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У Києві, у відповідь Ні 13/09/2010

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Soldiers carrying machine guns and vomiting elves constitute the dregs of a fourteen hour train ride through hinterlands. Mosquitoes swarmed and hospitality mirrored a Tijuana drunk tank but this stagnant sardine-tin on wheels afforded a slight solace. Resignation reigns supreme when you have no power over destiny. Behind the sealed windows a team of smuggling railway matrons knew our plight as daft idiots and, while they probably didn’t want to be bothered, they were determined to ensure delivery to Kyiv. Passing the cramped confines of the services compartment stained by years of coffee disasters, plastic cups and rolls of paper towels strewn about the floor, would find us on our own.

What the hell do I know about Ukraine? I went to highschool with a Ukrainian. As we sat in the back row during graduation ceremonies he decided to reveal why his family shipped him halfway around the world for a poor education. His friends sold drugs, encountered some tough competition, and were massacred. Cops found him laying in the street.. Do I want to see the bullet wounds? No, but he stood up to show what the uzi had done to his ass anyway.

According to the Poles the Ukrainians will steal the bread from your mouth.

Standing on the platform scratching heads seemed like a terrible idea. The signs are in Cyrillic and lack arrows. Clusters of mustached men were scattered about, peering intently at the disgorged horde. They could be watching for loved ones, they could be watching for marks like us– no way to know for sure. All I know is that they grew up with uzis, rampant alcoholism, Soviet overseers, and an economic depression deeper than the decaying pits where their black hearts once pumped pure acid. Follow the crowd, and if Janice decided to attempt any print-out aided transliteration I probably would have screamed.


Freedom from four walls was not freedom from the furnace. That same sun which had mercilessly beat upon our little traveling box was radiating from the concrete, dogging our determined march to points unknown. We dragged Janice’s suitcase up a flight of stairs in a land where such modern conveniences attracted as much attention as the clattering wheels could muster.

Kyiv-Passazhyrskyi stretches as far as the eye can see. We weaved through rows of seats sheltering huddled masses until I spied the familiar emblem of BNP cresting an ATM. A multi-lingual message illustrated how to inspect the card-slot for evidence of tampering. Ah yes, the other thing I know about Ukraine– kings of credit card fraud and probable originators of the skimmer.

Kiosks had taken root in the center of the terminal instead of the food courts which normally bilk ensnared travelers. Cell phones, cheap jewelry, magazines– we stared at a plexiglass wall of wares. I handed Janice an already crumpled bill and shoved her towards the little window where she managed to suppress great embarrassment and secure a bottle of water. We were in desperate need of a quiet place to collect ourselves, review what information was in hand, and figure out what the hell we were going to do next.

A phalanx of starving jackals descended, wrapped in sweat-stained clothing from bygone eras, incanting “taxi” as though it would seduce manna from the heavens. We pushed through the brown corduroy and cheap aftershave into a brilliantly lit plaza. Janice’s arsenal of Polish could not muster the firepower necessary for intense fare negotiations, the first step to hiring a cab.

Tuk Tuk

The street was choked with yellow minivans called Marshrutky, the local equivalent of Martinique’s informal Tuk Tuk system. Old women collapsing under overflowing sacks, bootlegged iPod blaring students, and smartly-dressed office drones check the handwritten route notice yellowing on the dashboard, hand cash to the driver, and sit in each others laps. We clearly didn’t know the city, just the hotel’s street address and what should be the nearest metro stop. As Janice painstakingly transliterated Cyrillic I watched people buying cigarettes and pastries from street kiosks. I watched cabbies lean against their derelict cars smoking, drinking coffee from tiny paper cups and talking to their compatriots. I stared across the street where an Eastern Orthodox church sat on a barren plot of land. It looked prefabricated, shipped, and plugged into place– sales model for an aspiring religious realtor.

Somewhere between the train tracks, kiosks, thieving ATMs, and the street was a metro station. Nowhere had we seen a single sign indicating where. The main lobby of Kyiv-Passazhyrskyi climbs several stories and was designed by an inexperienced mall architect for an underfunded casino developer. It boasts digital timetables, flickering LCD displays, and a squadron of heavily armed soldiers still waiting for a reason to shave. Thirty private railway companies square off across one another, and above the protective plexiglass of one was the internationally recognized information symbol.

