There are lots of things, however contradictory, I knew I’d been missing about Ukraine. The chaotic, comprehensive markets, with their mountains of fabulous fruits and vegetables. Mushrooming in the forest. Ukrainian villages. Overnight trains. Three a.m. street singers of folk songs. Babushky on the benches outside the tower blocks, noting and commenting on everyone who goes in or out.
But when I arrived in Uzhgorod bus station, after six months away, I was greeted by something else I hadn’t even realised I’d been missing.
Ukraine’s homeless dogs. There are thousands of them in every town. Stray and semi-stray mongrels, they are generic Dog. They look like cartoon dogs, lounging in the dust, curled up comprehensively with their noses tucked in their tails, trotting about self-possessedly, waiting at red lights to cross the road. They don’t rely on anyone. Except for the puppies, which would still like to make friends with people, they get on with their own business and hope for a little help, a little tolerance, not too much interference. Like Sharik from Bulgakov’s A Dog’s Heart, if left alone they are probably better creatures than the system we live in makes of us.
It’s a thoroughly irresponsible view, I’m sure. No doubt they are a danger and a nuisance. Their lives, I expect, are nasty, brutish and short enough. I do know that the Ukrainian authorities’ way of dealing with them doesn’t really bear thinking about.
But that’s like most of the things I miss about Ukraine. They are awful and wonderful at once. They should probably be done away with to make the country more modern, efficient, wealthy, humane, European. But I selfishly hope they never vanish.
PS Anyone recognise where the (not entirely relevant) title is from?