Video: Inside a former cold war submarine dry dock

•May 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Unexpected awesomeness at the sub dry dock, Sevastopol, Ukraine. Check-out the video here.

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Donetsk gets a stunning new stadium, and an old haunt crumbles

•May 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I didn’t drink beer when I lived in Ukraine in the mid-90’s, but I could tell from the scent that it was cheap and nasty.

That’s all changed… today, good beer is available in many varieties, both imported and local. We stumbled upon a little beer store that had 50 beers on-tap, ready to bottle… on-demand to take home. We sampled a few.

Donetsk is now home to a stunning, beautiful modern soccer stadium right in the middle of town. It was completed last year at a cost of about $350 million US dollars. Soccer is really a big deal in this town… and the local team is supposed to be pretty good. The new stadium will host some of the matches during the upcoming 2012 Euro cup, which will bring many thousands of tourists to the city.

Todd and I escaped by taxi for a mini-tour of Donetsk. It was interesting to see how much the town has changed. Over time, it looks like “all-things Soviet” have been scrubbed and replaced, to an extent. In general I’ve observed a lot less stark and red; more bright and airy. Modern Euro-style is the motif now. It feels not unlike Poland… but with Ukraine’s signature blue and yellow colors everywhere.

We stopped to see Dom Kino, a former cinema that I have a personal connection with. When I arrived in Donetsk in 1993, it was vacant and beat-up. The church leased it, and we worked hard to clean and restore it. Finally it was converted into a meetinghouse. I have many fond memories there.

It was never particularly *nice*, but in its time, it was a safe haven for us. It was “our place,” and we protected it and treated it as our own. I met some genuinely good people there. Listening to Sunday School lessons here helped me learn to speak Russian.

Fast-forward to 2012. I arrived to find Dom Kino in ruin. The front facade was still intact, looking exactly how I remember it, but its front steps were crumbling and the windows were broken. Initially it just appeared abandoned, vandalized and in decay. But a walk around the building revealed a more dramatic fate. The main hall was burned badly, and everything but a few walls have collapsed. We could see the old entry doors, a stairway, even the old projection booth and main stage.

I wish we could’ve entered to look closer, but it looked unsafe… plus there were security cameras on the property, and our cab driver said that the grounds were being actively monitored.

A couple photos are shown here.

No one knew the cause of the fire. The building had a long, full life and it served its purpose. In any case, we accidentally stumbled upon the church’s new meetinghouse a few kilometers away, which was built for the permanent use of local church members.

Ultra-modern stadium goes up; old-school Soviet theatre falls to the ground. Welcome to Ukraine, new and old.

(Please pardon the imperfect writing. It’s a first draft that I’ve been typing on a phone, and not easy to edit.)

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Video: You gotta see this salt mine

•May 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

We drove outside of Donetsk to catch a tour of the Soledar salt mines. At first we thought we’d be out-of-luck; without a reservation there’d be no way to go down into the salty underground mines, which must be kept at a particular cool temperature.

After some coaxing (and explaining how this would be the only chance we’d ever get to see the mines), they relented. After clearing it with the director, they managed to squeeze us in.

The elevator took us 1,000 feet underground to see the mines. Pretty damn impressive, I’d say.

Check-out this video. I think it’s a must-see.

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Ukraine’s had an upgrade; we visit Lenin, my old apartment and the meat tree (photos)

•May 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting Ukraine. When I lived here from 1993-95, the economy was spiraling; people would go months without seeing a paycheck. After the collapse of the USSR, it felt like the country wasn’t entirely sure what to do with itself. Restaurants were deserted. Buildings were left to crumble. Public fountains dried-up. Even the fire at the “Eternal Flame” monument in Donetsk was turned-off… there just wasn’t enough money to keep it going.

Things have changed quite a bit. The city has grown. Buildings with 20 floors have sprung-up, near sparkling European-style shopping malls with a multiplex cinema. Public transport runs reliably, and many people own cars. The Ukrainian currency is at its most stable level in 6 years. Things are looking-up.

Donetsk is the first city on our itinerary. It’s quite a walkable place; we enjoyed several strolls down Pushkin Park and dined on Georgian cuisine our first night.

A visit to Donetsk wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Lenin Square. I spent a lot of time at the square when I lived here previously. I also checked-out my old apartment building nearby. There’s a photo of me in front of it, here.

The old street markets have largely been replaced with supermarkets. They’re not quite as robust as those you’d find elsewhere in Europe, but they’re by-far more advanced than I’d imagined they’d be. Pre-packaged dinners, baked items and meats have replaced the old-school a la carte items, which were at times über-fresh, at other times stale and tasteless.

Donetsk has a Ramada hotel now. It was comfy, with hot showers (and lots of water pressure.) Not what I was expecting.

Looks like there’s a small chain of shish-kabob stands called “Meat Spring.” I love the logo… perhaps meat really does grow on trees.

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Video: Kicking-off a big vacation in Ukraine and Russia

•May 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Greetings from Donetsk, Ukraine! We are embarking on a two-and-a-half week, Amazing Race style trip across Ukraine and Russia. There’s 8 of us… quite the delegation! So far we’re having a blast.

So here’s a quick video greeting. Photos coming soon.

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Photos of me in Ukraine, circa 1993-95

•May 11, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I recently scanned some old photos from my time in Ukraine. From 1993 to 1995 (a period of alarming economic hyperinflation there) I lived among the Ukrainians; I was just 19 when I arrived.

I spent my time in two cities: the coal mining city of Donetsk and the more European-influenced city of Kharkov. I’m eager to see them both shine as they prepare to host the massive Euro 2012 soccer tournament, though forces conspire against them.

I’m now far, far removed from the church that sent me to Ukraine, but I’m still thankful for my time there. I learned and grew so much. And I returned with some pretty amazing stories.

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M83 at Coachella

•April 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

M83 performs “Reunion” at Coachella, and everyone sings-along. 🙂

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(From Weekend 2.)

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