Ukraine Insider

Copyright 2005-2014 by Dan Schramm. All Rights Reserved. Photographs and video by Dan Schramm.

This is an informational site providing inside information for people wanting to visit or do business in Ukraine. My name is Dan Schramm and the first person information on this site is not only accurate, but is up to date. This is the only site on the internet providing such detailed and recent information on visiting Ukraine and doing business there. (This article talks about a visit in January 2004. There have been some changes in Ukraine that an updated article will talk about. Also, read the upcoming article on my April 2004 month long visit.)

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The Author in Kiev - Part Two

Lucky for us confirmed Americans, there are McDonald’s restaurants in Kyiv. One I went to on Vognik was huge. Big Macs were the order of the day because they don’t have quarter pounders or fish fillets. Not sure if there are salads. Didn’t notice any and couldn’t read the menu which seemed to be hamburgers, cheeseburgers and Big Macs. The food was fairly cheap and good, so can’t complain. The French fries were good. When I went again with Anna my translator on Sunday, it was packed. We could hardly find a place to sit. There is a TGIF in Kyiv too, but did not go there. Reportedly it is pretty close of the real American ones. The only other restaurant chain I noticed or that was mentioned to me was a place called “Mr. Snack.” I was warned away by Anna.

Religious art from the Kyiv Ukraine museum

At McDonalds, I figured there were no free soda refills. I asked Anna to be sure, and the answer was: “There is nothing free in Ukraine.” Keep that in mind. Generally speaking, Russians/Ukrainians are suspicious of anything free. They are sure that it will cost them double in the end.

Kyiv has a number of casinos. Gambling is legal in the casinos. They are big clubs with bright lights. Did not go into any of them on this trip but did on my second trip. Gambling is the last thing I could afford.

Nudity is not an issue. There are nude women in the newspapers as there are in many European newspapers and on television. There are strip clubs. However, pornography is illegal, that was pretty clear, though nobody could tell me the law specifically or where lines were drawn. I suppose a lawyer would know, but wasn’t interested enough to pay one $250 an hour.

One thing I found strange is that there are no words in Russian for “Excuse Me” or “Pardon Me’. If you are in someone’s way they will stand and wait to get by, or if they don’t want to wait, they will shove right by you without a word. On the other hand, people are not generally rude, though there are exceptions. Most people are out to get whatever they can for themselves, just like in the U.S. and most other countries. The biggest problem is that Ukraine was a communist part of the USSR until a decade or so ago. There has not been alot of time for business and personal ethics or integrity, religious based or legal based morality to develop or really much reason why they should. (Much more in the next article.)

Statute of Lenin in downtown Kiev Ukraine and surrounding buildings.Lenin stands at the beginning of a tree lined blvd in Kyiv Ukraine. Speaking of customs and such, here is one to remember although it is perhaps less prevelant in Ukraine than Russia, it seems. Never hand anyone money directly. It is bad luck. Nobody can remember what is supposed to happen if you do, but many people consider it bad luck. Even vendors will refuse to take your money. If the vendor has a tray to place the money in, use the tray. If you see other people handing the vendor money directly, then it is probably okay if you do the same. If you are giving money to an individual and circumstances permit, place it on the table or another surface between you. There are a number of customs and superstitions you should be aware of and I'll tell you all about them in another article.


(Left: These noise cancelling Sony headphones will help you survive 8 and 13 hour long flights. Not cheap but worth every penny and comes with in-flight jacks.)

The telephone system is in serious need of upgrading. It is a rotary dial system and is not entirely reliable. Forget about using any touch-tone device. It does work and we used dialup ISP access without much trouble. (Dialup was analog 33.6k at best. There is no digital dialup with 56k modems as in the west.) DSL is possible at Jerry’s apartment, though it took three weeks to find that out. Then a deposit of $400 had to be paid in cash, in advance, to order the service. They don’t install DSL over the telephone line as many telephone companies do here. They install a dedicated line. You can expect that installation will take at least one month. But, I have to laugh at calling it DSL. That is certainly the transport protocol, but the bandwidth is nothing like U.S. DSL. Bandwidth into and out of the country is very expensive.

