The Spolsky affair: Everybody loses - welcome to Ukraine

Myron Spolsky has returned all but $5,000 of the money that was in his custody as treasurer of the Kyiv Multinational Rotary Club.  He claimed that the finances were incredibly complex, and auditing them meant that he had been unable to return the approximately $50,000 between the end of his term, June 2010, and now, August 2012. 

What brought the audit to a conclusion?  Brute force, Ukrainian style.  The KMRC directors got the Kyiv Post to publish an article in October, 2011 exposing the fact that the money had been unaccounted for more than a year.  Subsequent articles kept the heat on.  Finally, four officers of KMRC cornered Spolsky in his office and refused to leave.  When Spolsky threanted to call the police, they invited him to do so.  Spolsky backed down.  The four would not leave without some collateral for the money owed, which took the form of Spolsky’s soon-to-expire passport. 

The Canadian Embassy was properly embarrassed that a prominent member of the Canadian-Ukrainian community would behave in this way.  One assumes that they would not issue a new passport knowing the circumstances under which Spolsky lost his old one.  They stopped serving Spolsky’s pizza at embassy functions.  Moreover, other Canadians close to the embassy probed for, and found, irregularities in other charities in which Spolsky was involved.

The affair appears to be wrapping up.  Let’s assess the damage.

Spolsky’s lies split the Rotary Club as early as 2009.  Several members found his excuses for being slow to repay members who had advanced money on behalf of the club to be suspicious, and demanded an audit.  Spolsky claimed to be spending a lot of time in Uzbekistan working on a rare-earth metals deal, and made up elaborate stories about his activities there.  He sent frequent SMS from an Uzbek mobile phone.  However, some members saw him in Kyiv when he was supposedly in Uzbekistan. 

The Uzbekistan stories were intermixed with hospital stories.  He supposedly had some elaborate heart operation which kept him incommunicado for weeks on end, sometimes at sanitoria far away from Kiev, sometimes in the city.  He arranged some charade whereby club members visited him in a hospital.  The net of it was that for the entire period of January 2010 through well into the summer he was never available for an audit.  Once again, there were glaring contradictions.  A club member saw him power walking with his wife on a day when he was supposed to be in the hospital.

An audit starts with a look at the accounting records.  Spolsky kept them in Excel.  Given that he was on Facebook just about every day, it is abundantly clear that he could have allowed the club to start an audit by simply emailing the spreadsheet.  It would have taken a minute.   He never did this, and never offered a reason for not doing it.  Instead, he stuck with the story that he could not be physically available to open his safe and show us the money.  But without the accounting records, we would have had no idea of whether the amount was right or not.

We will soon be able to see how complex the books were for 2009-10.  For 2010-11 there were about 200 transactions altogether and the audit took perhaps four hours.  It would not be a stretch to say that the claim of “incredible complexity” accounting for the two year delay is also a fabrication.

Spolsky himself is severely damaged.  His reputation in Kyiv is shot.  It appears unlikely that any organization will extend him credit, which is the life’s blood of a small business.  It will make it hard to expand to compete with Celantano, Mafia and other pizza chains.  He has lost the friendship, support, or at least presumption of affinity with the expatriate community.  And… after all his valiant efforts to hang onto the money in his custody, he had to give it up.  He gained nothing, lost everything.

Spolsky showed no embarrassment as his lies unraveled.  He simply invented new ones.  If Uzbekistan, or the hospital, or out-of-town visitors or whatever had been a true reason he could not meet with us, then the subsequent story of “completing an audit” would make no sense.  That should have been the first story.  He lied like a child, without guilt and without any effort to keep his lies consistent.  The litmus was loyalty.  The test of a loyal friend is that he will support you whatever stories you tell.  Half the club remained loyal to Myron for six months and more.

The other half of the club left.  Angry words were exchanged over the need for an audit.  Membership fell by more than 50%.  Attendance at the club’s 2010 Midsummer Night fundraiser was meager; in 2011 the club did not even hold the event.   Today the club is rebuilding slowly with new members.  None who left has yet returned.

It is hard to know how many premature children could have been saved had the $50,000 been used to place incubators in hospitals two years ago. 

Samuel Johnson wrote that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”  Spolsky is a loud patriot, browbeating any club member who might by accident use the Russian “pazhalucta” rather than the Ukrainian “bud laska” for “you’re welcome.”  Spolsky will be forever associated with Ukrainian patriotism, my attitude towards which has certainly fallen.  I’m increasingly indifferent to whether Spolsky’s set of crooks or some other is running the place. 

A country’s wealth depends greatly on the trust that exists between its citizens.  Even where courts are fair, a businessman has to depend on the basic honesty of his partners.  A person cannot make any money if he must constantly be on the defense against being cheated.   The basis of honesty is telling the truth.  In a country where people lie as openly and artlessly as Spolsky, who can put faith in a business partner?  How can a bank make loans if they cannot trust what is written on a loan application?   How can a grain exporter contract to buy corn if he cannot trust that it exists?  Concluding that it is impossible, more and more Western banks and businesses are simply pulling out of Ukraine. 

The West long ago learned the value of enlightened self-interest.  A reputation for honesty is more valuable than any amount of money.  A trusting business relationship is more valuable than whatever is to be gained by exploiting a partner in a single transaction.  Until Ukraine learns the lessons of trust and honesty, it will remain mired in its past, unable to build a modern society. 

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, wrote Samuel Johnson, and I observed that Ukraine is awfully full of patriots. Whenever I hear somebody loudly declaiming the thievery of the country's power elite, I have learned to hang onto my wallet.

Myron Spolsky, the former treasurer of our Rotary club, would jump down my throat every time I said something in Russian, and abuse me severely for learning that language instead of Ukrainian. He has brazenly stolen $56,000 from the club, and equally brazenly continues to tell the world that after two years still can't return it because he is "doing an audit." Four years ago my first landlord, Alex Haponiev, railed at length about the thieves in charge, as he manipulated my rental contract so he could cancel it after only two months, giving him and the agent a $1,750 fee to split. My second landlord was Tanya Klinchenko, a professor of Christian ethics at a leading university. She moaned about the terrible government, at the same time pressing her speaking-in-tongues, rolling-on-the-floor-brand of Christianity on me. Last year I told her that my family was outgrowing the apartment and we were looking. Nevertheless, when the time came, she invented a bold lie about my breaking the Brezhnev era furniture and withheld my $1,500 security deposit. You can read the story on my website.

It is hard to fathom a culture in which this is possible. People show absolutely no embarrassment when they turn on you and steal your money.  Ukrainians even have a name for it – baran, or billy goat style. They simply decide they're going to steal your money and tell whatever improbable lies they can invent to cover the situation. They are as transparent as the lies the government tells to paper over scandals such as the Timoshenko trial, the Ukrtelecom privatization or the Khlebinvestbud theft. Why do they even waste their time inventing such futile stories?  Theodore Dalrymple wrote “In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better.”  Secure in the knowledge that Ukrainian law is no threat to them, these thieves seem to taunt me with their improbable fabrications.

They cannot know how damaging this is. Myron Spolsky alone has deprived me of any sympathy for Ukrainian language supporters. My former landlady makes me suspect that all Christians in the country are tainted. I come to the conclusion that the country will be governed by thieves no matter what, and the only question is which ones. I don't care. And I conclude that it will be a long time before this country is safe for investment. The landlady in question bemoaned the fact that she could not get a loan to remodel the apartment, which would more than double the rent. I might have been naïve enough to make such a loan to her. However, she is a thief, and, Christian professor or not, the banks probably know to expect as much.

The patriotism which fueled the American Revolution was based on Enlightenment values. One of the most remarkable things that de Tocqueville noted about our country was the incredibly high level of honesty and trust among citizens. Until Ukrainians start to be trustworthy, their rantings about patriotism will amount to nothing more than empty noise.

