Travel Through Ukraine on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Ukraine on a Harley (27/7/99 - 7/8/99)
Distance 2993 km (153985 km to 156978 km)

This is part of the fifth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Hungary
 

27/7/99 With 10 minutes out of Hungary, and in one hour we were in the Ukraine. Medical insurance, a first, every foreigner has to have Ukraine medical insurance, the one we have covering us for the whole world (of which Ukraine is a part) was not good enough, so after 30 minutes of discussion we purchased the minimum $US 5.00 each policy. No other payments necessary and the motorcycle can stay for two months even though our visas expire in eleven days. Immediately its back to the simpler pleasures and things of life, children swimming in the river, fishing with a tree pole, roadside stalls selling home-grown vegetables and police trying to earn extra cash. 150 km into the country and passed five police (speed/radars), the fifth pulling us over for doing 60 km per hour in a 50 km zone and wanting money, Ukraine, US, D-mark, any. While we were discussing our predicament three other motorists were pulled over, two gave cash and the other six bottles of beer. Noticing that the radar gun wasn't being used I asked to seeRamps for changing oil, just dump it on the ground my reading of 60 km/hr only to find out the radar gun was broken at which time we were waived on to leave. Petrol seems to be available, Ukraine having adopted a market economy. When Russia stopped the supply of cheap fuel it either had to be, buy on the world market and subsidize, or pass on the extra costs. Belarus decided to subsidize its fuel, thus there is a shortage, but what you can find is cheap, and the Ukraine didn't thus there is plenty, but it is expensive for locals at $US 0.76 a litre. Stayed in a roadside hotel about 150 km towards L'viv.

28/7/99 Due to the high petrol price the roads are almost empty, even in cities the traffic is light and in the country, roadside businesses and stalls only see the wealthy and truckies. We stopped in L'viv to see the city and while parking the motorcycle two, about ten year old, street kids asked for money. Instead of encouraging them to beg we suggested they watch the motorcycle while we were away and we would give them something on our return. They settled in on the curb and we wandered off,Outside the gates of Chernobyl, not allowed entry only to look back to see three guys, early twenties, hunt them away. Suspicious, we rounded the next corner, I removed my coat so as not to be easily recognized, and returned to see them drop down to undo the motorcycle cover. Finding it locked they pulled till it tore and had it half way off the motorcycle by the time I was running towards them. With the alarm activated and me yelling STOP! STOP! (at about 50m away) they stopped and started to stroll away but when I got closer they started sprinting. Three plainclothes policemen/security materialized from somewhere and tackled one, handcuffed him and led him away. After being asked if anything was missing, nothing was, just the torn bike cover, we also departed. The speed and daylight attempt surprised us. Just 40m from a police station, in a well trafficked street. The other surprise was that the general public did nothing, saw nothing and even though a few gathered, as soon as the police arrived they did not want to be there. The two young street kids returned after the event to collect their money for watching the motorcycle. Travelled the rest of the day in rain on often slick bitumen from truck tyres smoothing out the poor quality tar and stayed in a small room off a roadside diner.

Mother Russia, now in the Ukraine 29/7/99 Bounced along the 300 km, passed about a dozen statues to WW11 and into Kiev to the mother of all statues. The Defence of The Motherland monument or "Mother Russia" stands 72m high on a hill overlooking the city, ironically outlasting mother Russia and now in a foreign land. The roadside stop where we stayed last night turned out to be a whore house as did the lunch stop today. Seems petrol, meals and sex all sell well to the same clients, those with money. Discrete yet obvious are the well dressed and painted girls and small rooms near by. After the pleasant surprise that our Moldovan transit visas would cost only $US 20.00 and be ready in two working days we headed out towards Chernobyl, stopping in a small village to ask if there was anywhere to sleep. We were offered a bed in the local policeman's house. He is in charge of three villages in the area, has a comfortable but older house with pit toilet outside and 1940's style bathroom with a wood fired water heater. It seems his wage or "bonuses" provide the family with the small extras above the other villagers whose elderly were selling fruit or milk by the roadside, sitting all day, hoping for some extra money.

30/7/99 Well as expected we were not welcomed at Chernobyl and were prevented from entering the 30 km exclusion zone around the reactor. Now 13 years since the nuclear power station started its melt down when 9 tons of radioactive material was scattered into the atmosphere and 135,000 people were evacuated. The area outside the 30 km zone seems back to normal with people living in villages, harvesting grains like elsewhere in the country. Our accommodation, booked in Warsaw, for Kiev to get a visa for the Ukraine proved  worthless. The cheapest accommodation, on a boat moored in the Dnipro river, would not accept our voucherOne of many magnificent religious buildings for payment, which is what we had expected, a bogus booking to obtain the visa. The different pricing policy for hotels for foreigners all over Kiev, Russians pay double local price and westerners three times at some places making the cheapest hotel accommodation $US 30.00 on a boat. We opted to camp at the tourist village 12 km out of town, the only camp ground, and we were the only people camped there, $US 6.00.

