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My first day in Ukraine

We landed yesterday in Borispol airport which is the only international airport in Ukraine that accepts flights from Europe on regular basis. The first impression was somewhat depressing. I can’t say I had very high expectations, I consider myself a very pragmatic person, yet I was hoping that Ukraine has taken its only airport to the world standards.

On our way from Chicago we made a stop over in Warsaw Poland, which is another Eastern European country, and Borispol airport didn’t compare to Warsaw even remotely. The airport has only one terminal with two gates. Some of the personnel didn’t wear uniform. The trucks used out in the field all looked like they were collected from a junk yard. Surprisingly we had no problems at the customs. On our last trip 3 years back the officer was looking for any excuse to collect a “fee”.

Ukraine FolkMy wife’s parents met us at the airport and we drove to Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, on two cars. On our way there we made a stop at a restaurant called “U Sester” (“By the Sisters”). The photo to the left is from that restaurant. I was told this is not a usual restaurant in the sense that normal Ukrainians can’t afford dining there. The menu was an impressive thick book with hundreds of items and prices ranging from $2 for a salad to $5 for a sophisticated dinner dish (all in local currency of course).

Our next stop was a gas station where we filled up for appx $1 a liter (1 US gallon = 3.79 litters) and continued our trip until police stopped our car not far from Poltava, a big city between Kiev and Kharkov. The reason — speeding, the fee — $2. I was explained later $2 (equals to 10 Hryvnas) is the usual bribe to get clean out of a minor traffic violation like this and that everyone is doing it. You just give the banknote with the license, get the license back, and you are free to go. The whole procedure took less than a minute. I consider this accident very symbolic of how corrupt the whole country is.

Transporting ChickenAs we went on with our trip I observed beautiful countrysides with farm animals scattered here and there. Ukraine overall is an agricultural state with industrial regions taking most of the East. Almost all of the farms are small businesses ran by families. The car on the right is pulling a load of chicken turkeys (already slaughtered and w/o feathers) probably to be sold in the city.

The entire trip took around 6 hours (with 1 hour stop for food) and it was getting dark as we approached Kharkiv. The smell of burning fuel is the first thing I noticed as we entered city limits. The buildings of Power Station #5 and the huge exhaust pipe is the first thing that you see as you enter Kharkiv. The hight of the pipe is 330 meters (1083 feet). I was told that later some European body restricted building pipes of this hight because the smoke can go as far as neighboring countries.

When we arrived to my in-laws house I was too exhausted to even talk and after taking the shower went straight to bed. The next day is promising to be more interesting. I will go to city to visit some of my friends, to exchange US$ to local currency, and to get myself a SIM card to activate my T-Mobile phone that I brought with me. Hang on until next time and let me know if you have any questions. By the way, thanks for your comments to my last post and your e-mails. I read ever single one and will try to answer all of your questions as my routine normalizes after the trip.


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5 Responses to “My first day in Ukraine”


  1. 1 rajbot Jun 15th, 2007 at 8:46 am

    this is fascinating! keep us updated when you can.

    can you speak about how the price of gas (it sounds like $3.79 a gallon — which is what we pay here in CA) affects the Ukranian people when $5 is considered too much too afford for a meal? do a lot of people use alternative transportation, or is just a ton of money budgeted for gas?

  2. 2 Yan Jun 15th, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Public transportation is the norm for the majority. Kharkiv has buses, trams, trolleybuses, and subway.

    Usually if family has a car they drive it once a week or so to a summer house, which is not really a house but a place to grow vegetables and fruits, or on other occasions. Many low to average income families have very old cars left from the soviet times.

    Those more better off who drive the car every day probably can afford eating out for $5 as well.

  3. 3 mike g. Jun 15th, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Great post Yan. It’s really disappointing to hear about the corruption, but I guess it’s going to take a long time before things change.

    If you happen to eat out again, please post pictures of the food!

  4. 4 Jenny Jun 15th, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    That looks like tons of fun and Ukraine is gorgeous! Have a safe and wonderful trip!

  5. 5 St. Ann Jun 17th, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Don’t be discouraged. Ukraine may not reach the material level of convenience and … as, say, a country like the U.S., but life needn’t be measured by material standards. In many ways I find life in Ukraine far more healthful for body and spirit, than that in the U.S. Nice post

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