A group of street performers in Kyiv, on March 25, 2017.

From Busking to Animal Suits:
the Shady and Skilled of Ukraine’s Streets
 Month of March, 2017
Photojournalism by Rebekah Welch

Ukraine is a beautiful country with a fascinating history. It also has an impossibly cheap cost of living. Between those two facts, it is a rapidly growing tourism center for Europe. In fact, it ranks eighth for tourists continent-wide, according to the State Statistics Committee of Ukraine. Taking this into consideration, it is not surprising that the city streets of Kyiv, Lviv, and Odessa contain a considerable sum of people who are…shall we say…alternatively employed.

Being from a town in Montana that enjoys a large tourism industry and inconceivably beautiful summers, I am no stranger to homeless people, buskers, and panhandlers or even homeless busking panhandlers. Truth be told, though, none of them has ever seemed a nuisance to me. After all, we all have different advantages in life, and you have to make a living somehow. Before coming to Ukraine, I truly thought I had seen it all. I was wrong. From skilled and talented artists to straight-up hustlers, let’s explore the world of Ukraine’s street industry.

STREET MUSICIANS

You can’t wander far in the city centers of Kyiv, Odessa, or Lviv without hearing busker music. As in  just about any big city, they’re everywhere. However, these are not just the typical barefoot guitar or banjo slinging, Bob Dylan covering buskers I’ve become so accustomed to in the Northwest. In Ukraine, they mean business.

A drummer outside one of the McDonald’s on Kryshyatik sports a red nose and shoes a la Ronald McDonald, on March 25, 2017. In addition to the special getup, this busker brought along speakers and recordings of other instruments to play to. Why let the lack of a complete band slow you down?

A graduate of the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine plays violin on the steps leading to the Teatralna metro station in Kyiv, on March 5, 2017.

A guitar player covers Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” on the streets of Lviv, on March 11, 2017.

A trumpeter performs at the popular busy metro station Zoloti Vorota at dusk in Kyiv, on Febuary 28, 2017.

A drummer takes a moment to amp up the crowd in Odessa’s city center, on March 14, 2017.

THE HUSTLERS

Don’t be fooled. Not everyone earning money on the streets are as deserving as trained musicians. Where there are tourists, there are locals who will take advantage of them. In Ukraine, there are certainly some creative ways of doing so.

Some of Kyiv’s “selfie traps,” as I like to call them, take a smoke break on Kyiv’s main square, Maidan, on March 25, 2017. These giant fuzzy animal customed Kyivans stroll the main drags of the city and approach passersby. Usually, they want to shake hands. Once you do, you’re trapped. They won’t let go until pay them, and they ask for way too much. If you see one of these fuzzy critters approach, simply keep moving.

A zebra gets overheated waiting for potential targets outside Kyiv’s most famous Cathedral, Saint Sofia, on March 23, 2017.

The only way I could gain photographic evidence of one of Kyiv’s most popular scams was to participate in it. These scammers are quite weary of their photos being taken! So, here I stand on Maidan on March 24, 2017, with some birds. Why? Every day on the main square, there are dozens of people with hawks and doves. They approach tourists taking photos or simply speaking English and sort of thrust their well trained birds at them for a photo opp. Once it’s done, they demand money. In my case, the owner of the hawk asked for $20. If this happens to you, do what I did after this and tell them you don’t have any dollars OR any hryvinia. Don’t give in to these insane prices for a mediocre photo…with a bird.

The hawk I was unsuccessfully charged $20 to pose with, on March 24, 2017. It’s owner refused a photo showing his face.

Rebekah Welch

Rebekah Welch

Rebekah Welch is a senior at University of Montana in Missoula. She is a double major in Russian and Journalism with an emphasis on photography. She is studying Russian language at NovaMova in Kiev, and am also working for the school as an intern, creating a photoblog. After a semester abroad, she hopes to become fluent enough in Russian that she can work as photojournalist throughout Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Although she loves this area of the world, she has a passion for journalism and will go wherever the story takes her.

Rebekah is attending Journalism Internship
View all posts by Rebekah Welch

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