31/7/99 Kiev seems to have many magnificent treasures, which you would expect from the founding city of the Eastern Slavic peoples, where Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine, and also the Russian Orthodox church started. We seem to be about the only travellers in the area, bumping into just diplomats on tour of the Cave Monastery, Ukraine's premier tourist attraction, but no one else other than local pilgrims and the ever present beggars, common to pilgrimage sites all over the world. Pilgrims generosity encouraging the trade. Again a return to open religion after years of underground worship under communism has produced a renovation boom in religious buildings. The Caves Monastery complex stretches along a hilly ridge above the river, again the magnificent churches/cathedrals The new Harley Club, an overpriced, upmarket look alike but most people come for the caves where hundreds of monks and Saints are "buried" in glass topped caskets along the underground corridors. Also in the complex is the Micro Miniatures Museum. The lifetime work of one man building minute objects visible only through microscopes, like, the golden shoes on a flea attached with nails like horse shoes; the chess set, board and all on the head of a pin, all the pieces elaborately carved; the worlds smallest book; and clock; an artificial rose inside a drilled and polished human hair with petals, stem and thorns. This now 60 yr old artist is still making miniatures. And just outside a memorial to those Ukrainians who died in the Afghanistan war. The enslavement of men and in some countries the enslavement of women also to compulsorily give up a couple of years of their life (sometimes their whole life) against their will is an anomaly in human rights in many western countries but worse when compelled to do so by another governing country, Russia, to fight a war.

1/8/99 The Ukraine would have to rate amongst the highest on our list of "rip off" countries. Many countries have different prices for foreigners in hotels and trains, totally unacceptable in my view, higher prices to visit museums and antiquities, more palatable. But the Ukraine peopleThe Crimean beachside on a summers day blatantly overcharge in restaurants and cafe shops despite the price being written on the menu, feigning mistake, accident, the discount not today, every time  in cities and occasionally in the country. We finally figured out why after three days we are the only campers in the campground. Foreign tourists are only coming in groups and despite the economy remaining fairly stable the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Thus the rich are too rich to camp and the poor too busy to survive. This was explained to us by an American couple living here for seven years attached to the US embassy support group. The trickle down economy is not working because the rich money is leaving the country for safer lands. We visited the upmarket Harley Club and yes, were overcharged.

2/8/99 600 km south towards the Crimea, the roads reasonable, traffic light, towards Odessa for 250 km then along smaller roads. Stayed in an ex-Soviet type hotel in a smallish town. A large structure not keeping pace with change, about three of the eighty rooms occupied, no maintenance in ten years, we inconvenience the staffs watching TV by asking for a room. The more modern hotels springing up gradually strangling theLenin's statue to the decree that all palaces, parks etc are for the workers? not any more! older style but at $US 5.00 a double it suits us.

3/8/99 400 km to Yalta and many police waving us over, we ignored those we could, others wanting to look at the motorcycle, and the worst creating imaginary traffic infringements looking for bribes. Denying any wrong doing, being firm but not domineering and waiting them out avoided bribes eventually. One officer directed us past a stop sign to pull over then proceeded to want money for us running the stop sign. He held onto all our documents in his brief case for 15 minutes while he went about other work, regularly turning to me asking for money. Eventually he returned the documents. The inability to speak any local language an advantage, but the other language picked up while travelling an enormous advantage in these situations, the language of "body language". To know when to be firm/submissive, to be quiet or raise a storm, to give them an "out" to save face, when to smile or not to smile or look smug all veryMothballed Russian fleet at Sevastopol important. We still sometimes get it wrong and end up in more difficult situations. The mountain road up and down to Yalta, the scenic route, with innumerable hairpin bends and canopy forest before opening to lovely coastal views, a tiring  but enjoyable end to the ride.

4/8/99 The Crimea, as many places, has a chequered history of war and occupation, its prime position on the Black Sea the reason but it's also being home to the wealthy Tsars until Lenin's 1920 decree that the former palaces and parks become sanatoria for the "treatment of the working people". He would be horrified that beneath his statue marking the decree in Yalta that all the beaches are pay beaches and that the majority of Ukrainians can never hope to afford a holiday/sanatoria in the Crimea, the place already reserved for the wealthy under later communism and the same under the new capitalism. Whilst the beaches are crowded (beaches?, small pebbly stretches of land between water and buildings) and the shoreline buzzing, one street back has the crumbling concreteLocal petrol station structures seen everywhere. As with past Tsars the president now moves here for the summer with his entourage of personnel and security.

5/8/99 A brief look into the mirror this morning and after two and a half years of riding gravity seems to be taking effect. Middle age spread and truckies bum. The weight is easy to keep off in Asia and the Middle East, hot climate, light foods, warm weather and little meat or dairy produce but in Europe with its heavy foods, meat and soups, cool weather and no Delhi belly, the body grows. And the worst product BREAD. Mind you if I was given one food to eat only it would be the hundreds of different varieties of breads we have tried in all the different countries. Different shapes, colours, grains, textures and tastes, hot out of the oven, flat bread, pocket bread, black bread, baguettes, knotty loaves etc. Followed the coast road winding the thin strip between mountain and ocean to Sevastopol, with the Russian Black Sea fleet, previously closed to visitors, but we had no problems entering, and overlooking the soviet vessels in the Ukrainian harbour, submarines,Newly wealthy ride big motorcycles now frigates, destroyers, now all stationary. Then out of the city towards Odessa past many more large crumbling concrete town signs and grand bus shelters, grand hero statues in large forgotten parks, a bit like watching tomorrow's Greek or Roman ruins in the making.

6/8/99 Odessa today, and 200 km of good roads, trucks towing trucks and cars to save petrol or because they have broken down, and petrol station attempted rip offs by starting the old clock face at 2 litres or stating the meter is inaccurate after you have paid first. We argued with one station and had a sit in till he provided us with the amount of petrol we had paid for. We finally arrived at the "beach resort", also a port and run down industrial city with occasional international ships to keep the souvenir sellers in business.

7/8/99 Headed out of Odessa through more large fields seen all over the ex-USSR, collectivized and amalgamated small farms during Stalin's era and now large commercial sized fields with tree lined boundaries growing a variety of crops, sunflower, wheat and maize/corn.
 

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