Women in Eddie's life

I’ve spent the last six weeks in the world of women. There are no men here in the baby care profession.
First let me give you a cast of characters.
Lyudmila Petrovna, the
The midwife, Olga Yaroslavna
The  first pediatrician, brought by Olga:  Elena Viktorovna
The government pediatrician Katerina Mikhaelovna
The government nurse  Svetlana Vasilovna
The government neurologist, who said he might have jaundice
The gynecologist, who advised that things are misshapen after the delivery
The physical therapist – nursing advisor Valentina
Mother-in-law Nadia
What these women have in common is an absolute certainty. Of course, the certainties do not agree with each other. Elena Viktorovna was absolutely certain that Oksana could not eat any kind of meat besides rabbit. We bought rabbit. We don't like rabbit.  We went back to beef, pork and fish and the baby seems healthy enough.  Her latest prognosis that Eddie’s crying was certaintly because of his stomach.  We can’t change Eddie’s diet, so it comes around to Oksana.  She got Oksana concerned that there was too much milk in her diet?!  Yeah, right.  My diagnosis is that he’s a baby.  Babies cry.  If he isn’t hungry, isn’t wet and it doesn’t go on forever, just try to amuse him and if that doesn’t do the trick, live with it for a while.  By and by he’ll get tired of it – get hungry or go to sleep.   Of course another of these medical ladies was absolutely certain that Oksana absolutely should drink milk.  We have two litres of it sitting in the freezer, waiting for a decision.  
There is a fair body of opinion that Oksana should not eat anything with strong flavor such as pepper. That point of view still governs. Another view held that she should not eat any foods from the cabbage family, such as cauliflower and broccoli. That stricture held for long enough for Nadia to make two different kinds of golubsti, stuffed Bell peppers for Oksana and stuffed cabbage for the rest of us. However, broccoli tastes good and we started to make small exceptions, and then larger ones.  By the way, it delights me how much common sense there is on the Internet, including candor about what medicine just doesn’t know.  Oksana is getting suspicious.  She thinks it wasn’t Al Gore who invented the Internet, but yours truly.
One thing upon which the ladies all agree is that Eddie needs a daily herbal bath. The primary ingredient appears to be sage, although it also has some chamomile in it. It is a ritual. First we make a large pot of herbal essence – a couple of cups of dry herbs and about a gallon of water.  Besides the primary ingredient of sage, there is something called agrimony or beggartick, and chamomile.   Prior to the bath Oksana scrubs the bathtub with soda to make sure it is totally disinfected. Then we fill it with water of the proper temperature, and then we pour the herbal mixture through a sieve into the bathtub. The bathtub is fairly full – she leads Eddie around swimming. He loves it. The final part of the ritual is for daddy to pour about a half gallon of cold water into one end of the tub. Oksana pulls him very quickly through that cold water and up into a receiving blanket, which has to cover his head or daddy gets a complaint, after which she heads right to the changing table to get him properly bundled.   Photo link on my web site.
The receiving blankets are a ritual all of their own. They are cotton rectangles, just under three feet square, the thin ones cut from cotton sheeting and that the ones a light flannel. I think they might better be called swaddling clothes. Eddie wears them just about all the time. Underneath there may be a Pamper, or a cloth diaper, or nothing at all. However, he is almost always wrapped in two of these things, which are called pelyonki.  There is a special way of wrapping them, with the baby's arms folded in at his side so he can't move. When properly folded, he looks just like a matryoshka doll. Surprisingly, although his arms struggle against being bound up like that, he doesn't cry. He does, however, get free unless you have tied it up right.  Pelyonki photo on my web site.
When Nadia was here we went through about 25 pelyonki a day. For reasons which escape me they all have to be ironed, and I am the principal ironer.  Now that she is gone were down to about half that – my backlog as I write is nine of them to be ironed.
I like the Chinese cloth diapers that we got from eBay. There is a thick terry cloth pad that goes inside to catch the poop and pee.  The covers are woven polyester on the outside and cotton flannel on the inside.  Oksana thinks that Pampers breath better.  I argue that they have a solid plastic layer – unbreathable – whereas the polyester  has to breath a bit because it is woven.  In any case, I have to remember to ask when he is handed to me to hold for a while. Often I'll feel a flash of warmth on my stomach as I am cuddling him close – no diaper, and no warning of same.
This regime is bound to change in a couple of months. He has to start to crawl, and he can't do it when he's wrapped like this. So, I imagine we will be moving to a more traditional arrangement of diapers all the time and rompers or place suits over them.
Eddie has been a bit of a colicky baby. When he is awake he is usually eating or crying or thinking about crying. We do everything in our power to try to keep him quiet. We changed the position in which we hold him, we talk to him, we sing to him, and we bounce him up and down. None of it works for more than a little while. The only way we get an extended period of peace is when Oksana is feeding him or he is sleeping. Often he will go to sleep after eating, but the only surefire way to get him to snooze is to take him for a walk.
Most mothers in Ukraine favor baby buggies. It is an article of faith that the baby needs a couple of hours of fresh air per day, even in winter. Mom takes the kid out, lets him go to sleep in his pram, then she sits down and reads a book on a park bench until they are ready to go home. What I don't see these young mothers getting together to gab. This is surprising – in the United States young mothers hang out together to swap notes all the time. There used to networking in school and in business, and they eagerly carry this practice into this novel realm of nurturing babies.
A very few mothers here carry their babies in slings. Even fewer fathers take the kid out at all. I am a rarity in that I often take any out for extended walks in his sling. It gives me a great deal more range than would a baby buggy. They know me pretty well in the local supermarkets and farmers market, and I have taken Eddie with me for a few beers in the evening. In general, however, we just walk the streets of Kiev so he can get the evening air. There are several art galleries within half a mile of our apartment. I have resolved to take advantage of our daytime walks to see all of the cultural stuff I have not yet taken in.
Nadia was skeptical about the baby sling. She insisted that it would give Eddie a curved spine. It was the better part of the week before practicality won out. If they were going to get the baby to quiet down, he had to go out with daddy, and if daddy was going to take him it was going to be in the sling. Part of the deal, however, was to wrap him in a blanket such that his face was not visible. Local custom is not to show the baby to anybody until he has been baptized, and to get him baptized at about 40 days. I suppose after that point if somebody breathes on him and gives him a terminal disease, at least his little soul will find its way to heaven.
Getting Eddie baptized was a big part of Nadia's agenda. Fortunately, Oksana had been singing in the choir of an Orthodox Church before Eddie arrived. Nadia had been going to the same church to worship, so they knew who to talk to. The Thursday before Nadia left she set up the baptism ceremony for two in the afternoon.
Oksana and Nadia surprised me by suggesting we take a bus to the church. I had no hesitation taking Eddie out among strangers, but their willingness to do so was unexpected. We got to the church at about quarter of two just-in-time to catch the conclusion of a wedding. It is a little log cabin chapel off in a corner of Pushkin Park, apparently there primarily for weddings and baptisms. It was cozy inside with the usual oriental assortment of oriental rugs, all well-worn, with random patterns. It was dark – they don't put too many windows in these cabins. In the middle was what looked like a huge cauldron. Actually, the baptismal font. They filled it with hot water. The baptismal ceremony was rather like an Orthodox Church ceremony, a vast river of words flowing to quickly to understand – Oksana told me it was in Russian, but it was even too fast for her to pick it all up.
Eddie and Nadia, the godmother, where the primary participants. The midst the chanting the two of them crossed themselves fairly frequently. As they approached the high point of the ceremony the priest, carrying Eddie, led Nadia three times counterclockwise around the baptismal font. Then after a bit more ritual he tested the water to be sure it was right, had Oksana and Nadia strip Eddie bare, and proceeded to pull him through the water of the font three times. It is supposed to be baptism by immersion, but the way it worked out was that he simply pulled Eddie's body pretty much through the water and then poured a handful over his head. Remarkably, Eddie was pretty calm through the whole thing. After the baptismal font, the priest took him out of sight behind the altar and then emerged through another door after a few seconds. I don't know what he did, but he had taken a pair of scissors to cut a bit of Eddie's hair early in the ceremony; when it was over nobody knew where the hair went. When it was all done he gave Eddie back to Nadia and Oksana, who very very quickly wrapped him in two or three pelyonki and put him in his blanket.
At the priest's suggestion, we had a taxi waiting for us. We all bundled in, Eddie just as he was, and we went home. It wasn't until we were home that I noticed that Eddie had come out of the deal with some kind of a crucifix around his neck.

