17 thoughts on “Eastern Cities

  1. Ed Kroposki

    So did you make world wind tour also?

    Only weeks left for all to see some really remote Ukaine, yes?

    “All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” Calvin Coolidge

    Ed K

  2. elmer

    Since you’re an economist, Roman, here’s a little lesson in “Ukrainian economics” for you. I hope you don’t mind. And – when you were on TV, the host asked you for your impressions of Ukraine. So – is there anything good in Ukraine? I can guarantee that you would not want to live there under its current system – millions of Ukrainians have already made that choice, and “voted with their feet” to leave Ukraine, Fullbright scholars or not.


    Ukrainians may think they have adopted an international model but this is a myth. In the West, supermarkets use their buying power to drive prices down in order to attract more customers as competition is fierce. Price cartels are illegal and supermarkets can be fined millions if they are found to be cheating the consumer.

    In Ukraine, supermarket chains buy direct from the manufacturer and by the container load, therefore their prices are the lowest possible. But instead of passing that savings on to the customer, they agree on prices amongst themselves to maximize their profit. The net result being that the consumer pays a great deal more and here are some examples. A bottle of British HP ketchup in the UK costs the equivalent of Hr 17.64, in Ukraine it costs Hr 147, a price hike of 830 percent… American-made Tabasco pepper sauce costs the equivalent Hr 16.44 in the UK and UAH 98 in Ukraine, a price hike of 596 percent… and it’s the same for just about every imported item.

    Part of the problem is that the illegal ‘service charges’ levied by customs officers on containers crossing the border has gone up from $5,000 to around $40,000, which has to be passed on to the customer. Next the supermarkets themselves operate price-fixing cartels that are not challenged by the Anti-Monopoly Committee and finally the supermarket owners have used their financial muscle to prevent competitive Western store groups from entering the market. IKEE gave up trying, Tesco has been trying unsuccessfully for years and Auchen have a few stores but they are partnered with a Ukrainian supermarket group. So how is this possible? One reason may be that the principle owners of the major Ukrainian supermarket chains are all Rada deputies…

  3. Roman

    The good is that Ukraine is a under developed market full of opportunity to those willing to battle the corruption, incompetence and bureaucracy of government.

    I also love the people, history, culture, land . . . but I’m a little bias. :)

    The supermarket cartel stuff is not an issue in a free market. Competition always breaks cartels, and does so much more effectively than legislation. The issue is stopping the protectionism to allow competition.

  4. elmer

    I take your points, and appreciate the comment, but —

    Underdeveloped market and stopping the corruption and the protectionism to allow competition has been an issue for 20 years now.

    It’s “Groundhog Day” (as in the movie) in Ukraine for 20 years now.

    Is anyone actually acting on your competition sermons and implementing competition? Firtash? Pinchuk? Akhmetov? Kolomoisky? Yanukonvikt? Taruta?

    Azarov, who told people that if they want капуста – cabbage – they should grab a shovel and get to work?

    the rest? Anyone?

    1. Roman

      I’d say your mistake is looking to politicians to accomplish anything, anywhere, ever. There are many entrepreneurs working very hard and very quietly to meet society’s needs. Very, very quietly in Ukraine because they need to hide from the tax police, fire inspector, ecological inspector, health inspector, worker safety inspector etc.

      I think too much of the discussion of Ukraine’s freedom centers on freedom from Russia and Russian influence. It’s completely oblivious to the fact that Ukrainians are quite adept at oppressing themselves.

  5. elmer


    No question!

    Couldn’t agree more, except for one little caveat below.

    And especially after Yushchenko, NOONE in Ukraine looks to politicians to accomplish anything. Akhmetov is a member of Parliament – he never shows up. Akhmetov is a billionaire, the richest man in Ukraine.

    It’s all out in the open now – so why should Ukrainian people have to hide from the oppression of their own government?

    PS Roman, you are exactly right about Ukrainians oppressing themselves. It’s been done throughout history, even the Cossacks did it.

    But – one little caveat – there are still ties between Ukrainian oligarchs/sovoks and Russian oligarchs/sovoks, and deals are made across country borders based on those personal ties. And those deals involve at the very least indirect oppression, if not direct oppression, of Ukrainians.

    Case in point – Yanukonvikt’s administration, which includes a Russian security guard as a “special consultant,” or various officials who have been approved subject to Kremlin input.

    Working to meet society’s needs in a largely shadow or underground economy is one thing.

    Having freedom, and acting like free people, with rights, unafraid of government mafioso thugs who come to beat you up, or kill you in jail because you “fell and hit your head,” or detain you at an airport for hours and hours because you are Nicco Lange from Germany, you speak Ukrainian and Russian, and the Donbass Mafia don’t like what you write, or throw you in jail because you are Lutsenko and you once threw Kolesnikov in jail and you haven’t made yourself familiar with criminal materials against you “fast enough,”, is quite another.

    Still looking for the key to get out of perpetual Groundhog Day.

    I doubt very much whether you would want to stay.

  6. elmer

    Roman, sad to say, the government has been killing people left and right – literally.

