Massive protests in Ukraine

(BBC, Kyiv) More than 100,000 people in the Ukrainian capital Kiev are protesting against the government’s move to delay an association deal with the EU under pressure from Russia.

The protest is said to be the largest since the 2004 Orange Revolution, which overturned a rigged presidential poll. Police fired tear gas as protesters tried to break through a cordon around government buildings.

A pro-government rally a few miles away attracted about 10,000 people. Kiev police said they had fired tear gas after protesters threw a smoke grenade at officers in an attempt to break into the Cabinet of Ministers building.

Ukraine made the decision on the EU deal last week, saying it could not afford to break ties with Moscow. Russia is trying to bring Kiev into its own customs union.

RT Television Ukraine:


Ukraine thumbs her nose at EU; abruptly turns toward Russia

Ponder these quotes on Thursday from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich “I would like to emphasize that Ukraine has no alternative to reforms and European integration” and moments later he added “We are moving this way and do not change our route.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich arrived in Austria Thursday.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich arrived in Austria on Thursday.

However after Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov had returned from a meeting of CIS prime ministers in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday, he sounded more like a Prime Minister thinking of suspending efforts for EU integration and choosing to develop closer ties with Russia and other CIS countries.

Azarov’s travel to the CIS summit came after a secret meeting between Yanukovich and Vladimir Putin last week. President Yanukovich arrived in Austria on Thursday for a two-day state visit.

On his return from Russia, Prime Minister Azarov described the CIS meetings in glowing terms: “The agenda of the meeting was extremely intense. And it was one of the most successful meetings of Heads of Government. By the results of the meeting it was signed about thirty documents. They cover a range of cooperation: in electricity, health care, tourism sector, training of the teaching staff, information security, creating a single transport area in the CIS and others.”

Mr. Azarov explained that “…the main purpose of debates was the review of the execution of the Agreement on free trade between the CIS countries. This item was included into the agenda against our initiative – the initiative of Ukraine, which was supported by all Heads of Government of the CIS.”

Ukraine hosted IMF delegates to talk about Ukraine's debt.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Azarov, seated near the window, hosted IMF delegates to talk about Ukraine’s debt.

Then came the abrupt announcement that Ukraine would turn towards Moscow, ensuring a major victory for Russia who has wooed Ukraine to join the Customs Union of several former Soviet Republics. The change comes only one week before an EU summit where the parties have been scheduled to sign an association agreement during the Vilnius Summit in Lithuania.

Meanwhile several Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) committees had been busy at work to bring various aspects of Ukrainian law into compliance with EU standards and just this past Tuesday the Chairman of the Parliament, Volodimir Rybak, hosted the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle in Kyiv. But key sticking points, including the EU’s demand for the release of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko may have pushed the Ukrainians back towards Moscow.

The progress of Ukraine’s fulfillment of commitments to the EU was discussed during the EU meetings in Kyiv and just this past Tuesday Chairman Rybak had stressed that Ukraine had no alternative and said that the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement would be signed next week.

EU Commission meetings in Ukraine.
EU Commission meetings in Ukraine.

However the Ukrainian government Thursday evening indicated that Ukraine would turn her back on the EU framework at the last-minute, choosing instead to join the Customs Union and developing trade agreements within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

For some time Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged Ukraine to return to her historically close ties to Moscow and one aim of the CIS trade talks in Saint Petersburg was to show Kyiv that Moscow was willing to increase economic trade and extend gas deals with Kyiv if the Ukrainian government would suspend preparations for a trade agreement with the EU.

Border winter sky a

Private apartments, great prices all over Eastern Europe.
Private apartments at great prices all over Europe.

Moscow’s trolleybus parade

Last Saturday the city of Moscow honoured the long history of the motorized троллейбус (trolleybus) in Russia.

Moscow: 1936 model
Moscow: 1936 model

Trolleybuses run on electricity drawn from power lines above the street and are quieter and produce less pollution than fossil fuel powered vehicles. They were invented by a German scientist in 1882.

The parade featured retro trolleybuses to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the service  as the show began at the First Trolleybus Park on Leningradsky Shosse.

(Photo: Martin.LiveJournal)
(Photo: Martin.LiveJournal)
Media crews interviewed older passengers who remembered the antique vehicles. (Photo: Martin.LiveJournal)
Media crews interviewed older passengers who remembered the antique vehicles. (Photo: Martin.LiveJournal)

Media reporters were there to document the event and it was obvious that riders were enjoying the experience.

Crowds gathered along the parade route to ride the old trolleybuses.
Crowds gathered along the parade route to ride the old trolleybuses. (Photo: Andrey Kronos.LiveJournal)

Along the parade route were a variety of trolleybus models since their launch in 1933. In the photo below, a statue of Karl Marx watches over the parade.

Moscow parade of antique trolleybuses. (Photo: Kronos.LiveJournal)
Moscow parade of antique trolleybuses. (Photo: Andrey Kronos.LiveJournal)
(Photo: Nikita Miroshnichenko)
(Photo: Nikita Miroshnichenko)

The oldest working trolleybus in the parade was a MTB-82D model from the year 1954.

