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Ukraine's Roads: An Endangered Species

Ukrainian drivers are as fond of using dashboard cameras as their Russian counterparts, a “phenomenon” that has recently become known internationally thanks to the Chelyabinsk meteor. This winter, Ukraine's roads have grown so grotesquely potholed – as if hit by hundreds of small meteors! – that many drivers couldn't help sharing their dash cam videos online.

By mid-February 2013, the public outrage over the appalling state of the roads temporarily stole the social media spotlight from the bizarre and ominous second trial of the already jailed ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko, and from the opposition's two-week 24/7 blockade of the Parliament.

Below is a small selection of the recent footage documenting Ukrainian drivers’ bumpy riding routines.

  • The road from Zhytomyr to Berdychiv (this video has been viewed over 20,000 times; its author, Yulia Bankova, mockingly calls the road an Autobahn, referring to the comparatively impeccable German motorways; at one point, the driver is heard wishing that such a ghastly road led to President Victor Yanukovych‘s residence):


  • The road from Ukraine's capital Kyiv to the city of Kremenchuk (the video's author comments: “There's still one month of winter left, but the roads are already gone!!!”):


  • One of the central streets in the city of Gorlovka in Donetsk region (this is not a dash cam video, but a view “from the outside”; its author, Oleg Nosov, notes that the majority of the city's residents are forced to take this route every day, either in their own cars or on public buses and trolleybuses):


  • The road connecting Lviv and Ternopil (the video's author, Roman Symko, uses AC/DC's “Highway to Hell” as a soundtrack):


  • The Ternopil-Lviv road again (this video, by Nazar Kovalyshyn, has been viewed 86,685 times; the discussion that follows is lively and multilingual; there are mentions of similar road problems in Moldova, Hungary, Russia and Poland; the “Czech Republic could also do better”; one user vows to “never complain about potholes here in Sweden ever again,” while another one thinks it's no “big deal. I would rather drive that road any day than drive anywhere in India…”; a number of users praise the author's choice of a background song – “Die Young” by Black Sabbath):


Among other things, Nazar Kovalyshyn, the author of the last video in the selection above, mentioned that the Ternopil-Lviv road had been repaired for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, which Ukraine co-hosted with Poland last summer, spending $6.6 billion from its budget on preparations for the event. These preparations included large-scale road repairs in the host cities and all over the country. In Sept. 2011, President Yanukovych was quoted saying that he was “confident that the infrastructure built in Ukraine [would] serve many generations.”

The newly-repaired roads, however, have failed to survive their first winter – which says a lot about the quality of those costly repairs and confirms that Ukraine's reputation as one of the world's most corrupt countries is well deserved.

"Euro 2012: The End." (An anonymous image widely circulated online.)

“Euro 2012: The End.” (An anonymous image widely circulated online.)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov sees the root of the road problem elsewhere. On Feb. 8, in a wordy Facebook post [ru], he (or whoever maintains his page for him) explained to nearly 24,000 of his subscribers that Ukraine “has 170,000 km of various roads,” of which only 2,731 km are “roads of the first category, i.e., those on which it is possible to drive comfortably.” According to PM Azarov, “the construction of 1 km of road surface in Ukraine costs approximately 40 million hryvnias ($4.9 million)”, or even more, whereas in Poland “it's almost twice as much,” and in Germany it's 2.5 times the Ukrainian cost, i.e., “100,000 hryvnias” ($12.3 million) per kilometer. The Ukrainian budget provides approximately 20 billion hryvnias per year ($2.5 billion) for road construction and repairs. “It's easy to calculate,” writes PM Azarov, “that these 20 billion [hryvnias] will be enough for just 500 km.” His conclusion:

[...] It is absolutely obvious that with the current levels of funding it is rather hard to expect a radical and very fast change of the situation. [...]

It didn't take long, of course, for PM Azarov's readers to start posting their retorts.