    Starting with high speed cars which have run down pedestrians and bicyclists over the years. Those cars are owned by officials and members of the Rada, or the so-called “mazhory” – the big shots.

    In addition, there are the “gods and lords” of the land, which literally gun down people. Lozinsky, a member of the Rada, just got sentenced to 15 years in jail for running down a 55-year old man, with police chief and police in tow, safari style, and shooting him in an open field.

    Another incident, recently, involved an official who started shooting at some fishermen – with an AK 47. The victims then got beat up. Who do you think beat them up?

    The victims were recently, bravely, on the Savik Shuster show.

    With respect to elections, how do you think elections are falsified, and why do you think the Orange Revolution happened? Because government thugs, and their henchmen, literally beat people up if they didn’t vote a certain way. A big part of the Orange Revolution was equipping people with video cameras and cell phones so they could catch it on “film” as evidence – because a large part of the problem, in Ukraine’s decrepit sovok system, was “you couldn’t prove it.”

    Then there are the brutal takeovers of businesses, time after time, either by incredibly crooked court machinations, or outright killing, or beatings. That’s all done with a “government roof” – a “roof” is cover, from the government or “connected” individuals.

    There’s a lot more, Roman, and I’m very sad to tell you this, but part of the huge problem in Urkaine is that people knew and know what’s going on, but were or still are afraid to speak.

    Hence, a bunch of little Sargeant Schultzes – “моя хата з краю, я нічого не знаю.”

    “my house is on the edge, I know nothing.”

    People were scared to death to even mention their personal suffering in the Holodomor – and there are still people alive who managed to live through it. I’ve seen the interviews of thoroughly frightened people, barely able to speak.

    “Unsolved” murders are not limited to the Gongadze case.

    The leaders of the recent tax protests, which were entirely un-political – and real – have been selectively criminally persecuted, and put in jail, for “damage” to the tiles on Maidan, Independence Square, where protesters’ tents were put up – and then taken down, in classic KGB style, at 3 a.m. in the morning, with all belongings – all simply rolled up and bulldozed aside, to make room for the “New Year’s tree,” or as the неграмотний бовдур йолоп president called it – “йолка” (yolka) instead of ялинка.

    I can tell you about people being dunked to death in the toilet because someone wanted their property.

    Just because people don’t talk about it, or because they’ve learned to stay under the radar, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, and that the mafioso thugs are not involved.

    And just because they’ve learned to put out democratic-sounding propaganda doesn’t mean it’s not still happening.

    How can you separate a country from its government? You can’t.

    In Ukraine, the saying is that there are 2 countries sharing a common territory – one for the people, and one for the vicious “political elite.”

    But you still can’t separate the two – the people tolerate this out of fear, and even out of ignorance.

    Millions of Ukrainians have left for a reason, Roman. Very serious reasons.

    I know Fullbright scholars are supposed to try to put a good face on things – but all you have to do is look at the shutting down of Maidan, Independence Square, through fences and through other methods, in order to prevent protests.

    Ask around, Roman. But not too loudly. You might get asked to visit some government officials, and it won’t be for tea.

  7. elmer

    Roman, I don’t mean to flood your blog, but I’m not sure what you mean by “confusing Ukraine for its government.”

    In Ukraine, the government is a vast employer. And if it’s not, people feed off the government directly, mostly through abuse of government.

    If you’re not aware of the situation with buckwheat, here’s another example – grain quotas, and mysterious insiders who “somehow” finagled some very lucrative rights.

    It’s reminiscent of the old English monarch patent system, where the crown would grant exclusive business licenses or rights – in return for a cut of the action.


    “pain but no grain”


    Open Democracy analysis:


    I hope that the thugs and idiots in the government of Ukraine listen to your competition ideas – but I doubt very much that they will.

  8. Roman

    Government tend to attracts the worst people in any society — the people who are too stupid, lazy and cowardly to produce things that the rest of us voluntarily trade for generally enter government, because then they can simply take.

    I’d hate to think that Ukraine or any other country was judged by their politicians. Politicians, with few exceptions, are the scum of the Earth.

    What I mean by “confusing Ukraine for its governments” is that there is a lot of life here that has nothing to do with politics.

    I wouldn’t say politicians are irrelevent, but only because they do great harm. I enjoy the aspects of life that exists in the cracks of freedom that politicians leave behind.

    So I’m not interested if “the thugs and idiots in the government” will listen to my ideas. I’m more interested in convincing normal people to stop looking to the state to solve their problems. The only thing people should ask of the state is for it to leave them the hell alone.

  9. elmer

    Roman, the people in Ukraine stopped looking to the government a long time ago.

    Ukraine has a huge underground economy.

    The problem in Ukraine is exactly and obviously what you’ve stated – the politicians have done, and are still doing, great harm.

    Dysfunctional people in a dysfunctional system.

    They will run the country into the ground in a very short time, if nothing is done to stop them.

    1. Roman

      They have not stopped looking to the government. They want government pensions, they want a government that “works” like Western governments (their words), and they have trouble imagining life with less government. They hope to fix their problems by electing saints.

