Sunday, June 28, 2009


We left Kyiv at 7:00 pm on 25th and crossed the border into Russia, stopping for Immigration at 1:00 am on 26th. So we could have left a day earlier. Our best information was that if we left on 24th we would hit Russian immigration at 11:30 pm, which was 30 minutes before my visa was good on 25th. They could have refused me entry, kicked me off the train, if they wanted to be ignorant about it. Ignorant being the prime requirement for duty as an immigration officer in all countries, we decided not to risk it. Better a day late than kicked off the train.

We got to Moscow at 9:00 am, checked our bags and killed time till 1:00 when we went to meet our friend Galina who teaches English at an Institute near a metro stop so was easy to get to. After coffee, we went to her Institute and met some of her colleagues and students, then headed for the airport at 4:30, via Metro and Express train.
Moscow has a huge metro system with quite a number of fabulously decorated stops. It is a tourist attraction in its own right. But also complicated to get around on if you are not familiar with it. We took 40 minutes by non-stop train from the Metro to the Domodedevo Airport.

The last time I was in Domodedevo Airport was 1991 on my way to Kazakhstan with Tim Marshall, Sydney Palmer and several others on my first international venture. Tim had warned us about Domodedevo. Imagine a bus depot in the poorest part of a big city and you are close. Air and rail travel cost the same in Soviet times so planes were full and anyone who could get a seat could afford to fly. Bus depot, full of bus people. And a toilet to discourage anyone from any unecessary calls of nature. Imagine the worst outhouses ever and multiply the smell and filth by 10 or 20. Tim just laughed at us. There were no seats in the waiting area, so we sat on our bags. No plane, so we slept on them too. Five hours late we were finally in the air, about 4:00 am. Soviet flights were at night, so no one could see anything out the windows. Security you know.

Today, Domodedevo is a shiny new international airport of world standards and world scale. In all respects. Our plane left at 10:30 and by 7:30 am we were in Krasnoyarsk. Five hours flying and four hour time change. Valerie and Luda were waiting for us. It took an hour to get our bags, an hour to drive from airport to the city and an hour to get my presence registered by a hotel at the local OVIR so I met the terms of my tourist visa. Then off to Abakan.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

off to krasnoyarsk

Got my visa to Russian yesterday afternoon at the Consulate in Kyiv
We found a cheap ($40 CAD) flat for the night 15 minutes from the railway station.
Tanya and I had supper without friend Natasha Zaitseva. She is such a sweetheart. (LynnieC you owe her an email even if it is three lines. Also if you are bringing Greg over to meet her, best hurry as girls like her don't stay unattached forever).
It is in the high 30's here in Kyiv and humidity in the 90's. Drenched is the feeling.
Our train to Moscow leaves at 7:00 pm. We'll be home July 9th.
Will check email from time to time, no promises of blogging.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

You don't love me?

Tanya went to the market today to buy some tomatoes and a chicken to cook for supper. She was wearing a multi coloured print top and black pants that stopped half way between her knees and her ankles when she went into the market. When she came out about 35 minutes later carrying two bags, she was still wearing a multi coloured top and black pants that stopped halfway between her knees and ankles.

"You don't love me?" "Huh?" "You don't notice my new pants? If you loved me you would notice everything." This one is unwinable. They are different, as she pointed out, in fabric and fashion. Immediate surrender is the only option.

At breafast, I went to make some toast. The loaf is missing both ends, the edges, the top and the bottom. I look at what is left. I look at Tanya. The bottom slice is disappearing, covered with honey. "That is for you (indicating the rest of the loaf). You see what a good wife I am. I worry about you. You are old and don't have good teeth." Now how much more of a loving wife could I ask for?

Post script: At supper tonight I was eating ground beef and broke the side out of one of my molars. Sigh.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Document Crazy

Tanya got a bill the other day from the city gas company. Addressed to her Ex. That put her in her "Obyu Vsye" mood (Kill everyone), trust me. Today we went to the company office to put things right. Eventually. First we had to go and get a photcopy of our title to prove we owned the house. Next a photocopy of the document from the Village office testifying that two people lived in the house and that they were Tanya and I.

