Monday, 24 October 2011

Rowena Joins Us

Thursday 6th October

Rowena has joined us, and it is great to have some company through the superb open riding landscapes we are encountering. We have enjoyed cutting across country on little earth tracks through huge arable fields ...........

.....and through the villages Rowena has been able to indulge in some productive scrumping - here she is in Bacchus mode devouring some grapes which had 'gone wild' over the fence.

Her other favourites are walnuts from the many walnut trees which line the village lanes.

Asking the way from a bemused elderly local - neither he or Rowena were much wiser at the end of the conversation.

A meal at an extraordinary military brigade restaurant we came across.

Who is the dummy? Rupert is apparently held prisoner by one.

Little Zorbee doing his bit for British-Ukrainian relations - Giving pony rides to local infants .........

......and making friends with an Ukrainian goat........

A novel well!

We have seen surprisingly few horses, but many of them are very similar to our own Welsh Cob.

We Set Out Across the Ukraine

Blog posts in the Ukraine will be out of date, as I have been having difficulty accessing the internet with my Ukrainian dongle, which only seems to work in large towns!

Friday 30th September.

On Monday the 26th September Rupert and I drove the horses back to the border to start off on the crossing of Ukraine. It was quite amusing to see the familiar faces, in particular helpful veterinary officer Andrei, seen below with me as I set out. He had to get special permission to allow the photo to be taken so close to the border as one of the guards objected.
The distant slag heaps remind one that this is in fact an important industrial region.

I bought quite a detailed map book of Ukraine at Stanfords in London, but as Rupert said, it really only suggests what is on the ground - here he is having a baptism of fire on a road that was marked as metalled on the map, but turned out to be a heavily rutted earth track. Thankfully his army HGV driving experience came in handy.

But the countryside I am riding through is delightfully rural, with picturesque little houses set in their own plots among fruit trees.

Water supply is from wells, sometimes public as below, though many people have their own well on their plot.

Everyone keeps poultry, and flocks of geese are a common sight wandering along the lanes.

Some delightful Ukrainian children - they are all very polite and friendly.

In fact everyone bends over backwards to help us. Valeri below went out of his way to show us a short cut route over the hill in his car, and threw in a visit to a memorial to a local war hero as well. And kissed my hand when he left! Is he a dwarf, or is Rupert a giant?

Monday, 10 October 2011

A weekend in Donetsk

Sunday 25th September
I am free of No Man's Land at last! On Friday morning a determined Ukrainian lady vet official who was on duty for the day marched up to my lorry and ordered me to the office to ply me with tea and snacks, exhorting me with cries of 'kushit, kushit' (Eat, eat). Vera (seen below with me) fussed over me like a mother hen, but more importantly gave me the good news that the documentation was on the way! The horses were loaded up, but I had to go through all the customs process again, which as before took another couple of hours, though at least many of the customs officials now knew me by name! But interestingly no-one asked for the £1000 worth of hrivnas as a deposit which I had ready. Sometimes it seems as if the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing in some of these Eastern European countries. Finally the lorry was waved through in mid afternoon, and off I went, complete with parting gift from Vera - an enormous loaf of bread which should last a week.
It was getting dark by the time I reached Makeevka near Donetsk, where I had been invited to stay with Nadiya, who met me in the car with husband Nikolai. We off loaded the horses at a nearby stables before driving back to their flat overlooking a reservoir.
Nadiya teaches English, and the following day when she discovered I was qualified to teach English, she whisked me off to help with her English classes at Saturday language school, Here we are with one of the older classes. On Friday night, when I was attempting to follow Nicolai through the strange and busy streets of Makeevka in the dark, I nearly ran into a car, which raised a storm of abuse from the woman driver - directed at Nadiya in the passenger seat of the lorry as of course in Ukraine vehicles are left hand drive. Embarrassingly Nadiya recognised the driver as the mother of two of the children in this class, and we had to apologise profusely to her when she turned up to collect them!

Sunday was Donetsk sightseeing day, and my new volunteer driver Rupert arrived just in time to join the fun. Here is Rupert and the girls in front of the huge Shakhtar football stadium. Donetsk is in a fever of excitement as it is hosting the Football Euro 2012, and the area near the stadium has been majorly revamped.

L to R. Masha, Nadiya' daughter Oxana, Nadiya, Rupert, friend Julia.

Donetsk is an iron and steel town, and next port of call was an amazing park full of iron work sculptures, many of them the result of an annual metalwork competition which attracts competitors from all over Europe.

These padlocks are locked onto this ironwork pavilion by newly married couples - what happens when they divorce I do not know - the divorce rate in the Ukraine is high as women marry quite young.

Iron weighing scales. We appear to be evenly balanced but I think Masha is che ating with one foot on the ground.

And of course I had to have a go on the iron horse.

Donetsk was founded by Welshman John Hughes from Merthyr Tydful, and for a Welshwoman like myself, no visit to Donetsk would be complete without a visit to the statue of the great man himself.

If you want to know what John Hughes looks like in Cyrillic, look above.

A meal with the family at home - Nikolai produced some wonderful fried fish.

L to R. daughters Katya and Oxana, Rupert, Nikolai and Nadiya.

Stuck Again ...