  10. Ed K

    Elmer, this has been a great discussion. Keep in mind that in todays world the Govment can read emails. Our man on the street still has to safely exit, then when he is accross pond can and I suspect will comment, after all his aspirations are to the written word. Althought his writings will most likely be fiction?

    Most Ukrainians who have any employment have to watch their steps and exercise extreme caution in communications.

    Recall that China operates behind ‘Red Curtain’.

    Maybe Ukraine operates behind ‘Blue and Gold Curtain’.

    Ed K

  11. elmer

    Roman, how many times have I heard that in Ukraine they want a “messiah” or – saints.

    And that’s exactly the problem.

    “If men were angels, there would be no need of government.” Someone said that a long time ago – I’m sure you know who.

    People simply don’t know how to think.

    They need a system of government with checks and balances that prevent people from abusing power – instead they look to and hope for “saints.”

    They need less government – instead, they look to “saints.”

    They need to get rid of the homo sovietici – instead, they live in and tolerate fear and intimidation, as Ed K pointed out.

    They need to articulate and formulate specific actions and implement them – instead, as P.J. O’Rourke said, they have their feet firmly planted in the air, with tons of generalizations, and no actions.

    The homo sovietici, on the other hand, have been excellently skillful at formulating specific plans and implementing them – to rob, rape and pillage Ukraine for 20 years now, all under cover of lots of propaganda about “democracy” and “rule of law.”

    Noone trusts the government.

    Everyone knows it, everyone recognizes it, almost everyone except the people who benefit from a dysfunctional system hates it – but Ukrainians simply seem incapable of doing anything about it on an organized, united, widespread, effective scale.

    What I keep hearing over and over again is – excuses. And avoidance. And noone should tell Ukrainians anything.

    “A smart man learns from his own mistakes
    A wise man learns from the mistakes of others
    And a fool learns neither from his own mistakes nor from the mistakes of others.”

    Talking to Ukrainians is like talking to a brick wall – except that a brick wall has more comprehension.


  12. elmer

    What P.J. O’Rourke said:
    Nina took me to talk with the leaders of the TV-station protest. This was one of five or six political interviews that I did while I was in the Soviet Union – with Ukrainian Nationalists, Ukrainian non-Nationalists, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, anti-Gamsakhurdian Georgians, pro-Gamsakhurdian Georgians and some people I don’t know who they were.

    I can tell you what they all had to say, if you like, I mean if you’re having trouble getting to sleep or something. I would ask them what their group advocated, and they would say, “Democracy must be defended.” I would ask, “How do you propose to do this?” They would say, “There must be a structure of democracy in our society.” I would ask, “What are your specific proposals?” They would say, “We must build democratic institutions.” I would ask, “By what means?” They would say, “Building democratic institutions is necessary so that there is a structure of democracy in our society at all levels.” And by this time I’d be yelling, “BUT WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO??!! And they would say, “Democracy must be defended.”

    The Soviets were firmly rooted in the abstract, had both their feet planted on the air. It was impossible to get them to understand that government isn’t a philosophical concept, it’s a utility, a service industry – a way to get roads built and have Iraqis killed. […]

    In this joke, substitute Ukraine and Yushchenko or Yanukovych or Kravchuk or Tymoshenko:


    There’s a joke people tell in the Soviet Union: Mitterrand, Bush and Gorbachev have a meeting with God. Mitterrand says, “My country faces many difficult problems – lagging exports, Muslim minorities, European unification. How long will it be before France’s problems are solved?” God says, “Fifteen years.” Mitterrand begins to cry. “I’m an old man,” says Mitterrand. “I’ll be dead by then. I’ll never see France’s problems solved.” Then Bush says, “My country faces many difficult problems – rececssion, crime, racial prejudice. How long will it be before America’s problems are solved?” God says, “Ten years.” Bush begins to cry. “I’m an old man,” says Bush. “I’ll be out of office by then. I won’t get any credit for solving America’s problems.” Then Gorbachev says, “My country faces many, many difficult problems. How long will it be before the Soviet Union’s problems are solved?” God begins to cry.

  13. Ed K

    Reply to trying to make brick wall understand. I have been trying to make a certain Ukrainian brick wall understand for six years. So now A. L. hides behind a fire wall.

    Elmer, I like your joke and comments. You used phrase, “BUT WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO.” Was a question I was asked many times by A. L. My question answer back was my method was to teach a man to fish. He grew up under a command economy. And some of simply believe that if a man learns to fish, he can feed himself.

    So I have sown many articles and extracts amoung many who keep quiet today in Ukraine. I suspect that many read the articles when they think no one is watching. Roman has identified a man who walks quietly yet sows the right kind of seeds. And we have seen a few of the seeds start to grow.

    One thing that would help is for Roman to prepare a talk, or lecture or sermon about what he saw in Ukraine and deliver to many of the Ukrainian diaspora in USA. A true accounting helps understanding.

    In my corner of the world there are a few of Ukrainian heritage. Maybe a true story would interest them. And recently I found out about another small Ukrainian community in Flint, Michigan. I have no contact with them, but apparently they communicate with the old country.

    What many fail to grast is how easily those of Ukrainian heritage assimilate into America.

    Those that assimilate loose interest in talking to walls.

    Ed K


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