When I was a kid I thought I knew what cold weather was, but after I grew up and started traveling further afield I learned pretty quickly that what we consider ‘cold’ in Yorkshire is pretty laughable to people who live in places with proper winters.
Kiev is one such city, and although we tried to play clever buggers and touchdown for spring, a particularly severe bout of Siberian weather was clinging on to the central Ukraine, and longing them out with one of the most sustained and harsh winters they’d had for about 50 years.
Accompanied by one of the internets best known drainacs and the ever meticulous GE066, we were to spend 3 days trying to have as much fun as possible while staying out of jail.
I’d only been to Kiev once before after taking a trip out to the radiation exclusion zone around the old Chernobyl power station and didn’t get that much of a chance to have a good look round, so my first move before meeting my two compatriots for this bout of escapades was to get reacquainted with the city.
It was only when I stepped off the airport bus that I realised just how bad it was. There was a good metre in most parts and about 3 where it had been ploughed up with most of it turned to urban icebergs by the brutal nocturnal temperatures. This was going to make things rather difficult indeed.
After receiving a couple of ‘what the fuck is town centre in Russian?’ text messages, I met up with the Otter and trudged up to Golden Gate to meet GE066 who’d just landed, and local hero Vlad who said he’d be happy to hang out for a bit and go for a walk around town.
“Welcome in Ukraine!” he shouted with a smile, lighting up a cigarette. “Tonight I cannot stay long, I have to work tomorrow, but I can show you some interesting things”.
We had a stroll up and down Khrystchstyk as he pointed out a few bits and bobs.
“This is a cool roof, you can climb to the spire on top, but they cut off ladder. Difficult now.”
“Here is tunnel for services, but hatch covered in snow.”
“Cool collector, somewhere under here, but hatch covered in snow, bad time of year heh heh heh..”
One of the cool things he pointed out was a vent for the metro on top of a 25 story tower block. If you managed to get up, you could descend a 150m shaft on a single ladder into the metro system. To me, that sounded mega. For starters, Soviet metro is utterly fascinating in itself (they’re all built as massive nuclear bunkers, full of hermetic doors, dorms and command rooms right off the tracks), and rooftopping a building to get into a metro system was not something I’d had a go at before (although we were to repeat the trick to smack out a famous London toy train set a few months later).
“Here, this is also boonker”.
I started to realise just how much was under the streets here. The paranoia of the Cold War set in motion an insane amount of underground tunnelling and building, leaving the ground like Swiss cheese with bunkers and bunkers and bunkers, absolutely everywhere.
We got some scran and pondered how we were going to spend our first night in Kiev. I eagerly started going on about that metro vent thing on the building, and within half an hour we were stood outside it.
We’d barely formed a plan of action, when a guy came briskly walking up behind us faffing about with a set of keys. Instincts set in and I started following, *just* making the door behind him before it clicked shut, sneaking past the snoozing guard on the front desk, went to the elevators, and headed up to the top floor. As the elevator doors closed in front of me I realised more hesitant/sensible friends had obviously decided to wait in the cold for me to have a go and see if I could work anything out. I stepped out on the penthouse level straight into the view of an ominous looking dome camera.
By eck this looked posh. Vulgur, but very expensive. Shiny marble flooring, huge solid wood doors, immaculately kept pot plants up and down the place.. I figured I’d be best off not hanging about here and made for the staircore to try and find this vent. On reaching the top, I was confronted by a quarter inch steel door and a huge lock that wouldn’t budge an inch. Bollocks.
I went and called the lift, and upon doing so, had what would turn out to be an utterly terrible idea.
If the Ukrainian lift keys are the same as the European ones (which I conveniently had in my pocket) it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a look-see at the top of the shafts.. There are sometimes hatches at the top of liftshafts, and I might be able to use such a hatch to get myself onto this roof. I sent the lift to the floor below, stepped out, waited for the lift to stop, reached up, inserted the key and twisted. I slid the elevator doors open I stepped out on to the top of the lift.
Blast. Nothing. Just solid concrete and a 6 inch gap for the lift cables. I stepped off the top of the lift and figured I’d just try the next one to be sure.
Ahh well. was worth a try. I put my lift keys back in my bag, pressed the call button, and waited.
