I was really excited to take Taylor to Ukraine to visit my brother. I had gone before in 2012 and again in 2016 and somehow ended up in this part of the world again. However, it never gets old. Here’s some photos and a very brief recap of what we did on our trip.
My brother, Colin, has been living in Ukraine on and off for years and is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in a tiny village called Buzovitsy which consists of about 1,000 people near the border of Moldova. From Bangkok, Taylor and I found affordable flights directly to Kiev so went to visit my brother and stayed in Ukraine for eight days.
**Minus our international flight, our 8 day trip cost us ONLY about $1,000 total. This included 2 trains, 1 internal flight, hotels/hostels, and us paying for my brothers food/accommodation since he is in the Peace Corps and lives only off of a small stipend.**
Kiev: We landed in Kiev on a Friday evening and found it easy to call an Uber from the airport for about $15 USD. Taxi drivers were going to charge us $45. We exchanged some money in the airport to have cash (they only exchange Euros or USD at Borispol airport). Then we exchanged the rest in town for almost $0 charge. Most places take credit card which made it really easy for us.
We met my brother near our hotel in Maidon. It was a great location. We walked around the entire area for the evening.
**If you go to Ukraine watch Winter on Fire on Netlflix about the 2014 protests.
On Saturday we walked around before heading to Kiev Wine and Food Festival. Entry was about $4 and bottles of wine ranged between $3-$8. There was amazing food and cheese and Taylor and I were in heaven since we never eat that back in Asia. We had a lot of fun with friends I had met back in 2016 and another Peace Corps volunteer who lives near Kiev.
That evening we found ourselves in a basement bar called “Nora.” It was behind an alley, past an apartment complex and impossible to find. There was live music and we had a ball.
On Sunday, we walked through the are with the Motherland Statue and saw the Holodomor Memorial. During 1932-33 was the Soviet led famine across Ukraine. Over 7 million people were forced to starve to death. During that time, my great grandmother sold her wedding ring for a few loaves of bread to feed her family. The days were full of history, food, and walking until our feet were breaking.
Night train to the village: Taylor, Colin, and I made our way to the train station in time for dinner. We stuffed our faces with delicious Georgian food and got read to depart on our 8 hour journey to his village near Moldova. We booked a sleeper train for a few bucks and although it was hot, it was quite comfortable. We trained from 8pm and arrived at 4:30 am at the closest town to where he lives. Colin had already reserved a taxi to pick us up and take us the additional 15 minutes to his village of Buzovitsy. We arrived and stayed in his Peace Corps mentor’s living room. The train ride was honestly not a bad trip and we were really excited to see his village.
We spent all of Monday walking around his village. We went to the school where he volunteers for a few hours and did some clean up with the students. They are in the middle of a reconstruction project, so all of the older students had to do some landscaping. His school consists of just over 100 kids of all ages. We said hello to everyone and it was really fun to see where he worked. We saw his house, where he gets water, his outhouse, and the village market where you can sit outside and drink beer. It was quite a day of relaxation.
Later that evening, we went to his host family’s house for a homemade meal. This was the highlight of the trip. He lived with them upon arrival, but later moved out to live on his own (he pays about $30 per month for his own house in the village). We had an amazing meal of pork, sausage, potatoes, salads, chocolate, and, of course, homemade vodka. We sat and talked for about two hours while Colin translated everything. It was one of the most unique experiences and we had so much fun. The family had a really nice house that they basically created from scratch. They build all their own furniture and make all their own food. They showed us their large storage of food they are stocking up for the winter. It was great. They also gave us two huge container of vodka for our trip. It was useful on our next train ride.
Hitchhiking to Chernivtsi: One of the main modes of transportation around Ukraine seems to be hitchhiking. When we were in the village Monday we assumed we would take a bus about 2-2.5 hours to Chernivtsi on Tuesday to grab a train in the late afternoon to Lviv. Colin had some tentative plans and around 7:30am on Tuesday we walked half a mile to the “bus stop.” (This consists of standing on the side of a road that has no true bus stop). However, a van pulled up, Colin exchanged a few words, and we hopped in and were quickly on our way to the Chernivtsi. I asked Colin if he was taking us to a bus stop or different town, but no, the driver was already heading that way, so we hitched a ride, got there in an hour and half, and paid $8 for all three of us. It was great!
We had some free time in the adorable town of Chernivtsi. It’s walk-able, has a beautiful university, and was great weather to roam around for four hours.
Train to Lviv: Around 3pm we hopped on our train and were off on a six hour adventure toward Lviv. We had a hostel booked for $5 per night per bed for the quick two nights we were there. We drank our vodka, played cards, and watched TV on our laptops while the time flew by on the train. We arrived in the evening, threw our bags down and were off to dinner. We were staying just across from the Opera House in the main area of town. We walked around and found a bar where you had to give a password in Ukrainian to enter. My brother helped us and the guy on the other side gave us free shots as we entered the basement bar. We listened to live music, ate borscht, vereniki, and drank good beer.
The next day we walked all over the city. We had only a full day and wanted to make the most of it. Lviv was so much fun and although our time there was short, we fell in love with the city, the bars, and of course the perfect weather. We walked and walked and walked.
Flight back to Kiev: On Thursday we caught a taxi to the airport and headed back to Kiev. We stayed in Maidon again, but in a smaller place since my brother was no longer with us. We spent the rest of our trip in the history museum, war museum, and walked to different viewpoints. We ate more Georgian and Ukrainian food and head out Saturday evening.
Quick trip…. YES. Worth it. YES. Although it wasn’t much time (it never is), we were able to see A LOT. TAKE A TRAIN IN UKRAINE IF YOU GET A CHANCE!