Life in a White Country
Graham Seibert, American Renaissance, March 16, 2018
I live in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine. It has a homogeneous population — mostly Slavs. There is diversity here, but not the kind that would show up in a photograph: We have Ukrainians, Russians, Georgians, Tatars, Hungarians, Poles, and various other Europeans. There are also Jews, quite a few Gypsies, and a smattering of Muslims from central Asia. Only Gypsies are thought of as crime prone. With the exception Jews and Gypsies, most of the elements in this mix think of themselves as pretty much equal. Jews are vastly overrepresented in business and government.
Here in Ukraine, I don’t have to worry about the police not doing their jobs, because there is not that much for them to do. When there are crimes, though, they are not very efficient at solving them. They are not highly paid. They are not very good at controlling speeding. Parking enforcement is lax. They would be puzzled if anybody told them that they should be bothering citizens for violating ordinances against burning leaves in their backyard or leaving bottles on the street.
I don’t worry about walking down the street alone at night or through the park. The police are not a strong deterrent to crime, but they don’t need to be. Ukrainian people are not prone to violence, and they respect each other. Violence is seldom random. If someone gets killed, the odds are he could have told you why and by whom he was killed. If you don’t anger the wrong people, you are pretty safe.
The police aren’t called on to settle domestic disturbances. Spousal abuse certainly happens, but the problem is settled by families. The most common cause is wives berating their husbands about their drinking. Some guys resent it and get physical.
Homosexuals are tolerated the way they were in the US when I was young. They don’t make an issue of it, and people don’t bother them. Ukrainians use the toilets that correspond to their sex. If there are cross-dressers in this city of four million — and I assume there must be — they are discreet about it. I suspect they use whatever bathroom they think they can get away with. Anyhow, the issue never comes up.
Even though there is a war with Russia, Ukraine doesn’t worry too much about security in public buildings. There are guards but they don’t look very effective, and the buildings are not the fortresses one finds in the United States. Ukrainians couldn’t afford to build fortresses, and they don’t have people who would pose a threat.
The exception is political violence. Because the city administration buildings were not defended, Russians were able to take them over easily during the Euromaidan and the revolution in 2014. The surprise is not that the Russians and their proxies succeeded in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk, but that they failed in Kharkiv, Mariupol, Odessa, and many others. There were some victories over the fresh, untried, and disoriented Ukrainian government, but not what you would expect, given the government’s lax defenses.
I have never heard of a school shooting here. It would be easy to pull one off because schools have no security at all. A school shooting would simply be unthinkable. Nobody is that alienated. Students feel a connection to their fellow Ukrainians and to their school. In any case, Ukraine’s gun laws are much like those in the rest of Europe, and it would be hard legally to acquire anything more powerful than an air rifle. But game hunting is legal, and with a war going, Ukrainians assure me that there are contraband AK-47s available at reasonable prices.
I even have a good word for the graffiti here. There is quite a bit on the concrete walls of the passageways that connect public transit stops, such as between the electric railway and the subway. Some of it is fairly high quality. There are beautiful murals decorating the sides of buildings, some of them 20- or 30-stories high, but they are done with permission. Such graffiti as there is does not appear to be profane or gang oriented. It is clearly of a higher class than Western graffiti.
There is loitering, but it’s not a problem either. People gather in the parks in the summer — often groups of young men drinking beer. The old ladies get righteously indignant about where they put their empty beer bottles. The young guys are generally discreet enough not to relieve themselves in public; the police would make a fuss if they happened to witness it. Loiterers don’t seem to be a danger to anybody. They don’t make catcalls at women. Only occasionally do they have obnoxious boomboxes with them.
As for Ukrainian popular music, it is not sophisticated, but it is somewhat preferable to Western pop music. The Ukrainian equivalent of country music is called chanson, from the French word. The usual beat is a thumping 4/4 time, the melody often sung in a raspy voice. The themes of love, betrayal, and loneliness are universal. There is an equivalent to rap music, but it is sung in Ukrainian by Ukrainians. It does not seem to be as degrading and profane as American rap music.
There are of course rude people here. Our jerks are not generally threatening — just unhappy, maladjusted people. Offsetting the relatively few jerks, you frequently witness spontaneous acts of kindness.
There are a lot of old people. Strangers help them off the bus all the time. I am somewhat chagrined to find myself now counted among the geriatric. Young men offer me a hand as I’m stepping down. I’m still fully capable, but I appreciate the gesture because I know it will be there when I need it.
Even the Gypsies aren’t that bad. Their crimes are not violent, and they don’t commit any at all in neighborhoods like the one I live in — a quarter mile from where they live in condemned, unheated houses along the right of way of a future metro. I have to respect the Ukrainians’ apprehension of Gypsies — they know them better than I do — but I have never seen anything untoward.
Littering is a problem, with bottles and trash all over the place. The Ukrainians resent this as much as I do. My six-year-old son is pretty good about cleaning up other people’s messes. We have to carry our garbage to a dumpster about a quarter of a mile away. He will usually pick up trash along the way.
Littering is careless, not malicious. People may throw beer bottles on the roadside, but they don’t throw them at oncoming cars. Nobody dumps rocks or bricks off of overpasses. Nothing would stop you; people just don’t do it.
