Ukraine-country of contrasts

17 Jul 2013

You’d almost give up and just get lost in this huge country. If you wanted to step back in time you could live in a village with your cow or goats and cucumbers, or wander into the vast forests full of berries and mushrooms, they call to mind fairy tales of paths that lead to a another land, or then there’s the sprawling, frenetic, modern, cities with their sardine apartment blocks and chique cafes. We did nearly get lost south of Kiev and our poor sat nav is close to having a nervous breakdown. The wee blue car hovered in no man’s land for most of today as we got further east. 


When we left Poland we felt like we were stepping off into the true adventure of this trip and we were did fee a bit of trepidation, but the Ukraine has won us over. Its an amazing country with warm hearted people who have been friendly and in the case of one couch surfing family, welcomed us into their home. 
The only downer was our second police stop. It was a bit of a set up as we first passed one police check point and it appeared to us that the police man wave us past him and a lorry he’d just stopped to continue. Two seconds down the road we pass another bigger police check point complete with station and box where we are waved in. They accused us of not stopping at the first stop. Hmmm. Out come our strategies- kids out lots of smiles- no hint that Mike understands a lot of what is being said. We get some smiles back but then shake our heads in disbelief when he tells us due to protocol that we didn’t stop, he has to write a ticket- He does this and asks for 1320 Grivna about 130 euro. We shake our heads in disbelief and again argue that we were not asked to stop. He rings the police translator and again Mike repeats our line over the phone to her. Next minute he just asks Mike to sign ticket and says we can go.  Phew. 


When visiting Natalie our couch surfing host we learn another side thankfully to these people. She tried to stuff us silly with every kind of fruit, jams, bread, soups, honey, “home butter and milk” from her grandparents. She wanted to know all about our country how we live. We told her and learned a bit about the Ukraine. Population is dipping with smaller families so the government give families with more than four children incentives, help with school costs, free sports activities and a children’s payment of €300 per month to the family. This is a big help to Natalie who has four children and whose accountant husband working for a computer firm earns €200 a month. Their parents give them a further €200 to help with bills and they own some property after inheriting a flat which they sold and re-invested. They live in their own house on in the city but make frequent visits to relatives in the villages to spend time in nature. They come home with from these visits with piles of fresh foods, vegetables, dairy, eggs, herbs and fruits. Natalie stayed up after we went to bed to jar up more preserves that she’d cooked earlier. I’ll add more detail about these later in a permaculture post. 

The Ukrainian roads really are mad: huge modern motorways, but many constantly under repair or still being built so road works are frequent, and bumps random and often. The vehicles are as mixed with trucks, old cars from the soviet era and tons of new shiny   SUVs or 4x4s that fly past you ignoring speed limits, on-coming traffic and yet all stop for pedestrians in cross walks in towns and villages very carefully! We were very surprised to see how free Natalies kids were as we walked into the city centre even the wee one ran on crossing drives and small junctions in a way I would have been shouting for my kids to stop and wait.  The cities are fully of buses and trams but also walking people everywhere, the country has bike, horse carts, and big roads have stalls selling every kind of local produce you can imagine and people walking what seems like miles.  The vastness is hard to convey to Island dwellers like the Irish but Americans will know places like the mid-West to get an idea. 
As for us its not the wild west we’re heading for but the exotic east... Russia next we are getting a taste of Russia with the churchs and the old soviet era in the statues.