I write in praise of mother-in-laws.

Mine arrived on the next bus after Oksana called to say she had a grandson, and was with us for two and a half weeks.  It is a bit stressful having three people in a two-bedroom apartment, and just like in a troop of Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees there is competition for the rights to the baby.  I have more experience than she does, but it doesn’t count whatsoever – I’m just the husband. 
So I learn a bit of humility and Christian charity, letting her do things the “right” way and accepting the tacit implication that my way is “wrong.”  For instance, the receiving blankets have to be ironed; the baby needs three hours’ exposure every day to the November weather; he has to be washed in the shower and not in the sink; he needs an herbal bath every night for his skin, with water that has been sterilized by boiling; mother cannot eat raisins, radishes, beef or… almost anything while she is nursing.  And lastly, he has to go out in a baby buggy.  Carrying him in a sling would give him permanent curvature of the spine. 
When I look back on the nonsense I witnessed the last time I went through parenthood, I have to say today’s version has its benefits.  The previous pediatricians who never could exactly identify what to do required a drive into town and a $100 visit.  Today’s offer a variety of useless nostrums, mostly herbal, but they are harmless and cost next to nothing, besides which the doctor comes to the house.  Better bedside manner.
I love that Nadia loves having a grandson.  That is how it is supposed to be.  Grandchildren are life’s crowning glory.  If she feels a bit proprietary, a bit overbearing in telling Oksana and me exactly how to go about the care and feeding of said grandchild, we are smart to indulge her.  She really did a lot of work while she was here.  Nobody else was allowed near the kitchen, and unless we were quick about it we didn’t get the chance to wash or change the baby or do the laundry. 
This visit confirms my resolve to include room for Nadia in our new house.  It also confirms the wisdom of making a “mother-in-law suite” sufficiently separate that we can each enjoy some privacy. 
We will have some battles.  The Ukrainians spoil boy babies just like Latinos.  Eddy can’t cry for five seconds without one of the women running over to divine his momentary whim.  My observation is that crying doesn’t hurt anything fundamental in a child’s physiogamy, that they always seem to get enough to eat, and that they can survive thirty minutes with a wet diaper.  For contrast I recall to Oksana the conditions under which her grandparents survived to adulthood, and project that dad had to be working hard, mom also had a job, and somehow the kids made it.  I don’t think that spoiling a two-week-old infant is bad for the kid, but refusing to let the kid wait a second rather than have whatever desired instantly fulfilled isn’t a great habit for the parents to be forming. 

Edward Seibert, born October 15

Mother-in-law Nadia and I breakfasted in the kitchen on a simple soup – buckwheat, carrots, and squash with a bit of onion.  I’m feeling close to the earth.  Edward was born in that kitchen Saturday night, Oksana attended by a midwife and myself.  She had won out – I had wanted a hospital.  Oksana had called Nadia Sunday morning, yesterday, and she arrived on the first bus.
Last week I read in Stephen Pinker’s recent “Our Better Angels” that “The Child Study movement aimed for a scientific approach to child development and began to replace the superstition and bunkum of old wives with the superstition and bunkum of child-rearing experts.”  Bunkum sums up Oksana’s attitude towards doctors.  They speak with such certainty!  However, if you have been around this world for as many spins as we have, dear reader, you know with certainty how often that certainty changes.
We had a consulting obstetrician throughout the pregnancy, taking blood and blood pressure, poking and probing.  I bought most of her program because I’m used to western medicine.  However, the greatest part of the prescription here as in the west is CYA on the part of the doctor, very little that really needs to be done.  After all, people managed to procreate even before there were shamans to tell us how it ought to be.   I worked up a maximal sincerity as I coaxed Oksana to eat her iron pills, avoid salt, and maximize healthy things in her diet.
Lyudmila was death on any form of quackery other than her own.  In one instance she stoutly refused to approve of Oksana’s taking some black walnut herbal stuff a friend recommended… it wasn’t in the book of approved medications.  She recommended onions as a source of Vitamin C.  She told Oksana to eat raisins for iron – black raisins, not green ones.  I added sternly that she should also eat lots of beef, from black cows, not brown ones.
Come time for delivery Oksana was thoroughly fed up with the medical establishment.  Through a friend she heard of a doctor/midwife, Olga.  She is a charming woman, polnaya, which is how you translate saftig into Russian, with a very feminine yet confidently authoritative manner.  The arguments in favor of home birth are simple.  A woman feels a whole lot better in her own house, with her husband, than being poked and prodded by a parade of strangers in some cold, impersonal hospital.  Beside, in case we needed help, we are five minutes by taxi or ambulance from a maternity hospital.  By happenstance the maternity hospital was conducting tours last week.  Oksana went out of curiosity, and was strongly reconfirmed in her decision for a home birth.
I was busy last week hustling from pharmacy to pharmacy buying all of the (wrong) stuff for the delivery.  Everywhere I go in the world I see a need for more of us Germans to put things in order.  I could have done a whole lot more efficiently, starting with a standard list.  Anyhow, the Germans’ offer to set things straight in Ukraine somehow wasn’t accepted, but that’s another story.
I had a long lunch with a bunch of friends Saturday as Oksana went for a swim, coincidentally with the midwife.  Oksana felt a little something, and Olga took a look and told her she should head home right away.  I got a call to pick up some chocolate and oranges on the way home, followed in five minutes by a call to forget that and come home right now.  When I arrived at 5:00 Olga was coaching her through early contractions.  I pitched in.  The Lamaze huffing and puffing thing is 90% forgotten.  Now it is all about massage.  Of course there is a correct way to do it – always stroking down, rather than in circles – so there is always an opportunity to chide the male party to the process for not exactly understanding the program.  That’s a slam dunk.  We never do, and I suspect that’s how it’s planned to be.
We progressed fairly quickly.  One thing I liked about the process was that Oksana stayed fairly vertical.  Let gravity help.  What a concept!  Another that I liked is that she squatted in the bathtub in warm water.  Has to help – the water bears some of her weight, and warm water and massage oil are a good mixture in any situation.  Olga was great.  She had a very reassuring voice, calmly telling her to keep on pressing, press, press.  And breathe.  Just in and out, not the huff and puff stuff.
As Oksana quivered from the strain we moved back and forth among four stations.  Her straddling the legs of a kitchen stool, on its side and draped with towels; her on the john, her back in the bath and her in my arms as I was seated on a stool in the kitchen.  Olga offering comfort and encouragement as we went.  But with something added.  More and more invocation of God.  The mystic, Orthodox God.  Pushing and prayer together.  It worked well.  Oksana was in pain, but she had an angelic look on her face throughout.
About 7:30 we were on the stool and things got serious.  I was holding her, my hands on the ends of a twisted sheet across the top of Oksana’s belly, pushing down harder than I felt was advisable, but not as hard as the women want me to.  Olga was on her knees, looking up, checking progress and encouraging her.  Oksana was in pain now, saying so as fact and not complaint, and chanting “Help me God” in sincere belief that God was helping, all the while with a beatific look on her face far outshining the pain.  And then, wow, a cry and there he was, covered in parchment and blood, his little head shaped like a bullet, as it had had to be to make his exit.  Crying and blinking.  It was officially 8:10.  Olga had an eye on the clock, along with everything else.

