little going for it in terms of major tourist attractions or infrastructure. For instance, what reason have non-Ukrainians to visit Ukraine except to be able to say they’ve been here? Or women? Disabled travelers? Gays and lesbians? Even amateur historians will find this country a difficult go without at least an attempt at translating a few signs, tour guides or maps into readable English. And until all those mid-priced hotels, restaurants and shops open up, what little Kyiv and Ukraine’s other cities have to offer needs to be improved drastically. A market monopoly in whatever industry is no reason not to try to win back more and better business. As the saying goes, if you like something, you tell 10 people, but if you hate it you’ll tell 100.

Ukraine as a country still hasn’t finished sorting itself out. Until it does, travelers can expect a wild time of it in certain key respects, namely paying far more and dealing with far more hassle than you normally would in the West. On the other hand, we could turn the clock back 5-10 years and have no hotels, no restaurants, no shops, no...

Among many changes to Ukraine in 2006, regional air travel suddenly (and thankfully) became amazingly affordable thanks to Ukraine International Airlines. (www.planespotting.nl)


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