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Return to Kodima (6/4/07)
(CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL LIST OF DIARY ENTRIES OR VIEW RELATED PHOTOS) After a long flight and a frantic last few days in Australia, it was with some trepidation to be honest that I flew back into Kiev. The winter in my experience always leaves this part of the world looking grey and drab by March, and this was no exception. The little snow that had rested on the earth had melted revealing dark soil, skeletal trees, and bland soviet apartment blocks. Mentally, after Dad’s death, I felt quite intimidated by the task at hand and the slow grind of Kiev with its pale looking people exacerbated my feelings. In November before Dad’s accident I had been through two months of bureaucracy to secure all the papers, vet certificates, vaccination requirements etc, so that I could continue to the border in Hungary. In addition I had had the horses shod, my gear winterized, and set up my network of contacts en route. Having been in Australia for four months though, all my paperwork was now out of date, my permits expired, and god only knew what condition the horses would be in. I was lifted from my anxiety during my brief time in Kiev by the unfolding political crisis. The President, Yuschenko, decided to dismiss parliament, and mass protests for and against him erupted. From the balcony of the flat where I stayed with a family, I could see the constitutional court, where the crisis will now be solved. The centre of the city on independence square was more like a rock concert celebration than a demonstration. Many of the protesters, ailing from either the Orange revolution supporters, and on the other side the Russian aligned ‘regional party’ supporters, were actually from the country side and were being paid to stand and wave flags. Despite big crowds the people of Kiev paid very little notice of what was happening, especially since they have become fatigued by political infighting ever since the orange revolution. There is a sense among most people that Yushenko has done the right thing, but that he should have done it earlier. During the 2006 elections there were more ex criminals elected into power than ever before, and most of these were members of the Yanokovich’s regional party. Yanokovich has been manipulating power in the parliament in dubious manner from day one. With the green light given by the ministry of agriculture for a renewed animal transit permit, I set off on the train back to Kodima, where I had left the horses when I had returned to Australia. At the time I was extremely lucky that Vladimir Sklyaruk, and the owner of the local collective farm Sorochan, had agreed to take both the dog and horses so that I could fly home immediately. When I left I had no idea how long I was going for, and although I had come back as early as possible, four and a half months is a very long time both to feed three horses, and for them to be standing and not working. Tigon, I worried, had probably all but given up hope of my return. I felt a great sense of gratitude that the task of looking after the animals had been taken on so unquestionably, even though it was a big responsibility. I also felt uneasy that they had helped so much and refused to take payments from me, at least for hay, grain and dog food. In the early morning light the train pulled into Kodima and I slung my gear onto the concrete platform. Anton, Vladimirs son picked me up and soon I arrived at their home where first preference was to see tigon. He began jumping in circles, kind of squealing, then rolled over on his back, then stood up and jumped up to my chest. There was a look of disbelief in his eyes, and after patting him I realized just how much he had grown over winter. He had filled out a lot and looked stronger and thickset than I ever remembered him- this was not the same skinny little runt who had begun with me in the Winter of 2004 in Kazakhstan. Inside I sat down with Vladimir and shared a few shots of vodka. He told me how Tigon had come to know his dogs well, that he was an expert at stealing eggs from the roost, he could jump over fences like no other dog, and had begun guarding their house for them. ‘I knew you were coming, and that I would say goodbye to Tigon, but to honest I have really grown to like him, a very smart dog, I will really miss him when you leave.’ From Australia I had brought Vladimir an Australian Akubra hat and some large print photos which I presented to him at long last. My next stop was Misha’s home where I had left my gear abruptly before leaving. There I collapsed in a bit of a heap and told them everything I could about my time back in Australia. It was the next day, Monday when I went to the old farm to see the horses. The collective farm, with its 5000 or so geese, old soviet concrete slab barns, and ubiquitous horse and cart doing the rounds, looked tired and drained after the winter. It would of course be different story within a few weeks when the grass and buds start to grow. Oleg, the deputy director took me to a barn of cows, and there at the entrance were my three horses lined up waiting for their daily rounds of hay. I knew not to expect them in great condition because my horses, like all horses need to move, and to be on dry ground to be entirely healthy. There they stood, like they had been probably for most of the last four and half months. Their winter fur was malting, and with it huge dry dags of mud and manure were hanging off. Their hooves were understandably overgrown, and because they had been standing in wet ground for such a long time, were soft and in dubious condition. Vasya, the farm worker who had fed them more than anyone else explained to me that they had not been able to take off the horse shoes from Ogonyok. This meant the the shoes had now been on him for more than five months. Generally 50 days is the recommended maximum, and I hope that his hooves will be ok. Later I understood that in the more recent times all the workers had become scared of my horses, and so they had not been moved from their standing position for quite some time. For me, this was all nothing to get too stressed about- I knew that I was lucky to be returning to horses at all, and most importantly they had been fed well and had only perhaps lost a little weight. There was no one to blame, just the reality, and the consequence of a chain of reactions, and now I just had to deal with it. The first thing the next day was to get fresh blood samples so that I could have analysis done, which would then allow me to have new certificates processed for onward travel. The local vet however said that taking blood would be impossible from my wild beasts. While the men largely stood back, I eventually tied and calmed the horses and we were able to get 10ml of blood from each. Ogonyok as usual was the most difficult- he tends to turn wild within a few days rest, and now 135 days or so had passed! It took some time, but we succeeded and I spent the rest of the day trying to clean the horses and restore some kind of relationship with them. The next day was a repeat, only this time it was doses of equine influenza vaccine, more cleaning, and sorting out of equipment. I was able to give Oleg and Sorochan an Australian oil skin coat, photos, and a large wooden carving of a horse as gifts. I also brought gifts for the vet, the farm worker, and others who had helped. Yesterday as the weather turned cold and snow even began to fall I packed my things again, and set off on the train to Kiev with all my winter gear for storage, and the frozen blood/plasma samples for the EU registered laboratory. Today I arrived back in Kiev, spent the morning at the laboratory and am now planning my return to Kodima. I have arranged for a farrier to come from Nikolaiv next week so that we can try to solve the hoof problem with the horses. Assuming that all goes well, the results are negative from the bloodtests, and the new transit certificates are processed quickly, I hope to actually be in the Saddle by next Friday! It is always a long process, but to be honest I had the impression at the farm the other day that this is like starting from square one again. The horses are green, I feel out of shape and exhausted from my time in Australia, and although there is only about 1500km as the crow flies remaining to the Danube in Hungary, there is still a long way to go. Last night though before I caught the train I paused for a time out on the street to watch sun set over the clear, treeless horizon to the west. A great sense of calm came over me, because I know that once on the move again the cobwebs will be wiped away, and a certain simplicity should return to my routine. I would like to extend again a big thanks to all who have gone out of their way to help look after my horses and dog in Kodima. It was a truly big task, and I know that Mum is, and Dad would have been very appreciative. Tim.