03/22/2010 2:54 PM
LVIV, Ukraine — The Internet was officially introduced to Ukraine in 1992 but it went nowhere for a long time. By the year 2000, there were an estimated 200,000 users, a number that had jumped to about nine million in 2007, when some 23 per cent of the population had access.
I have this information because I looked it up on the Internet from the comfort of my hotel room in Lviv.
I suspect from the ease with which I can communicate on line with anyone I know here, or might want to know, that Internet access has grown vastly since 2007.
The other day I went to a cell phone store knowing that the purchase of a local cell phone and SIM card was the simplest way to stay in touch, not only with editors back home, but with anyone I might wish to call here.
The clerk, a nice young woman, listened to what it was that I wanted the phone to achieve, mostly local calls with the occasional international call, and she advised I go up the street to a different provider that would sell me the same Nokia phone for the same price but with a more advantageous rate structure.
Telecommunications in Ukraine today is blasé as that.
Which doesn’t surprise me, I suppose. It’s not as if Eastern Europe, Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union are the information and communications black holes they were 20 years ago.
What does surprise me is how quickly and emphatically change has come.
Was it only 20 years ago that I needed a written "invitation" in order to obtain a visa to enter the territories? Was it only 20 years ago that filing a story to Winnipeg from here could only be done by dictation over land line and, at that, only after making a formal request to an international operator in Moscow, who might take a day to fulfil the request, which meant you had to stay by the phone until it rang, after which, as often as not, the line went dead within seconds?
Was it only 20 years ago? Well, yes, it was. What an astonishing change for the better.
Knowledge is power, and it is a power available to anyone today in countries like Ukraine that ONLY 20 years ago were locked behind an iron curtain where only the few had it.
03/3/2010 10:43 AM
I never got closer to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics than I did by leaving Canada.
My flight to Lviv got me to Toronto one hour before the gold medal hockey game between Canada and U.S.A. Sunday.
The departure area was filled with athletes in coloured uniforms heading home. There was a gang of young Russian men in red and white, the bobsled team, as it turned out. "How did you fare?" I asked.
"We did good," I was told.
I had a four-hour layover and made my way to a sports bar, already packed as the game began.
At 7:01 of the first period the bar erupted in screams as Toews potted the first. None were so loud as Colin Goldreau, who, with his buddy Mike Thompson, was on his way to the Domican Republic for spring break and came to the airport early to see the game before departing.
"I'm a Leaf's fan," Colin said by way of explaining his over-the-top screams and constant banter. "The only excitement I get is international hockey."
I had to leave Terminal 3 for Terminal 1 after the second period when the game was 2:1 Canada. By the time I found another sport bar the game was tied in overtime. The bar was packed and people were standing three deep around its railing. When Sid the Kid scored the entire zone erupted in screams and cheers.
That's the way to end the Olympics and leave the country.
My seat mate for the next nine hours was Kozeko Nikolai, 60, the trampoline champion in the 1973 USSR chamionships. Today, he coaches the Belerus mens free-style ski team.
"How did you do?"
"We won gold, first time, and we won silver and bronze in the biathalon," he said. "Not bad for us."
In Warsaw, where I bid Nikolai goodbye, the common area was packed, the balconies above were lined and a brass band played over the noise of the screaming, cheering mob.
"What is happening, what is this?" I asked.
"It is our Olympians coming home," a woman responded. "We are very proud of them."
When they are held in your own country with a motto Own The Podium, it is easy to forget that the Games belong to the world.
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