Category Archives: Ukraine

23Aug/16

The Dnipropetrovsk Metro Party

Written by Annie Nimity

As I type this in mid-August 2016, it’s nearly five years to the day since I attempted the Metro Party Challenge in Dnipropetrovsk in honour of my friend’s upcoming nuptials, as one does. Or at least as one does when one is in the habit of vacationing in the former Soviet Union, specifically in towns with nigh unpronounceable names and metro lines running from nowhere to nowhere. But let’s back up a bit.

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Walking past YUZHMASH

Dnipropetrovsk (which was as of May this year was officially renamed Dnipro — annoying, as I enjoyed being one of the few non-Ukrainians who had mastered that mouthful) is the fourth largest city in Ukraine. It was once a “closed city” due to the fact that it was the production centre for the Soviet Union’s intercontinental ballistic missiles at a factory known under its acronym YUZHMASH. It wasn’t until the waning years of the Soviet Union that the government publicly acknowledged the city’s existence and “opened” it to foreigners — although to this day few non-Ukrainians have heard of it and fewer have visited. Certainly my friends and I were the only non-Ukrainians we encountered during our brief and hazily remembered trip to the city.

At our first stop, just outside the Komunarivska Station (renamed Pokrovska in 2015)

At our first stop, just outside the Komunarivska Station (renamed Pokrovska in 2015)

My friends and I stumbled off the train from Kiev early in the morning, bleary-eyed and slightly nauseated after an evening aboard a sweltering and thoroughly unventilated platzkart wagon. (Platzkart, in case you were wondering, is the third class train car, rather akin to a rolling dormitory. Air conditioning is nonexistent, and as Ukrainians are no strangers to the Slavic fear of death-by-draft, cracking a window was simply not an option.) We were met at the train station by our friend D, whose upcoming wedding to a resident of Dnipro we had come to celebrate in what we were referring to as ‘the first stag party in Dnipropetrovsk.’ D led us to his apartment where he and is bride-to-be welcomed us with shots of samogon, or moonshine, produced by D’s soon to be father-in-law. It was not yet 8am.

I think this was outside of the Zavodska Station. Maybe.

I think this was outside of the Zavodska Station. Maybe.

Dnipropetrovsk has an interesting, if rather ineffective, public transport system. Above ground, rickety trams, trolleys, buses and minibuses trundle through the streets, much as they do in any other major city of the former Soviet Union. Below ground, however… In the early 1980s, when Dnipropetrovsk was still a closed city, the Soviet government decided that as a large city and home to the Union’s premier ICBM factory, Dnipropetrovsk needed a subway system befitting its status. Construction of the Dnipropetrovsk Metro began in 1982, although the first — and to this day, only — line didn’t open until 1995. At 7.1km in length and with only six operational stations, it is the world’s shortest subway system. One end of the line, Vokzalna, deposits passengers at the train station (vokzal meaning train station and all), located on the edge of the central region of Dnipro. The opposite end of the line is located not in the centre of the city, but 7.1km in the opposite direction — in the suburbs, yes, but not far enough into the suburbs to be all that useful. In fact, unless you happen to both live and work along the metro’s short route, it’s not going to be all that useful to you.

Our group in matching Metro Party shirts and Kyrgyz felt hats.

Our group in matching Metro Party shirts and Kyrgyz felt hats.

Why do I mention this? See, D had invited us to Dnipropetrovsk for his stag party, not only because he and his fiancée lived there, but because he wanted us to take part in what he and his friends referred to as a Metro Party. The idea of a Metro Party was to ride the metro from one end to the other, getting off at each stop and downing a beverage — either a glass of beer or a shot of vodka, depending on what was available. I’m not much of a drinker, but I didn’t think that six drinks spread out over the course of several hours would do me in. D warned me not to underestimate the Metro Party, and I should have listened. Perhaps it was the samogon we’d started the day off with, but the other lady in our group and I only made it to about three stations, and I was far worse off than she was. The guys finished the Metro Party — or at least I think they did.

Me today.

Me today.

I was cleaning out my closet the other day and stumbled upon my Metro Party shirt. (Yes, we had matching shirts; yes, we were those obnoxious arseholes.) The red part of the decal has long since come off in the wash, and, like the city itself, many of the stations now bear different names than they did back in 2011, but it still fits. And I’m still a lightweight.

05May/16

A strange evening in the Ukraine

I have spent a lot of time in the Ukraine, had some great parties, met some pretty girls, seen some great sites, and it is true to say I genuinely love the country. I can also add one other little description about the place, it is one of the most corrupt countries I have ever been to, and one I have had lots of problems with the police in. Now whilst getting arrested is always memorable, much like sex you never forget your first time.

 

Losing my Kiev Prison Vplates

My first time in the Ukraine was way back in 2011 during our first Eurasian Adventure Tour. I remember being blown away by the beauty of Kiev, both the people and the scenery as well as the somewhat flavorsome nightlife. Kiev is a party town. We did Chernobyl, the ICBM base, lots of nights out and I remember thinking as we left Odessa heading to unrecognized state of Transnistria that I would someday come back.

A year later I planned to do just that. I had just been on a research trip to Armenia, Georgia and Nagorno-Karaback and my plan was to fly into Kiev two days early party a little bit than then meet up with the Eurasian group before they arrived for the tour.

