NHL star concerned about Ukraine homeland after visit
By John Wallach WE/Ìû WASHINGTON BUREAU
Photo by Mtehell Layton
Khristich, a Ukraine native, now skates for the Washington Capitals.
When Washington Capitals left winger Dimitri Khristich went on his honeymoon this summer — returning home for the first time in three years — he was looking forward to showing off his native Kiev to his new American wife, Erin.
Khristich was not expecting to find that Ukraine had become a paradise since its independence from Russia. But what he did see in Kiev has left Khristich wondering whether life has improved in his homeland.
"I thought it was going to be better," he said.
Instead of widespread construction, Khristich, 24, said he and his wife saw dozens of half-completed office buildings rotting in the hot sun and already covered with dust and grime.
Instead of Ukrainians going to work to rebuild their newly independent nation, Khristich said "nobody was working because there are no rubles anymore and the [Ukrainian] money isn't worth anything."
He remembers that while life under communism had its drawbacks, at least his parents' apartment was virtually free. His father was paid about 200 rubles a month, which was enough to cover food, electricity and clothing and he was even able to save some money.
Now there is plenty of Ukrainian currency but things are so expensive "no one has anything," Khristich says.
The streets have become dangerous,. particularly for well-paid Ukrainians who return home to visit. One of them, Alexei Zhitnik, a member of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, was even robbed "by bandits" during a television interview in Kiev, Khristich says.
"I don't know whether they asked for the money to protect him against others or whether they just robbed him," Khristich said. "But he told me he couldn't believe it happened to him at home."
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Creature comforts in Kiev, Khristich says, are even rarer. "For the last two years I got used to ice water and there was no ice water," he'said. "There weren't any ice machines and there was no air conditioning"
The hard times have endangered hockey in Ukraine and Khristich wonders if any Ukrainians will be able to follow him to the National Hockey League.
"There are only four rinks in Kiev where you can play all year long," he says. "There are as many rinks in Washington, D.C. Four rinks in Kiev fora population of 3 million people!"
Asked if he thinks Ukraine is better off without Russia, he says: "I don't really care. I'm from a country where it used to be all the same. If it's going to be better to stay together, then let's stay together."
Khristich says eventually he will become an U.S. citizen, which will be easier for him now that he has an American wife. So does he consider himself a Ukrainian, a Russian or an American?
"A free agent," he shot back, using the vernacular of his sport.