Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Poor people

Ukraine is a poor country but generally people do have roofs over their heads and stuff to eat. And even though many things are very old and primitive there are also a lot of expensive cars - probably even more than in Denmark - and some somewhat extravagant places. But it seems the price of these things may be partly paid by some other extremely poor people. My Ukrainian colleagues are not the ones driving Mercedes cars but I guess they are relatively well off, yet they pay practically no taxes. This is a trick they pull off in cooperation with the outsourcing company with which my Danish company cooperates, which I think also does not put any tax money into Ukraine. Given some government people who are said to make a lot of personal benefit from the few taxes which are actually paid it leaves very little means to support people who cannot support themselves.

Ukrainian beer companies have a bottle recycling system which works in a bit unusual way. The deposit you pay is so small that no normal people would ever consider returning bottles. So instead they just throw bottles into the trash and then homeless people will take the bottles and return them. That way the system supports both the nature and the homeless - sort of clever, but I am not sure if I should like the system or not.

The last resort before bottle hunting I guess are these walls. If you have good physics you can get some very hard yet very badly paid job.

In Denmark we also have beggars but seeing beggars in Ukraine just make Danish people seem even more like some spoiled babies. Here it is only people who are really completely unable to support themselves, like some old ladies. I was told that old people here get around 300 dollars each month which is not quite enough to live for but actually more than what is earned by Kyryl's mother who has a PhD and teaches German. If you don't have a well-paid husband or some position where you are able to make some 'unofficial income' you are in trouble.

No tax money also means bad pavements, they are often even worse than this one. Another way the governments seems to try to save money is by cutting street lights and the supply of warm water for about one third of the city. I have met some people who have had no warm water for the whole summer. I wonder how much is really saved by that, because people will just heat the water themselves.

These 'Dadesi' sneakers also taught me some things about what poor people must go through. At first I thought it was cool that I could get a pair of sneakers for about 4 dollars but they ended up causing me quite some trouble. The first time I wore them playing football the inlay sole somehow crumbled up which caused my feet to get some big blisters torturing me for a week. And as the shoes are made completely from plastic my feet quickly get extremely warm and smelly. And often when I have been walking along asphalt paving for some time they have contributed to some big headaches, because the soles are completely non-absorbing. Anyway, I still think these sneakers are sort of cool and I wear them all the time. I guess you can say I am suffering for beauty.

Apart from the extremely poor people I would not say that people here live a poor life. A normal monthly salary of about 400 or 500 dollars (maybe including some 'unofficial income') may seem crazy but considering what you spend to live here it does make a kind of sense. Many people own their apartments and so do not have to pay rent and they pay practically nothing for electricity and gas. And most food products cost at least half of what they cost in Denmark, and often even less than one tenth. I once thought that if everything costs half you will only need half the money to live. But using my mathematical skills I soon saw that if I buy two things at half the price I will actually only have used one fourth of the money, and similarly when I buy the hundred things I need every month. So actually in Ukraine you need exponentially less money to live, or something.

In some aspects I also find the quality of normal Ukrainian living quite better than in many so called rich countries I have visited. For example, in Japan an apartment like the one Kyryl owns would be a place for a whole family to rent. And I don't think many Ukrainians would believe some of the lousy food people in Northern countries eat. Especially in a country like Iceland you can get stuff which just should not be called 'pizza', 'sausages', 'jam' or whatever they call it. And even in Denmark going to a bakery is usually a very depressing experience. In the name of efficiency and profit maximization the beautiful cakes we might also once have had have been reduced to some 98% prefabricated quite sad stuff.

This is what cakes should look like. In Denmark no one would bother to make such cakes for other people without taking some exorbitant pay, but Ukrainians can eat these cakes all the time.

What makes Ukraine appear more poor - apart from the broken pavements - I think may be the relative lack of some more refined culture. Kharkov does have it's old theaters and the opera where you can watch classic plays, ballet and concerts for less than 2 dollars a ticket. But this is culture 'for the people', not 'by the people'. When it comes to more current art which should reflect how people are living right now I have come across very few things that I find interesting and yet nothing truly original. Compared even to Copenhagen there is really a lot less happening. And I guess this somehow just reflects the taste of many Ukrainians who seem to be more interested in whatever is flashy and (looks) expensive, I guess nothing can makes a country seem poor like this glamour and materialism.

But still, I think Ukraine has something which is a more valuable than all the fancy junk Danish people like to drag into their designer homes, which is a sort of warmth between people. Of course people may treat me welcoming because I am foreigner, but it is also a fact that many foreigners who come to Denmark find the Danish people to be cold, or even self-absorbed. There are some cliche sayings about these things and I guess they are true.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insight!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for describing my country. I agree with your vision of life in Ukraine to the full. Having reflected over your overview I realised how empty the people can be...

Rimona said...

Interesting to know.

Anonymous said...

I am going to be stuck in Ukraine for 6 years.Its a relief knowing that ukranians are not like americans or british people who think foriengers are scumps.

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