My forth day in Ukraine — food, shopping, internet

I wrote about roads yesterday. What I saw today in the tram may well be an indication that Ukrainian roads will never get fixed. Anyway, here is what I found from the conversations with my friends and following my own observations.

“Bargain hunting” in public transportation

As I was taking my tram ride to the office today I noticed that the lady that sells tickets in the tram collects money from people but doesn’t give the tickets to everyone. Some passengers don’t get the tickets but still stay on the tram. I started to dig into this and I found that the tickets controller will typically let you pay less than the nominal fare. Since they don’t give you the tickets, the partial fare is unaccounted for and hence pocketed by the ticket controller.

There are officers whose job is to go from tram to tram and make sure all passengers have tickets. Somehow ticket controllers always know when (at what stop) the officer may enter the tram. When you pay the partial fare they will ask you how far you are going and if they think the tram may be inspected they will tell you about it.

I am not sure how exactly accounting works at the city services but I am sure part of the ticket sales goes towards city budget and black sales like these directly affect the city income.

Local supermarkets and grocery stores

As much as inefficient and corrupt the government is, as much efficient and streamlined private businesses are. The look at local stores proves my point. All supermarkets built recently are designed and operate by western standards with the only exception, the price you see is the price you pay at checkout and the plastic bags are not free.

Overall the products selection is amazing and the prices are very competitive. Very often you can find similar products made in Ukraine or Russia at a fraction of the price you would see for a western brand. Everything imported from China and other Asian countries is also pretty inexpensive. I was buying an internal fax modem for a PC yesterday at the local store and prices ranged from $10 to $15.

The picture changes when you try to buy something imported from the West. My favorite White Castle Brown Ale was $2 a bottle while you can get a quality Ukrainian beer for just under 50 cents. Here is a table with prices on other more popular products, converted to American currency.

  • Milk — $2 / gallon
  • Chicken — $1-1.5 / lb
  • Beef/pork — 2.5-3 / lb
  • Fish — $2 / lb
  • Eggs — $0.5-1 / dozen
  • Bread — $0.5-$1.2

Prices on fruits and vegetables vary with the season. Right now fresh tomatoes are $0.7 / lb and cucumbers are $0.2 / lb. Many supermarkets issue membership cards that give you a small discount on all or some merchandise. The discount is around 1-3% and is not worth the hassle if you just came for a few weeks.

Internet access and phone calls to the US

I am writing this blog at my friend’s office. They get internet via DSL line. Unlimited access is from $20 and up depending on the connection speed. Everyone can have dial-up at home by calling 7777777 in Kharkiv. The access charge is the usual per minute tariff UkrTelecom charges all residents (around $0.01 per minute).

Compared to my last visit 3 years ago the phone service has improved a lot. Almost all of the equipment is upgraded and the quality of line is very good. I connected at 40 kbps last night and was able to Skype out to a number in the US. This is an excellent option for your calls back to the US on the cheap. The price for a call like this will be $0.01/minute to the local telco, $0.021/minute what Skype charges, plus a small initiation fee ($0.039 right now) from Skype. The usual rate for a call from Ukraine to the US using a land-line phone is $0.39 / minute during day time and $0.29 / minute after 6pm and on the weekend.

I was able to do a teleconferencing call using the DSL line in my office with no significant distortion to the video quality. The situation is dramatically different in smaller cities/towns. The equipment and lines can be more than 50 years old and you get a lot of interference with your call. Modem connections are slow and often break.

This is it for today. Tomorrow will be entertainment and restaurants. Till next time!

See also:

14 Responses to “My forth day in Ukraine — food, shopping, internet”

  1. 1 rajbot Jun 19th, 2007 at 8:55 am

    thanks for these posts! looking forward to more!

  2. 2 Oleg Jun 19th, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Hey Yan,

    I found you blog…
    Have a nice days in Ukraine


  3. 3 Deborah Jun 19th, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Hi Yan,
    I am enjoying your information & observations very much. A few questions came to my mind while reading today’s adventures in Ukraine. I don’t expect you’ll be able to address all of my inquiries, but here are some ideas for future blogs.

    1) What is the cost of a gallon of gasoline? In what country are most of the cars in Ukraine manufactured? What would be the price of a new car?

    2) What would be the cost to stay for a night in a decent hotel (with private bathroom)? What about staying in a guest house or a private home? Is this easy to do, and what might be the cost for this alternative? (Lucky you–to have friends and inlaws with whom you can stay!)

    3) How much of the Ukrainian population carries a cell phone? Is it still common to see telephone booths or are they disappearing as is the situation in the US? How much does it cost to make a local telephone call at a phone booth?

    4) What is the cost to mail a letter locally and internationally (say, to the US)?

    5) This is something I hope you do not need during your stay, but what is the cost of some common (prescription) medications which are so expensive here in the States? Do you need a prescription to buy drugs at a pharmacy? (I was so surprised to discover in Mexico that no prescription was required. Anyone could walk into a pharmacy & buy anything, and the drugs were MUCH cheaper there.)