We had been through this previously with the electricity, water and garbage pick up. This time she is mad. She is threatening to write letters and go to the bosses. She realizes how stupid the document requirement is. All they need to know is to whom to send the bill for any given address. And if it isn't paid, then cut off the service until it is paid. Doh.

I told her that SHE can in fact change things in Ukraine. Get mad, write letters, encourage others to do the same, eventually things change. But if no one does anything, it will continue forever. Inertia is a powerful force in nature and in bureaucracy. Building civil society (or whatever the correct term is) in Ukraine is beginning and is the basis of true democracy.

Go get 'em, Tanyushka!!

IntelService Center for a Visa to Russia

Anyone contemplating a visit to Russia needs to know about this company and their website

IntelService Center is the most amazing user friendly company you could ever ask for to help you through the complexities of getting a visa to Russia. Without them, I would still be trying to figure out how to get the right documents and how and where to register once I got where I wanted to go. All the rules are clearly laid out; you can apply for and receive your invitation documents on line. Service was almost immediate as were responses to my email questions.

They have a 1-800 number for North America and staff with better English than mine.

They also help with visas to other FSU countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Further, they will find you cheap flights, book your hotel or apartment, and organize tours.

And they are NOT paying me to say this.

29 Leninsky pr. office 401-408
Moscow 117912 RUSSIA
Tel.: +7 495 956 4422 ext. 127
Fax: +7 495 956 2244
Toll Free Tel.: 800.339 2118
Toll Free Fax: 800.305 5737
Web: or

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Main Selection Centre of Ukraine

MSCU at Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky was the elite cattle genetics farm in Ukraine under the Soviet regime. The Director, Irina Volenko, was an amazing powerful woman with a vision of where she wanted the farm to go and the political connections to make it happen. When Ukraine became independent the farm remained a State Owned Enterprise (SOE) while many of the other genetics farms were privatized.

At its peak, the farm employed several hundred people, milked 250 top quality Holsteins and ran about 250 beef cows of several different breeds. It had a bull stud of about two or three dozen bulls and sold semen to dairy farms all over Ukraine. It was in a joint venture with a Canadian genetics company which also kept bulls on site. The farm had a hotel and classrooms for seminars and often had Canadian and American specialists teaching dairy and beef production. Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP) delivered a CIDA funded Beef and Forage project through MSCU beginning in 1999, which is how I met Tanya.

Even then it was obvious to some, that the farm’s glory days were numbered, that times were changing. When Irina died, her oldest daughter took over as Director of MSCU, while her youngest daughter managed the joint venture. The farm lost money, salaries went unpaid for up to a year. Other directors followed at MSCU and the Canadian joint venture eventually dissolved into Ukrainian Farms, a genetics import and distribution company owned by Irina’s daughter. Good people left the farm for other jobs.

Today the farm milks maybe 140 Holstein cows, has 60 Angus cows, no bulls, sells no semen and is in the process of being privatized – sold by auction, I understand. Salaries have not been paid for several months. There were only three people left there whom I knew. My friends Artur and Oksana now work for Ukrainian Farms.

When Irina was Director she built herself and her two daughters, three big fancy houses. On a salary of maybe $500 USD per month. That was sort of expected of farm directors. However the former chief accountant allegedly built two houses for herself and her son and bought an apartment in Kyiv for her daughter on a salary of maybe $400 per month. I am told that she no longer works there but is currently building the house pictured below. Across the road from the office of MSCU where she used to work. Any questions?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Father's Day

Tomorrow is Father's Day in Canada but not here in Ukraine. I guess Hallmark didn't think the Soviet Union would be a big market when it invented the day.
So far I've heard from two of my kids but I KNOW the others won't forget. I even got an ecard from one. I am loved.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Monday in Kyiv

Monday our friend Sasha drove us to Kyiv. We left Pereyaslav Khmelnitsky at 6:00 am and by 8:00 we were in downtown Kyiv. The trip took one hour five years ago. Vehicle ownership and subsequently traffic has increased dramatically. The Kyiv street and expressway system was never designed for the amount of traffic it has today.

