Travels to Kherson and Yalta in Ukraine
to Meet Marina Chedakina for the First Time
April and May, 2002
Chapter 1 -- 2 -- 3 -- 4 -- 5 -- 6 -- 7 -- 8 -- 9 -- 10 -- 11
There were several stops on the trip to Kherson, including Paris, Vienna, and Odessa. At Odessa, I had a three-hour drive to Kherson, where Marina lives. This was the single most frightening car ride I have ever been on. The driver was like a madman!! I am serious! Most of the time we were going over 90 miles per hour, sometimes more than 100 miles per hour. The roads were awful - no maintenance at all. Think of the worst pothole you have seen here - well, that is nothing. There were potholes everywhere, everywhere, everywhere! We were zooming along at 90 and 100 miles per hour, zig-zag-ing from side to side, trying to miss the potholes.
No, there were no seat belts in the car. They had been stolen from the car a long time ago.
This was a two-lane road, but the driver did not care whether he drove on the left side of the road or the right. He just zoomed along, as fast as the car would go. I watched his foot, and he just stomped on the accelerator full to the floor all the time. When another car was in front of us, he would "tailgate" the car as close as he could possibly get - often less than one foot - yes, I tell you this truly - he would often drive only within 6 to 8 inches of the car in front of us. All the time, dodging potholes, we were bouncing all over the car, the road was in horrible condition,
Elena Kosyakova was in the car with me - she arranged my lodging and travel from Odessa to Kherson. She never batted an eye, this was completely normal to her. I told Elena "If anyone drove like this in the USA then the police would radio for a helicopter, and they would set up a roadblock and arrest us all."
She laughed and said "Vladimir is the best driver I know. Don't worry."
It is impossible for me to tell you how bad the roads were, how much we bounced around in the car, how often my butt bounced completely off of the seat of the car, and my head banged the window. Vladimir should be a Nascar driver, because he zoomed faster than anyone else on the road. Never once did a car pass us the entire way, and we passed every single car we saw that was going our way.
This was a terrifying ride. 'nuff said.
I try to read the road signs, they are in Russian, and I can read only the first few letters, and then the sign is gone - we are going so fast, too fast.
The driver tells me that I can get counterfeit money, if I want. He knows where. He speaks Russian, and Elena translates for me. I tell him I don't want that.
Before I left for Kherson, I got a book about the Russian Mafia. It tells of many things, about the people of the Soviet Union, many things that you or I would never think about. I asked Elena about some of the things I have read about, and she tells me that yes, this writer tells the truth, all these things do happen. Some of the things are - People remove their windshield wipers from their car and take them inside their home, because if they do not, people will steal them and sell them. People take their dogs with them in the car, and then when they park, they tie the dogs to the bumpers -- that way, if someone tries to siphon gasoline from the car, the dog will stop them. I saw several cars during my trip with no wipers.
The roads were awful, we kept bouncing up and down, and zig-zagging right and left, as we tried to avoid the worst pot-holes. I don't think I saw any patching done on the road at all. These roads have no maintenance at all - they just build them and then never patch them, evidently. All the time we are going at 90 or 100 miles an hour, or better (Yes, I looked at the speedometer, it was in kilometers, but I am translating that into miles per hour for you :-)
When we get to the city of Kherson, there is a very strange thing - there are tree branches in the road, standing up from the road. I soon see that these are branches that have been stuck into manholes in the road. I ask Elena about this, and she says "People steal the manhole covers and sell them as scrap iron for money. Then there is no cover on the manhole, so people put a tree branch in it, so it sticks up from the road, and everyone knows not to drive their car over the open manhole."
Later, I ask Marina about this, and she tells me that the economy is so awful, and that jobs are so difficult to get, that even good people find it hard to feed their children -- the economy is so bad, not like anything America has known.
Finally we reach my apartment in Kherson, which turns out to be rather nice! Here's the kitchen.
Here's the living room
Not bad, eh? But the TV only speaks in Russian :-)
Here's the bathroom. The Water Heater is the white box above the tub. You light the gas, and then it heats the water as it comes out. The water can be much to hot, hot enough to cook you into soup!!! So, you have to be careful. As long as the gas is on, the water is hot, so you never run out of hot water - not like a water heater in the USA that only has maybe 30 gallons or whatever. I asked Marina and she said you can use all the water and gas you want, and you still pay the same. They don't care how much you use.
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