It is said that Ukraine has a major drug problem. I know a lot of young people, but not one says he has tried drugs. I never smell marijuana. People tell me that needle drugs are a problem around the railroad station. One more than occasionally sees zonked out bums, but they look more like alcoholics than druggies. I could be naïve. At any rate, they are not violent. I have a strong suspicion that the international do-gooder community exaggerates Ukraine’s social problems.
If there are gangs, they old-fashioned, for-profit enterprises intent on victimizing society as a whole instead of rival gangs. There isn’t nearly as much of the kind of identity around which gangs usually coalescence: race, ethnicity, nationality, localism. There isn’t any evidence or talk of gang colors, gang wars, gang territory, or anything like that.
Everybody except the well-to-do send their children to neighborhood schools. The teachers follow government-imposed standards, and are not afraid to measure students by them. There isn’t any class of students that is considered academically slow. The Gypsies do teachers the favor of avoiding school altogether. A teacher can thus afford to give an honest evaluation of students’ performance without any fear of being accused of discrimination.
Teachers work for the government, and people have a long-standing respect and even fear for the government. They don’t tell teachers how to do their jobs, and generally appreciate what teachers are doing for their children.
Kyiv has a beautiful Metro system that was begun about 60 years ago. It boasts the deepest underground station of any subway in the world. It has three intersecting lines that run to the city limits in six places, with a fourth line under construction. The city also has an extensive and highly effective system of tramways, a funicular, a regional electric railway, electric buses, diesel buses, and a fleet of contractor operated jitney buses.
The drivers are not unionized. They are happy to have their jobs. The managers hire on the basis of competence — no other consideration — and there has not been a strike in the ten years I have been here. Drivers are generally polite, and almost never get into accidents. Maintenance staff is also good. Although the fleet is old, breakdowns are rare.
The fare collection system would not work in the West. A conductor on the bus collects fares and hands out tickets that riders validate, using one of the ticket punches bolted to the vertical supports that passengers hang on to. A controller occasionally comes through the bus asking to see tickets. A rider without a ticket is fined 20 times the price of a ride, so if a ride costs 20¢, the fine is $4.00.
The system is incredibly low-tech. The conductor gets paid in cash and could skim money if he wanted. The passengers on a crowded bus could credibly claim that they tried to pay the conductor but couldn’t reach him. But they pay. Riders ferry the money hand to hand to the conductor, and get the ticket and change back, likewise hand to hand.
About half the ridership — students and people over 60 — ride for free. A controller would have a hard time collecting if somebody boldly lied, and claimed to be over 60. The system is based on trust. If people wanted to cheat, they could, but they don’t.
In Kyiv, you needn’t be afraid to complain about breaches of etiquette. If a guy is “manspreading” on the bus or smells like urine, the old ladies let him know he is violating standards. Any society depends more on custom than on laws, and it is the common people within that society who enforce standards. In Ukraine, people still uphold standards.
With nobody to discriminate against, Ukraine does not have antidiscrimination laws. Businesses can hire whom they please, so nepotism is rampant; bosses hire their relatives. Aside from that, employers hire the best person for the job. That’s one reason why computer services thrive here. No groups enjoy preference. Nobody is pushing for more of any particular type of person in the workforce. The focus is on getting the job done and pleasing the client.
Ukraine has almost no labor unions. A job is a matter strictly between employer and employee, and most people are happy just to have jobs.
Mortgage lending is not as well developed in Kyiv as in the West. Most lenders require both a substantial down payment and charge high monthly payments. Borrowers have two unattractive alternatives: They can borrow in the local currency, and pay high interest rates, or if they borrow in a foreign currency at low rates they may be whipsawed by exchange-rate fluctuations.
The government does not force lenders to take nonfinancial factors into consideration. Banks lend strictly according to ability to repay. As a result, it is hard to borrow beyond your means, and the level of private debt seems sustainable. There are no restrictive covenants and no ethnic neighborhoods.
In the Ukrainian civil service, there are competitive examinations to get in, and people rise in the ranks based on their performance and connections. Some bureaucrats treat the public with indifference, but it is almost always Ukrainians dealing with Ukrainians. The fact that it is their own people seems to make things better.
The clerks who registered the birth of our children, and who processed a recent marriage of a friend to an English guy, were polite and considerate. They went out of their way to be helpful when the documentation didn’t all fall into place. Ukrainians see my children as part of the future of their society, and they want them to succeed.
Ukraine reminds me of America in the 1950s. Material wealth is several times lower than in today’s West. A family usually has no more than one car, and is lucky to own its own apartment. Ukrainians enjoy universal healthcare and pensions, but both are very modestly funded. People have to be responsible for their own lives to a greater extent than in the West.
Ukrainians live, work, and go to school with people like themselves. In the 1950s, while America may not have been homogeneous nationally, it was at the local level. People lived among their own kind, and there was a high level of trust.
Ukraine and the Visegrad countries have remained homogeneous even as the West has changed. We are materially poorer than the West — a legacy of the mismanagement and corruption of communism and the czarist Empire — but we have mutual trust and appreciation. Racial homogeneity is our strength.