Going back to PK also took two hours. One hour to the edge of town and one hour on the road. From downtown we took a route that had us on three lanes merging into four lanes, both backed up for several kilometers. As we approached the bridge over the Dnipro River another three lanes of traffic also was trying to merge with us. The four lane main expressway then narrows to three over the bridge but that is ignored and it becomes an effective four lane bridge.

Downtown is all big expensive cars - Mercedes, Audis, Land Cruiser SUV's of all brands, Lexus, BMWs. Interestingly enough, morning and evening commuter traffic was all middle class cars. Ordinary Joes (Volodyas?) commuting from Boryspil and other bedroom communities.

Our first chore was to look after Tanya at the Canadian Embassy. Sasha and I dropped Tanya off at the prescribed bank to start the process. She paid $150 CAD at the bank and took the receipt and all her documentation to the Embassy gate and turned it in by 10:00, then she went for lunch and waited until 3:00. She went back to the Embassy and they handed her a five year multi entry visa just like that. Three successful trips to Canada and a Canadian husband in Ukraine made her a safe bet to leave when the trip was over.

Sasha and I went to the Russian Consulate to apply for my visa. We had to get in line to find out how much the visa cost and what exact documentation they needed. $125 USD for two weeks tourist visa to Moscow and Krasnoyarsk, to be picked up in 10 days (24 hour turnaround was $350 USD). I had everything I needed for a visa applied for at the Russian Embassy in Canada but they are all different. Thankfully they let Sasha in to translate for me as that speeded things up, even though one lady there spoke perfect English.

I needed copies of three documents I did not have. I had an original that needed photocopying and two on my flash drive that needed printing. Where to go? Sasha noticed that there was a small office in which a girl was photocopying documents. One problem solved but where to print from the flash drive? She would do that too. I was very relieved and said to Sasha in English, "Give that girl a kiss". She blushed beet red. Oh, Oh. Sasha told her (in Russian) that he was willing even without my orders, which just made it worse. All documents done, everything handed in just by 1:00 the daily deadline.

IF they give it to me, I will pick up my visa on June 24th in Kyiv. On June 25th we take the train to Moscow and then on the 26th fly to Krasnoyarsk. There are six companies competing on that route and it was cheaper than train. Tanya's Papa will come back with us for two months. Tanya will take him to Moscow and put him on a plane home just before we go to Canada in September.
We then met Tanya, had lunch, waited until 3:00 when she got her visa and went to a travel agent to buy our return tickets to Russia. All lined up and go to pay. Cash only. Can you believe it? $2000 worth of tickets and they want cash. We had to go find a bank machine. They closed at 6:00 pm. At 6:00 pm we walked out the door with the tickets and my blood pressure at an all time high.

No, it was high last summer too when we went to Turkey and a different travel agent wanted cash for $2000 worth of holiday package. Parts of the country are not yet in the 21st century, I guess.

The chess match

Today is a nice warm sunny day. Natasha (who walks my dogs for me when I am away) brought her chess set so she can clobber the boys. They asked if they could set up on our patio table. Maxim is to be the first victim. Maybe. He is no slouch at this game. Ivan (he with the all-boy grin) will likely be wiped out in three moves, when his turn comes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Trip to Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky 1.

We left ZV at 8:00 am Sunday morning and drove the 400 km distance leisurely, arriving in PK about 3:00 pm. We stopped in Kremenchuk to visit our friend Volodya, and in another town to go to the fish market. This place had dozens of stalls of various dried, smoked, salted and fresh fish. One table held a catfish the size of a small cow. Tanya said they can be as much as 300 kg.

Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky is a very old city, having celebrated the 1100th anniversary of its founding not long ago. Origionally known as Pereyaslav, the Kmelnitsky was added when Bohdan Kmelnitsky, after beating Poland at Zhovti-Vody in 1648, agreed in 1654 to place the independent Cossack Hetmanate under the protection of the Tsar, rather than get clobbered by the Poles again. The jury is still out.

