Archive for March 15th, 2009

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Doing Business in Ukraine – When Is A Roof Not A Roof?

March 15, 2009

Those of you looking for me to say it is easy to do business here are in for a long wait!!

It is hard, very hard and there are only a few ways in which you stand a chance of succeeding……..even if you have fluent Russian skills!

The first way is to be an international giant in the business world………but that does not mean you will have it easy either, just ask Telenor!

Every foreigner here needs what is called a “Roof” in the world of business…..unless you make a living via the internet, when obviously it really doesn’t matter where you are to do it………and of course nobody here knows you are doing it anyway, unless you tell them.

No matter how big or small your organisation is, you will need a “roof” to do business in Ukraine. It is the same in Russia.

What is a “roof”? It is someone who is “connected” with either your local, if you are a small operation, or the national, if you are a large organisation, powers that be. One way or another this does not come for free, be it free dining at your restaurant for your roof and friends every now and again, if you own a restaurant, or by way of “administrative fee” to keep those pesky “agencies”, be they official or unofficial off of your back (if you are so big you register on the “national radar”) and you need to “get on”.

Generally, your “roof” will ask for nothing until you ask something of them.

How will you know if you have the right roof?……..do your homework before you start working here. They will make themselves apparent as you go through the legal processes necessary to carry out your required function in the Ukrainian market.

Yeh, yeh, yeh……they don’t know who you know back in New Jersey (or wherever)………but you ain’t in New Jersey now and whatever and whoever you know or think you know will not make any difference here………particularly as you don’t know who they know and you are on their patch!

You need a Ukrainian “roof” to succeed in business in Ukraine – it is that simple. If you don’t believe me, come and try to do something here without one and see how long your business lasts.

Do I have a “roof”? – Of course I do, I have several……well I am a builder!!

Wowwwwww – it sounds like the Wild West East………erm, well, no it’s not……not unless you are stupid.  If you come here for the reasons of business then you must do business the Ukrainian way.  Even Ukrainian businesses have a “roof” – for that is the Ukrainian way.

But it sounds like a “roof” just takes things from me and I get nothing in return……it’s almost mafiosi!!

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No, it is not, the mafia here are a different issue and are indeed taken care of by your “roof”, if they have an interest in you at all………..which is very, very, very unlikely……..particularly if you are a small or medium sized concern.  Anyway, as is traditional, the mafia generally stick to cash operations…..like prostitution, “import and export”, land, construction and gambling.

Construction? – I thought you said you were a builder!! – Erm, yes I did and yes I am.  It may well be I know some of the mafia……..but I don’t know that for certain as they don’t wear a badge saying “Mafia”.  When I say construction I mean big construction, the kind I used to do back in the UK with Mowlem……..not the bespoke, build to order “one off’s” I do here, it just isn’t worth their time……..and I have a “roof” fit for a mansion, even if I am only a porch!!

Your “roof” should take care of the “administration” and negate any problems which may come from them.  The “roof” will make things happen for you much more swiftly than would otherwise happen….like a licence to sell alcohol if you open a restaurant etc etc., or in my case, speeding up planning permission and technical passport documentation.  Without my roof, my construction activities would be bogged down in administrative documentation for months……if not years…..and therefore is of great use to me.  How can this happen – because the “roof” is connected to the right people in the “administration” to make this happen. 

Now, you see, it is not as bad as you think is it.  A good “roof” makes things happen more quickly than they otherwise would, will prevent any “unnecessary attention” and will only ever be around when you need them.  In effect, they will provide a “next day service” compared to “standard service”, if they are any good……..or at least get you “standard service” if you were getting no service at all – if the latter is the case, look for a better “roof”…..or the “roof”s roof”……or even the “roof’s roof’s roof”. 

Clear as mud eh?……..All will become apparent when you get here and if you are lucky, you may find someone who has been here a while and can help with your “roof”………or indeed your roof.  (Did I mention I was a builder?)

So there you have it.  You can succeed in business here but it ain’t as easy as it is back home.  What you thought you know about doing business…..you don’t.  The playing field here does not resemble your pitch at home.  Therefore, follow the rules of “P” – Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance, so you know what you are getting into………..oh and get a good “roof”.

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7 KM (7 Kilometer) Market, Odessa

March 15, 2009

The 7 KM (7 Kilometer) Market is probably the most famous market in Ukraine.

It is called 7Km because it covers an area of……….7Km. Very imaginative I know.  It is almost 7 Km from the City Centre too.  The bus which takes you to this market is the number 7……bloody practical these Ukrainians…..or maybe just easily confused!!

You would think, that covering such a large area, the market is spread out and easily navigable. You would of course, be completely wrong. It is packed tighter than the contents of a male stripper’s G string or Pamela Anderson’s bikini top!! It is a maze….a rat run….a labyrinth, made up of steel containers (like those for bulk shipments you would see on a cargo ship) stacked 2 high, side by side, covering the entire area.

