Ukraine - Kyiv and Donetsk
By Charles McCathieNevilechaals. Tuesday, November 30, 2010 4:33:54 PM
Arriving in Kyiv, the first evening was a community meetup. Organised by Mongoose, a dozen-odd people came, had a beer or two and asked a seemingly endless stream of intelligent and interesting questions. I had been tired when I arrived, but when we left I was actually wide awake, buzzing with energy and thinking about questions.
Since we had interviews the next morning, I decided a quick walk would let me see some of the sights of Kyiv (even in the dark there are things to see) and wind me down. Near the main square, a policeman stopped me and asked for my documents. Oddly, perhaps for the first time in a year or so I was not carrying my passport - I had left it in the hotel.
And so began the only really negative experience I had. I wrote about the details in my personal blog, and despite this one hour and the subsequent thinking about it, my impression of the Ukraine was overwhelmingly positive...
...including the night after the various press interviews in Kyiv, where I went to a pub recommended by a friend of Vladimir, met up with a guy who showed me another fun pub, and reacted to my story by saying that there are good and bad police in Ukraine. (Actually this is true almost everywhere). And while saying goodbye, he explained his own job - by showing me his police badge.
I also found the discussions in the interviews interesting, ranging as they did across a range of publications with quite different audiences.
Tuesday, and on to Donetsk. Nikolai, my contact at DONNTU, met me at the airport and was available, helping, and showing me all kinds of interesting stuff in Donetsk the whole time I was there. It's a pity that most of the time it was raining, and that I was working in the mornings. It gets dark early in winter. But even in the cold dark rain it is clear that there are lots of cool things to see. Donetsk has a lot of open space, and they fill it with gardens, and sculpture, or walkways. Just wandering around made me forget that me feet were wet (shoes that aren't waterproof are a bad idea). Some of the highlights included the cathedral (impressive!) and the ironworks park that I visited several times.
I also enjoyed a visit to the History museum - a Soviet-style museum that he says they will rebuild in time for Euro 2012 - the big football tournament that will show Shaktar FC's new Donbass Arena to the world. I guess they will modernise it, and the experience of an elderly lady explaining that "no, the english-language spoken explanation doesn't work here", ust as it doesn't in any of the many halls that have multilingual voice explanations. They explain everything in the correct way, that seems to have changed little since Soviet times, and then just hope I understand what they are saying in Russian.
Updating the museum will probably be a good thing overall. But I'd really like to think they will keep a big chunk of it exactly as it is - museums like this are themselves a part of the history that it would be cool to be able to see in a history museum, and they've got more ready-made material than they need.
But of course the point of the visit wasn't the museum, or the cathedral, or the parks and river or even the dinner I had at the local brewery (which makes nice beer - I recommend the amber and the stout, although locals went for the sweeter Golden Ale).
I was there for the conference given at DONNTU, where I presented both a keynote speech and a seminar on how web standards happen. The keynote was one of several, the others being given by a professor, and representatives of Microsoft and Cisco. I was frankly disappointed with what the commercial guys had to say - there seemed very little more than advertising. And while I had the obligatory couple of slides about Opera (it turns out of course that most people in the Donbass region already use Opera - especially people working in informatics) I got to spend the time actually talking about the Web, and what makes it a good platform to build software.
I did enjoy the professor's talk, which was something of a survey of computing, although focused on more traditional areas that I find an interesting contrast to my own daily work. I also enjoyed the seminar, where I had time to dicsuss at length the way that the Web platform actually develops, and engage in some interactive discussion with the attendees. One of the nicest things was that while the audience was predominantly university students, the participation came from everyone from the Dean of the faculty to high-school students attending. I have been to places where there seems to be a strict hierarchy obstructing the way people are learning, and this seemed exactly the opposite.
Although I kept my talk short to have some question time, there were so many questions we ended up running well over time. Like in Kiev, the range of questions and the thought behind them were energising for me - I had to work hard to produce intelligent and useful answers. In at least one case I think there was more to the question than I ever got, and the language barrier was holding back a really interesting discussion. I had better keep practising Russian, at least - learning Ukranian is probably a bit much for this year .
Thanks again to all who were involved in putting the trip together, to Nikolai for effort above and beyond the call of duty (and for sharing an interesting meal in a Spanish restaurant ), and to all the Opera users and people developing on top of Opera that make Ukraine an important country for us.