 

The following tale occurs whilst I was OFF duty

 My first night in Kiev was spent by myself, now i’m not exactly a shrinking wallflower so decided that despite being alone I still fancied a night on the naughty soup. I went out discovered a few taverns, one of which had ladies that would dance whilst I enjoyed a wee tipple of vodka. The following day I awoke with a head worse for wear to meet two of my guests who had decided to do the same as me, come a few days early for a look around a wee drinky. The first fellow was a Brit of Indian extraction (this will come into play later), the second was a very mild mannered Spanish fellow. I am not sure how to describe him except to say that when he spoke it was like the first time I heard Susan Boyle. It was one of the chaps birthday so I asked casually how we liked to spend his birthdays, he replied without skipping a beat “strippers probably” in his midlands accent. Well as coincidences would have it merely an evening before I had discovered a strip joint a stones throw away from the hotel. We duly went to said establishment, drinks were drunk, credit cards were used and dollar bills were placed in many a place before we decided as a group it was time to move the party onto its next point of call.

 

All about the money

I would like to add at this point that unusually I had a lot of money with me. I was leading a tour, much of which needed to be paid in cash and I had thousands on me.

As we were walking along the street not too drunk (really) and not too loud (honestly) a policeman came up to me grabbed me by the arm and started to pull me away. At this juncture I started to protest at which point he produced a piece of paper which had been hand written in English stating it was illegal to be drunk in Kiev. Dear readers I am not sure if you have been to Kiev, but if you have it appears that it is illegal to be sober in the place. I digress. The mild mannered Spaniard then came over and in a mild mannered way tried to defuse the situation, at which point we were both thrown into the back of a police van. Our English friend of Indian extraction was left alone, we assume because of the bad reputation police have here for racism, something we would be able to ponder from the back of the meat wagon.

So there I was sitting in the back of the police van with my Spanish friend with realization that if they found the money in my pocket I would be screwed, so I started to shove it down my sock, an act that did not go unnoticed by the cops shining a light in the back of the van, asking me what I was doing.

So we arrive at scary looking Soviet dungeon style police station and are led inside. I decide that my best chance here would be to put on a posh English accent and demand to see my embassy, to which I receive a reply of “no embassy”. It is at this point I look up and realize what a colossus of a man this mighty Slav was. I am not exactly tall, but holy crap the cop was massive, he then starts pushing me into a room, and thus away from the Spaniard, I back into the room, a kind of interview type place at which point the cop slams the door closed again looks at me menacingly and says rather loudly “you understand me no embassy”. He stops. I stand there. There is a short silence. I am not sure what went through my head at this point, but I turn around walk calmly to the wall behind me, remove my glasses as if I were about to take a nap and I do it.

 

It is a fine line between genius and insanity

My head splits immediately in impact and i’m bleeding a fair bit, I turn around clutching my head with both my hands whilst clutching my glasses and scream “you hit me, you hit me”. Said officer looks like he has seen a ghost turns opens the door storms out to his colleague who is with the Spanish guy. I follow. I then start saying “he hit me” and acting quite hysterical. The Spaniard looks mortified, he catches my eye, I slip him a sly wink, he calms down, the two cops are now screaming at each other in Russian (back then most cops were Russian), before looking at the Spaniard and bellowing “you are fine, but your friend (he points at me) is fucking crazy”, “what”? A confused Spaniard replied. “GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT”. We did not need telling a a fourth time.

 

Bopping our way back to Kiev Hostel

We jogged about 3 blocks before realizing that firstly we were lost and that secondly we had got away with it. I pulled the Euro from my socks, we high fived, and went over what had just happened. It so happened that the Spaniard had a great sense of direction and we felt we it was not a place to stay in dark alleys. After 45 minutes or so there we were, on the final stretch to the hostel, the main square in Kiev, and more importantly the scene of the crime, just outside the strip club where we were arrested. I looked at the Spaniard our eyes locked in an exchange for what felt like an eternity, an exchange that can only happen to those who have been through something so momentous together, the the thousand yard stare, until I broke the silence with a sentence so profound it will live with both of us forever…”one for the road”, he nodded “ci”. And we did.

I was to run into that cop and many others over the following years in Kiev, but these are not stories for now. This is the story of me and my Spanish cellmate and the acting loco.

24Jul/15

10 Bars To Visit Before You Die

No one lives forever…

(So here are 10 places to party in the meantime)

 

Having recently read an article about the “top 25 places to party before you die”, I was disappointed to see no mention of any of the places my travel firm, Young Pioneer Tours, likes to visit. Yes, we all know that developed countries like the US, and UK have some great bars — but what if your travel tastes lead you off the beaten track? Can you drink in Islamic states? Is there a party scene in North Korea? Can you be drunk in a land that doesn’t exist? Yes, yes and yes — and here’s how:

10. The DMZ Bar, Yangshuo, People’s Republic of China.
9. The Alba Hotel, Caracas, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
8. The Armenian Club, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran.
7. The Cave Bar, Trinidad, Republic of Cuba.
6. The Titanic Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
5. Ward Number 6 (Palata no 6), Kiev, Ukraine.
4. The Angeles Beach Club (ABC), Pampanga, Republic of the Philippines.
3. The Dining Car, Trans-Mongolian Railway, Russian Federation.
2. The Train Station Bar, Tiraspol, Transnistria (Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica — PMR).
1. The Diplomatic Club, Pyongyang, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Arrow
Arrow
The DMZ BarOK, in the interests of full disclosure, I own this bar, so I admit I’m a tad biased. But let’s look at the facts — Yangshuo is the coolest place in China, and The DMZ Bar is the best bar in Yangshuo. It’s also the only North Korean themed bar on the planet, where you can sip ice-cold imported beer dressed in communist suits, surrounded by unique pictures of the DPRK, enjoying a great atmosphere that feels more like a local pub than anywhere else in China. It’s the place of legends, so pop in and say hello next time you’re in China.
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