She cleaned his nose, but from the crying it was pretty evident his lungs are working OK.  She cleaned him up and we waited a bit for the placenta, which we put into a pot.  Then we proceeded, baby still attached to placenta in a pot, but mother free, to the bedroom, where Edward lay on his mom’s breast to get some well-deserved rest.  Olga cleaned mom up and I did tasks as assigned.  Among the things we needed were raw potatoes.  They had not been  on the list of provisions, but fortunately we had some.  You grate them and the make a pretty good astringent.  Edward got a potato poultice on his head and Oksana took one to stop the bleeding.  Some part of the process involved iodine, an antiseptic we haven’t used in the US since before I was a kid.  Also a bunch of homeopathic stuff and herbs.  Since moving to Ukraine I’ve armed myself with the authoritative reference on herbal medicines, and have come to accept the proposition that at a minimum they generally won’t do you any harm.  Anyhow, the cleanup worked, but you won’t see these procedures at Cedars of Sinai.
When all was in order I tried to start cleaning up, but the women insisted I lie down and rest a bit.  So I did, just looking at Edward and Oksana.  After two hours (!) it was time to cut the cord.  I learned that the placenta has great spiritual significance.  Olga tied it with red cord.  We took a moment of prayer, telling God of our aspirations for baby Edward.  I was offered the scissors to cut him free to join our world, but I asked Olga to do it as I trusted her hands more than mine.  The placenta will be buried in our new land, tying Edward to a place, and Edward himself spent his first night lying on the breast of a very happy mama, as I lay on the other side of the bed giving thanks and thinking about his future.

Right and wrong ways for getting to know Ukrainian girls.

 A lot of guys suffer from the Dominique Strauss Kahn syndrome, (abbreviated DSKYS, pronounced D-sexy), the delusion that you are so doggone sexy that any woman is going to fall in bed with you just as a matter of course. Get real. If that were true, you wouldn't be looking halfway around the world for a woman. I want to tell you about the wrong way, and in the right way, to meet girls here in Ukraine.

If some dating agency lines up a number of meetings with sweet young things for you throughout Ukraine, and you manage to get a few of them in bed, do not deceive yourself that is due to your charm alone. There is a lot of money at work here. You should be able to figure it out – after all, it is your money.

Right off the top, you pay the agency to meet the girls, and you pay them to translate letters. You pay them to arrange dates while you are here, and they get a cut if you arrange hotels and transportation through them.

The girls get a slice of the money that you pay for going out on a date. Given that you want to make a good impression on them, it also provides the opportunity to even some nice restaurants and go to some nice clubs. A lot of girls will take you shopping to test your generosity. If you wind up in bed, it may be a sign of true love. Or, it may be what often is back home, something they figure they owe you after a generous evening out. In the worst case it may be what they do for a living anyhow.

Ask yourself why a girl would want to meet a pig in a poke – that would be you – with the notion of marrying and living on another continent? The obvious answer is that she doesn't have many prospects at home. After all, there are men here in Ukraine too. In my limited experience, some of the girls are sincere, but really don't have too much to offer. They don't speak good English, they are not extraordinarily attractive, and they are old enough that it is now or never. Through dating agencies I met among others a plain, quiet obstetrician who probably will make somebody a good wife; a small business owner; an academic with fairly pronounced political views. I'm pretty sure these women wanted to marry, but I wasn't attracted enough for a second date.

Other girls are in it for the money. I started a conversation with a guy in his 50s named Herman as he was having a charcoal caricature of himself drawn in the Metro. He described the absolutely beautiful girl that he was seeing here, and showed me a picture. Enough to make any guy jealous. He described the fabulous dinner that they had had last night – her and three of her equally beautiful friends in one of the most expensive restaurants in town. He described her taste in jewelry. A girl of infinite taste, fit for a guy of infinite means. I can only assume how it turned out – Herman hasn't returned my e-mails.

Enough of how not to do it. How, 10,000 km away, can you get to know a nice Ukrainian girl who might want to get married? The answer is simple. You do it the same way that you would anyplace. The only secret is it works a little bit better here. Back in 1967 just as he was becoming famous somebody asked Woody Allen how his love life was going and he said "Wonderful, I'm being turned down by a better class of women." I knew I was making progress in Ukraine when I was being turned down by attractive, reasonable girls 30 years younger than I was. At least they weren't laughing; often enough they went out with me, and I actually wound up marrying one.

That's the secret. Expose yourself to a lot of the right kind of women, and magic will happen. No, Congressman Weiner, that's not what I mean by expose yourself. Get to know them.

Getting to meet women is more easily said than done, you will observe. You have a hard time doing that even back home where you speak the language. I'm going to give you a little bit of advice that you should probably be following back home, but which works even better here.

Join volunteer organizations. Join the Rotary or Rotaract or the Lions Club. Join Toastmasters – it is big here. Volunteer as an English language teacher; there is a big demand for English as a second language in the states. Join a church. If you are calculating, use Google to find an American church that has missions to Ukraine. Quite a few come here for medical work and to help orphans. In the best of all worlds, get sent here on business.

Before your trip to Ukraine, write to the local chapters of the organizations you have joined and let them know you are coming. People here are genuinely thrilled to receive guests. They don't get a vast number and English speakers are a high prestige deal. People will generally be happy to introduce you around.

First impressions are vitally important in any sphere, but never more so than dating. If you meet a girl through dating agency, you arrive with "hard up" written all over you. It is only a little bit better if you are chatting up girls in a bar; at least you have enough faith in your social skills to make an overture to them. But it is far better to come with some sort of a recommendation. If you can make telephone or e-mail contact with somebody who can introduce you into the right circles, it will make a world of difference.

Even random people that you meet can be useful in advancing your agenda. Get to know you guys, and the guys will tell you where to find the girls. They might even introduce you. I am far from expert, but I would recommend that you check out O'Brien’s Irish pub, TGI Friday's, the Canadian Embassy's pub night, Inter-nation's periodic Friday night get-togethers, and any other place there are likely to be foreign guys. Strike up a conversation with somebody who has been here for a while, and you will probably get a lot of advice which is both better and cheaper than what you'll get from your dating agency. A good place to meet young people is in the backpacker youth hostels you find here and there in downtown. Check them out on the Internet before you come. None of them are anyplace that you would want to bring a girl, but they are good places to meet people who know what's going on locally.

Dancing is pretty big here in Kiev, especially salsa and swing. The kids here are reasonably good, but if you know what you are doing you should come out okay. Go on the Internet and find out where the dance spots are, then plan to go there. I should add, plan to go there by Metro or on foot – the taxis love nothing more than ripping off a foreigner who is new in town. Once you meet a girl she can negotiate reasonable prices for you. But that is the topic of another blog.

Let me close in saying that Internet dating is a big thing in Ukraine just as it is in the US. If you are in that minority of Americans who can express themselves well in writing, and you are not afraid of Google translate, you might try to locate some girls on your own. I never got into this much myself, since a truthful answer to the question about age would have killed me right at the beginning. Still, I understand that and (click next to the red heart on either) are good places to look.

Why come to Ukraine to look for a woman?

 Ukraine is a long ways from home, and there are women all over the world. Why would you come here? The short answer is that the women believe in romance, want to marry, and want to have kids. In other words, they are pretty much pre-feminist. If commitment is not what you are looking for, probably better not to bother. So let's start off with what you don't want.

Ukrainian girls are beautiful, but there are beautiful girls in every country. If all you want is to make love to a beautiful woman, it is certainly cheaper to find somebody wherever you are. I am certainly not telling you anything that you don't already know when I say that the Internet has been a great boon to commercial sex. If you Google the word escort and your city name you can certainly come up with whatever you need to satisfy your desires without blowing a lot of money on airfare.

The same goes for casual affairs. Western girls drink from the cup of Cosmopolitan magazine. They have been conditioned to think that they deserve to be as sexually liberated as men. The consequence is that it's not terribly difficult to get them in bed, but harder to get them into a relationship, and sometimes quite hard to get them to commit to a relationship. Even if you are in a relationship, it seems that they are constantly suspicious and upset about this or that. They question whether you are doing your part, whether you are committed, whether you are working hard enough that your job, whether you are serious about life… the list goes on. It is hard to find somebody who will take you for what you are. But if you can be satisfied with a string of shallow affairs, the United States and Western Europe are the place to be. Women are by and large scared to venture into deeper water than that.

I should add that even in the realm of casual affairs, Ukraine does offer some advantages. Your money goes further, and the competition is thinner. For a given amount of disposable income, you may be cavorting meaninglessly with younger and more attractive women here.