Olga Bryga wrote [ru]:

In Poland, I was told the cost of the roads there (with drains, heating, hydroisolation and 20-year warranty) – 5 million hryvnias per km [$600,000] [...]. And there is only one answer to the question of “Why are they sucking, squeezing, twisting the taxes out of us, while the roads remain [so embarrassingly bad]?” – [because] they are stealing [the money meant for the roads]. [...]

Sergei Gorbach wrote [ru]:

Where does the price of 40 million hryvnias per kilometer come from?????????? It is $5 million!!!!???? Can anyone from the government conduct an audit and adequately and in detail explain in the mass media what this price is made of? [...] The price of an autobahn in Germany is something I am able to understand. The materials, salaries, and, above all, the RESULT, can cost this much. But in Ukraine, where the materials are not imported, where salaries are dozen times lower than in Germany, and where there is NO RESULT, a road cannot cost this much. [...] Trust me, I'm a long-time supporter of your political party and you personally. But I would like to tell you honestly that with each new election, I simply do not know what to reply to my opponents! There are no visible results!

Igor Ignatenko summed it all up [ru]:

In our country, road construction price tags are a few times higher than they should be. In Germany, 1 kilometer actually costs less than in Ukraine. It's just that in our country they know how to pocket a billion, not how to invest it. Because you don't really care what words are being used to curse you…

Five road workers are patching a pothole in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Sergii Kharchenko, copyright © Demotix (5/02/13).

Five road workers are patching a pothole in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Sergii Kharchenko, copyright © Demotix (5/02/13).

Much of the road crisis citizen-generated content and discussions, as well as media links, can be found in the “I Hate UkrAvtoDor” Facebook group [uk, ru], whose 4,801 members have publicly declared their hatred for the state agency responsible for maintaining Ukraine's roads. Journalist Andrey Chernikov, the group's founder, posted this introduction [ru] on his Ukrainska Pravda blog on Feb. 12:

While the roads of Ukraine haven't yet disappeared along with the snow, let's eternalize their memory.

Take photos, shoot video and post in the “I Hate UkrAvtoDor” group, if you accidentally come across a good road.

They, the roads, are dying out.

Let's leave warm memories of them.

Join us.

Recently, there have been attempts to hold rallies in Kyiv to draw the authorities’ attention to the road problems. Even though over a thousand people expressed their willingness to come to the UkrAvtoDor office on Feb. 18 [ru] and place car parts that broke off due to potholes by its entrance, only about 30 car owners (and many more journalists) actually showed up. Another action [uk], during which drivers were supposed to stop by the Cabinet of Ministers on Feb. 20 to change tires on their cars, also drew only a few dozen participants. To catch the relevant authorities in their offices, both events were scheduled to take place during work hours, but this strategy backfired, as many of those who wanted to attend, were busy working, too.

UkrAvtoDor has been the activists’ target before. In August 2012, members of the Democratic Alliance [en], a Ukrainian youth organization, were monitoring road repairs in Kyiv's residential areas, for which funds had been allotted from the budget, stenciling the words “Catch the Thief from UkrAvtoDor” next to potholes [photos are here; uk]. While the Kyiv campaign was not as bold and creative as the one in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where activists used to “spray-paint the portraits of local dignitaries around potholes, with quotes of their promises to fix the problem” (see this text by GV Author Vilhelm Konnander), it did bring some relief. Halyna Yanchenko wrote this [uk] in the “I Hate UkrAvtoDor” group:

[...] The repairs did take place at all the locations where we stenciled our slogan on the asphalt. Where there were no stencils, some 30 percent of the [necessary] repairs took place. [...]

Other related citizen initiatives include UkrYama [uk, ru], inspired by the Russian project RosYama (more about it in this RuNet Echo text by Teplitsa/Greenhouses of Social Technologies), and 4road.net/Public Control [uk, ru]. An umbrella Facebook group – “The Ruin of Ukraine's Infrastructure. Enough!” [uk, ru] – has recently been set up to coordinate individual and group efforts to prevent the infrastructure collapse in Ukraine.

Ukraine

Ukraine

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