I recently had the opportunity to visit the eastern city of Kharkiv, once the capital of Soviet Ukraine. My friend, an American historian studying there, provided a wonderful tour.

I found the city’s Soviet legacy a little creepy — there are monuments of Lenin and a neighborhood named after Felix Dzerzhinsky.

I liked the exotic feel of the city. There are certainly many foreigners there — mostly students at their many universities — but they are Arabs, Asians and Africans. There are few westerners, which was strangely exciting.

The presence of the oligarchs / mafia felt greater in Kharkiv — it was the first thing several of the people I met talked about. Also, we passed a store which had been burned few months ago. I also encountered stories like: “My mother sold her home in the 90s for $1500. The guy never paid her, but my mother didn’t do anything because he’s connected.” There’s also the specific bad reputation of some prominent local politicians, $600 Metro benches and more.

On the other hand, some people tell me L’viv is more corrupt. I’m not going to do a careful analysis, nor will I dissect the meaning of the word “corrupt” right now.

Pictures of Kharkiv. Look through them to read the many captions.

The owner of an apartment gave me permission to photograph it. He said it’s typical late 80’s Soviet upper “class” decor. Class bears quotation marks, because the Soviet Union was officially a classless society. This is the type of apartment enjoyed by higher level government workers — military officers, KGB, etc.

Soviet Kitsch:

I’m planning to make a separate post about the Parkhomivka Art Museum which we managed to visit during this trip. It’s probably the unlikeliest art museum in the world.