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I know, why 2 high? Well the top one is used for storage and the bottom one is a walk in shop/display.

It is so big that the main thoroughfares actually have street names, despite the fact that with a crane and numerous trucks, within a few days it would look like an abandoned patch of land.

The market is always busy.  No matter what time of year, what the temperatures are, there will be thousands of people mirroring the activities of lab rats in a maze seeking out that “special piece of cheese”.  It can be unbearable to all but the most dedicated shopper and bargain hunter at times.  (Personally, I would rather remove my own eyes with a spoon than go there in the height of summer…….not that “she that must be obeyed” gives me the choice).

The market is so big that it has it’s own police……..not that this stops a very lucrative trade in “snide” or counterfeit goods of course.

Not everything sold here is counterfeit or knock-off but a good proportion of it is.  There are some real bargains to be had but also there are some prices which mirror that of those in the City Centre…….so beware, it can be a case of caveat emptor!

It is, however, a great place to pick up those things you left behind when attempting to keep under your baggage allowance with the airline.  You can get very cheap T-shirts, towels, swim wear, jeans, shoes…..the list is endless here.  You can also buy fur-coats, kitchen utensils, ironing boards and anything else which may take your fancy.

There are one or two things to be wary of:

You will find men literally ramming full or empty trolleys through the crowds from one container to another with complete disregard to the well-being of your legs and ankles.  There is nowhere to sit (unless you come by car) if you need a rest.  There is no restaurant or cafe there……..but there is a steady stream of Babooshka’s running up and down the alleyways selling luke warm coffee, tea and fruit juice from their trolley…….together with sandwiches (for the brave) or chocolate, chips/crisps and other general “munchies”. 

As with any place with thousands of people bumping into each other in a confined space, keep a hold of your wallet/keep your handbag shut……..just in case!  It has never happened to me, anyone I know and I have never heard of it happening to anyone BUT I am sure it has and does happen when people from all over Russia, Ukraine and Turkey specifically come to this market……it’s not like you have to be vetted to go there after all…..that’s bad for business.

Invariably, you do not get a receipt if you don’t ask for one.  The “black” economy is rife in Ukraine and no more prevalently than at 7Km.  Everybody in Ukraine loves cash.  Nothing but cash is accepted at 7Km.  There is no Visa/MasterCard facility with any trader………..and there are no cheques in Ukraine anywhere.  Not one Ukrainian I know has even seen a “cheque” or “cheque book” and would certainly never accept one!.

There is little else to say about 7Km…….other than if you go there by bus, be careful about what and how much you buy…….as you got to get it home again by bus, which, considering everyone else has done the same as you, can make it a somewhat “uncomfortable” journey.

INDIA

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Don’t Eat The Meat!! – Privos Market, Odessa

March 15, 2009

For those of us of a certain age……..when ‘elf  ‘n’ safety and food hygiene laws were a vague trembling in the underwear of the bureaucrats and jobs-worths……and thus yet to be born………and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and Bird Flu had not been invented to scare the population, (yet we are here today….makes you wonder how our ancestors survived eh?),  Privos Market will bring back some fond (or not so fond) memories.

The market is famous in and around Odessa…….and rightly so.  Here, you can actually buy genuine herbs and spices required for a curry or Chinese.  If you ask any of the purveyors of such fine spices to mix you a suitable curry mix for chicken or lamb for example, they will do exactly that………because these stalls are owned and run by Asians from the distant “Stan’s” who come to Odessa to ply their wares.

Fresh organic vegetables and fruits are everywhere and are exceptionally cheap……..well Ukraine was known as the “bread basket” of the USSR after all.

There are some cheese and meat counters which would resemble your local deli or corners shop, clean and refrigerated with vacuum packed produce……….and then there are the others you will remember from your childhood (if you are over 40 something).

“The Others” fall into 2 categories…….fresh, and I mean extremely fresh or those selling produce which looks like, (and probably was), it was slaughtered around the same time that Genghis Khan was running rampant around the region……back in the 13th Century!!

So, a brief comment about the “Fresh” meat…….and I mean “fresh”………so “fresh” that you point to it running around the floor and 10 minutes later it is in your bag, plucked (if applicable), gutted and……….still warm!! Of course, having seen the animal in question before deciding it was the “one for the pot”, you will have made your own judgement (as there is noone else’s to take) as to the general health of what you are to later eat.

The alternative kind of meat, that which was slaughtered when our good friend Genghis and his Mongol hordes were running amok, is, well, very self evident to the eye………and nose!  (It is at this point you are thankful for the supermarket chains which exist here.) 

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This “experience” is either curtailed or enhanced by the weather in Odessa, as much of Privos Market is open air.

