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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A Brief Definition of Roads in Ukraine


The most amusing road signs in Ukraine are the ones suggesting an uneven road for x number of kilometres. We have them in the UK of course, although they are generally ignored. This is because an uneven road in the UK is usually just a series of gentle undulations that might send you off to slumber only to wake up embedded in a tree. In Ukraine, the best way to describe an uneven road is "road". You see the only smooth roads here are in places that the president has visited since the previous winter. You can practically follow his route through the town because suddenly the bowling green smoothness will disappear up a side street and the main road will deteriorate back to "road" 
For those of you not familiar with Ukraine, let me describe "road" for you a little more explicitly. Perhaps the best way to start is to imagine a normal, newly made road. Now imagine a battalion of epileptics with jack hammers have held a conference on it, followed by a gaggle of paranoid schizophrenics with aversion to white paint, who have systematically rubbed the road markings off with their elbows. Now we are getting close. To finish your visualisation of a Ukrainian road, pop it in the deep freeze at minus 20c for four months, defrost and freeze again several times. You may now be getting close to seeing it now. However this is nothing compared to driving on them, recently on a trip out of Odessa we took a minor back road as a shortcut. Now bear in mind I have a fairly decent 4 wheel drive car that has chunky all weather tyres and good ground clearance, five miles took us thirty minutes. The road was so scarred, that in places the only way to continue was to drive into the potholes and back out the other side, stopping for a cup of tea midway. 
Ukrainians have found a kind of communal solution to this problem. They don't drive on the roads anymore, the drive to the side of the roads. Here you will see entire new dirt tracks have appeared where drivers have hit one crater too many and decide, enough is enough and gone off roading.   Gradually, more and more people take to the dirt, virtually cutting a new road alongside. Indeed the road that we got stuck on had an entire dirt track for five miles running on the other side of a treeline. On our return we decided to use it, following a bus up it. Actually it took us about ten seconds to realise following the bus directly was not too good an idea. This is because five meters onto the dirt and the rapidly accelerating Mercedes mini bus had disappeared into a maelstrom of dust, stones and road kill. Our decision to back off was aided by the emergence of a double articulated truck from the sand storm, the front of the truck doing around 50 miles per hour, with the rear trailer going faster and sideways directly towards us. In a remarkable feat of driving skill Anton Sennaski managed to right the entire truck without slowing down. As we reversed out of the hedge and continued on our way, the Mercedes WRC minibus was now just a rising cloud of dust on the horizon and the entire dirt track was our own. I have to say it was fun to drive, the X-Trail a sure footed companion that dispatched the five or so miles in ten minutes or so. The same could not be said for the driver of a Bulgarian 40 ton articulated lorry who had had the misfortune to be using the official road beside us. I suspect he may still be there as I write.
The irony of this story is, that if you ask people, many roads have been allocated as repaired. The problem is, that the contractors are paid to relay a road, yet in the best case scenario they merely pad a bit of loosely packed asphalt into the existing potholes and in the worse case they don't bother at all preferring to pay a percentage of the fees to the guy that inspects the roads instead.
It's a shame, because where the roads are in good condition, they are wonderful to drive on, wide enough to overtake, with   enough bends to keep you alert and  little traffic. Unlike the UK which has a town every three miles, in south western Ukraine you can drive thirty miles without passing a village. There are no speed cameras hidden in the sunflower fields, no traffic calming measures, no variable speed limits and fixed speed traffic cameras, in fact none of the soul destroying, over regulated and pure evil, hidden tax measures that the UK's roads are increasingly laden with. In fact to clumsily paraphrase a former Soviet leader. "remove the potholes, remove the problem"