My trip to Ukraine – why Ukrainians are poor?

It is my forth week in Ukraine. We have spent most of our time in Kharkiv but tomorrow we go to the capital (Kiev) for 3 days. I have friends and relatives over there who are eager to meet me and my family. It will be a very good opportunity to compare the two cities and also compare Kiev to 3 years ago when we last went there.

Why are Ukrainians poor?

Homemade Ukrainian FoodWe visited my home town over the weekend and left our kids with grandparents for a week (we are back to Kharkiv right now). During my 2 days stay I enjoyed homemade food (some of it is depicted to the right) and spent quite some time discussing Ukrainian politics and economy with my dad who gave me an excellent however a little sad explanation of why Ukrainians are poor. Here it is:

  • Why Ukrainians are poor? Because they are greedy.
  • Why Ukrainians are greedy? Because they are uneducated.
  • Why Ukrainians are uneducated? Because they are poor.

My dad has a funny way of expressing his thoughts especially after he has a few vodkas. I find this bit especially amusing.

Ukrainian society is polarized

Old Extension CordWe went to my friend’s summer house yesterday. The house is a small cabin near Kharkiv and half-acre of land around it. We ate barbecue, drank beer and talked, talked, talked. My friend runs small business and has radically right (by US standards) views on economic situation in Ukraine. According to him Ukrainians a poor because they don’t want to work. They are grown up with an idea that the government will always take care of them which was one of the premises of the old regime.

My friend told me a story of his neighbor who works for a chemical plant. The guy is as poor as a mouse because the salaries at such places are to laugh at. To add some sunshine to his life he steals fertilizer from the plant and the money he earns selling it on black market is enough for him to buy vodka for a few weeks until he steals another couple of bags. The guy simply doesn’t know and doesn’t want any better life.

Bureaucratic deadlock, stuck in Ukraine

Lenin on top of a building in UkraineHere is the scoop of the problem which affects us directly. Ukraine issues two types of passports: internal to use inside Ukraine and external to use for travel. My wife’s external (travel) passport expired last spring and we obtained a re-entry permit from Ukrainian consulate in the US before going to Ukraine. We planned to get her travel passport renewed in Ukraine however once in Kharkiv we realized that we left her internal passport back in the US (you need to have it with you to renew your travel passport). I promptly asked my friends to DHL me the passport only to find that the Ukrainian law doesn’t allow passports in the mail. Now we (or rather my wife) are stuck in Ukraine without documents to leave the country and we can’t get them from the Government because Ukrainian law doesn’t allow us to receive necessary paperwork by mail. Tell me, should I laugh or should I cry?

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14 Responses to “My trip to Ukraine – why Ukrainians are poor?”

  1. 1 Alex Jul 6th, 2007 at 11:32 am

    Sorry to hear about your passport issues. I don’t think it specific to Ukrainian governement though. Any government is inefficient and greedy. My wife had problems with US Consulate in Moscow while filing her paperwork just because of some legal inconsistencies (I’d rather not get into details here to save you from long description of the issue we had to deal with). So after I hired several lawyers the issue was resolved but it drained my savings account and left very bad memories. Hopefully you’ll figure something out. Good luck.

    As far as why Ukrainian (Russian, etc.) people are poor… The problem is lack of general culture I think. What we currently have in the US and Europe took centuries to form. Russia/Ukraine are in the very beginning of the same process. Whether we like it or not the collapse of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest geopolitical events of the century. It affected many countries – some in a very horrible way, some actually benefited from it. It will come eventually. Look at the Japan/South Korea. Where they were 50 years ago and where they are now?

  2. 2 Yan Jul 6th, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Alex, I cannot agree with you more. It takes centuries to build the culture like in Europe and US. People laugh at me when I tell them about “death and taxes”. We wasted this time backpedaling during soviet years. It is now time to regret. :-(

    As for the passport, I think I found a way out. If it works, I will tell you more later if you are interested.

  3. 3 Alex Jul 6th, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Interesting you mentioned “beckpedaling during Soviet years”. Although, I do not like that time and have very vivd recollection of the last years (I am 34 now), I have to admit that neither my parents, nor myself would’ve been able to break out from the peasant past and get an education if it wouldn’t been for the revolution. Who knows how things may turn out next. I am not a big fan of Yeltsin and I remember all the chaos he brought, but, again if it wouldn’t be for him and his policies I would have never been able to travel to US and settle down here. Great to hear about your passport. Keep writing… I like your blog. :)

  4. 4 St Ann Jul 7th, 2007 at 11:08 pm

    I think it is so silly, when people put so much stock, such belief in theories so simple and trivial.

    People in Ukraine are poor for a multitude of reasons. And, it ain’t because they are lazy, ignorant, or any other uniquely Ukrainian quality. Ukrainians are as gifted and clever as any group of people anywhere.

    If your understanding of Ukrainian poverty doesn’t include its history . . .well, then . . .

    Look, everyone likes to put down “Soviet times:” indeed, with the likes of Stalin, but we must remember that the revolution of 1917 was to counter one of the most conservative right-wing governments of all-time, that of the tzars, whose attention for the poor was nothing less than a JOKE.

