Kiev’s Maidan Square, still very much occupied in early May 2014.

Several months ago, there was a lot of coverage in the Western media about the ongoing protests in Kiev and the occupation of Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). But after the fall of the Yanukovitch Government, coverage moved to the troubles in Crimea and the East, so I assumed things were back to normal in Kiev. I expected to find signs of what had happened, but I must say I had no idea it was still occupied, almost like it was months ago.


Tents and barricades were still everywhere. I asked a young local guy who spoke English well why the protesters were still there, now that a provisional government favourable to their views was in place. “Honestly, we’re not sure” was his answer. He suggested most residents are looking forward to all these people going back to wherever they normally live (including in their Kiev apartments).

As is often the case in revolutions, the victorious “side” can often be a mishmash of powerful intellectuals, miserable bandits and everything in between, from many ideological backgrounds. As I mentioned in my Lviv story, I have been very busy in the last couple of weeks and I didn’t have time to try and understand the very complex nature of Ukrainian politics and history. So I will just share the pictures I took around Maidan Square.


Hundreds of tents block one of the main streets of the capital. When I was there, some people thought they would have to be removed for Victory Day (May 9th). In the end, the current Government didn’t cancel the celebrations, but cut them back massively, citing fears of provocations and clashes. A book could be written just on the symbolism, implications and historical roots of such a decision. I won’t be the one to write it.


A field kitchen.


A makeshift church.


Small breaches have been made to allow pedestrian traffic, but otherwise the barricades have not moved. Continue reading

Having fun in Lviv, and reliving my recent stay in Odessa, after the May 2 riot.

The 10 day break I just took from writing my travel stories was not caused by any hardship or political upheaval, but rather by a long transit back to Canada, my involvement in a small business project in Canada, my requirement to prepare and file my income tax declaration and pressure to buy my summer plane tickets now before prices skyrocket. But just a few days after I wrote about Odessa, I found my post about the beautiful city as dated and inaccurate as it could be. My description of the city as rather uninterested in politics and focused on business stands in stark contrast to the body count from a week ago today.

Second only to the violence in Kiev in February, these events played out very differently. Not the result of months of occupation or protest, according to some locals the violence seemed to come out of nowhere. Always hard to know during such events if the people involved even are locals, on both sides.


Credit: Olga, OdessaWalks

And just 12 hours after the tragedy, everything was over and cleaned-up, with only a few burnt cars remaining on the streets. My guide in Odessa, with whom I stayed in touch, sent me some pictures she took. She also told me how the tone in Odessa has taken a turn towards extremism, with people commenting that if the victims of the riot were pro-Russian, it didn’t matter, they only got what they deserved! She is thinking of leaving Odessa for a while, to work on her company’s business in Crimea.

Sadly, tourism in the region was booming last year and unsurprisingly, everything has crashed. Odessa Walks organizes group tours, where you pay a fee and join a group at some predetermined location. It is usually much cheaper than private tours and I often meet tourists from all over the world on such tours. In this case, the company didn’t send a guide to meet the group; it was only me and the owner, showing me around the city.

It is especially bad because the biggest increase in tourism was coming from the cruise ship industry, looking for newer destinations, more exotic to an American and European clientele than typical Mediterranean cruises. While individual tourists can always wait and see, deciding to go or not to go at the last minute, cruise ships with thousands of passengers do not have this luxury. As of today, all cruise ship stops to Odessa have been cancelled up to August. Ironically, the riot occurred on the day the first American cruise ship of the season was in port.


The situation was very strange while I was in Lviv. Here, next to a makeshift memorial to the Kiev victims back in February, people watch news of violence in the East, while everything is calm and normal in town.


In fact, things were more than calm, they were festive, as this was Easter week. Continue reading