Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dinner with The Fixer

I talked about in an earlier post that I entitled 'Inept Corruption' about our problems with the corrupt purchasing of tickets at the new train station in Kiev. It wasn't fun. It was actually rather scary, but att he time it was just pissing me off. In retrospect, and after talking to a lot of people, it's one of those 'oh shibbit!' moments. However, we were, as I noted, saved by the man I called, 'The Fixer'.

What exactly did he do? Well, Lyuda via Lena got ahold of him and pleaded for help. She'd faced the corruption in her home country and new tha there were places you could turn to. She called and begged for help. Was there any way to get us train tickets? Could he talk to someone? He said he would try. He didn't promise anything, but said he would try. He made some discrete phone calls and told Lyuda to go pick them up. We still had to pay for them, but they were suddenly available. They were for the best class available on the train and cost us for the three adults about $60 each, iirc. This was 'Lux' class. We left Kiev on the train the next day with not a shark-finned minnow in sight.

In fact, British Airways had lost - or rather accidently left - some of our luggage in London. The luggage had been expressed to us the day after our flight and as we'd been required to crash at a relative of Lyuda's in Kiev it arrived the day we were leaving on the train. They rushed it via courier to the train and got it to us just moments before the train left. Talk about service! There was no charge: for Ukraine that is something just short of amazing!

We made it to Gorlovka. Another friend of Lyuda's picked us up with his SUV - yes, Lyuda has some wealthier friends in Ukraine. Duh! She worked for the police - and gave us a ride to her house. It's not a short walk from the train station to Lyuda's home - more like a couple miles! - and it would have been Yet Another Lyuda-Luggage Death March - if we'd attempted the walk. We'd arrived too early for a bus...soooo...the gentleman was delighted to see Lyuda again and gave us the ride quite cheerfully despite having so many heavy things being packed into it.

When we got to Lyuda's home, she burst into tears. It'd be quite some time since she'd seen her family and she'd missed them terribly. It was touching. However, I felt that I didn't want to take pix or video. it wouldn't been right. it wold have been voyeurism at its worst. This was a moment meant to be private and loving. Mama and Lena seeing Lyuda for the first time in years and Vsevolod and Avrora were meeting parts of the family they'd never met and probably really didn't understand existed. Lena and Mama welcomed me warmly and so they ddi for Tom too, but their attention was focused on Lyuda. As it should have been.

The next day Lyuda's friend, The Fixer, called to say that he was inviting us out to dinner. In Ukraine, when someone invites you out to dinner, they pick up the tab. For EVERYONE they invited. This can get spendy, but its a part of Ukrainian traditional hospitality. Unlike here in the States where its everyone for themselves unless explicitly said otherwise.

He originally asked us for 5 PM (1700), but couldn't make it. He's a business man these days and business was getting in the way. He asked forgiveness and if we could do 7:00 PM (1900) instead. Of course! We owed the guy alot. He was an hour late and apologized. He picked us all up in his Mercedes SUV and whisked us off to Donetsk from Gorlovka.

Oh, he has a charming and beautiful wife who is a gynecologist. He's rather charming too for that matter and looks strikingly like Jeb, a friend of mine from Las Cruces, NM.

He quizzed me and I him the whole way down. Tom got in some comments here and there, with questions, but mostly it was he and I asking things of each other. He wanted to know about myself and Tom and I was intensely curious about him. Who was this guy? Lyuda had explained that he's a guy that can get things or get things done. He gets a favour for you and then you owe him a favour. He never accepts money and is extremely scrupulous about that, but he has influence. It seems something ascale to vast influence. His day job is that he owns two NG filling stations for cars. Yes, cars. NG is cheaper than gasoline is there in Ukraine. Some people have converted their cars over and he has two stations.

He's doing very well and he said that demand is such that he's going to have to expand quickly. That led us done the route of business loans and credit. The discussion of the differences of how it works here in the States versus in Ukraine were interesting, but it would have been better served by oh, say, Noel or Carlos or Doug to have been there instead.

However, I found out how Lyuda knew him. as I have stated before, Lyuda worked for the police as an accountant in her previous life over in Ukraine. He was a former policeman. He got tired of it and retired. I am almost certain he got his role as The Fixer while being a cop in the Soviet Union. He went into business and the rest is history.

However, interestingly enough, he has been the States, almost a decade ago. He had met some individuals that had come to Donetsk from the US right after the break up of the Soviet Union. They were part of the People To People program. One of the women invited him, the mayor, and the chief of police to the US. He had a wild time hopping flight to flight to get to Pensacola, Florida where he stayed for almost a month, iirc. He loves the States and Americans, but doesn't want to live there. Ukraine is home.

We ended up discussing what was really happening with the stupid ship and exercises in Crimea. We also discussed Ukrainian politics. He's fed up with all of the above choices, so to speak, for politicians (Yuschenko, Timoshenko, and Yanukovich can all rot in hell as far as he's concerned). He wants someone new. Someone above reproach. Good luck! Lyuda made an interesting observation then. For Ukrainians, it seems that politics are about people. No, not the people in the streets, but the personalities. It's almost never about their policies. She'd noticed this about her cousins in Kiev we stayed with: they were fervent Timoshenko supporters, but really didn't know anything about her policies.

The restaurant that he had picked was excellent. The service was superb. The food was fantastic (I had veal in a morell sauce). Lyuda had Black Sea Flounder. The conversation was good. The company was excellent. I had a wonderful time. I was only worried what we owed him. No, not for dinner, but for the favour of getting us tickets when no tickets were to be had. The topic did come up. Finally. Near the end.

It was mostly harmless, what he asked for. He asked for an invitation to the US. Ukrainians, due to visa requirements, need to get an invitation to the States to be able to get a visa. He wanted to come visit us and to go skiing! He asked where was good to go and I told him Colorado, California, and New Mexico. He was delighted with the answer. So, I still need to compose a letter of invitation come around Xmas time. And we're going to go back to ski! Again!

We don't have to pay for them either: all they wanted was a letter. That's more than fine with me. Time comes, I'll snap some pictures and put them here.

He's dropped in to visit Lyuda while she's there. He's tired. Lyuda's tired. Each for different reasons, but in a way, it's both their babies that are exhausting them.

And that...was the Dinner with The Fixer.

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