Eastern Bloc

For some reason, the picture of this gal I put up a few days ago got 4x the hits the my usual pictures in the first 24 hours. I don’t understand why people like looking at this stuff instead of landscapes and strange buildings. So anyway, let them eat cake I say…. here is another.

(just kidding…. of course…. glad you like this series)

Eastern Bloc

Ukraine???

I told my brother that I was going to the Ukraine. He warned me that the women there were not pretty – short, fat, and hairy were the three admonitions he passed along. I think Kyle learned everything he knows about East European women from the German swimming team in the 1976 Olympics.

I am in the Ukraine (it’s hard to tell from this picture) for work with a software partner there that has about 160 programmers, artists, animators, and other game-development disciplines. It just so happens that Oleg, CEO of this other company, is a famous photographer in the Ukraine. He has more photography equipment than Hefner and Flynt combined. He also has his own photography studio with enough lights to melt Chernobyl (strange segue to my story about Chernobyl).

Oleg and I talk a lot about photography. I’m more into landscapes and unique finds. He’s more into male/female models and having them do things with props and scenes and shaving cream. He invited me to his studio and Saturday and said, “We get models, zerefore we take some pictures.” I had never worked in a studio like his before, so I gave him a big thumbs up.

We showed up at his studio early and spent an eternity as he showed me every light, every strobe, every remote control, and another eternity looking at aperture and lighting and then having a 250-pound Ukrainian man sit in a chair to get the lighting right… Instead of posting a picture of the 250-pound Ukrainian man, I decided to put up this one of the model.

I only speak a few words of Russian, so I let Oleg do all the talking. We snapped away for a while and I got some interesting shots. I have a bunch more that I will post in coming weeks/months.

Ukraine???

The Communist Long Tail of Ukraine

I’ve now spent a long time in the Ukraine because we are building some significant software there for our upcoming and super-secret gaming destination, and I’ve made a number of observations.

Since one of my hobbies is economics, it has been very interesting for me to be immersed in a country that is emerging from communism into a form of capitalism with a pinch of kleptocracy/oligarchy chewing away at the fringes during the transition.

I took the first three pictures below from the common areas behind my apartment that I stay in while in Kharkov, Ukraine. The inside of my apartment is very nice, as is the inside of many places throughout Ukraine. The offices up at Program Ace are spotless, pristine, and very HAL-2000-like.

However, every single “common” area in the Ukraine is completely run-down and looks bombed out, forgotten, radiated, and dangerous. In my judgment, this is a vestige from the communist era, when everything was commonly owned and there was no personal property. When things are commonly owned, they almost always fall into disrepair since “altruistic cleaning and maintenance” is a concept that only is heard from the ivory towers of college professors that are inside the theoretical and elitist bubble.

The same thing happened in New York’s Central Park in the late 70′s. It was very much treated in a communist way, where a faceless bureaucracy expected their disconnected staff and an altruistic public too keep Central Park nice, clean, and well maintained. It turned into one of the dirtiest and most unsafe areas in the US. After that, Colombia University did a study and the system changed to one of privatization where people had a sense of ownership and pride in different parts of the park. Today it is one of the best public parks in the world.

Even though apartment buildings are privately owned in Kharkov, the landlords still have the oligarch mentality that there is no real need to maintain and beautify the common areas since competition is not yet in full force. Almost every elevator I entered was very old, with exposed and rusted gears, creaking chains, and a layer of dust collecting since the days of Sputnik. Every stairwell looked like the Germans had used it for target practice in 1943. Every face I saw in those stairwells was morose and untrusting. My walks home in the middle of the night after a long day of work have very little light as I pass from one cloister to another, walking from one group of dark-dressed smoking men quietly grunting to the next.
The final picture is from another stairwell, just outside the old KGB building.

Rusted

The Sweatbox

The Ruins of Kharkov

The Front Door, facing the KGB

Towering Domes

This was shot in the heart of Kharkov. I took it from about 7 angles and I think I like this one the best. I’m just not sure any more… this place looks really cool from every angle.

Towering Domes

Fortress Cathedral, the biggest and most beautiful building in Kharkov

Kharkov has a Russian old world feeling about it, and nothing shows that better than the Blagovishensky Cathedral in the central part of the city. It’s huge – enormously huge in an imposing Soviet state sanctioned religion kinda way. I did not get a chance to go inside of it, but next trip I will.

Fortress Cathedral

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The Ministry of Ministries

This is the Ministry of Ministries where bureaucrats formed a bureaucracy from where they could administer to other administrations on how to organize organizations, since those were the sort of things that were done in the former Soviet Union.

The Ministry of Ministries

The Ukraine was certainly an interesting place. Here is a link another set of pictures that I have uploaded so far from there.

The Front Door, facing the KGB

This is the front door of the place I stayed in Kharkov. The apartment, up on the fourth floor, was quite nice, but the stairs were in *somewhat* of a state of disrepair. This was located in an older building just a few steps from the old KGB headquarters.

The Front Door, facing the KGB

Snowy Forest of Kharkov

We worked late the other night then walked home from the city square back to our apartment. Along the way, we pass through this heavily forested area that looks quite skeletal and cool in the snowy midnight light.

I still have yet to get appropriate shoes and headwear for this part of the world. It is clear to everyone around me that I am not from this land.

Snowy Forest of Kharkov

Blue Streets of Kharkov

Kharkov is on the Russian border of the Ukraine. If you take the amount of cold and snow in Kiev and multiply it by four, you get a pretty good idea of the Kharkov is like.

This is the central town square of Kharkov, which is decorated with bright blue lights on every tree up and down the street. There is an ice skating rink in the middle, complete with hulking Soviet-throwback KGBesque security guard that came up to me and asked why I had such a large camera. I told him it was because I was an American capitalist and that’s the way the cookie crumbled. He didn’t know what I meant, and he simply pointed in the direction, indicating a hasty egress was my best course of action.

Kharkov Night Streets

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