We really went to visit friends, though there were enough other errands to run to make the trip necessary. Artur and Oksana Gordin and Sasha Gritsyuk have been friends of mine since 1997. Tanya met them in 1999 at the Beef Forage School, where we met also. Tanya had not been back since then but had kept in touch. Oksana is also a garden person. One of her flower gardens is pictured below. We returned home today with the back of the car full of perennials, which Tanya planted immediately that we got home today.

Maxim came over to inspect the new flowers and fell in love with some tiny yellow ones. He went home and asked his Babushka Lucia to ask Tanya if he could have just one of them to plant. Lucia was reluctant where upon little tears rolled down his cheeks. He got his flowers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On the Road Again

We got a good rain shower last night so I took a picture of Tanya's back flower garden this morning from our upstairs window. It looked prettty good after the rain and we hope will hold our garden until we get home again. It will come into full bloom over the next month or so.

Tanya and I are headed out sometime tomorrow to drive to Pereyaslav-Khmelnitski to visit friends. On Monday, we will go to Kyiv apply at the respective Embassies for a Russian visa for me and a Canadian visa for Tanya. I will use the trip also to follow up on some of my work regarding revitalizing the livestock industry in Ivankiv and Chornobyl Raions.

This will be my second cross country trek in our own car but at least this time Tanya will be navigating. Last fall Berny Wiens and I tried driving to Zaporizhzhia in the dark. Not a good idea.

Driving in Kyiv is a non-starter for me so we are either going to take the mini-bus from P-K or see if our friend Sasha will drive us. On Tuesday we will drive to Mironivka (also spelled Mironovka if you are Google Earth-ing) to visit a large American-owned feedlot and on Wednesday we will visit a feedmill and large pig enterprise near P-K.

Should be home Thursday night, all things being equal; Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reasons I Love My Wife

Today was houseplant day. Tanya got up at 6:00 am, watered her flowers until 9:00 and then came in to repot a number of plants and care for the other 47 in the house. The kitchen counter was covered with mud, pots and plants. She decided she wanted breakfast, cleared off a spot, plunked down the breadboard and the remnants of a loaf of bread. Both ends and one side already gone (crust is her favourite slice); and the other side and bottom next. Leaving me with the centre of the loaf.

Tanya called Andrei this morning to sort him out about something. Masha overheard her Papa’s end of the “conversation”. Several hours later she calls her Babushka:
“I am worried about you since you and Papa had that argument”.
“You are not worried about your Papa?”
“No. Next time he phones you, don’t answer”.
“Good advice, Masha, thanks”.

The downstairs bedroom cools off pretty good at night. Tanya had the blanket. I had the sheet. At 4:00 am I am getting cold and try to sneak under the blanket. She is barely awake but: “Are you cold?” “Yes”. Mutter mutter “…old men need to keep warm...” Whumph. I got the blanket. She got the sheet.

We were driving to P’yatikhatki the other day. “Do you remember when you were driving in Victoria at night? I wasn’t worried…I didn’t know how bad a driver you were. Now I would be scared”. I get no respect.

Class Visit to a Farm

Thursday, June 11, 2009

UK Police Use of Firearms More than Doubled

According to Home Office data, reported by the BBC, British police officers fired their weapons in the line of duty 7 times last year, up significantly from 3 times the year before.

The article went on to say that British scientists have developed a portable scanner to detect hidden firearms and were hoping to perfect it to detect hidden knives as well. The user will be able to stand at a safe distance and determine if a suspect is armed or not.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Re-telling the Soviet Harpoon Race

Richard Black blogs on BBC's Earthwatch. Yesterday's title caught my eye.

Re-telling the Soviet Harpoon Race answers the question about "what happened to the whales". It is worth reading for two reasons. First it explains why, for years, quotas and bans and moratoria on whaling had no results. The USSR ignored the rules, falsified records, lied to the IWC* and killed everything that crossed the paths of their whaling factory ships. Secondly, an article reference in the blog gives an insight to life in post-Stalinist USSR, as it describes the illegal slaughter of whales from the viewpoint of a maverick biologist on board a whaling factory ship.