Obviously, men and women get together to satisfy their individual wants and needs. This leads to the unanswerable question of What Women Want. God knows that every man has spent a lot of time wondering about the answer to this one! It is clear that there is not a single answer, but there do seem to be some patterns worth discussing.

Women want financial security. One of the problems in the United States and Western Europe is that they have it on their own. They don't need you to provide it. In fact, they may be uninterested in you unless you can significantly improve their material lot. This can be hard to do if they are to have a good job – they sometimes take themselves out of the relationship market by virtue of their own success. Even if you do form a relationship, it can be a bit uneasy sense she knows that she can easily quit whenever she wants because she really needs nothing material from you.

Just being a Westerner makes you attractive from a financial perspective. The odds are that you have an income well above the Ukrainian national average of just $6000, which itself is quite a ways above entry-level wages for young woman. Girls here are pretty self-reliant. If you can help them move to the West, most of them are confident that they can take care of finding work and making money on their own. If you wind up having kids, and she doesn't work, at least not full-time, a Ukrainian woman will probably be content with what you can afford on your Western salary.

Women want to be amused. This is a challenge for a guy – you have to offer a superior alternative to the television. This is kind of hard to do on a full-time basis. In order for it to succeed, you and she have to invest some time in learning how to make conversation. Back in the olden days boys and girls started dating in their mid teens. There was a powerful incentive to learn how to talk to girls, because you wouldn't get so much as a kiss if you couldn't somehow charm them. The modern world has turned everything on its head. They may hook up with you and have sex without having exchanged two words. Cutting right to the bottom line like that doesn't give you much practice to develop your conversational skills, and thus doesn't give you much practice in building the foundation for a relationship. It is an advantage to look for women in a country in which relationships tend to develop the old-fashioned way.

Most women want to be loved and appreciated. This is a skill it also requires practice. That practice is hard to acquire an environment in which a women may sue you for sexual harassment if you so much as mention that you like their new hairdo. Of course, Western women sometimes do appreciate compliments. The problem is that it is difficult to guess when they will accept them, and if you guess wrong they can make your life miserable and even severely damage your academic or professional career. It is a considerable advantage to practice your charms in a country where the worst that can happen is that a woman thinks you are a creep and makes a polite excuse to head to the powder room. Leaving the lawyers out of it does wonders for building a climate in which romance can thrive. If you can sincerely tell a woman that you love her, and appreciate the fact that she does the same, you could well be looking at a lifetime of relative bliss. Getting to that point in a relationship is easier almost anywhere in the world outside of America.

Most women want children, probably even in America. Quite a few guys do as well. In traditional societies people have children because, well, among other things they do not know how not to. Also, in traditional societies, children may be an economic asset. In places with no retirement plans, who else will take care of you in your old age?

Nobody argues that children are a good financial bet in the modern world. They cost a fortune, from the obstetrician to make sure that mom gets every possible test and vitamins during pregnancy, to the high-tech delivery with a doctor standing by for any eventuality, to the monthly pediatrician visit and the unscheduled visits to make sure that every sniffle is not some deadly pneumonia. Then come the upscale clothes to show that you value your kids, the move to a house in a pricey suburb so they can get a decent education, summer camps, the orthodontists, the speech therapists and shrinks, and all this capped by an expensive college education that prepares them to go forth into the world as a philosopher. Or not – you may wind up nurturing them in the parental nest for years to come.

Children are an expensive proposition for any responsible parent, and the return on investment in the form of grandchildren or even gratitude is uncertain at best. In the face of this daunting prospect, if ego or some religious conviction drives you to think it is worthwhile to have children to perpetuate the family name or to have somebody to talk to in your old age, it only makes sense to be careful in choosing the partner with whom you are going to raise those kids. Ukrainian women shine in this area.

Ukrainian women want children. They are for the most part close to their own mothers, and those mothers want grandchildren. The old folks have few enough pleasures in life. They don't go on cruises and European vacations, and they don't play bridge, learn Italian cuisine or take ballroom dancing lessons. What they do is to grow vegetables in their dachas and spoil their grandchildren.

There is a long tradition of getting married young and starting families early. Until 1862 most Ukrainians were slaves to the big landholders – they could be bought and sold just like slaves in America. Education was not even a consideration. Children were a primary objective... many hands to work the fields. Marriages were generally arranged, and generally early. In the Soviet Union everybody was guaranteed a job of some sort, so once again there wasn't any vast benefit to be gained in putting off starting a family. The upshot is that a lot of women in their 20s and 30s are getting heat not only from their mothers, but from their grandmothers about getting on with life, getting married and having kids.

This mentality is markedly different from that in the West. A college-level American woman will consider having a family once she has everything else in place: an education, a good job, a car, and often her own house. Somewhere along the line she probably wants to work in scuba diving and a year in Europe before she ties herself down with family commitments. Children are not a top consideration for the average college girl these days, but rather one of those things that might, in the Sweet by and by, come to pass.

Motherhood is a large commitment. A guy is better off pairing up with a woman who really wants it rather than one who accepts, with resignation, that it is finally time to do it. Incidentally, biology has remained stubbornly unchanged. The female body is best able to bear children when she is in her 20s. You are ahead of the game if you find somebody who wants to start a family in her 20s rather than mid-30s. Part of nature's happy conspiracy to promote fertility is that girls in their 20s, and especially Ukrainian girls, tend to be beautiful.

Ukrainian women are more realistic about the marriage market than Western women. They are more likely to know what they want, and to have a realistic opinion about what they have to offer. Basically, they offer youth and beauty, useful household skills, and love and affection in exchange for financial security, companionship, and love and affection in return. They really appreciated if this package comes with sobriety – it seems as though half the young women that you meet here have already spent time married to alcoholics.

In general, women in Ukraine aren't as fussy about a man's age. It is true that on the Russian language dating sites they generally say that they want a man no more than five years older than they are. On the other hand, it is not at all unusual to meet a Westerner in Kiev whose wife is 25 years or more younger than he is. There are several plausible explanations for this disconnect. First, the Western guy may be sufficiently well-heeled that other issues are secondary. Again, Western guys with a certain amount of money take good care of themselves. We go to the gym, we bicycle a lot, we swim, we go out dancing and so on. A male Ivy League graduate of 60 is statistically in the prime of his life, with 30 years of comfortable living ahead of him. A male Ukrainian of 60 is statistically pushing up daisies – life expectancy is only 59.

There is genuine affection in every such mixed Ukrainian – Western, May-December romance I know in Kiev. Ukrainian women are romantic. They generally believe in marriage and want to make it work. Every couple that I know will engage in conversation as a pair. They talk easily with each other and, as a couple, with friends. This is quite different than Latin or Oriental wives, who see their role as taking care of their husbands, but are much less likely to get involved in conversation. In a Latin fiesta or a Vietnamese New Year’s celebration you see the women gather together to cook and the men gather together to drink and talk. Among Ukrainians the sexes mix more easily, men and women. Loving a man means being a full part of his life.

Ukrainian women are like Orientals and Latins in one characteristic: they don't trust their husbands competence until it is proven. They go into marriage expecting that their husbands will not clean up the kitchen, wipe the toilet after themselves, go grocery shopping, remember birthdays or stay sober. Maybe they won't even be faithful. Those are the compromises that are understood when you get married. American girls, on the other hand, expect perfection and tend to be livid when they don't get it.

Sometime early in your marriage, therefore, you will butt heads with your Ukrainian bride. It essentially a test of power – who wears the pants in the family? The issue could be where to vacation, whether to get a new apartment, or how to cook.

Just like in every relationship, a smart guy will back down on the little stuff. I forgot to put the toilet seat down? Fine, I apologize. You had to take the garbage out yesterday morning? I'm sorry, dear. But you will have to take a stand on a big thing every now and again. Once you assure her that you know what you are doing, she will probably be all the more happy to relinquish the responsibility for decision-making. As in everything concerning women, you walk a fine line. She wants you to be considerate and accommodating, but she doesn't want you to be a wimp. You figure it out – there aren't any road signs.

