Yesterday I got back from Kiev. It is a beautiful city in my opinion, a solid mishmash of east meets west, old meets new, and capitalism meets communism. The women wear very feminine clothes compared to what I’m used to seeing in Germany or the United States, and the men could be dropped into any metropolitan area from Tallin to LA and fit in until they began speaking to each other.
Ukraine is still a country at war, but the war is not in Kiev. The currency exchange between the Euro and US dollar is very advantageous for Europeans and Americans to enjoy a visit to Kiev, but like many “new capitalists” things like taxi rides are highly variable. If you want to ride from the airport to your hotel in a nice, new vehicle it will cost you much more than if you go to the taxi kiosk and get a ride in an ancient van made by a brand you might not recognize.
The food is fairly typical eastern European, lots of pork, fish, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes (and liberal use of dill as a seasoning herb). Although I can honestly say that I had the best beer of my life in Kiev, a “Golden Ale” that tasted sweet, bitter, fruity, and floral all at the same time in a very pleasant and enjoyable way.
Despite the financial troubles of Ukraine as a nation, I saw plenty of evidence of a thriving capitalist economy still working. As a country Ukraine does have a lot going for it, including acceptable educational institutions which are also struggling to modernize away from the “Soviet System” so to speak.
But….Ukraine still has a very long way to go. The average income is lower than Russia, with many successful and intelligent Ukrainian’s learning English and leaving Ukraine for places with more economic freedom and opportunity. This “brain drain” is likely to continue until economic conditions stabilize enough that Ukraine can compete with the international community for working conditions and economic rewards for the engineers that drive the engine of economic growth (software, hardware, e-commerce, etc).
The Ukrainian military has seen the benefit of the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) as used by the US military. While reform of their forces has been a priority, it is impossible to build all the infrastructure in terms of people, facilities, doctrine, and experience overnight. But, in terms of former Soviet countries I believe they are operating at “light speed” to professionalize their enlisted personnel by Ukrainian standards even if it seems slow by US standards.
I do wish that the Ukrainian politicians would cut their losses on the territory that Russia annexed, as it is clear that they will never get it back at this point.