Culture Shock

22 May 2012, 15:00

Coming from Finland and living in Kyiv is an interesting combination of two  different European cultures. When I ask my fellow countrymen what they know about Ukraine, I am often met with a pretty long silence. Then somebody might come up with an honest answer, “hrmm…well…it´s pretty big”. Yes, the country is actually enormous, comparable to France, I might answer. Anything else, I ask? “There is the European Football Championship, the Euro-2012.” Yes, correct. But then again, the debate could shortly turn towards something completely different, such as “Hey, we lost that bloody battle something like 6-0 to the Russians there!” (10,000 Finns and Swedes were lost in Poltava in June 1709). It soon becomes clear that other socio-political issues like Chornobyl, the Orange Revolution, or Ukrainian Euro-integration, are not the hottest issues on the agenda when my countrymen are looking at Ukraine from outside. Nor are possible corruption issues or the never-ending pipeline policies vis a vis the EU and Russia. What really comes up often, are more down to earth topics, such as the unique Ukrainian nature, the astonishing Ukrainian women who draw the attention of foreigners at Khreshchatyk, and another less shining factor. Bad treatment of stray dogs has drawn the attention of half of Europe in recent months, thanks partly to the attention on UEFA preparations. 

When one thinks how the foreigners look at your country it might be surprising for locals that issues that they think are important, are often not. None of the friends I have spoke to in China, Europe, Hong Kong or United States about ordinary life in Ukraine have mentioned, for instance, the “hot topics” such as the Tymoshenko trial or corruption as their major concern, even thoug these are issues closely followed in this country. However, the way some young Ukrainian men have hunted and openly tortured animals, mainly stray dogs, have raised a strong dislike and feeling of sickness worldwide. Questions often arise as to how it can be legal and culturally possible for several young men to be allowed to destroy the reputation of their native country by torturing innocent and completely helpless dogs with the most brutal instruments and means in modern times? How is it possible that relevant authorities have not taken proper (or any) action against this sickening brutality? I have spoken to several influential businessmen living and working in Kyiv. Something must be done, if not for the sake of the dogs (only), then for the sake of the international image of Ukraine. There are already tens of thousands people in Europe who are boycotting the UEFA cup thanks to these few sadists who have been allowed to practice their torture of animals across the country. Is it worth it? Even if the Ukrainian authorities did not really pay attention the alarming problem of stray cats and dogs, they should read their economics. Money talks, when somebody walks.

However, as we who live in Kyiv know, some steps have finally been taken. I and my spouse recently visited Shelter for Animals at 2, Veteraniv St. in Nove Zalissya, a village in Kyiv Oblast. It protects up to 500 dogs collected from the worst conditions, either from households or the streets. Most of them have undergone medical treatment and surgeries to save their lives. One might expect that a shelter of this size would have a solid public budget. The truth is completely different. I must say that it is easy to be grateful to people who work there. Some of them have left their regular work, just to do something meaningful with their lives. We donated a modest 60kg of dry dog food. That was just a drop in the bucket, which is sorely needed, as in Kyiv alone, there are up to 30,000 stray dogs. I promised to continue donations and to talk to others about their facility in order to generate more help for the dogs. In my home country, Finland, the number of strays is about zero. The same goes for countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark. There is no room in these societies for the idea that a dog would be running the streets without half of the city being mobilized and essential emergency response authorities (police, fire service and animal rescue units) being activated to save a dog, 24 hours per day.

One can recall the famous ancient Roman adage: the measure of a civilization is its ability to handle a disaster and to protect the weakest. So, let´s just admit it. It is high time for those in charge to take appropriate measures and not waste any more time on this issue. Do it for the sake of the dogs, or for the sake of the country and its economy. It´s your call.  

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