US Citizen travel alert – UkraineNovember 26, 2011
On Thursday (US Thanksgiving) I spent more than a few hours in the company of an American friend who lives in Odessa. He is quite definitely the only non-native I spend any time with, and that time consists of a few hours a month on average. Give or take, we have lived here for about the same number of years permanently. He arrived from Iraq and I from Moscow within a couple of months of each other.
He has brought to my attention, with no amount of incredulity I would add, the latest US citizens travel alert which states:
“The US Embassy in Kyiv informs US citizens that recent instances of violence in Ukraine provide a stark reminder that everyone should take steps to maintain awareness and ensure personal security. There have been incidents apparently connected with business disputes as well as extortion demands against government authorities. On Saturday November 19, 2011, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in a basement parking garage in Kyiv. Additionally, in the last year several IED incidents apparently related to extortion have occured, including an incident in Dnepropetrovsk on November 16 where one person was killed. The possible threat of additional IED attacks in Ukraine cannot be discounted. Attacks could target official or private interests.
Although these attacks have not targets US citizens, the embassy advises US citizens in Ukraine to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their personal security awareness. You should report any suspicious activity to local authorities.”
As I said above, my American friend has found this warning somewhat incredulous to put it mildly. To quote a few comments that are repeatable in polite circles, he stated “A couple of IEDs in Ukraine, completely unrelated to Americans and whoa, freakin’ A, all you American citizens out there tremble!”
He went on to say, “Warning – Living is hazardous to your health” and further, “Keep an eye out for people who look like they work for or who may be contracted by the US Government carrying suspicious packages, especially Pizza Hut containers, as there is more to fear from the US Government than anything in Ukraine.”
Now several issues come to mind with this USG alert. Firstly, Ukraine and Ukrainians are nowhere near as paranoid as Americans, naturally, as Ukraine doesn’t involve itself in causing a stir in far off lands unless under the UN Peacekeeping missions which are in far off lands by invitation of hosting national governments. If a Ukrainian sees an unaccompanied package they are far more likely to look inside it or ignore it than they are to call in the bomb squad.
Secondly, the US Embassy is quite correct that most murders, be it exploding lifts, exploding cars or shootings are business dispute related. You will recall that on January 6th I asked if Odessa had managed the feat of the first business/politics assassination of the year.
On average, every year since I have lived here, Odessa manages 2 or 3 business/political (and they are one and the same) murders/attempted murders each year, either with IED or gun. Generally such acts are carried out quite professionally and very few if any “innocents” are ever hurt.
Both my American friend and I, collectively with almost 2 decades of time in Odessa, have never seen or heard a single gun shot or been anywhere near an IED that has gone off. Such instances are few and far between despite the reputation of the Odessa mafia and criminal underworld and despite neither my US friend or I living in some form of Expat gated community separating us from real life in Odessa.
The next consideration, according to my US friend, is how, exactly, does a US citizen inform the local authorities when (according to him) most Americans he knows in Ukraine cannot speak Russian or Ukrainian and most of the authorities cannot speak English. Just how many times does it take for neurotic US citizens, calling the authorities over an empty and forgotten sandwich box on a park bench at the behest of the US Embassy Kyiv, before they simply take no notice or start to look at the US citizenry for wasting the time of the authorities? He asked.
Indeed a very good point. There is the “Peter and the wolf” scenario to be considered before embassies overtly encourage foreign citizens to attempt to communicate with Russian/Ukrainian only speaking authorities over empty food containers on park benches or in the corners of a parking garage.
He feels, quite obviously, that the US Embassy is overreacting, which he says is nothing new for the US government (of any colour). He also wonders if the Ukrainian embassies in the US warn all visiting Ukrainians that there is an exponentially higher chance of being shot than in Ukraine. I had a quick look and found no such warning.
Anyway, there you have it. All you US citizens coming to Ukraine should be aware that business disputes are occasionally settled in a brutal manner, which as I say, is not anything new. Thus far, whether you are vigilant or not, I have found no historical evidence of a US citizen managing to get hurt in any such activities within the nefarious business community of Ukraine.
Ergo, whether you are indeed alert or completely oblivious to your surroundings, statistically as far as I have been able to establish, it doesn’t make any difference, as the collateral damage incurred by way of dead or injured US citizens is precisely zero in such instances.
Now for the practicalities of reporting something suspicious for the vast majority of US citizens in Ukraine who can’t speak Russian or Ukrainian. If you need to use Google translate or similar, obviously you prove my point:
Ring, ring….ring ring…..
“алло милиция “
“Oh, yes, um, hello. Very sorry, don’t speak your language but I am calling to inform you that there is a suspicious package on a park bench at the Peoples’ Friendship Park”
“алло алло? я не говорю по англиский. что ты хочешь?”
“Um hello, yes there is a suspicious package at the Peoples’ Friendship Park and my embassy told me to report it to you”
“Embassy? Embassy, embassy hmm……Ah! я мелиция не консульство понемаешь я не консульство”
“Yes the embassy told me to inform you of anything suspicious”
“ты тупой или что? я не консульство долбоеб я милиция”
“Yes so if you could send somebody over you will see this package on the bench near the entrance”
“слушай дурак я милиция и не понимаю что ты говоришь. ты на украине сеичас. гоаори по русски или украински ты игнорированный американский козел. когда я в америке ты захочешь я говорю на английском конечно, почему ты не говоришь на моем языке в моей стране?”
“Ok thanks, so you’ll send somebody then? Um…..bye”
“все я не буду слушать тебя. я не понимаю тебя тупой и ты думаешь я понял что ты сказал. учи мой ебаный язык!”
Not really going to work out that well in practice is it!