    6) I am not a smoker, but I am wondering, are cigarettes much cheaper in Ukraine? Is smoking permitted in public places & restaurants?

    7) Are there long lines of people waiting to conduct business or make purchases in most places, such as at the bank, post office or in the grocery store, or does the line move quickly as in the US?

    8) Are stores open long hours for the convenience of the customers, as in the US? (For example, are there 24-hour grocery stores & restaurants?) Also, have fast-food restaurants & Western chains (McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc.) invaded Ukraine yet? What is the average cost of a cup of coffee?

    9) I am really enjoying the photos as well. Pictures of any of the following would be appreciated: the house or apartment where you are staying, a typical mailbox, phone booth, grocery store, department store, post office, different modes of transportation–a tram, a taxi, etc.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write to all of us!

    Deborah (located near Washington, DC)

  4. 4 Deborah Jun 19th, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Hi Yan,
    Proof that I am up much too late–I forgot to ask a few questions…

    Is crime, either theft or violent crime, a problem in Ukraine, especially for tourists?

    How much interest do banks pay for savings accounts, and is there any interest rate competition among banks? Do banks offer a wide variety of investment options? Is Ukraine still mainly a cash-based society, meaning do the citizens normally pay for goods with currency? Do most Ukrainians have credit cards and do most business accept payment via credit card?

    It may be difficult for you to tell since you’re probably not speaking it, but how widely understood is English in Ukraine?

    Okay, that’s it for the interrogation tonight!


  5. 5 Yan Jun 20th, 2007 at 1:53 am

    Most Ukrainians have some rudimentary knowledge of English since it is taught as second language in most schools. You may expect Mc’Donalds employees to speak English pretty well. Overall people you see on the street do not usually understand or speak it to be able to support a conversation since the skills they learn is school are quickly forgotten w/o practice.

    I will cover finances and banking in details in one of my future posts.

    Crime? Interesting question. I will try to find some information about it.

  6. 6 3bean Jun 22nd, 2007 at 5:43 am

    Great blog! I’m a new reader and love hearing about Ukraine. Your posts are making me terribly nostalgic. I travelled to Ukraine (I spent most of my in Mariupol, but spent some time in Crimea and Kyiv) in Summer 2005. At the time I was 27 and I was meeting with relatives and trying to piece my family history back together (My mother and her parents fled Ukraine in WWII but everyone else in the family stayed). I’ve been waiting to go back, but reading your blog makes me want to go back ASAP! Can’t wait to see more pictures! I love Ukraine!

  7. 7 Yan Jun 22nd, 2007 at 6:25 am

    3bean: hello and welcome!
    This blog is usually about bargains and hot deals but I decided to take a month away of my duties. ;-) I am glad you are enjoying the posts!

  8. 8 Tony St Helens Aug 29th, 2007 at 5:40 am

    Hi, I spent 2 weeks in the Ukraine. I have been to Latvia, Bulgaria, Poland. I have been to many other countries and never have I seen people who care fro the heart like the Ukrainians. I was asked by a friend of mine to sing a song on the bus, wow, all the bus started singing along with me, (beatles song, yesterday! The ukrainians love singing. The food in the supermarkets is really cheap. When I say cheap I mean cheap, but good quality products at that. You would live like a king on 15 pound per day. Half this if amount if you did not eat out in restaurants.

  9. 9 Hezronovich Jan 2nd, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Crime I Ukraine is the same as everywhere else. Asl ong as you do not flash money around and tell people who you are, then you will not be a target. Be yourself and spend money wisely. Also avoid bad areas, just like in any town. Ask a person at the hotel counter and he can give you a general area to avoid if you are there. It is the same evrywhere. Just follow the standard rules of being a tourist and you will be fine.

  10. 10 Hentie Jan 23rd, 2010 at 6:34 am

    I got a job offer in the ukraine can anyone tell me more about the cost of food as my apartment will be paid for.

  11. 11 THOMAS Apr 7th, 2010 at 11:31 am

    visited vinnitsa last week.
    sinxe independence, little progress appears to have been made in civic conditions,
    debris litters estates,drab tower blocks, coupled with dreary weather made for a soviet at its worst feeling.
    taxi expensive, lso elevators in buildings, some areas looked like war zones.grim. people look fed-up, with good reason i would think.

    maybe i was unlucky, but i dont think so, roads pot-holed, graffitti everywhere.

  12. 12 Margaryta Oct 25th, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Just accidentally stumbled upon your website. I never heard before of the story you mentioned about the ticket ladies. Every time I rode a bus, tram, etc. even though I wasn’t given a ticket, I still paid the full price! Interesting…

  13. 13 priyanka Oct 31st, 2011 at 4:28 am

    i want about general cost of living in ukraine mean vegetables,clothes,costumes,slippers,books etc…………

  14. 14 Рита Aug 7th, 2012 at 6:04 am

    Я бы сказала, что з написанного многое не правда и кое-что очень преукрашено

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