(Photo: Martin.LiveJournal)
(Photo: Martin.LiveJournal)

Unlike electric trams which travel on rails, the trolleybus uses rubber wheels just like a bus and has a driver who steers the bus.

(Photo: Andrey Kronos.LiveJournal)
(Photo: Andrey Kronos.LiveJournal)

Crowds gathered at each stop to ride the trolleybuses despite the cold and rain.

(Photo: Martin.LiveJournal)
(Photo: Martin.LiveJournal)

Trolleybuses still play an important role in providing transportation for Europe’s largest city. The newest addition to the Moscow trolleybus fleet is a group of new TrolZa models, produced earlier this year.

The trolleybus system in Moscow today:

Traveling to Eastern Europe and Asia: medications

Traveling to Eastern Europe and Asia is a fun experience for most tourists. Making sure that you have your normal medications and health supplements is a smart part of your pre-trip planning experience.

Traveling around this time of year often means that you’ll travel with some medications, prescription or otherwise.Those can range from over-the-counter cold and flu medications to things you take at home by prescription.

While Russia and Ukraine are very modern countries have likely have most of the medications you’ll take along, the problem is that first you don’t know their Russian names and secondly you don’t have a prescription from a local doctor. As with any type of international travel there will be some medications that don’t require a prescription in-country, and vise versa.

фото Антон Балашов primamedia ru
This is a medical centre/clinic. фото Антон Балашов primamedia ru

Most foreign travelers never visit a doctor or pharmacy while in-country but we’ll help you along if you do. In most cases you’ll carry what you need with you. As these are developed nations, they do have drug control laws and with a little foresight and planning, you can avoid most problems.

Rarely is it an issue but if there is, 99.9& of the time the medications you carry will only be a concern at in-coming customs when arriving at your destination. Again, it is hardly an issue but if it is, you need to be prepared. In Russia there is a unit of the police whose work is for the ФСКН (FSKN) which are the narcotic police. These police are called the Наркополиция and the first 4 letters are NARK as in “narc” so you get an idea of what they do.

It is doubtful that this will be a problem but in the rare cases that it is a problem, the issue is serious. So, let’s prepare:

– All pills and medications should be in an original container with the prescription label securely attached.
– In the USA many pharmacies give you a receipt showing the prescription details, how many refills, name of the doctor, etc. When possible, take this too.
– Never combine various pills in one bottle to save space. (You can imagine a customs official trying to make sense of a bottle that has 20 cold/flu red pills, 30 short green pills, 26 white aspirin, 15 brown Ibuprofen, 18 yellow antibiotics, etc. We’ve all done this and never had an issue but are leaving ourselves open for the wrong customs officer who is having a bad hair day.)
– Over the counter medicines and supplement pills should also be in their original packaging if possible.

The US Embassy website contains the following information:

Prescription Medication: Russia also has very strict rules on the importation of medication. Russia prohibits certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs common in the United States. Large quantities of any medicine will receive scrutiny.
The Embassy recommends that all U.S. citizens carry a copy of their valid U.S. prescription(s) when entering Russia with prescription medication(s). There have been instances where U.S. citizens have been detained in Russia because they were not able to prove they lawfully obtained their prescription medication in the United States.

Drugs used to control seizures such as sedatives and tranquilizers are illegal to transport into Russia and most other regional countries. If you must travel with these you might wish to have the prescription and a certified Russian translation of the prescription. Never volunteer information on your medicines unless asked.

One of the more frequent causes of drug related arrests of foreign tourists is by picking up hitchhikers. The tourist rents a car and decides to pick up a hitchhiker, perhaps for someone to provide direction, etc. In a traffic stop if the hitchhiker is carrying illegal narcotics, you are an accomplice.

The sign says that this pharmacy is open 24 hours.
The sign says that this pharmacy is open 24 hours.

If you need medications, finding a pharmacy is easy. The Russian term is Аптека (aph-teka) and they’re everywhere from street corners to ground floor shops in apartment buildings.

Hints should you need medications while in Russia or Ukraine:
– Most generics available in Russia are manufactured in India. They do follow the formula, usually. It is that “usually” that makes us recommend that if possible you buy the real thing.
– Many medications in Russia do not need a prescription but you’ll need to ask. We recommend that you print clearly what you need on a piece of paper. That way if the pharmacy tech doesn’t understand your spoken English they can look it up using the English name.

We’ll list some of the more commonly requested medications:

Аспирин = Aspirin.
Аспирин = Aspirin.
Анальгин = Analgin, pain and fever.
Анальгин = Analgin, pain and fever.
Фервекс = Feverex, good for fevers and colds.
Фервекс = Feverex, good for fevers and colds. Made by Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Нитроглицерин = Nitroglycerine
Нитроглицерин = Nitroglycerine
Карболен = carbon (charcoal) tablets, great antiacid.
Карболен = carbon (charcoal) tablets, great antacid.
Имодиум = Imodium.
Имодиум = Imodium.