I should add a caution that all Ukrainians negotiate quite differently than Americans, and it can come as a shock. Whereas an American goes into a negotiation looking for some sort of common ground, Ukrainian comes in with maximal demands which are presented as nonnegotiable. It just about bowls you over – it will look like there is no room for compromise. If you look at my website, you will see my somewhat humorous accounts of such negotiations with the Ukrainian customs service, landlords and others. See Geert Hofstedt, “Cultures and Organizations,” for a bit of an insight.

So, you may have a huge fight about something that you don't understand, and everything appears lost. Give it time. The chances are better than 50-50 that the entire brouhaha will be forgotten in a few days and never mentioned again. I have cordial relationships with people who have come after me hammer and tongs for supposed underperformance on a translation job, disagreements over the prerogative of a volunteer organization president to use club money for private travel, and defending a club treasurer against my insistence that we perform an audit. Somehow, despite all, we remain friends.

Sweet are the uses of adversity. Knowing that you will probably be viciously attacked at some time, you don't have to think about how to break up with a girl. When she starts a huge row, you have the option simply not to make up. I did this a couple years ago. When we split our words were unequivocal– it was over, over, over! I didn't call her, and within a week she was calling to drop hints and in a month she was almost stalking me. I was very glad not to have broken up in the usual way of making graceful excuses – it would have been almost impossible to get out of it.

Staying in Ukraine: visas, work permits and residency.

A Westerner comes up against several different bureaucracies attempting to stay in Ukraine. These agencies do not seem to work together and did not appear welcoming to foreigners other than tourists. This is a survey – I invite people with more experience to please post comments. I also suggest that you look at the website.

An American or Western European tourist is allowed into the country for three months without a visa. This is more liberal than other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries such as Russia and Belarus, which require visas even for tourists.

The law is written such that a tourist can stay only 90 out of 180 days. In other words, after being here for 90 days you have to go away for 90 days before you can come back. The law is not uniformly enforced; some tourists are able to reenter in fewer than 90 days. The application of penalties for overstaying the 90 day limit is also variable. It is often possible to use a small emolument to satisfy immigration authorities as you leave.

Although many people appear to stay in Ukraine year in and year out on the strength of tourist visas alone, it is generally considered advisable to get some form of multi-entry visa. With a letter of invitation from a business such as an English school, it is possible to get up to a five-year multiple entry visa. This regularizes your presence in the country. Instead of leaving after 90 days, you have to go to the Department of the Interior Department of Citizenship, Immigration, and Registration of Physical Persons (OVIR, for Оидел виз и регистрации), buy some mandatory insurance and pay $100 or so to stay up to a year or so. It is cheaper and easier than traveling out of the country, and gives a bit more legitimacy to your presence. Note the frequent use of "or so" in this discussion. Things change frequently.

If you work at a regular job for a foreign employer you should have a work permit, and your employer should pay the standard payroll taxes. The payroll taxes cover unemployment, pension, and other social benefits. The legislated levels of withholding are quite high, as a consequence of which most employees in the country receive a significant portion of their salary "in an envelope" so it remains untaxed. This is an issue to be addressed in another post. However, for here it is sufficient to say that work permits are hard to get. A foreigner who is sent to Ukraine by his company usually gets one; a foreigner who arrives on his own and looks for work usually works on a cash basis. A major advantage of the work permits is that it gives you temporary resident status, making your presence in the country fully legal. describes the process in detail.

The gold standard is a permanent residency permit. You can become a permanent resident by marrying a Ukrainian citizen and waiting two years, or having a baby with him or her. A second alternative, investing $100,000 in the country, appears to be seldom used and fraught with problems, not the least of which might be the security of your money. I asked several law firms how to do it and nobody even knew how to start. The third and fourth alternatives are to be immediately descended of a Ukrainian or to be a celebrity whose presence in Ukraine will be of benefit to the nation. In any case, as a permanent resident you don't have to leave the country periodically and presumably have fewer hassles with everyday problems such as registering where you live, buying real estate and the like.

Given the difficulty of getting permanent residency in Ukraine, you might ask why bother? My opinion is that the mere difficulty makes it worthwhile. This country is not going to be inundated anytime soon with immigrants of any type, which will tend to preserve its homogeneity. Ukraine therefore does not have to deal with issues of multiculturalism, diversity, second-language education, hard decisions on illegal immigration, or most of the other issues that affect Western Europe and North America. I believe that this will be seen as an asset within the next couple of decades.

Ukraine's inaccessibility protects its conservative nature from the onslaught of Western culture. As I note elsewhere, Ukrainians generally still believe in marriage, even that it should be between a man and a woman. They believe in family. One reason to think about staying in Ukraine is that if you marry a Ukrainian woman, her family is part of the package. She will probably want to talk to her mother just about daily and see her fairly frequently. You give up a bit of your freedom, but you gain a babysitter. Anyhow, it's part of the culture.

You know the catalog of things conservatives believe are wrong with America. The meddlesome and intrusive government, obese kids, the fact that we drive every place instead of walking, a decline in religious beliefs, increasingly confused sexuality, high rates of crime, stultifying political correctness, and rampant materialism. I'll address these in other blogs, but in general I think the situation is better here in Ukraine. Perversely, the heavy-handed government probably tends to preserve many of the things I like about it. People here are relatively free without being relatively rich. They do not see this as a good thing, but I am not so sure.

Ukraine is not alone in resisting immigration. Japan, China, and Korea are unapologetic about their ethnic purity and their desire to stay the way they are. A Westerner immigrating to those countries will always be an outsider whatever his status: we are visually different, in addition to which it is quite difficult for a Westerner to learn to be at home in an Oriental culture. While in Oriental country might be attractive to Oriental Americans, Caucasian Americans will probably find Eastern Europe easier.

You can feel at home in the Eastern Slavic countries, Belarus, Russia, Moldova and Ukraine. Provided he buys his clothes and shoes in a local market, a Western European will be indistinguishable from anybody on the street until he opens his mouth. And although there are cultural differences, they are not nearly as marked as those which separate Oriental societies from those of the West. A Westerner has a prayer of someday thinking that he understands how things work here. However difficult Ukraine is, the visa regime is easier than Russia and Belarus. Moldova is very small and offers little opportunity for work. For a Westerner attracted to Eastern Europe, Ukraine is the best among difficult alternatives.

Children's Educational Options in Kyiv

 The love Ukrainians have for their families is one of the most attractive things about the country. Children are deeply committed to their parents throughout life, and parents constantly work to provide the best for their children. A good education is one of the most important things parents can provide; it is the foundation for their success as adults.

Education was good under the Soviets. Teaching was a prestigious profession, and the Soviets directed talented people into the schools. Most parents did not have a choice about where their children would be schooled, but the state did not often let them down. As much as anywhere in the world, Soviet schools provided an education commensurate with the child's interests and abilities.

Twenty years of independence have not served education well. The profession is underpaid. The Soviet era teachers are less effective as they grow older, and many are retiring. New entrants into the field of teaching come from the more mediocre universities. They characteristically lack the ability to inspire students, and often do not even have mastery of the material they are supposed to teach.

At the same time, a middle class is emerging in Ukraine with values and aspirations similar to the middle classes of Europe and the United States. In the United States, a child's educational achievement is the ultimate status symbol. The claim that "My child goes to Harvard" carries more status than whatever house you could buy. Ukrainian families are looking more and more to Western educational alternatives for their children.

The educational options available in Kyiv and other major cities include the following:
• Neighborhood schools -- the school your child will be assigned to unless you work to get something different.
• Elite schools within the public system -- schools with selective admissions which specialize in a given area such as English, math or science.
• Private schools, mostly western, where the language of instruction is generally English.
• Boarding schools in the West, primarily England.
• Individual instruction either through home schooling or top end tutoring services.

The choices open to any given family depend on the family's objectives for the child the child's interests, the child's abilities, and of course the money available for education.

The objective of education below the university level is education itself -- establishing a good enough record, and the ability to pass standardized tests, to get to the next level. The long-faded Victorian notion was that education was something to do for its own sake, to create a gentleman, familiar with classic authors and able to express himself clearly. Not so today: parents want material success.

