Tuesday, June 25, 2013

First thoughts on Ukraine: May 23-25 in Kiev

When I got into the airport, everybody swarmed toward the passport-control. I didn’t see any signs saying where to go, so I stood in one of the shorter lines. About half way through waiting in the line, I noticed a small sign at the desk said “Ukrainian Citizens” I left the line to go stand somewhere else. They had stacks of immigration forms for foreigners. I filled one out, but when I got to the front of the line, they told me they didn’t need it and just stamped my passport. Nobody asked about my return flight, so figured I was all good.
While in line for passport-check, I called my host in Kiev. He told me that one of his friends, Roma, would meet me at the bus station. I stood in line to exchange currency, which seemed to take forever.  Overall, I was really surprised about how little English was used in the airport. I found my way to the bus stop outside and took it to the station where I met Roma. We took the metro to Valentyn’s apartment. The escalator going down into the metro seemed infinitely long (I thought the escalators in the Prague metro were a bit extreme, but these were even more so). Once we got to Valentyn’s apartment, his apartment-mate, Dima, showed me around and gave me a set of keys so I could come and go as I wanted. I was really tired, so I went to bed pretty early.
The next morning, I got up and nobody else was around so I left the apartment to walk around the neighborhood. There was a shopping mall nearby, so decided to check it out. I walked in, and walked down one of the halls to see what they had. A security guard started following me as I walked in and eventually yelled something at me in Ukrainian. I turned around and asked Англеский? (English?). He became a bit more understanding, and paused, and then said something like “Laws.” I was worried that I had broken some sort of law. I told him “Я не понымаю” (I don’t understand) and he told me “Laws… Not open.” I noticed he was probably saying “Closed” and not “Laws”, and then smiled indicating I understood. Once I left, I noticed there was a sign on the door saying they open at 10:00. It was around 9:30. I walked around a bit, and got a cup of espresso, and then came back to the mall once it was open.
I found a phone store in the mall with a woman who spoke English pretty well. I bought a new SIM card and a cheap little phone and she explained to me how to use everything and add money to my account. I was really glad I found somebody who spoke good English since handling all that with my limited Russian would have been a hassle. Later that day, I walked around downtown Kiev for a while. I walked up the Andriyvski Ascent, which is Kiev’s equivalent of Lombard Street in San Francisco. I passed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine. In the evening, I met Roma and his girlfriend and they took me to an art gallery with lots of modern art pieces primarily by Asian artists, including a few exhibits by Ai Wei Wei. It was really bizarre and reminded me a lot of the 104 museum in Paris.
On my last day in Kiev, I met with one of my friends (Rachel) who was in Kiev for 2 nights. We met at Maidan, and then walked down toward a few museums. First, we went to the cave monastery. It was interesting to see such an important site for Orthodox Christians. One of the churches had a system of tunnels underneath it (the caves) with lots of famous religious figures buried throughout it. The only lighting was by candles that other visitors were holding. There was an interesting mix of tacky tourists and extremely religious older women walking together through the tunnels. After we left the monastery, we walked along the river and passed a few statues and memorials. We saw the huge “Motherland” statue, which is a symbol of the city. After that, we went to the Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War (WWII). One of the exhibits in the museum was the remains of an airplane that had crashed into a lake. There were also newspaper clippings from different Soviet cities during the war.

My host Valentyn had called me earlier to see if we wanted to join him and his friends for a picnic in a park. I told him we were busy seeing museums, but we’d meet up with him in the evening for dinner. After we finished walking around the center of Kiev, we took the Metro back to Valentyn’s apartment so we could meet him for dinner and I could pick up my stuff before I left the city. We went to a restaurant near his apartment called Mafia. It was my first time actually meeting Valentyn since he had been out of town for the last few days helping his sister. While he was there, his friends and apartment mates had helped me out with everything I needed. After Rachel and I had dinner with Valentyn, I left for the train station, to head to my next destination.

Tall buildings by Valentyn's apartment

The Kiev Metro

Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine

Roma in front of his University

Me at the university

Kiev streets

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