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My trip to Ukraine — cars, food, real estate

Today marks my first week in Ukraine. So far I have been enjoying my trip. I have met several of my old friends and everyone is glad to see me. I promised last time I would write about entertainment but then I decided I will wait till after the wedding party. Today I will go over some interesting observations I made while browsing the city with my friends.

What normal people eat in Ukraine

Typical food in UkraineI wrote to you about the restaurant we stopped by on the way from Kiev to Kharkiv. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures back then except for the folklore composition with a couple of Ukrainians.

When I met one of my friends this week we went to a cafeteria which many University students frequent during the lunch break. The food we ordered was potato & liver, mushroom crepes, marinated pickles, jello & fruits, and hot tea with lemon. The entire meal was around $4. I would call this a normal lunch meal at a typical price. Alright, the jello was extra. I couldn’t resist. ;-)
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My trip to Ukraine — answering reader’s questions

I have been flooded with questions ever since I wrote my first blog post about my trip. This is my attempt to catch up with answers. Before I start, here are some latest highlights from my life in Ukraine. The bright side: I am invited to attend a wedding party this weekend. I will make a blog post just about it. The dark side: we are fighting the red tape to renew my wife’s Ukrainian passport so we can leave the country in 3 weeks. The summer travel season jacks up the demand and the hurdles we have to go through are unbelievable.

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?

Trolleybus in UkraineA gallon of gasoline is approximately $3-4 depending on grade. The cars are a mix of different brands. If you consider the entire country, most are probably Russian made Lada’s. Here in the city however it is a mix of Korean, German, and Japan brands. Several years ago the Ukrainian car automaker AutoZaz signed an agreement with Korean Daewoo which allowed the Korean company manufacture and sell cars in Ukraine. As the result Korean cars are probably the second largest group right now if you count new car sales. The average Daewoo sold by AutoZaz costs between $10,000 and $15,000 with some more expensive models. Other imported brands can cost more, often much more than in the US or Europe since the price includes 10% tariff and reseller costs/profit. Also, the government recently raised tariff on used cars to 30% which adds to the price of the recently imported cars as well. Nevertheless the number of cars and their variety is astonishing. As mentioned in one of earlier comments, many people lost their savings in the past. The instability and hyper inflation of 90’s has tremendously influenced the lifestyle of an average Ukrainian. A sad thing I heard today, the pension age in Ukraine is higher than the median life expectancy for a Ukrainian male. :-(
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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.
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My third day in Ukraine — trams, subway and roads

The next day was Saturday, June 16, a working day for millions of Ukrainians. They worked for June 29 which was turned into a day off. The Thursday of June 28 is an official holiday in Ukraine (Constitution Day) and this swap turned June 28 - July 1 into a long weekend.

Ukrainian TramI was going to my friend’s office and I decided to take a tram. Trams are the cheapest way to travel around the city. The ticket costs 40 kopeyek (under 10 cents) and there is no limit on how far you can go on the same tram. Being the cheapest the trams are probably the most inconvenient type of transportation, challenged only by trolleybuses and buses.
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My second day in Ukraine — cell phones and dogs

The second day in Ukraine started with a trip to a local supermarket. The place is called “Rost” and by square footage was a size of an average Kmart store but with several floors. When you get in you have to pass the gate. No shopping bags allowed behind it. The entrance hall has lockers for the shoppers to leave their bags.

First I went to the exchange booth which was on the first floor near the entrance. There were two ATM machines with a Visa logo on them near the booth. I am yet to take a closer look at them but for now I just needed to exchange some cash. To answer your question about ATM’s and currency exchange, I would not try to do it out in the street since it might not be safe. Any exchange inside a supermarket or a bank is OK. The exchange rate varies slightly from place to place but stays within 5-10% margin.
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