Thursday 22nd
.....this time in No Man's Land on the waste ground between Russia and Ukraine. I arrived at the border on Tuesday morning and managed to get through Russian customs with not too much difficulty although they seemed to be fussing un-necessarily about an absent document. But I knew my Kazakh 'team', including Gadik the vet, had double-checked the border requirements with the Ukraine Border Commission, which was why I had horse passprorts and up to date veterinary documents specifying exactly which border crossings we would be using, not to mention £1000 worth of Ukrainian hrivna stashed away in my bag to pay the deposit we had been told we would need.
But after much toing and froing and sitting around in offices while the Ukrainian vet officer and other assorted officials shook their heads and made copious phone calls, I was told categorically that some documentation was missing. But with my limited Russian it was almost impossible to decipher what it was and how I would go about getting it. They directed me to drive back to Russia until I pointed out that my Russian visa was now defunct as I had officially been stamped out. I can go forward but not back, and the horses can go back but not forward, and of course I cannot abandon them. So I have been sent out onto No Mans Land while we untangle the mess. The vet official would not let me unload the horses, so they had to stay on board on Tuesday night, not unsurprisingly keeping me awake with their stamping. I feel a bit like Tom Hanks in the film 'The Terminal' except with no elderly male version of Catherine Zeta Jones.
I have desperately been phoning Matt and Rowena, the British Consulate, and Nadiya the Ukrainian contact given me by the British Council to see if we can find out , exactly what is required. It appears the horses need some sort of Certificate of Transit to enable them to travel across the Ukraine once they have entered.
Yesterday I temporarily breathed a sigh of relief when a new vet officer told me everything was in hand and he had applied for the certificate. He also gained permission for me to take the horses off the lorry, and they are happily grazing in the long grass at the side of the road, which eases the stress factor as far as I am concerned.

But today yet another vet official Andrei told me that it was not sorted. Eventually after much more phoning around it turned out all we needed to do was for my Kazakh based 'team' to get the Kazakh veterinary officials in Astana to send a request for the certificate, and it should be granted pretty quickly. They are on the case, and there is hope that it will be sorted out tomorrow.

We reach Ukraine

Monday 12th September
I have arrived at the Russia-Ukraine border!
I made good progress over the last week and had the excitement of crossing over two more major rivers - the quietly flowing Don ......

.........and the Donetsk, on a rather scarily high bridge, at least for me..........

Giving his son a ride on Bolashak is this friendly guy from Zimovniki, who gave us advice on routes and found an excellent cafe to eat and Skype.
John Wayne rides again ...........
We ran into another Catch 22 of bureaucracy on our way across Russia as it transpired that the Russian border police had not given us some necessary form to log our kms travelled as the Mercedes is too old to have a tachograph. But although it was not our fault, we were still required to pay a fine at certain points. However these two amiable officers let us off - apparently a ride on Bolashak goes a long way in these parts.

Bolashak and I arriving at the Russia-Ukraine border...I am now staying overnight at the nearby town of Shakhty as I need to sort out train ticket home for Baurzhan, and around £1000 worth of Ukrainian hrivnas before tackling the border. I have to hand over a deposit of 40% of the value of the horses there, to be reimbursed when leaving the country - something to do with controlling the importation of horses.

I will be very sad to see Baurzhan leave. He has been a trusty and resourceful companion, even though he managed to lose my tethers, run over my saddle, and get the lorry stuck on the steppe - but it all adds to the challenge!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Into Rostov Province.

Monday 12th September
As I have ridden past Elista and into Rostov province, the scenery has begun to change quite markedly from dry open treeless steppe to a landscape of enormous unfenced arable fields bounded by lines of trees. At this time of year the fields have either been ploughed, or lie fallow with large herds of fat cattle grazing on the stubble, sometimes mere dots on the horizon.

What we British would call proper grass has begun to appear, and the horses are eating their fill with the help of 'Doctor Green' who will hopefully put some more flesh on their bones as they both need more condition.

The further west I ride, the more trees are appearing, and the countryside has a much more European feel to it, particularly as the faces one sees are mainly Caucasian.

Another noticeable feature is the appearance of the rich black chernozem soil (black earth) which makes this part of Russia and much of Ukraine so fertile that it has been called the 'breadbasket of Europe'.

I am still being pursued by rainstorms - will we make it to the truck in time? - in this case yes!

Agricultural produce is often for sale with at the side of the road - potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and in this case, onions, which is what the little sign announces in Russian.

We meet many friendly Russians.......

Michael from Elista and his entourage - he was an amiable horseracing enthusiast who stopped for a chat - rather limited in view of my poor Russian, but the subsequent photofest translated into any language. He had a lovely thoroughbred stallion and mare in the red van behind him.

Something that took my fancy. Not the toothless herdsman I hasten to add, but the little grey mare.

This elderly character with Baurzhan was a charming Turkish herdsman.

Not a dead horse but little Zorbee rolling at dusk after a long day.

Dog trap.

Health and safety issues are hardly a priority in many Asian and Eastern European countries, and open manhole covers and similar obstacles are a constant danger.

When riding into Elista I imagined I heard a dog barking, but not a canine was in sight - then I realised it came from a hole in the ground. A stray dog had fallen into one of these traps. Baurzhan investigated .....

.....and managed to dangle my reins into the hole, twist them round the dog's neck, and flip him up to safety.

An somewhat undignified extraction for a rather shamefaced and disorientated mutt, but at least he was saved from a lingering death.