What is life in Kyiv really like? Very often when people in the West think of cities in Eastern Europe, they think of cold, grey landscapes and shortages of basic goods. Kyiv today, however, is a vibrant, colorful place overflowing with street culture, great food, and a global assortment of goods. To help you stay up to date, we’ve asked our students to share what they found while abroad in Kyiv!
SRAS: First, think of the city – what was available in terms of culture, shopping, and services. Were you able to find things to do and the goods and services you needed? What was missing? Were there any pleasant surprises?
Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): I was never unable to find anything I needed. I got coffee in a chain cafe every morning and frequently ate lunch in restaurants. At one point I went bowling in the Gulliver shopping mall. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but found it better equipped than any alley I’d been to back home. The one thing I did have to adapt to was the relative lack of “general purpose” stores. I had to get used to looking for certain goods in specialty stores, which did not end up being a problem. One thing I did find surprising was not only the quantity, but the quality of parks in Kyiv. I frequently found myself walking past or through enormous, well kept green spaces that honestly reminded me of some of the parks in London. They had coffee stands and plenty of places to sit and were extremely popular with the city’s population. I highly recommend anybody visiting Kyiv to go to one of the many parks. Taras Shevchenko Park is of course one of the best, but there are numerous others.
Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): There was a lot available in Kyiv! It’s a huge city, and I didn’t struggle to find anything. I had my hair cut and dyed impulsively, and it was the best salon I’ve ever been to, with the best customer service! They made a mistake with my booking, and when I showed up, they realized they didn’t have enough time for what I’d requested. They did my makeup for free, and paid for my taxi to and from the salon the next day for the rescheduling. I also had the best hair styling of my life, and it was three times cheaper than anything I’d gotten done in the United States! I also got a physical therapy massage for an injury I’m recovering from, and it was wonderful and significantly less expensive – again. I’d recommend trying anything that is “too luxurious” for you to try at home… you can treat yourself here as it’s probably significantly cheaper.
SRAS: How were the prices abroad? Did you find your host city affordable in terms of food and entertainment?
Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): Prices were great. I never paid more than the equivalent of $2 for excellent coffee in both chain cafes and fancy independant places, and it was cheaper from streetside vendors. A pint of kvass cost less than a dollar and is a great treat on a hot afternoon. At one point I balked at paying more than I’d expected for a meal at a fancy restaurant. Then I remembered that it still only cost me $10, far less than it would have cost in a large American city.
Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): As I said above, it was incredibly cheap. My daily morning coffee was about $1.20, and a 20 minute Uber ride was about $4.
SRAS: How were the people you met? Were you able to generally complete transactions with any professionals you interacted with (at offices, cafes, shops)? Did you find local friends to share your free time with?
Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): The language barrier was initially difficult for me, but I quickly picked up enough Russian to hold a conversation and found most people to be pleasant and friendly. I made friends with the student curator of a local art gallery and became close with my peer coach, and had some great interactions with other locals as well – most of whom were more than happy to help an American who couldn’t understand a rapid burst of Russian or Ukrainian.
Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): I struggled at first, but it got better quickly! I found that everyone in Kyiv was completely willing to help out when I was confused too. You have to learn to laugh at your own mistakes, as it makes other people comfortable around you, but if you do that everyone is excited to help you out! People I met at art museums offered to show me around, I made friends with the baristas at coffee shops I frequented, and I became close friends with my peer coach.
SRAS: What modes of transport did you use? Did you generally find them convenient and affordable? Did you travel outside the city during your stay?
Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): I mostly took the metro. My homestay was only a five minute walk from the Pozniaky station, and I had no qualms about walking a long distance to reach areas not serviced by the metro. I did take an Uber a couple nights after being out after the metro closed, and found my drivers to be friendly, and the service itself very inexpensive, even at inconvenient hours. I did not travel outside Kyiv independently during my stay, but I did take an SRAS-sponsored excursion to Odessa. We took the overnight train there and a bus back, and I enjoyed each trip, though the bus was a bit cramped.
Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): I spent the majority of my time using the metro, but found I felt personally safer to not use it at night. Until the last two weeks, I was the only girl in the program, and didn’t want to travel on the metro and walk 20 minutes to my homestay while it was dark out. Uber was incredibly cheap, though, and easy to use! I never had any problems. The furthest I went by myself was Pirogovo, about 40 minutes outside Kyiv proper.
Best and Worst Things
SRAS: What was the best thing about your stay in Kyiv? What was the worst?
Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): I loved how multicultural and diverse Kyiv was. You can truly find everything there. The city seems somehow simultaneously Western European, Russian, and Post-Soviet. All have their merits and their points of interest, and if you study in Kyiv you need not choose which of those you want to experience most. I was, however, a bit put off by the growing sense of nationalism that I felt in Kyiv, and in Ukraine in general. It is good to see people embracing their native cultures, especially after such a long history of aggression and exploitation by other nations, but when this becomes a sense of nationalism I firmly believe a line has been crossed and those of minority descent stand to suffer. Several vendors who sold items decorated with Ukrainian national icons also offered products branded with white supremicist symbols, and at one point a fellow student was asked, pointedly, if he was Jewish. I will say, however, that it is a small minority of Ukrainians who seem to hold these beliefs, and nearly everyone I spoke to was kind, helpful, and thoroughly accepting.
Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): I loved how willing everyone was to share their culture. People invited me to birthday parties, local holidays, and dachas. I asked questions about Ukraine, and in showing my interest, they were excited to showcase everything! I absolutely adore the traditional embroidered dress, and how people actually just wear it around. I was lucky enough to be there on a holiday where everyone wears their pieces from different regions of Ukraine, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. When I expressed interest in it, both my teacher and friends told me where to buy one, showed me how to wear everything correctly, and explained the significance behind the different styles. It’s just one specific example of being accepted with open arms!