Four days ago I returned from a trip to Ukraine. Even if this was my fifteenth or so visit since 1996, it was a great experience and it is really amazing to see how much the country has changed. Back in 1996 Ukraine was a dreary place with few colours and just a handful of cars on the streets. Probably, the country looked very much similar to what it was before the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. This situation has changed completely.
The city centres are congested with motorised traffic. Bright and happy colours, expensively dressed Ukrainians, mobile phones, chunky 4×4’s and state of the art holiday resorts like Bukovel have become common. Billboards with publicity are virtually everywhere. More amazing, however, is it to witness how much the country has remained the same and how much Ukraine looks similar to neighbouring former Soviet republics Russia and Byelorussia. For example, visiting the main psychiatric hospital of the West-Ukrainian metropolis Lviv, I was amazed at how bad the situation was. The post-communist mentality of those in charge – old-school authoritarianism, coupled with new entrepreneurial greed – appeared to be immune to aid programmes and best practice seminars. Here and there the situation was far worse than in Byelorussia.
The more remote areas of Ukraine have changed considerably as well, but for many people the living conditions look rather grim. The public health situation remains serious: Aids/HIV, tuberculosis, tobacco and alcoholism are real killers over there. They are the mean reason, why the average age of a Ukrainian is at 68 (men 62, women 74). Often children are made to drink alcohol by their parents at some holiday or birthday party and I saw myself a six-year-old boy put up his hand to acknowledge the fact. It happened during a school alcohol prevention meeting, which was organised by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (see picture above).
In a village I met two very old ladies, who were left all to themselves for various reasons. They may look picturesque, but having to live of about 80 Euros per month is an altogether different story and almost impossible to do. The lady here on the left replied to our ‘How are you doing’, that she was hoping for the next world to come soon, because that would be a better world.
The USSR as a political entity may have disappeared, but the USSR lives on in many different shapes and consequences, even today. (FH)