I’ve been in Kharkiv about 20 days now, and I’ve been quite surprised with the prevalence of English – especially compared with Russia. A lot of the Ukrainians I know speak well, although perhaps that’s the sign of an educated middle-class that interacts with foreign clients. However written English is certainly common in the street – especially shop names. Right now, on my desk I have a leaflet for a “craft beer pub,” down the road are Manhattan Bar and Tesla Pub. Even if it’s not strictly English Latin script is used, possibly to denote its trendiness, and even in Cyrillic some things are borrowed, such as the ever-present ‘секонд хенд’ shops.
Supposedly, this finds its roots in the 90s, after the collapse of the USSR and the subsequent flooding in of western cultural elements. However, tourists aren’t still associated with the opportunity of Levi Jeans, and nowadays I sense the English orthography isn’t explicitly seen as foreign anymore. In fact, even I completely took it for granted until it was pointed out to me.
In the context of determining whether Ukraine is “fit for globalization,” it’s worth observing how far western culture has permeated the Eastern Europe. Graffiti and street art has a strong presence here; teens skate, scoot and BMX about the city. On an evening, the square by the theater is alive with break-dancing or rock music. There’s no question that American street culture has been exported here. Similarly, at the gym Zumba, CrossFit and power cycling are all on offer. Women walk down the high-street wearing American and British brands, what’s trendy there is trendy here.
Ukraine seems to have a lingering feeling that it is somehow separated from the world. That perhaps they haven’t fully been invited to the European party. As far as first impressions go, however, Kharkiv has been subject to the same forces of globalization and consumerism as anywhere else I’ve visited.