Monday, January 11, 2010

Back to Ukraine

Erik has regularly visited Ukraine for professional reasons, but had not returned since the end of 2007 when the Herron family Fulbright adventure concluded. The combination of a new presidential election and research projects that would benefit from a visit prompted this trip to Kyiv.

He left the frigid Midwest, still covered in snow and ice, for a slightly warmer climate. Just like many parts of the US, Europe has struggled with a difficult winter. At his transit airport, London Heathrow, Erik encountered several travelers whose flights were canceled due to inclement weather conditions. Ukraine was also hit with a sizable snowfall, but rising temperatures and rain generated uneven melting. This process created terrible conditions for driving and walking on poorly maintained roads and sidewalks. Major streets, and sidewalks outside many businesses and government agencies, have been cleared of the worst snow and ice. But, workers struggled to chip away 2-3 inches of ice that were slippery and uneven.

Erik's walk around town reminded him of Lea's favorite headline from one of our earlier visits to Russia: "Sidewalks of Death." The article discussed the injury rates of Moscow's pedestrians; tens of thousands annually sprain or break limbs (here you can read a more recent article about the problem). While Kyiv's municipal workers were on the task today, many sidewalks were touch-and-go.

The sidewalks are so treacherous in Kyiv that many - perhaps most - young women seem to have cast aside their ultra-high heeled boots for the conventional variety. This is surely just a temporary measure, as Ukrainian women are among the most skilled at navigating difficult terrain in high heels, and among the most dedicated to wearing high heels.

In the early evening, Erik met with a colleague from the Kyiv School of Economics to discuss research related issues. Despite the cold drizzle, Kyiv was bustling with activity in the center and still lit with holiday decorations. More photos and some commentary follow.

Erik's old haunt from 1999 (the Stalin-era tower left of center). The new apartment to the right may have been there during his last visit to Kyiv, but was not in 1999.

A relatively well-cleared section of sidewalk.

This young woman apparently missed the high-heeled boots/icy sidewalks memo (though her heels might be considered low in Ukraine).

Excessively amateur skating on Maidan Nezalezhnosti.

Khreshchatik Street, the main street of Kyiv's center.

The tree at the top of the post lit for the evening.

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