Life in Ukraine - Telegraph
My husband Len and I came to Ukraine two years ago to work with street children, something we have never regretted.
We originally rented an apartment in Kyiv as we came to work with somebody else, but after a couple of months bought a house in a village about 15km outside Kyiv.
Introduction: Ukraine is a beautiful country with warm and friendly people who are very patriotic. There are some who assume you are rich and want to get every penny out of you but these people are in the minority and after the first couple of weeks are usually easily spotted and avoided.
In autumn the whole country is a startling mixture of greens, browns and yellows and this includes the cities as there are parks and open places everywhere with great expanses of green between the apartment blocks.
Accommodation: At present there is a lot of new building going on in Kyiv, but if you try to rent an older apartment that will usually be a lot cheaper - don’t be put off by the look of the outside.
Most older apartments are usually quite modern and comfortable, the main drawback being that they have centralised heating and hot water.
Prices for renting vary greatly, from $200 a month for a one room apartment (equivalent to a bed-sit) to $5,000 a month for a luxury apartment (and these can be quite luxurious).
The village houses are very different, although there is quite a bit of building going on in our village of Knyazhichi. When we first moved in we had three rooms (the first very small) plus a kitchen, no running hot water and the toilet was outside in the back garden.
The mains water, which is undrinkable if you want to stay healthy, was turned off for most of the day, but one of our neighbours, who has since become a very good friend, let us use his well whenever we needed without asking each time.
We have now put in a bathroom, well, hot water and an inside toilet. There is no mains drainage, but most cess pits are emptied regularly so the smell in summer is minimal. We wouldn’t change this place for the earth.
Getting around: Public transport is cheap (50 kopeks on the Metro will take you wherever you want to go in Kyiv) although crowded at all times of the day. On several occasions while trying to change lines at Kryschatic I have been carried back in the train that I have been trying to get out of.
There are also, buses, trolleybuses, trams and Mashukas, the latter being like 12 seater mini-buses which I have known to squeeze in 30 people including those standing. Depending on which you use these can cost from 50 kopeks to 2 grievna.
Bureaucracy and Government: Most people will know that we have had a quiet revolution here in the last year and a new government. Some changes are already being seen although only very slight so far, but with a bit of luck, our work with Street Children will no longer be needed in about 10 years time.
Bribery does go on over here, but not nearly as much as the west is led to believe. Setting up our own charity over here we had been told that it would cost us the earth in bribes, but so far we have not had to pay any or been asked for any.
The main thing with the bureaucracy over here is that mostly, there are no central computer links and sometimes the people we are dealing with have not been told that laws have changed. We have at times been told three different ways to do the same thing, by three different people in the same office.
Even Ukrainians get a lawyer to do any legal work for them as they can also run around in circles getting the simplest job done, but get a lawyer who specialises in the type of legal work you want done.
Language: The official language over here is Ukrainian, but most people also speak Russian. Both are very difficult languages to learn. Ukrainian children learn English from a very early age and everyone wants to practice, so while I am tearing my hair out trying to learn the language, everyone I meet is improving their English.
Our caretaker/manager who is a Russian/Ukraine spoke about six words of English when he came to work and live with us, his two daughters spoke none. All three now converse in English and forget to tell us the Russian equivalent, but we can manage our day to day living.
Work: Most work over here is teaching English or working for multi-national companies, but you should have a job to come out to. Your employer will help you to find accommodation if you are working full time, but if you are only going to be working part time you have to find your own.
Women beware, Ukrainians are only just getting their heads around us having any power! I am the President of our fund here and am always introduced as such, but whoever we are speaking to will usually turn their back on me and address my husband.
Banking: All major transactions are done in cash and priced in American dollars as people are wary of trusting banks as a lot of people lost a lot of money when the banking system collapsed at the fall of communism.
We tend to use our English account and withdraw money from ATM machines, but again beware, we have had our card cloned.
Communications: We can get BBC World Service for part of the day, but unless you have cable or satellite TV you cannot get English speaking channels on the TV.
I have not yet managed to get an English or American newspaper, although we have a few friends who work in the embassies who sometimes think to pass on newspapers to us.
You can subscribe to English newspapers and get them sent out to you, providing you don’t mind getting out of date news.
There is a weekly English speaking newspaper here called Kyiv Post, but this is getting difficult to find lately and you can always read your favourite newspaper online.
Mobile phones and the internet are readily available, if you can get a phone line.
Internet calls also have to be paid for by the minute, no Freeserve or Anytime type services over here. It is also very difficult to get Broadband (I only know one person who has this) and usually you copy your letters to Word, write the reply, then connect again to send it as this cuts down a lot on the cost.
Computer parts and accessories are cheap by comparison, I have just brought a new well known brand printer for the equivalent of £37 and more and more computer shops are springing up all over the place.
Healthcare: There is an exchange agreement between the Ukrainian government and the UK for emergency health care, but medicines, bandages etc have to be paid for.
Religion: The state religion is Orthodox, both Russian and Ukrainian, but there are many English speaking churches here and at least one synagogue, although I have only seen one Muslim and have not found out yet if there is a mosque in Kyiv.
There are a great many English speaking churches in the country as a whole, with most protestant denominations being represented. We attend Assemblies of God and Anglican, also occasionally Seventh Day Adventist, but we have friends who attend a great many other denominations.
Occasionally Ukrainian churches will have a translator for English speakers, but we have not come across this often.
Entertainment: There are many things to do in your spare time, including bowling, horse riding, fishing, and visiting the theatre and opera house. The favourite pass time of the Ukrainians themselves is just to walk around their city on a summer day or evening and meet and talk to friends.
One word of caution is that, although the wine and vodka over here is a lot cheaper, it is also a lot stronger. The first time I was invited to a friend’s house I had two glasses of wine (at home this would present no problem) and when we stood up to leave I nearly fell over, it really is that strong.
Overview: This is a beautiful and welcoming country, but don’t try to change the people to suit your ways, try to fit in with them instead.
My husband was brought up in an English country village, and I was brought up mostly in London and knew nothing of country ways. When we first moved into the village people were wary of us, but have seen that we respect their customs and ways of doing things.
We feel accepted and part of the community and, although at first we saw our work here as a five year commitment, after two years we now feel that this is where we could end our days quite happily.