Central fountain and stairway of underground mall in Kyiv Ukraine Dialup access, like mobile phones, is paid for by purchasing a prepaid card at a local store. There are no accounts or billing to speak of. There is no credit. Yes, Virginia, there is a postal system. There are mailboxes in apartment blocks, but they are mostly broken or ripped open. Nobody uses the postal system for anything important or valuable. Having an office helps and we did get mail delivery to our offices which was much safer than a mailbox. If you send mail to Ukraine, keep in mind that customs regulations prohibit sending cash, travelers' checks, personal checks, credit cards, or passports through the international mail system. Customs authorities regularly confiscate these items as contraband. All the big international delivery companies operate directly or through agents in Ukraine and that is the only practical way to send valuable items.

A fountain in downtown Kiev Ukraine not far from our office. If you are signing up with a marriage agency BEWARE. Many Ukraine marriage services and Russian dating outfits sell you contact information, but that information turns out to be mailing addresses. Any mail from the west is bound to be inspected if not pliffered. There will be long delays in your correspondence, if it gets to where it is supposed to at all. If you are paying for contact information make sure you get an email address along with a snail mail address. You still want a name and street address because if you get serious or are thinking of helping the woman out with gifts or money, you may well want to have a small investigation done and make sure she really exists and isn't living with a husband and kids, or worse.

FedEx, UPS and other major delivery firms operate in Ukraine, though usually through local licensed agents. They deliver in major cities and although not cheap, they are the only reliable way to get anything delivered. In business, for documents fax is the way to go. If you are corresponding with a woman you met through a marriage agency, she may well be in a small city or rural area to which none of these companies deliver. This can turn out to be a really big problem down the road.

There are two mobile telephone systems licensed by the government. These are GSM systems and the phones use SIM chips. Thus you can purchase sim chips in different countries and use the phone. A basic Nokia phone, sim card, and some time will cost you about $100. There are cell phone stores all over and many places will sell you a phone card to add time to your phone. Beware, the IVR system that you call to enter the card numbers is only in Russian. You will need to understand Russian fluently or have a Russian speaker do it for you. Mobile phones are expensive for locals, but are in line with prices here, although you pay much more per minute. Our employees would always call us and hang up, expecting us to call them back, thus using our minutes and not theirs. In the US, you pay for airtime minutes and it does not matter if you are placing or receiving calls. In Ukraine, the person placing the call pays for it. The cell telephone systems are reliable and cover all the cities in the country and most of the highways in between. The previous president’s daughter owns one of the cell phone companies; much like Boris Yeltsin’s daughter sat on the boards of big companies and owned a bunch of stuff herself.

Like Europe, Ukraine has 220vac power. Radio Shack and other stores sell power converters but these are generally useless, especially for electronics. Before you go, check the power supplies for your laptop, digital camera, camcorder and other devices. It is likely rated for 220vac and 120vac (U.S.). My Sony power supplies to laptop, camera and camcorder all handled 220.This will save you many problems. Instead of purchasing and hauling a voltage converter, simply purchase a plug adapter that changes the US plug to the European pins. These are available all over Ukraine for pennies. One idea is to purchase an outlet strip there. Ukraine has a chain of electronics stores which are very similar to Western stores. I purchased a great outlet strip for $12.00 US. It has six outlets which take any kind of plug. Each has its own lighted on/off switch. They are widely spaced to take transformers. There is an analog voltage meter, telephone surge protection, a master on/off switch and the longest cord I have ever seen on an outlet strip. It is called a SVEN Platinum Pro. We purchased a bunch of them for the offices. I liked mine so much I brought it home with me.