    Anyway, who is it that is saying Ukrainians are “poor”. . . Americans? Well, who is it in America that is poor? Who are the wealthy in America? Who is it in America that do not even have health insurance? Why is it that unemployment statistics in the States do not count those not collecting unemployment benefits, which always runs out?

  5. 5 Deborah Jul 8th, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Hello Yan,
    Sorry to learn about the passport difficulties, but these problems are not limited to Ukraine. As you sit in Ukraine, we hear on the news about U.S. citizens losing out on their pre-paid travel because they cannot obtain passports in time for their vacations. There is a huge backlog at the passport office because of the new requirements for documentation to cross the borders to the north and south. So, I’m afraid bureaucracy is a global nuisance.

    Were you able to learn anything about the frequency and type of crime in Ukraine from your friends and family? Is it a safe destination for tourists?

    I’ve been interested in your photos of Ukrainian food. I remember when I traveled to Germany, the food I craved most upon return home was not an American hamburger, but a trip to the salad bar. I could not find a leafy green salad at any restaurant in my two weeks away. Maybe things have changed. What about in Ukraine, are green salads part of the diet? And what about portion size? We keep hearing that Americans eat huge portions compared to the rest of the world. Are Ukrainian portions much smaller?

    Also, I read your sad tale about the farmer. Is alcoholism still a big problem in Ukraine? Do you think alcohol is a major factor interfering with productivity and success?

    Enjoy the remainder of your time away!


  6. 6 Yan Jul 9th, 2007 at 1:36 am

    St.Ann: it is not Americans. It is my dad who is saying Ukrainians are poor. He was born and has lived in Ukraine whole his life. Ukrainians overall are well aware of the fact that they are well behind Europe and the US as far as level of life is concerned. I realize it is much more complex question, I just wanted to give “one Ukrainian’s opinion” about it

    Deborah: Alcohol is deep in Ukrainian/Russian culture/blood and has always been an issue for Ukrainians. I know families who broke because of it. Also, in general, if you don’t drink – you will not be successful in business. Laying down business relationships is traditionally done via vodka (think golf in the US).

    I will write about crime when I get back to Kharkiv. I am in Kiev right now and my next stop is Alexandira – my home town.

  7. 7 Rajesh Shakya Jul 9th, 2007 at 2:32 am

    Hi Alex:
    Your blog post reminded me the time I spent in Lvov, Ukraine during 1987-1994. I was doing my Masters degree in Lvov state University.
    I saw the whole transition from communism to modern Ukraine.
    Very sad to read that still a lot of griefs there.
    I think, it’s all because of the legacy it has and the nostalgia people have.

    Rajesh Shakya
    Helping technopreneurs to excel and lead their life!

  8. 8 m Jul 11th, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Consider having the passport shipped to Russia. You can then go, pick it up and bring it back to your wife.


  9. 9 owlish Jul 11th, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    Here’s an interesting read on the subject of why poor countries are poor…

  10. 10 Alex Jul 16th, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    interesting article, Owlish… It doesn’t answer the fundamental question though… why people are poor. I tend to think people are poor because at this point in time they want to be poor. Being poor has it’s advantages as crazy as it sounds. It’s easier to avoid taxes for example. you get money from charities… and God knows what else. I am talking about the majority of population of coarse, there always folks who want to make the difference but can’t do anything. Until the majority of population will realize that being rich is actually better for you even though you’ll need to carry more responsibilities, no IMF or World Bank will help.

  11. 11 Bohdan Jul 2nd, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    People are poor mostly because they are locked in by the society into situations that do not offer many opportunities. This could also be a psychological phenomenon, where individuals in poor families see the world from a point of being disadvantaged. Their aspirations are low and therefore no stimulation for achievement. Failed attempts to get out of a given situation have a demoralizing effect. As a result an individual accept existing situation without taking any initiatives. Work becomes a burden and no attempt is made to complete a project well because there is no satisfaction and neither is there a reward. It all becomes a bloody, vicious circle.

  12. 12 David Jun 15th, 2011 at 10:32 am


    I have a friend online from Ukraine who can’t get medical coverage for an injury
    because she says she is poor and doesn’t have any money. I realize their is poor people like anywhere else where can these people turn to for help? I am from Canada and can’t keep giving her money. I don’t want to hurt a good person by letting her go but on the other hand don’t want to go broke helping her either I am in a bind
    I have a mom who is Ukrainian but from North America no one here knows anything about the old country can you give me any suggestions that will help her and not put any pressure on myself. She wants to come to Canada as well and pay someone to get her here I don’t think it is as easy as that I know a Russian from church she had to wait 7 years to get permission to come over. I know all the young people want to leave Ukraine that is all I know from North America.

  13. 13 Tam Jun 26th, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Again, people, you should know there is a difference between Ukrainians and Russians. Always has been. Do not talk about both at the same time as if they were the same. Ukrainians have had a long high culture. Just look at their ways of life long ago. Russians during the Tsarist empire and Soviet one would “steal” the best composers, scientists, etc. to St. Petersburg and Moscow. The people are NOT the same.

  1. 1 Roundup for week of 1 July 2007: The Wiseguy Edition at Mighty Bargain Hunter Pingback on Jul 7th, 2007 at 12:15 am

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