As I approached the front desk in the dark I could barely make out the figure of a man slumped forward in a chair, head on the desk, sleeping. I said “hello there.” No movement. I knocked on the counter and said “Hello” in a louder voice. The figure slowly, ever so slowly raised his head and flicked a light on. The man was college age, sullen and wreaking of alcohol. This was the front desk attendant for the night shift at the hostel. He went by the name of Radoslav and was supposed to be taking care of my check out. His blood shot, half opened, bleary eyes hardly recognized me. He looked at me then proceeded to lay his head back down on the desk. To my left, I had the suspicion that I was being watched. I then noticed three people looking straight at me. Two young females and a guy were sitting on a sofa. Their eyes were wide open, faces expressionless and half drunk. They just stared at me with blank looks. For the first time in five hours I got a glance of the culprits who had managed to make my last night at this hostel in Lviv, Ukraine a sleepless hell.
Last Night In Lviv – Promises, Promises
It was 5:00 a.m. I had to catch the morning express to Kiev in an hour. I needed a taxi to take me to the train station. More precisely, I needed Rostock to call a taxi for me. I could not speak a word of Ukrainian and had no idea how to use the hostels phone. I was at the mercy of Radoslav, who was pretty much passed out, sleeping off a bender for the ages. The problem was that Radoslav was dead to the world. Just looking at him gave me painful feelings. Glancing at the other three individuals made me leery. They looked wide awake, but not quite coherent. Why couldn’t they be sleeping and Radoslav be the one with his eyes wide open.
The evening before Radoslav had promised me that he would call a taxi for me in the early morning. He had said this right after telling me there was a problem with my reservation and the last night of my four night stay, would not be in a private room, but in a room with eight bunks. This was not what I had in mind for what was already going to be a short night’s sleep. Radoslav had also made other promises that Friday afternoon. He asked me if I would like some coffee, when I said yes he then proceeded to forget all about it. Later when I asked him about the coffee, he said between bites from a meal “I’m eating now. I’ll get it when I’m finished.” He never did. Radoslav seemed to enjoy spending his day watching videos on the internet. He wore headphones so he could drown out questions. He was a strange guy. One minute he was a whirlwind of activity, checking people in and changing sheets, the next he seemed totally oblivious to humanity. When you asked him a question it seemed irritated by the fact that he might have to provide an answer. This was a bad enough when he was sober, but the worst was yet to come.
A Sleepless Hell – Screaming Laughter
As I stood at the front desk watching, Radoslav passed back out with a matter of seconds. He looked quite dead, as though he were hardly breathing. I said hello a couple of more times in a rather low voice. For some stupid reason I didn’t want to wake anyone else up in the hostel. How could anyone be sleeping after the loud fracas that had went on to at least four a.m. There was noise galore, bursts of wild shouting, girls screaming out with laughter. Meanwhile people came and went with reckless abandon in the bunk room. One guy showed up and proceeded to prepare himself for bed as though nothing untoward was occurring just outside the bunk room door. Then Radoslav and a gal showed up, they proceeded to do everything, but make passionate love, though they certainly seemed to be trying. This activity seemed to take more effort than passing out. Effort was not something either one of them could afford. The girl soon gave out. Radoslav returned to the party.
The loudness continued. I wanted to go out there and tell them to shut the hell up. The problem was, I would have been outnumbered by at least ten to one. It was though a flash mob had descended on the hostel’s living room. Is there anything worse than random shrieks? I lay there expectantly awaiting another piercing bit of laughter that would jolt me further awake. I could not believe this was happening.
Lviv – Putting The Best Face on Ukraine
Everything else in Lviv had been so wonderful, the hospitable locals, the incredible architecture, the deep and diverse history, the food quite good. Lviv had seemed more like a central or western European city rather than a provincial capital in the near reaches of the former Soviet Union. Oddly enough, I had not seen anyone drinking in public. I had assumed anywhere that had once been a part of the Soviet Union to be cursed with alcoholism. Where were the drunk? It was a mystery to me. You certainly couldn’t say the same about Poland, from whence I had arrived. In Warsaw I had seen numerous people passed out in a wooded park close to old city. One morning, while jogging in broad daylight a drunken middle aged man had come reeling at me, not on purpose, but by accident. I narrowly missed running smack dab into him. He had not even noticed. My last day in Lviv, I discovered that the city had banned drinking in public. This was part of an effort to clean up the city’s image – from what I saw its image was quite spectacular – as it would be one of the host cities for the coming European Soccer Championships.
Lviv had up to this point been the opposite of what I had expected to see of alcohol in Ukraine. I had read numerous stories about the ill effects that alcoholism and binge drinking had wrought upon Ukraine since it declared independence from the Soviet Union. It was not supposed to be as bad as Russia, but then again what place was. According to statistics from the World Health Organization’s Global Report on Alcohol and World Health, Ukraine has the second highest percentage of alcohol related deaths in the world, a tragic 34%. Approximately half of the alcohol consumed in Ukraine comes from spirits (i.e. hard liquor). Ukraine was second only to Moldova (one of the great wine making countries in the world) for the consumption of illegal alcoholic beverages. In sum, Ukraine comes in at sixth in the world in total alcohol consumption per person at 13.9 liters. That being said western Ukraine is one of the most prosperous and least alcohol fuelled oblasts (provinces) in the nation. It is no secret that Eastern Ukraine with its hard living, heavily industrialized landscape of the Donbas region has been plagued with rampant alcohol consumption in comparison to the nation’s more progressive, Europeanized western regions.
Waking The Dead – Service With A Shout
Nevertheless, that night and early morning in Lviv it seemed that Radoslav and his friends had made a substantial contribution to the above statistics. Standing in front of Radoslav’s lifeless, hung over self I had only one option, anger. I started yelling “Radoslav, Radoslav, Radoslav. Wake up!” After several near shouts he woke up once again. His glassy eyes stared at nothing in particular. I barked at him, “Call me a taxi. I need a taxi now.” He fumbled for the phone, nonchalantly dialed a number and mumbled into the receiver. He then paused and laid the phone down, along with his head. I barked at him again, “Did you call a taxi?” He lurched upward, glared at me and said “Taxi coming in 5 minutes. Fuck you.” I laid my key on the counter and grabbed my suitcase. Just before I headed out the door I looked back and saw those same two girls and guy sitting on the sofa staring at me. They managed to look bemused, scornful and traumatized all at once. I turned, flung open the door where I made my way down the stairwell and out onto the sidewalk. Soon the taxi arrived, just as Radoslav had said, in five minutes.