"But rarely has it been told as well as it has this week, in an article [pdf link] by Phil Clapham and Yulia Ivashchenko in Marine Fisheries Review, the US journal. If you're not familiar with the story, reading their article will be 15 minutes of your time well spent; if you are familiar with it, well, it's worth a read anyway".

*The International Whaling Commission was established in 1946 because it was obvious by then that the world's stocks of some species of whales were being hunted to extinction and some form of quota system was necessary to both conserve whales and preserve the whaling industry.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Brother Darryl

My brother Darryl turned 60 last week. (My other brother Darryl will be 55 next month). He had hoped that it would be his last day at work but says he must work until January 2010. I'm sure Toronto Transit Corporation wished it was his last day too. He has worked for them for many years, mostly because of strong union support preventing them from firing him. The last escapade, he was over heard threatening to shoot the TTC president. He got off with a reprimand, so many days without pay and made a personal apology. They ran him thorugh a metal detector several times before they let him into the president's office though.

When he retires he will move back to the farm and live in the house which has been empty since our folks died. The yard is still enough full of junk that he will putter away to his hearts content.

He reminded me that he celebrated his 20th birthday in Texas. When He graduated from highschool, he hired on with a custom harvesting outfit that started in Texas in early June and combined grain all the way north, arriving in southern Saskatchewan in September. There were two combines, a New Holland and a Massey Ferguson, two IHC trucks and a pick-up pulling a house trailor in which they slept and in which the boss's wife cooked.

Those were big combines 40 years ago but would be dwarfed by today's behemoths. Likewise the trucks. The 10 ton tandem-axel units of yesterday have been replaced by huge grain carts hauled by tractors in the field and by semi trailer trucks on the highways.

My brother had lots of fun, being young and foolish. Since many young men were away in Vietnam fighting national self-determination on behalf of corporate profits, the local girls were happy when the combine crews came to town. The boss allegedly said if he could have put my brother in a cage and charged admission, he'd have made more than he did combining.

Of course, he got many questions about Canada, which he assumed were just being asked in fun and answered in like vein. Some years after, he realized that the questions were serious and they took his deadpan answers as God's truth.

Do you grow corn in Canada?
Oh, yes, almost as much as you do. But our seasons are so short, we have to start it in greenhouses and transplant it by hand when the soil is warm enough.

Do you have electricity in Canada?
Well, in summer we don't really need it as it is daylight almost 24 hours and we camp out by our fields. But in winter we gather around electric poles and build our igloos close enough to run extension cords for lights.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Don't get your Backup.

Tanya's computer needs the hard drive formatted and everything reinstalled, according to the guy whom Andrei says can fix it for less money than the computer shop. It is slow beyond belief and since her Windows XP is in Russian, there is not much I can do. Except back up her pictures and documents.

I have a cute little portable 60 GB hard drive, that runs off USB2, couple or three years old. I used it to back up my documents and pictures, when I last backed up. March but it was 2009 at least. Plugged it in, green light comes on but the computer won't recognize it. Neither Tanya's nor mine.

I had been reading about crashed hard drives yesterday on this neat website "How Stuff Works". Apparently just because you have a portable HD, does not mean you can treat it like a Flash Drive. Who knew? Anyhow, I broke down and bought a 250 GB portable HD, runs off a single USB2 cable at the speed of light. I was impressed and promised it I would treat it gently, not move it while it was operating or drop it or over heat it.

Backed up Tanya's computer and mine too. Now to repeat periodically. Like monthly at least.

Harvest has begun

Yesterday, Tanya cleaned out the deep freeze in readiness for this years crops of fruit and produce. She picked and froze several packages of fresh dill to start things off. Found stuff we had forgotten.

She had bought some smoked prunes last year, we ate a few and froze the rest. Yesterday she made compote from the frozen prunes and dried apples. It has a wonderful flavour, just a hint of smokiness. Also she made compote from red currents and sour cherries. We'll be drinking compote instead of buying juice for a week or so.

She started a batch of strawberry jam and is finishing it off as I write. Not sure how many litres in a batch but about 5 I am guessing. When we come home in the fall, we will "repackage the jam into 2 litre plastic bottles to take to the kids. Lighter and less breakable than glass.

