First Column of 2009: Z starym novym rokom!
Just two weeks into the New Year (including the old Ukrainian New Year, which takes place at midnight on Jan. 13) and I’m already a year older. Imagine that! Also, some friends and former colleagues have other reasons to celebrate: new additions to their families! And, as I look outside my kitchen window as I write this, the sun is shining and the temperatures are only just below freezing. With all the snow on the ground, it really does feel like the holiday season.
But with the holiday season in fact over, it’s back to work for many of us. Many Ukrainians (and not only them) lost their jobs at the tail end of 2008, so hopefully all will be sunny and warm in the job market for them, too. It seems that Kyiv is a no-less busy place than it was before: new stores, particularly high-end fashion shops (Hugo Boss, Chanel, Tiffany), have opened their doors, new magazines have come to the market and long-established ones still hanging on (new: Ukraine’s own version of Harper’s Bazaar; remade: 10 Days has become Top 10, which is supposed to resemble the Russian edition of Esquire; hanging on: What’s On has found a buyer, meaning the city’s most celebrated English title will continue to feature its paparazzi shots and unique commentary on life in the capital) and the country’s politicians continue to have no connection whatsoever with the reality of everyday people. In short, life goes on.
One thing many Kyiv residents couldn’t fail to have noticed in the run-up to the New Year was the quick and steady devaluation of the hryvnia, Ukraine’s national currency. Like all things in the post-bubble world, even the hryvnia has had to be revalued, and while this has quickly translated into higher prices for imported goods – from clothes to specialty items at the grocery store and even airline tickets – it’s also meant that locally produced or already imported goods (again, clothes, but also locally produced foods and services) just got that much cheaper. For example, round-trip train tickets to Lviv from Kyiv that once cost the equivalent of US$50 now seem a more reasonable US$30. In case anyone reading this abroad has no idea, the value of the hryvnia went from approximately Hr 5.00 to the greenback to currently about Hr 8.00 each. The devaluation was probably a long time overdue.
And real estate has even gotten cheaper: rents are falling all over the place, with apartments that once cost $1,500 per month now going for $1,100 or even less. My rent has fallen by about the same amount, too. (How happy am I!)
More changes in the currency are expected over the next 12 months, with the value of the hryvnia to fall even lower, possibly even to Hr 12.00 or more per U.S. dollar, so stock up on foreign currency, people! It’ll only do you good!
Good dining news
Even if I did mention it in December, can I say how enthused I am about the Oliva chain of Italian restaurants that have appeared across the city in place of the old (and not terribly remarkable) Pan Pizza franchises? Even if you don’t care that much for Italian food, check one of these places out for the service and the atmosphere (locations on Druzhby Narodiv, Sahaidachnoho and Kominterna). But if you do like Italian food, Oliva’s pepperoni pizzas are a must as is the salmon filet. And prices? Even before the currency crisis this place was a bargain!
Khinkhali, a Georgian restaurant open 24 hours that’s on Shota Rustaveli, has recently become one of my favorite places to eat, right up there with O Khromogo Pola, that great Czech eatery abutting the Silpo grocery store not far from Park Slavy. Service means a lot to me, as do little places to eat like this one: the coziness of the interior just makes me want to stay there for hours and do nothing more than drink a great dry Georgian red like a saperavi and eat khachapurri, which puts Italian cheesetoast to shame. Yum!