Almost every family wants their children to attend a university, the more prestigious the better. There is an assumption that a university's reputation correlates well with the quality of the education they offer. The reputation depends on how old the school is, how expensive it is, and how strict its entrance requirements are.

Every person in society who makes his living with his head rather than his hands is in the business of processing information. We take in documents, information, and other data; we rearrange it, organize it, summarize it; then we produce some output which may be as elaborate as the book or as simple as a warehouse picking slip. The goal of education must be to make people efficient at processing information. We need to provide students with a broad enough factual basis in science, history, economics and other fields that they can make sense of the data they get. We need to give them the reading and mathematical skills to analyze what they take in, and the writing and calculating skills to produce output that other people can use.

Specialized university education, in fields such as medicine or economics, is designed to make students broadly familiar with the body of factual and theoretical information current in the field, the algorithms that are used to manipulate facts and data, and standard format for expressing results. A parent, and deciding that their son should become a lawyer, is deciding that he should learn a body of laws and precedents, and techniques for making a case verbally and in writing.

Of course, the ultimate objective is to prepare the student to make a comfortable living in a complex society. It is rare for a high school student to have detailed plans for a career, but everybody knows that they will have to be good at manipulating words, and it is a strong advantage to be good at manipulating numbers as well. Therefore, high schools are designed to give children these skills. Standardized college entrance examinations designed to see how well the children have absorbed them, and to match students with university is appropriate to their skill level.

Some students present special challenges. On the positive side, exceptionally bright children have the ability to learn subject matter more quickly than their agemates. Some students are exceptionally gifted in music, drama, or other areas. Once these talents are recognized, a parent generally wants to make sure that they are nurtured.

For some students, just being normal is a challenge. A student who walks with crutches, is in a wheelchair, or suffers from epilepsy wants to be like the other kids. The parents of children with autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or other neurological conditions want nothing more than for their children to blend in as "ordinary." It is important for parents to find a school that can accommodate their child's needs. Private schools usually do try, and they are quite explicit in stating which types of students they can serve.

The Ukrainian public schools have retained some of their strengths from Soviet times. Classroom discipline is generally fairly good, and children still feel an obligation to complete their assignments. Not only is education free, but school related expenditures are minimal. A parent does not have to pay for expensive books, trips, computers, or clothes to keep up with the other students.

The Soviet philosophy in education, as in most spheres of life, was that the state knows best -- citizen involvement is not expected or even desired. Therefore, in public schools, a parent does not feel pressure to participate in parent teacher associations or fundraisers. There is not a lot of expectation that parents will help children with homework. Whatever effort a parent expends on behalf of their child will be in excess of the norm.

Standard Ukrainian schools, at best, prepare children for Ukrainian universities. While students may get instruction in English, language teachers are usually poorly paid Ukrainians. It would be rare for a high school student to have enough preparation to attend a university abroad/

Ukrainian is the primary language of instruction in schools in most oblasts. It is the most useful language for students who will be entering public service in Ukraine, but it is not as helpful as English or Russian for students who studies will require that they read material and communicate with scholars from abroad, such as in the hard sciences, social sciences, or business. A question for parents who send their children to public schools is whether their children will develop fluency in English or Russian.

Specialized schools have always been part of the school system. Although they are public, admission is limited to students who have a special interest in a given subject area and who show talent. These schools almost always have a third important asset, parents who are committed to their children's education and willing to spend time and money to advance it

Providing that your family lives within the area serviced by an appropriate school, and that between your child's demonstrated talent and your own connections you can get him admitted, a specialized school represents a great value. Your child benefits from the best of the teachers from the Soviet system, a rigorous curriculum, and a group of peers all of whom are dedicated to success.

The specialized schools have established relationships with the better universities in the country, such as Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and Shevchenko in Kyiv. If your child is qualified, you can be sure that he will be considered for admission. However, attending universities abroad is still a stretch. Ukrainian universities do not prepare students for the standardized tests used internationally, and unless the school's specialization is English, the graduates may not have the language skills needed to move easily into a university curriculum abroad.

Private schools are a post-Soviet innovation. There are still few enough top-ranked schools to be named. The premier English-language schools are Kyiv International School, with an enrollment of about 600 and Pechersk School International, about 450. The British International School, Meridian School and a few church oriented institutions also offer English-language instruction. The Collège Français Anne de Kiev offers instruction in French for 240 students, and the new Deutsche Schule offers primary education in German.

English is essential for students who intend to study and work internationally. The English-language schools are very skilled at accepting children with a minimal knowledge of the language and integrating them into the program. They offer intensive English to bring them up to speed, but the most important advantage is a child's own inherent ability to learn new languages. The near native fluency of Ukrainian high school children in these schools is impressive.

Foreigners make up the majority of the enrollment in each of the private schools. They are the sons and daughters of business people, diplomats, and of course the teachers themselves. Because many of the parents are in Kyiv on temporary postings, the average time that a student stays in one of the schools is somewhere around three or four years.

Tuition varies from school to school, up to perhaps 20,000 dollars per year. Reflecting the lower costs of doing business in Ukraine, and local market conditions, this is less than the cost of comparable schools in most cities in the United States and Western Europe. Tuition is not the only expense: a private school parent must also reckon with the cost of travel on field trips, computers, and other expenses associated with keeping up with the student's newfound peers.

Ukrainian students make up a significant minority of the enrollment. Some are the children of mixed marriages, and others the children of families who have a strong desire to have their children learn English and study abroad. Still and all, the dollar-denominated tuitions are beyond the reach of most middle-class Ukrainians. Some of the schools offer scholarships, tuition assistance for Ukrainian students which the administration believes will be an asset to the school. This echoes the widespread scholarship programs and private schools in the United States, where the objective is to minimize the appearance that private school children form a social elite, and especially to integrate talented minority children into the mainstream.

The private schools in Kyiv also follow the private school practice in the United States and Western Europe in admitting children with handicaps. One sees autistic children and children with braces and crutches in the hallways. Some schools are even capable of serving children who require full-time attendants to accompany them to class.

The two greatest determinants of quality in a private school are the headmaster and the teachers. Whereas a public school principal is often just a bureaucrat in a hierarchy, a private school headmaster has the responsibility and authority of a chief executive officer. They are paid accordingly, and most are rather impressive individuals. The headmaster has great latitude in choosing teachers, and the teachers themselves usually enjoy quite a bit of latitude in setting the curriculum. In a healthy private school, there is a strong feeling that the entire staff is working together as a team.

International schools are able to recruit on a worldwide basis. Kyiv is an attractive posting. Many teachers come as married couples; with two salaries, a housing allowance, free tuition for their children, and usually some tax benefits accruing to expatriates, working here can be financially attractive. The result is that the teachers one finds in private schools in Kyiv are motivated, know their subjects well, and most importantly, love children and are dedicated to their education. They are here by choice: their own and the headmaster's.

Even though the parents who find themselves in Kyiv and are able to afford a private school form a fairly selective group, their children nonetheless vary significantly in ability. While none of the schools overtly track children -- assigning them to a faster or slower group -- nevertheless the range of courses that they offer makes it possible to select courses of appropriate levels of difficulty. For example, health may be offered as less challenging alternative to biology.

The private schools have networks of other professionals to whom they can refer parents. These include neurologists, psychologists, and others who can address developmental difficulties. They also recommend tutors as necessary. They recognize that not every student can learn everything they need simply from the classroom instruction and the textbook. Many students can benefit by working one-on-one with a tutor. Students worldwide have difficulty with math, science, and writing. Writing is even more difficult when English is not the student's native language.

Boarding schools represent the high end of private education. The best known of them are in England, where they prepare students for entry into the most prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. It goes without saying that a student will graduate from a boarding school speaking good English. In fact, it will be the English of the British upper class, and simply speaking and acting like an English gentleman is a considerable asset to carry through life.

Attending a boarding school, a child rubs shoulders with children of the worldwide elite. It is an intellectually demanding environment, and it requires a student who is self-assured and capable of thriving away from his or her parents. The admissions process is quite selective, and cost, taking in travel, clothing, and other incidentals, comes out several times that of a private school in Kyiv.