Парацетамол = Paracetamol, an Acetaminophen said to be good for flu/colds.
Парацетамол = Paracetamol, an Acetaminophen said to be good for flu/colds.

Finally, if necessary you can find a local medical clinic often called a медицинская клиника, a polyclinic/doctor’s office. Depending on the area, these can range to very modern to a trip back into another period in time. Don’t forget that most doctors do still make house calls.

Our favourite Russian artist: Aida

Over the years maybe you’ve noticed that a certain Russian artist appears on these pages from time to time. That is no accident as she bears my last name and I’m very proud of her. It is a wonder that I don’t feature her work more often. Maybe I should!

Photos from a Moscow exhibition:

March 2010 exhibition b

She always looks so beautiful in pink! Her agency arranges several of these exhibits each year and at this one she was the feature of the entire exhibit so the hall was filled with her art, portraits on one wall, still-life paintings on another, etc.

March 2010 exhibition self portrait with mirror

Photo 2 is genius: a self portrait of herself and a mirror so that whoever stands to observe the portrait is seen as standing with her.

March 2010 exhibition N Logunovoi

The other folks are some of the subjects of her portraits.

March 2010 exhibition И. Масловой

Her latest project is one that has been ongoing for a couple of years as she is part of a small handful of artists contracted by the Russian Military Museum to interview, photograph, and paint surviving heroes from the Great Patriotic War (WWII). Upon completion of each portrait there is a presentation at the museum in Moscow to honour the hero and the portrait is displayed for several months before going on rotation to other museums across Russia.

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The Nativity fast is just around the corner

The Nativity fast, also called St. Philip’s Fast, begins in Orthodox churches of the Western world on 15 November. That is a set date annually and ends on December 24. In Eastern Europe and Asia the Nativity fast begins on 28 November each year and ends on Christmas Eve, 6 January.

This can be confusing so here is a review:

– Nativity fast in the West: began on 15 November

– Nativity fast is the East: begins on 28 November

November calendar
The top section of the calendar lists 28 November as the day to begin the fast. Most Westerners find it interesting that the Eastern calendar week begins on Monday and ends on Sunday.

The only country in the world doing their own thing is Armenia which celebrates Christmas on 6 January and thus their Nativity fast begins on 14 November and ends the 5th of January. As Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as their faith, perhaps they get to go first.

It is not unusual for those who have missed church many weeks throughout the year to play catchup around this time of season. Going to confession and visiting a Monastery for a few days of reflection are popular activities leading up to the New Year and then Christmas.

(Vising a monastery in November.)
(Vising a monastery in November.)

If your Russian speaking friend asks about your participation in the “post” they’re really talking about the fast. The term for a food fast is пост, post.

There is quite a difference between fasts from East to West. Usually in the West the only folks observing are dedicated believers. In the East it sometimes seems as if dedicated believers have come out of the woodwork from hiding. However here it is more of a custom to observe some of the traditions around Christmas and Easter which are the two major times of fasting. Government offices, public schools and restaurants adjust their menus during these seasons so that those who choose to fast can do so but no one is forced.

The fast is designed to somewhat replicate the diet of Christ’s 40 days in the desert and the Nativity is often called the little Pashka, or little Easter. As possible the observer should eat no meat except fish on certain Fridays, no eggs or dairy or alcohol. The fast is optional for those who are elderly, very young, sick or traveling and away from home.

For non-Russian speaking visitors who are interesting to see how a restaurant fasting menu looks, I recommend something like the Starlite Diner in Moscow. The Starlite is an Americana styled diner with great burgers, steaks and fries with yummy milkshakes but they kick out an impressive vegetarian menu during the fasting periods. They have 5 Moscow locations so here is a link to find them:

Seven days/seven restaurants was a contest among restaurants/bars in Vitebsk, Belarus, that competed for the best fasting menu. Pretty cool.

Next is one of Russia’s premier chefs who shows off his vegetarian menu dishes featuring eggplant, soup and a salad:

Finally, even Subway in Eastern Europe and Asia helps one observe the fast:

Deadly plane crash in Kazan

Kazan, over 1,000 years old and one of the most beautiful cities in Russia, is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. Today it was the site of a deadly air crash that killed all 46 passengers and six crew members.

Map of area where Kazan airport is located.
Map of area where Kazan airport is located.

The Boeing 737, Tatarstan airlines flight U363 from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport to Kazan, was on the first approach around 7:20pm local time and reportedly the pilot attempted to abort the landing to make a second approach. The airliner hit the runway and exploded on impact. Russian Emergency Situations officials reported that the crash claimed the lives of all 46 passengers and the six crew members on board.

Tatarstan Kazan airport crash

The airport and terminal have been closed pending the investigation. Those inside the terminal are to remain there until further notice.

Photo from Twitter:  Ilya Zaytsev ‏@zaytsev_eng
Photo from Twitter:
Ilya Zaytsev ‏@zaytsev_eng
An unnamed Russian journalist was on board the flight and Russia Today television has confirmed earlier reports that the elder son of the President of Tatarstan was a passenger on the flight.