It therefore follows, that at -10 degrees in winter, the fragrance is more pleasant than when it is +37 degrees in the height of summer and the flies are fighting like the RAF and Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, over which 10 year old pig’s trotter in which to lay their eggs. 

Although, the title of this blog is about “meat”……..some care should also be given to the cheese products for sale at Privos……..for the same reasons as the meat, but add to this a multiplier of numerous people sticking their fingers (and consider where they had their fingers before they did this) into large quantities of the cheese on display and breaking off (or digging out) a piece on which to “nibble” before they decide to buy it…….or not.

I would therefore recommend, to those of a weak constitution or who are particularly squeamish, that Privos Market is an excellent place to buy fruit, vegetables and spices………but use the supermarkets for meat and dairy produce. 

It is however, a great experience for those who want a trip down memory lane.

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Hosptials & Medical Treatment in Odessa Ukraine

March 15, 2009

Most hospitals in Ukraine which are not privately run do not give the appearance of being hygienic.  In fact, from the outside they resemble buildings damaged during the Blitz.

The inside, common areas, such as corridors and waiting rooms have the cleanliness and appearance of Hitler’s Bunker in Berlin in 1945…….and feel about as welcoming too!

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Do not be unnecessarily dismayed by what you see.  This does not translate in any way to the treatment rooms or abilities of the Doctors you will see.  Obviously, some Doctors are better than others…..as is the case anywhere in the world, but in general, all the Doctors are pretty good.

The treatment rooms are hygienic as are the instruments used.  Most of the drugs used are internationally recognised and produced by the likes if GSK etc etc………although they may be marketed under a different brand (not manufacturer) name here occasionally.  A lot of the medical terminology is the same or so similar to English (due to most medical terms being Latin based) that you will recognise them, despite many Doctors not speaking English.  Of course, there are internationally recognised “noises” for pain………like OUCH, ARRRRGH, YAWWWWW which need no translation. 

In every hospital, any medication used, needles syringes etc etc. you must buy from an Apteka (Pharmacy/Chemist) either on the premises or next to the hospital.  This is not the USA – prices are exceptionally cheap……..I will give an example later in this blog.

All in all, the State run hospitals, despite giving the look of  “if you go in, you won’t come out again”….are not too bad at all.

“So which hospital do you use in Odessa?” is the question I know you are all asking.  I use a privately run hospital called Into-Sana.  www.into-sana.com If you look to the top-right of the first page of their website you will see a red “EN” – click it and it will display their website in English.

At this hospital, you can buy cover for you and/or your family for an annual fee……..or as many people do, just go and pay at reception for the treatment you receive on a “pay as you go” system.  The medical services here are comprehensive (as you will see from their website) and hygiene is very very good.  You cannot even walk into reception without boots protective coverings on your shoes to stop you bringing in dirt!!!

I mentioned prices and Into-Sana is more expensive than the State run hospitals obviously……..since when has the private sector not been there to make money after all.  I will say again though, this is not the USA and it does not cost you $500 just to walk into reception. 

To give you an example, last year, the end of my right thumb was cut off (about half way down the nail) during an incident at work.  Into-Sana sowed it back on for $80.00 and I had 3 follow up visits for cleaning, testing of nerves etc etc at $80.00 a time.  The whole cost was $320.00 to save my right thumb…….including all medication. 

I took a friend there (American) who had a cyst on his neck which had to be drained on two occasions.  Total cost $120.00 including medication.  He stated (for you US citizens out there cringing at the though of the State hospitals), that Into-Sana was better than most facilities in the US he had used……………..and far faster and cheaper.

Another major “plus point” for those with no Russian language skills at all, is that amongst the Doctors and nurses at Into-Sana, there is a reasonable chance that you will get an English speaker, just by “pot luck” when you get treated.  Obviously, they will do their very best to make sure an English speaker is available to you during treatment if you have absolutely no Russian ability at all.

I would, at this point, mention that if you are still capable of speech when getting put into an ambulance in Odessa, and Into-Sana is where you want to go……..say “Into-Sana” and the ambulance will take you there instead of a State hospital.

I cannot recommend this hospital highly enough to foreigners for a myriad of reasons…….like, hygiene, speed, professionalism, language, reliability, comfort and reassurance…….and they give receipts for your expenses in case you need to claim back from your insurance cover. 

Like I say, the State hospitals are not bad at all, but unless you are literally on your death-bed, for somewhere which would equal or surpass hospitals in your own country, Into-Sana is the place to head for in Odessa.

The Russian word for “pain” is pronounced “bol“………or if you are adventurous enough to try Ukrainian whilst in suffering, the Ukrainian word for pain is “bil“.  So in effect, you can point to what hurts and say “bol” or “bil” and the Doctor will know where to start…………..if it is not immediately obvious of course!

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