Kyiv, Ukraine: Both Exactly and Not At All What We Expected

But why Ukraine???

August 20, 2019

Why Ukraine? 


Somewhere with active war regions. Somewhere that does not have the best reputation. Somewhere we were warned and questioned about – even by the Ukrainians we know. Well, we’re both working with a Ukrainian company, and I guess this inspired some curiosity about the country.


Getting into the country was a bit surreal. We landed in Kyiv and quickly realized we were in a totally different world. Suddenly, the alphabet had completely changed, things were a bit more run-down, and people acted differently.

Before taking off on this trip, we got a Google Fi plan. Turns out, Ukraine is not one of the countries it works in! Luckily, we had our backup plan from AT&T, which was costly to activate but proved invaluable on this trip expensive to activate, but worth it! Navigating this without internet would have been WAY more challenging!

We hailed our Uber, estimated to cost only about $4 to drive from the airport to our accommodations. I couldn’t help but stifle a laugh when an old, light blue, beat-up Lada Riva (a car originating in the Soviet Union) pulled up, driven by a burly Ukrainian man who didn’t speak a word of English, blasting Slavic music. I always try not to have preconceptions about where we go, but this just fit every stereotype and assumption you could possibly have about Ukraine, and I found it pretty humorous. Hahaha.


We sat in the car, Slavic music still blasting, as this guy drove like a madman down the highway. Eventually, I was able to relax a bit after accepting my fate of being stuck in a car that’s probably a metal death trap. I looked out the window to see HUGE stretches of bland Soviet architecture. It was a dreary day, and these buildings seemed to go on forever, just the same concrete blocks stretching endlessly.

Then we arrived at our Airbnb’s location, and we realized this was the most run-down neighborhood we had ever seen. Pieces of buildings were crumbling, and a huge sinkhole was smack in the middle of the the parking lot of our building complex. But at the same time, the neighborhood felt unassuming, comfortable, and safe

Our host greeted us and sent us up in probably the sketchiest elevator of our lives. It had no door and was tiny. It barely fit us with our bags. We found ourselves on it quite frequently as we were on a high-level floor, and we never got over the worry about it just stopping due to the city’s frequent electricity brownouts and blackouts.


Our unit seemed like a military fortification with huge, heavy, quadruple-locking double doors. A sign on the wall stated, “Do NOT open unless expecting guests.” We kind of looked at each other and seriously questioned the safety of the area at that moment. hahaha.

But it ended up being just fine. We got settled into a cute little soviet-esque apartment and have felt perfectly safe! Well, except for maybe our unit’s balcony… which seems a bit sketchy at best.


We’ve found that the language barrier can be quite challenging here, as most people don’t speak English, and trying to read Cyrillic can be a bit daunting, although Alan has shown a bit of interest in learning it!


Our first experience here was trying to buy water (there’s no potable water here) and being yelled at… in some strange, friendly yell, by a storekeeper for doing it incorrectly. Turns out, it’s common to have multiple stores within one – no barriers or anything to separate them. And something as simple as getting change for a $5 bill isn’t always straightforward…

Despite this bit of culture shock, we’ve found most of the people are extremely nice. Many people warned us about the city being sketchy, getting robbed, etc. And so far, that just hasn’t turned out to be true. Maybe 10-20 years ago it was, but things have clearly changed.


We have explored our neighborhood pretty thoroughly; there are tons of beautiful parks and greenery interspersed in what many would describe as an otherwise drab Soviet city. The food here is insanely delicious and insanely affordable. A fast food restaurant is seriously only about $1 per person to eat. There have been so many stores with high-quality fruits and vegetables, the cheapest we’ve ever seen! Oh, and my favorite has been a Costco-sized store aisle… filled top to bottom with vodka.


Anyways, we’ve been getting settled in and used to life here. We have some cool adventures planned in the coming days, so check back soon!

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