Oh dear, I’d totally shot myself in the foot with this one. Because I’d been playing silly buggers with my lift keys, both lifts had gone into emergency mode and had shut off, and after a quick jog downstairs for a look at the fire exit I realised I was totally fucked. Probably sick to the back teeth of little bastards like myself sneaking in at ungodly hours, they’d secured it with a massive padlock. The texts started coming in.
I ditched my lift keys out a tiny 3rd floor window and shouted down to Otterman and GE who were moping around outside looking cold and fed up.
“Try and wake the security guard up! Tell her I’m stuck.”
Less than a minute later they returned, having what I can only assume was the equivalent of “fuck the fucking fuck off dickheads!” shouted at them in Russian.
After a half arsed attempt to drop floors via the balconys (almost resulting in me plummeting 3 floors to the ground) I had almost resigned myself to the fact that I was sleeping there until I had another silly idea.
“Give me them lift keys back!” I shouted down from my perch on the 3rd floor balcony I’d manage to get onto.
GE threw them up, and I made my way back up to the 18th floor where the lifts were still sat idle (and still refusing to move).
I went up to the floor above one of the stuck lifts, opened the doors and stepped on top, accessing the panel where the emergency controls were located. My plan was to surf to the basement with the emergency controls, open the lift doors at the lobby and run out before the woman at the desk had processed what had just happened, although with the controls helpfully in Russian, that was going to be more of a challenge than I’d previously thought.
I pressed a couple of random buttons. Nothing happened.
I pressed another, and the lift jolted upwards about 6 inches and stopped.
I was a about to try another when I heard heavy footsteps in the staircore and a shout. Fuck. If this is old bill I better not be on this lift when they come up. I stashed my keys into my inside pocket, stepped off the lift and walked down to meet my fate.
The fireman looked as surprised as I did when we almost bumped in to each other swinging round one of the corners on the stairwell. He gave me a second or two to speak, blasting me with one of those stares that only a Ukrainian can do and spoke some stern Russian at me, with the best response I could muster being ‘Nyet Rooskie’ and shrug. The security guard woman from the desk wasn’t too far behind, and began furiously nattering, throwing her arms about and making lift key gestures (i’d deffo been caught on camera, and was all but ready to spend my lift night in Kiev in a cell).
The fireman turned to look at her, looked at me, shrugged and pointed down the stairs, letting me walk out straight out the door.
Another bullet dodged.
The next day was rather chilled. We got up, had a walk around town and nipped up a couple of rooftops, taking advantage of the crystal clear air and gorgeous sunshine.
In the evening, we hit up with one of Vlad’s mates Dima and a few other guys who were having a cinema party in an old nuclear shelter in the centre of town. We gained access to the building, and encountered what I assumed to be a problem of sorts in the form of a newly locked blast door. I learned quickly how inconsequential this sort if obstacle is for this lot though, and armed with nothing but a coat hanger and a concentration face, resident door-man Sole had the thing opened in less than a minute.
Beer, Russian cinema and some good old fashioned pratting about with Cold War relics ensued.
Upon leaving the party, we had a walk down town to have a look at the Klov, one of the old underground rivers of Kiev.
One of the keys to a proper Ukrainian draining experience, is good songs and strong beer, and they’ve got as many songs about draining there as they have drains. All of them still singing as we had to dig our way out of the manhole in independence square which had been covered in about 3 foot of snow.
It was still a school night, so the Ukes went back to their houses to get some kip for their early rises and we headed straight to one of the bunker entrance Vlad had pointed out in the center of town which was to set the scene for our second fuck up of the trip.
The shaft we were after affords access to a large uncompleted command bunker that connects, like many other systems in Kiev, to the live metro system.
The entire structure around the shaft we’d have to climb to get in was covered in an inch of solid ice, which made what would have been an otherwise simple bit of buildering into an absolute mission. I went first, and as I got to the crux of the puzzle, I noticed a flashing beacon belonging to a lorry slowly moving towards me. It had a group of men surrounding it in what looked like the grey camo outfits worn by the Kiev bizzies.
In less than 5 seconds, I’d be dangling by my arms directly above them, and as such, the only response was to stay the fuck still.
The men passed failing to notice the lanky bloke in black hanging a few feet above their heads, and I thought I’d gotten away with it when the great director in the sky decided it’d be a perfect time to cue a random event to spice things up a bit.