Kiev has a nice chain of electronics shops (though the name escapes me right now) one of which was a short distance from our office just down the street. A good selection and nice prices. This is where I purchased the SVEN outlet strips. Near the McDonalds I walked to from the office there was a large shopping mall, but not like you find in the west. The mall was opposite the building in the below photograph. The "mall" was not a department store operated by one company, but a collection of shops and booths operated by various individuals and businesses. I visited a couple of these types of malls in Kiev in my two visits. These shops sold a wide selection of new consumer goods. Finding professional photographic/lighting equipment was another matter entirely, which is discussed in another section of the site.

A school? in Kiev which is opposite a shopping center I visited. One interesting point is that the glass dome is over the underground fountain and stairway shown in other pictures on this page. At the bottom right of the photo is a stairway leading down.

Kyiv has various types of transportation. There are taxi cabs and private cars of course. There is also an extensive underground subway system called The Metro. It does not go where I was staying and I did not use it. There are also buses, electric trolley cars running on overhead wires with rubber tires plus street cars running on tracks. Taxi cabs were cheap so I didn’t take any public transportation (on this trip) for which locals pay about ten cents I am told.

In central Kyiv one can walk for many blocks without ever going outside. Under the main street is a massive shopping mall that runs for block after block. On this page are two photos of a central area fountain of one mall where stairs lead to the surface. The underground shops are the most expensive but seemed to be doing good business. We stopped at a couple to look at things for the office.

The purpose of this trip was business and it was only a week. I only got to go out one night, but it was an experience. The club was called “Opium.” It has been open about a year and is on par with any club in a major American city. It is far superior in one way, the people. At least 95 percent of the people in the club were young and at least 95 percent of them were gorgeous. The women were beautiful and the young men were cute and pretty. In fact, some were prettier than the very fine women they were with.

Another photo of the underground mall in Kyiv Ukraine. Anna and I went to Opium Saturday night. The door charge was 100 Grivna, which is about twenty dollars. This is a lot of money for locals. Lots of pretty girls were trying to get in for free. Once the door man spotted me and Anna back in the line, he asked her if she was with me. We were then whisked right in: paying customers come first everywhere.

The large dance area had the latest lighting and sound systems, lots of German and American equipment. The music was mostly by Ukrainian groups and European performers. There is a lot of local talent, especially young women who want to get noticed. There is no money in releasing CD’s, which they do, because everything is quickly pirated. The money comes from concerts, personal appearances, and in some cases, turning one thousand dollar a night tricks.

Opium offers a range of drinks and beverages including beer and juice. Anna drank juice and I drank bottles of Corona. Happy hour was until midnight and the beers were only two dollars each. After happy hour, they went up to four dollars. Not many people drank around the dance floor. More people drank in the front bar, but not as many as you would see drinking in an American bar. I don’t know if they were not interested in drinking or simply could not afford it. Everyone was well or decently dressed. Clothing is expensive and people take good care of their clothes. They do not have a very large wardrobe generally, but they take good care of what they do have.

It is hard to tell ages, but the crowd was young. Most were probably 18 to 25, though some were younger. There are no liquor control laws. Nobody asks you how old you are, or for identification. Nobody cares. I do not know, but there probably are no age limits on cigarettes either. At Opium it seemed that far fewer people smoke than what I see in the U.S., although this later on subsequent visits appeared to be an exception... perhaps because the crowd was well-off and young. We left Opium at 4 a.m. Saturday. Not sure at this point what club hours are for other days or if there are differences between days of the week. Some clubs are open until 6 a.m., so there don't seem to be regulations limiting the hours of bars.

And of course, everyone is lily white. Nobody has a tan. I am told there some tanning salons, but they are very expensive. This is probably one reason people seemed to know I was an American even when I did not say a word. I do get a bit of sun living in Key West, FL. I wonder if they get some sun during the summer.