Masha will come to visit in a half hour. She and her Babushka will pick strawberries from out patch, (the jam is from some we purchased). I have hardly seen her for two weeks so a visit will be enjoyable.

Roman has been here all week and Lena is coming on the bus tonight. They are considering moving to ZV as Dnipro is just too expensive. Some of Tanya's connections are sure they can find Lena a job here and they can rent a better flat for 1/3 the money they pay in the big city.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Crop, Cat and Dog Report

We went to Dnipro yesterday. I drove and it was nice to work the pedals without the knee in the package effect. Had a chance to look at the crops along the way. Every part of Ukraine has had rain but western Dnipopetrovsk Oblast. Corn is up but thin. Winter wheat and barley looks really good, thick and even, some barley even starting to turn just a tinge. Will need rain to fill. Saw two wonderful fields of sunflowers, nice and even about 30 cm tall. There have been spotty showers and maybe they caught one. Wish our gardens would catch a nice slow two day rain.

Huntly and Barkly, aka Bobik and Volk have been looking like death warmed over this spring. Hair coat is rough and shaggy, hair coming out in chunks, no appetite for their dog food and thin. I guessed they were likely loaded with parasites. The vet was here on Wednesday evening, did blood tests, confirming Dirofilaria immitis, better known as heartworm. Oh, goody. They have that here. Better than rabies, I guess, which they do not have in Europe to the best of my knowledge.

Andrei the vet was back tonight, about 8:00 pm, gave them each a couple of shots of something and a prescription for some meds we will get at the human drugs store (same stuff but cheaper than animal version). Tanya will give them shots of this stuff for the next three days. He also gave us some spot-on pesticide for ticks, fleas and I expect a pot-load of internal parasites as well. The tick collars lasted three days. Just another handy thing to grab when fighting, I guess.

He forgot the meds for Kuchma who is also thin and so anaemic his nose is almost white instead of pink. We'll take him in to the clinic tomorrow and save Andrei the trip

I need Andrei to give us a monthly calendar of what we need to do to those critters to keep on top of this stuff. I fed Heartguard to my Canadian canines and am sure there is such here too, once we get this infection cleared up.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tanya's Thanks

Tanya says Thank You to all of you who have commented on her flowers and invites all to come and see them for real. "This is only the second year of my flower garden. Every year it will look better as it fills in. I have plans..."

When we were first married, I promised to keep her in "Roses, Champaign and Chocolate". There has been a bottle of her favourite Champaign in the house for two months, untouched. Chocolate is no big deal; I crave it worse than she does. The "Roses" have become Carte Blanche to do what she wants with her flower garden. How could I refuse something that brings her so much joy? After 8 hours digging in the dirt, she comes home dog-tired and oh so happy.

It truly is a labour of love for her. We have not had real rain for two months, only a couple of showers and hot dry winds take what little moisture there is. She spends hours and hours every day hand watering her flower garden and kitchen garden with a sprinkler nozzle. I have tried to get her to use a mechanical sprinkler but she prefers to give her plants personal attention.

She thinned the beets yesterday in 28 degree heat. The peas are blooming and pods have begun forming so they will need their first picking soon. The strawberries are coming on strong. We will make much jam and frozen fruit from them as we will have no other fruit of any kind this year. The frost took out cherries, apricots, apples and even the walnuts. Next year everything will likely yield like crazy, including our raspberries and blackberries that were planted this year.

We need working guests for July and August!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Starting to power out so better write something quick and go to bed. I KNOW it is only 8:00 pm. Yesterday I had my stitches out (May-B said it seemed like not that long ago, Montel had his stitches out) and can finally sit in my office chair without feeling like a 10-day camel (Doesn't it hurt"? "Only if you get your thumbs between the bricks").

Caught up on some work and now to catch up on emails from friends.

Found a cartoon in my vast collection (sent to me over the years by my half vast collection of friends). The punchline reads "No, no, no, nurse!! I told you to slip off his spectacles". I'm not posting it. Create your own visuals.