Signs of Emerging Wealth in the Capital
by Paul Miazga
Year ago I took a trip to Warsaw as part of the process for getting a work visa for Ukraine. I had been in Kyiv for a little more than a year at that point and really had no idea what any part of Eastern Europe would be like. That trip really helped put the differences between Warsaw and Kyiv into stark relief. Warsaw had modern and affordable restaurants, cafes and mini-malls all over the place, not just in the heart of the downtown. The city felt gloomy like Kyiv often did to me back then, but it had a sense of law and order then. And almost every single shop or apartment window there had an unmistakable gleam, evidence that it had recently been installed. Incomes were not just on the rise, but increasing rapidly. The average Pole in Warsaw had money to patch up their home, to go out a bit and the freedom to start their own business. That most certainly was not the case in Kyiv.
That was just over four years ago, and up until last year things here in Kyiv had largely remained the same. The only money in town seemed to come from the same select group of oligarchs who have largely controlled the country since independence. Then the Orange Revolution happened. The government increased salaries and pensions. Foreign banks started to appear in the country. Business travel to Ukraine began to boom and suddenly ordinary people had money in their pockets. A tell-tale sign of this money flow was that in 2006 Ukrainians’ spending on non-essential items (luxury goods, travel expenses, furniture) actually surpassed that of essentials (food, clothing, shelter).
Lots of businesses seem to be doing booming business these days, but few more so than home renovation and do-it-yourself (DIY) centers. DIY superstores such as Nova Liniya and Epicenter have helped make home repair not just affordable for Ukrainians, but easy, too. Nova Liniya, the Home Depot of Ukraine, now has six stores in and around Kyiv. In the past, people doing home renovations had to go to local, disorganized markets and move from kiosk to kiosk buying whatever they could find. Thankfully, this type of shopping is quickly being consigned to the past.
The best thing about Nova LIniya and Epicenter is that they’re not just about building materials but also feature garden centers, lawn furniture and even some camping and grilling equipment. Want a fold-up chair for the dacha? How about a small hibachi to keep in the trunk of your car? Need seeds, soil and pots for growing some herbs on the windowsill? It’s all there. Probably the best thing about Nova Liniya and stores like it is their western-style approach to customer service. If you can’t find the fold-up deck chairs, it’s easy to find someone working there to help you.
“Do-it-yourself retailer Nova Liniya has opened 6 stores in and around Kyiv as Ukrainians take advantage of their growing wealth to improve where and how they live.” (Photo by Nova Liniya)