CRUNCH! A massive group of icicles dropped off right next to where I was hanging just as the truck passed next to my feet. You can guess what happened next.
I dropped 3 meters into a massive snow drift just as the guys near me moved their heads to see what had just happened. My partners in crime were nowhere to be seen but had obviously drawn themselves to the attention of the massive guard dog on site. The shouting men who were about to give chase were bad enough, but when that Alsatian chimed in I was on my way out quicker than a grindcore band on Britain’s Got Talent. I waded through the snow quick sharp and vaulted then fence, charging into a maze of side streets as the barking and Russian shouting faded into the distance.
We returned the next day to have a second bash and thankfully had a bit more luck. Once at the top of the shaft, it was then a nice long descent into the blackness, climbing the rusty bolts on the side of the drop shaft for about 75 meters down into the bunker.
The place was absolutely massive, although according to Dima, ‘they’re bigger in Moscow’, a saying I’d come to hear quite a lot in relation to all this cool old soviet stuff.
The bunker was rather extensive and had quite a few interesting sections to it. We also got a stark reminder of why traipsing the metro lines here is a pretty risky business. From behind a thick steel grid section (put in to stop the likes of us getting on track) we sat and held our breaths as a solider walked along about a meter from our noses, completely oblivious to our presence.
Once out of the bunker, we thought it’d be nice to have a bash at some proper track. We headed to a bridge over the Dnipro for last service, just as a fresh bout of snow was charging in from the Arctic north. Our plan was to just hit the bridge and run in the portal, with the promise of one of the ‘onion’ tunnel raccords and cross over junctions just after the station. What we didn’t bank on was the fact that they’d actually employ people the stand in the blizzard all night sweeping snow off the platforms as it fell. We tried to wait them out, but after 50 minutes in the blizzard even the two hats and hoodies I was rocking was failing to keep out the freezing wind that was blowing ten below zero.
We called it off and went to bed.
The following day saw a few more nice drains and traipsing through more snow, something that would eventually put GE066 off to warm his contorted bones in the comfort of the hostel (tall man, small drains) and turn the Otter into NotSoSilentUK, giving up after digging in the snow for a manhole for about an hour and a 30 minute trudge through more waist deep snow.
I had quite a nice time though, especially after being warmed up by a few bottles of that amazing Ukrainian beer we kept supplying ourselves with.
We finished our day of draining in the Nikolska collector and re-grouped, heading over to meet 5 or 6 others who had decided to spend the night mucking about in a pre-soviet era weapons factory on the hill that overlooks the Dnipro. The factory was still live but had a really extensive (and mostly unused) basement network full of loads of soviet relics that could be accessed by a magic manhole into an ancient waste water outfall which ran directly underneath the factory. We located the manhole (bearing a ‘made in Pripyat emboss), dug it out, and headed into the tunnels.
Following a good old rummage round the various sections of this labyrinth (containing loads of old scientific instruments and soviet camera parts), the group decided they wanted to try and get into one of the old strategic nuclear map rooms which would necessitate a bypass of the alarm and electronic locking system into the live section. We secured the doors to prevent the security guys getting to us if we fucked it up with a load of cable we found lying about the place and set to work on the door electronics. It was a one man job really, so most of the rest of us just sat about talking rubbish and drinking ale.
After about half an hour of them pratting about with a set of pliers and wirestrippers, we thought we heard them bringing their bit of bypass related fun to a natural conclusion.
WEWWWW WEWWW WEWWWWW WEWWWW WEWWW
Cue the door team running round the corner and more Russian men shouting, probably about the fact they couldn’t open the steel door from their side to catch the little shits who kept coming back night after night to set all their alarms off. The barricades we’d set up worked quite nicely, and we popped back into the tunnels quick sharp and exited the manhole….
I was here we parted ways, leaving GE066 to head off to his next destination and us to go and have another bash at the metro.
Despite the wretched weather it was an awesome trip, in no small part due to the unbelievable hospitality of our hosts. It wouldn’t be long before I’d return to Kiev in the sunshine, when shit would get *really* serious.
More on that story, though, later.
Unless you live in a disconnected cave, you’ll probably know that Kiev is currently embroiled in some really deep shit, which some are calling a second revolution. My thoughts go out to everyone on the Maidan barricades.