The upper level of Opium is set up like a cross between an opium den and an Arabian harem. There are giant hookahs with long hoses in each area. There is some kind of clove tobacco that people smoke in them. No opium or hashish of course. Drugs are very illegal in Ukraine, as they are most places. (It is also illegal to own firearms.)

Jerry is very picky when it comes to women and he can afford to be. He told me that most of the women in Kyiv were 6 or 7 on the scale of 10 and that there were not that many 8, 9 and 10s. Well I can assure you, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. If it were true, all the 8, 9 and 10’s were at Opium Saturday night. The place was packed with beautiful young women. They were hot. I have never seen so many good looking people in one bar at one time before. In anyone’s book, the women were young and spectacular. The men were yummy too and I must have fallen in love at least two dozen times during the course of the night. Gender was entirely secondary. It was all about beautiful people and beautiful bodies.

Taking off from the Kiev Ukraine airport on a gloomy winter morning. This was my first visit and seeing as I was staying with my boss, I decided to just enjoy the atmosphere and watch what was going on. I also didn’t speak any Russian and didn’t feel comfortable with using Anna, my translator, to try to pick someone up. Anna had never been to the club before either. I plan to learn some useful Russian before I go back. I didn’t see many people getting picked up in the usual sense. Most people were in couples or with friends. There was some making out, but it was pretty low key. I did see one young woman who was a bit heavy trying to pick up a gorgeous guy and she seemed to be making progress, but he later was alone.

A fair number of guys were wearing sunglasses inside. This must be some sort of style, or they are expensive sunglasses and the guys want to show them off.

I am told that Ukrainian men just want to get laid and if a woman does not put out, he will not go on a second date with her or call her ever again. I don’t know enough about personal relationships in Kyiv to really comment further. My next visit I plan to learn more about the people there and get laid regularly as I will have my own apartment to stay in.

One of my purchases- a gunbelt of a Russian general purchased in Kyiv Ukraine.

Anyway, there was one more day to go, which I enjoyed sightseeing with Anna. We walked down a long cobblestone sidewalk/street called Old Church Road where all the souvenir vendors are located. They knew I was American before I even said a word. Luckily Anna negotiated prices for me and got me good deals on t-shirts and various knick-knacks. The large church shown in a photo on this page gives the road its name. At the end of the road was a small museum where a number of pictures were taken. Move the mouse over the images to read the captions.

Afterwards we took a cab ride to a traditional Ukrainian restaurant where Anna often ate. I do not know the name in Russian or Ukrainian, but it translates as “Ukraine Food for Big Stomach.” It is a cafeteria. The food was good and I really enjoyed it, except for the thing they call a salad. It is not a salad as we know it, but more a red coleslaw which was a little too bitter for my taste. They had different “salads” but they all looked like variations of coleslaw.

I returned to Kyiv (and went to Odessa) in April-May 2004 to get ESU fully functioning and to conduct a couple of very large public events. I travelled within the country by taxi, private car, train and aircraft. My month long visit provides a vast amount of information on doing business in Ukraine which will be available shortly. If you are planning on doing business in Ukraine, our information on Ukraine employment laws, and what to expect from employees will save you a fortune and lots of aggravation. I will even provide the employee manual I wrote especially designed for Ukrainians plus tons of other information.

Thanks for reading.


Webmaster Dan


Click image to watch video of Odessa Ukraine Body Painting Festival.Watch cultural performances from the May 2004 Odessa, Ukraine body painting festival.

This article covers only my first short visit to Kyiv (Kiev) Ukraine. In April of 2004 I returned to Ukraine for a full month spending time and working in Kyiv and Odessa. I learned a vast amount about doing business in Ukraine and living there. I also was able to track down gay bars and other fun things that are not normally available to tourists. Be sure to come back for further updates to this site. Broadband connection is required.

Watch my free video of the 2004 Odessa body painting contest. This 8.5 minute video presents some of the cultural entertainment. This followed the body painting and the body painting awards show, which is available on pages which follow.

CLICK HERE TO READ AND SEE MORE.