For parents who can afford it, a boarding school offers their children an excellent education and offers parents the freedom to travel and pursue their own careers unburdened by the day-to-day issues of their children's education.

Individual education alternatives are becoming more widespread in the West. Americans in particular are disenchanted with the public school system. Parents with strong religious beliefs reject the secular orientation of public schools, and parents with high intellectual aspirations for their children are appalled with the falling expectations for what children learn in public school. Increasingly, parents are choosing to teach their own children in what is called "homeschooling."

Homeschooling takes a vast range of forms, of course, but there are some common threads. A lot of education can be delivered over the Internet. Some of it is absolutely top rate. As an example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the best science university in the country, has put most of its courses online, accessible to homeschoolers. There are a large number of for-profit firms selling instructional materials to homeschoolers.

Homeschooling gives parents freedom to choose the curriculum. This can be especially important in the humanities -- literature, history, and social studies -- where there is no fixed canon. The students themselves can decide what books they will read, which civilizations they will study, and what historical eras they will specialize in.

Its name notwithstanding, homeschooling does not always, or even primarily, involve teaching directly by parents. Home schoolers find each other over the Internet and form study groups. Some parents are either trained teachers or have a gift for teaching a given subject. They will get together groups of students and teach them, more or less as if they were at school. Parents will get kids together for field trips. In this way, children have a chance to interact with each other, and they get the best of instruction offered by a community of adults.

Using international post in the Internet, parents and Kyiv have just as much access to homeschooling resources as Americans. All that remains is for a community to develop with a mutual interest in homeschooling so they can share their talents in teaching their children.

A live-in private tutor represents the pinnacle of educational options. A family can recruit a tutor to meet their children's exact needs. The tutor offers all of the advantages of homeschooling, as well as professional training in the field of education and the subject matter at hand. The tutor also relieves parents of the obligation to handle the teaching themselves.

Live-in tutors make optimal use of academic time. In school, most of a child's time spent in activities other than direct instruction. Time is allocated for getting from class to class, for recess, for lunch, to spend in the library, for computer learning and so on. Because each class has to accommodate the lowest common denominator, the children with the least ability or knowledge of English, the pace of a classroom must be below the pace of most individual students. One-on-one instruction avoids all these problems.

A live-in tutor can be used to supplement a regular school education. For instance, a tutor can help a student catch up over the summer if he has perhaps fallen behind in math, or in writing. A tutor can provide intensive training, perhaps preparing a student in the language of the next country in which the parents will be posted. If a family decides to take a "year out" to travel the world, a tutor can accompany them to see that the children keep up with their schooling.

Homeschooling and live-in tutoring are sometimes criticized as producing hothouse flowers, children unaccustomed to social interaction with their peers. The growing body of experience with homeschoolers entering American colleges shows that this is generally not the case. Quite the contrary, children who study in an ambience dominated by adults end up being more comfortable in adult surroundings and generally more polite and mature, which are considerable assets.

With freedom comes choice, and with choice comes responsibility. There are more educational options available than most Ukrainians realize, and a responsible parent should be aware of the options. The difference a child's study environment makes can be striking. The student's peers and the school's teaching style influence a child's willingness to commit to becoming educated. Therefore, the biggest contribution a parent can make to a child's formation is selecting the right educational environment. It supplies the foundation of facts for future learning and familiarity with the tools for acquiring, manipulating and presenting knowledge. Equally important, the school and the peers he meets there shape his image of the adult he strives to become.

The secondary education, and the system of education you choose strongly influences your child's selection of colleges and universities. A Ukrainian / Russian education generally prepares your student to be educated within the CIS. The prestige of the secondary school is closely correlated to the prestige of the universities they can expect to attend. Attendance at one of the foreign private schools, on the other hand, gives a student broad preparation for American, Canadian and Western European colleges. Their grades and their scores on standardized tests are most significant in determining which one.

Regardless of which educational option you choose for your child, it is clear that the world into which they are growing will increasingly demand and knowledge of English and an ability to work in an international environment. Ukrainians already cherish education, and for these reasons they increasingly prize a Western education. With a little planning and research, you can be sure your children have a maximal chance for success.

Working in Ukraine

 There is a vast difference between being sent to Ukraine to work and coming to Ukraine to work. When they send you, the assumption is that it is a hardship. They pay you a Western salary plus benefits such as housing, travel, and education for your kids. It is a sweet deal. When you come here to work, the pickings are slim.

Language skills are essential if you plan to work in Ukraine. The Eastern Slavic languages, Russian and Ukrainian, are generally considered to be among the most difficult to learn. Only Chinese is harder, and that is because of its written language. Eastern Slavic languages are grammatically complex. They require that you master more different sounds that Western European languages. They have relatively few cognates with Western European languages, which means that you have to learn a whole new vocabulary. Lastly, it takes quite a while to train your brain to read the Cyrillic alphabet with anywhere near the speed that she read Western European languages using the Latin alphabet. If you plan to get sent to Ukraine to work, an advance knowledge of language is a tremendous plus.

Language education is not easy, but it is widely available in America. Most people will be able to find night courses in Russian at some local university. You can study it from tapes as well. Rosetta Stone will give you a start. The Pimsleur series of CDs is much more extensive. Complete it and you will be able to talk to the taxi driver when you get off the plane, though you will still be disappointingly far from mastering the language.

A young person can get somebody else to pay for language education. An American can come here with the Peace Corps and learn Ukrainian language and culture while teaching. State Department language instruction is pretty good. Most Peace Corps volunteers learn Ukrainian quite well, for deployment to Western Ukraine. As long as you pick up some Russian on your own in addition to the Ukrainian, not terribly difficult, you will find yourself in a fairly good position to apply for jobs in Ukraine which pay Western salaries.

Religious missionaries, especially Mormons, do a pretty good job of picking up the language. It seems that you find former missionaries doing business all over the world.

If you can get hired on with a Western law firm, investment company, computer firm, fast moving consumer goods firm, agricultural training firm or something of the like you can do pretty well. A lot of the country managers owe their positions to their language skills as much as anything else.

The private English-language schools offer a special niche. They recruit experienced schoolteachers every year through job fairs in the United States. If you're lucky enough to be hired overseas and sent here, the package can be pretty good, up to perhaps $80,000 per year plus housing and travel. The schools like to hire couples both of whom teach. It makes for a stable arrangement, and it cuts on their relocation and support costs. Most teachers do not learn the local languages. They live in their own cloistered world, and many of them don't have much interaction with the broader Ukrainian community.

If you come to Ukraine and look for a job, however, the tables are turned. The pickings are slim, even if you have some language skills. Those same private schools will hire you, but for approximately half as much as they would pay you if they had hired you in the States and brought you over. Of course they also will not pay for your housing and travel, since your are already here. It doesn't make sense, but that's how it works.

Teaching English is most common job for Americans and Englishmen who come to Ukraine. You generally earn a starvation wage, $20 per hour give or take, working perhaps 20 hours a week. It is enough money to pay for a modest apartment. No way to get rich, and not even very attractive for meeting a local woman and getting married.

Foreigners perform several other types of jobs. Some work in journalism, both print and television. A few are involved in international real estate. Some of them have their own businesses such as fashion design, publishing, pizzerias and the like. A few have made quite a bit of money, though in my experience they were the pioneers who got here in the mid-90s. I know a lot of people who arrived in the last decade and have tried to get things going, but nobody who has struck it rich.

If you come here to work there are some formidable hurdles to jump with regard to visas, residency permits, work permits and the like. Here again, it is far easier to be sent by an employer than to try to fight the system on your own. Take a look at the separate piece I have written on how to stay in Ukraine once you decide you like it.

In summary, Ukraine is a wonderful place to come, especially at somebody else's invitation. A knowledge of the language is a tremendous asset. Some companies will pay you well for your language skills, and the combination of a good income and the ability to speak a language gives you access to a society of wonderful women, which for many Westerners is the most outstanding feature of the country.