We needed information. I shoved Janice towards the window and watched as she craned her neck to waist level and screamed METRO. The woman, ice withering in the boiler of her veins, calmly replied, no.


Arms were flung to the heavens and my general direction. Show her the map, show her the map. In the confusion information closed so the woman behind protective plexiglass could confer with a coworker. After thorough discussion Janice was again allowed to plead her case, this time thrusting maps and waving arms to convey that she understood that this was a train terminal, not the metro station. Information indicated by means of thumb to retrace our steps.

There is exactly one sign for the metro in a mile of terminal. It appears on the horizon, hangs above your head, and disappears again. Escalators and staircases flooded an intersection, churning commuters into a tempest which spilled down every corridor. Janice approached two women quietly minding magazines spread across the top of a couple folding tables. Metro, map out, hand circling in the air. No, and they retreated from the table’s edge. I kept the bags company while she conducted reconnaissance. Around a corner, through another room, halfway down the stairs, you can just see another metro sign.

Glass and concrete became marble balustrades. Walls climbed high above, bathing the beleaguered mass in golden hues of regality. People remained enraptured with mechanical time-tables the size of NFL scoreboards. Where is the chamber quartet, where are the ballroom dancers? Instead there were multi-generational settlers fortifying walls of suitcases so they could safely stare at the slowly rotating Cryillic panels clattering in the distance. People disappeared through grime-encrusted portals leading off to the sides, below the earth, back into the sunlight. Acolytes of the “taxi” cult drifted through the tightly packed crowd, whispering. Janice elbowed her way in search of the next clue.


Starving jackals, yellow minivans, another scorching stretch of street. Past a beggars’ exchange of bric-a-brac and packs of aimless young men the neo-classical monument of a metro station stood alone. We were carried through the swinging doors and flung into a mob fighting towards protective plexiglass windows that had been plastered over with papers. Janice karate-chopped an old lady and kicked three children while I watched the bags standing next to a silent old man who I prayed would not ask if I was in line.

In exchange for a moderate sum of Monopoly money we had a handful of plastic tokens. You drop one in a glorified supermarket turnstile under the observation of a uniformed attendant’s sombrero-sized hat. The gate beeps and you slowly descend through the strata on an escalator built along a 30º grade, assailed by periodic advertisements and worsening vertigo. People heading down stare across at people heading up who stare back.

Okay, so we’re at Вокзальна, on the Святошинсько-Броварська, and we need to get to Хрещатик which is in the direction of Лiсова. Got that?

Riding the Line

Janice had that. While she peered over passengers to read route maps plastered on windows and struggled to decipher periodic automated announcements I attempted to keep her suitcase, my backpack and all of our pockets in sight at all times. Highly organized gangs of pickpockets work the Kyiv metro system.

Honestly I can’t remember how Janice decided where we would get off, and I have no memory of leaving the underworld. We were standing in the middle of a boulevard divided by six lanes of traffic. Sidewalks were teeming with police, soldiers, window-shoppers, cafe tables and kiosks. There are no crosswalks, just subterranean passageways of stifling heat that leave grit on your arms as you wind your way past begging gypsies, flower stands, walls of beer, entire restaurants hobbled together under a ton of concrete. How far have we walked? We climb a set of stairs to find we’re on an island of fountains and statues. One more twist, one more turn, up one last flights of stairs. One door is for our hotel, one door is for a casino. They both open into the lobby.



1. crowhouse - 14/09/2010

i didn’t decide where to get off, i knew where to get off. because i am smart.

2. crowhouse - 14/09/2010

also, you forgot to mention that the taxi hawkers not only stand in a line in front of the door chanting “taxi, taxi,”so that you have to walk through them, but they wave their keys at you, as if to prove that they actually have a vehicle … somewhere.

3. blaark - 14/09/2010

My brain can only handle so many things at once. More difficult is the fact that all of this seems like something I heard about, not something lived.

crowhouse - 14/09/2010

i guess i had to walk through them twice, looking for the metro. burned forever in my mind.
yeah, did we actually do this? is there proof? photos can be doctored, memories tampered with …

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