I'm going where? Ukraine!

Being Kiva Fellow is being flexible, and for me that meant both the fear and the thrill of going where I'd never thought I'd go - the former Soviet Union!  As a media fellow in Eastern Europe, I've been traveling and photographing Kiva borrowers in Southern Ukraine and Crimea - near the black sea - for about a month now.  I've met farmers who have taken out loans for greenhouses, drip irrigation and small motor tillers through one of Kiva's field partners here - ACM (Agro Capital Management). Many farmers received land after the break-up of the Soviet Union, but they don't have machines or irrigation, and can't afford to buy a system all at once. ACM provides the equipment through an innovative lease-to-own program, and makes sure small farmers connect with the training and support they need.

Ukraine is a study in contradictions - urban and rural, sophisticated and quaint, Western and Soviet…

1. Kiosk Shopping is Everywhere
Much of the consumer culture, at least in Crimea can be seen on the street. You can buy just about anything out of a Kiosk (or a table) here - magazines, water, bread, beer, chocolates, fruits and vegetables. Makes it hard for a foreigner with no language skills.  I point, and smile.


2. Soviet Architecture Is Everywhere
I'm in awe of the Soviet-style apartment blocs, which are now owned and rented privately.  Garages for cars are usually down the way a bit - best reached by bus. 
Apartment, Soviet-Style

Soviet-era village signs (mostly celebrating wheat, which most farmers were required to grow) still announce where we are, though bigger cities have replaced them. 
Soviet village sign

Many former collective farmhouses sit unused and vacant - individual farmers received a share, but often no one can afford to work the land. 
Former Collective Farm near Simferopol


3. Village Life Can Be Quite Basic
Village life is dirt roads, bicycles, cows in the road.  Sergei, a Kiva borrower we visited in Crimea - just recently got running water through a pump and a trough in his living room.  Many have internet and cell phones and some rely on intermittent electricity and outhouses.
Sergei's village in Crimea

4. The Marshrutka is How We Roll
Want to get around?  You'll probably rely on the private bus system - the marshrutka.  Everyone knows where the stops are, though few are marked, and you must yell out to request a stop. Pass your money to the front to pay the driver and your change will be politely passed back.
Marshrutka in action

5. Farmer's Markets are Everywhere
Called rinoks, again - you can buy just about anything from a lady with a table here!  Fuit and vegetables in season, honey, prepared salads, fish, meat - go crazy! 
Honey or мед at the Market in Yalta

6. Tea is Vital
Tea means tea or coffee, cakes, cookies, chocolates and once, thanks to Elena, the accountant at ACM - a few raw quail eggs (with salt) for me.  It's an opportunity to talk and laugh, and eat, eat, eat! When Grisha, the loan rep from ACM and I visited Sergei, he invited us to tea. I brought chocolate. I asked him questions about his Kiva loan, and he told us about the challenges of being a farmer in Crimea - access to water, prices, policies.  Without the loan from ACM, he said he would have had seeds but no water or tractor and would have gone out of business.  He was incredibly thankful for the loan and said he'd tell the rest of his village about Kiva and ACM.
Kiva borrower Sergei offers Grisha tea during our visit

So far it's been a joy to experience Ukraine and an interesting Marshrutka ride!

Fund a loan to a small business in Ukraine on Kiva!


About the author

Liz Fish

Liz has over ten years experience as a television, film and event producer, creating compelling stories for TLC and ABC Family, and connecting filmmakers with resources for the HBO Comedy Festival. Liz has since pursued her love of photography, and has collaborated with her husband on projects since 2009. Liz's work is in the collection of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, has been shown at Foley Gallery in New York, and her portraits of musicians Ben Harper and the band Wilco have been published in the Fretboard Journal. In 2011, Liz took a year-long trip to 13 countries over four continents, where she was inspired by hardworking and enterprising people everywhere, especially women. During that trip, Liz and her husband created over 30,000 images and a series of photos and video from transportation - from a bamboo train in Cambodia to a desert Jeep in Egypt. Liz earned a degree in Economics from the University of Colorado, and is excited to apply that background and learn firsthand about the impact of microfinance. As a Kiva Media Fellow, she is thrilled to document Kiva success stories in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where she will be discovering the people of Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia for the first time.