Ukraine, August 2012

Experiences in Ukraine, August 2012, jotted down in September 2012:

Landing on Borispil airport was interesting, I already noted the worse runway compared to Schiphol, this made me think of the reports of bad roads in Ukraine :)

From Kiev-Borispil I went to Sumy, which is not far from the border with Russia.

1. Kiev-Borispil to Sumy

The way from Borispil to Sumy was on good roads first, fixed for Euro 2012 I was told :) After that bad roads with lots of holes in them, fairly big ones, the driver even stopped to check the suspension after a big hit... But it was actually interesting to me. It was similar to me evading puddles of water on the road on my bicycle, at night, after rain in NL...

What I noticed on the way to Sumy is the colourful buildings, the colourful roofs. Red, blue, green. Such things are almost non-existant in NL. I also liked the stands beside the road. One particular stop with stands is about halfway between Kiev and Sumy and a stop for all who travel in either direction (a 5 hour trip). The stands offer tea and food. I tried a bread which has sour vegetables in it. I loved it! The name could be kulebyaka (but I think that's actually something else). It seems to be home made bread/cake with cabbage/vegetables, not sure it has a special name. I want some more when I go there again :)


1a. More pictures from the way from Borispil airport to Sumy

See this page.

2. Sumy

Sumy itself is close to the Russian border, not a touristy town, but that's what makes it interesting. It has beautiful buildings in the centre, and the hotel I stayed in is right in the centre, I liked it a lot. It felt a bit like walking in a park with lots of buildings scattered around it. I made longs walks and on one of those I went across a bridge across a river which goes straight through the city. I liked the sight of it, and that the banks are accessible and not cut off as in NL with vertical banks. This is the feeling I got in Sumy and on the way to Sumy: Nature looks a bit like the best of NL, which is in Brabant in NL in the area of the 'loosdrechtse en drunense duinen' (dunes and forests in central NL). I find NL pretty ugly regarding nature except in those parts and I suppose also what's called 'Veluwe'. All nature I saw in Ukraine so far, was at least as nice as the nicest pieces of nature in NL.

The accessible river banks from which you can go swimming too, are cool, and I saw the same in Kiev. In NL riverbanks are usually vertical, manufactured, not nice to see, done for maximal land use I suppose. You can barely go into the rivers, you must try hard to find a good spot (where you can get back up onto the bank, so the bank must not be too high!), and then it's usually not actually allowed...

In NL everything is too manufactured, not real nature, but like a Bonsai tree, natural and yet very artificial. Also in NL the roads are very close to buildings, all buildings are close to each other. In Ukraine there is a much more spacious feeling, which I like.

Interesting were the shops that sell mp3 music, I'm pretty sure these are ripped, and not legal :)

It was cool to see lots of old soviet trucks, Ladas, and trolleybusses. I've never seen any trolleybusses in NL though my sister told me we have them ('somewhere' ;-))

2a. More pictures of Sumy

See this page.

3. To Kiev/Kyiv

The way back from Sumy to Kiev was also interesting. I went with a mini bus. Trains are looked down upon in Ukraine, but I will try them in the future (as I want to see how everything is, I am not interested in a glamourised look at the country). Minibusses usually need to be reserved in advance, and you need to speak Russian (or Ukrainian) to do that (but you can have your hotel arrange it). The price for such a trip from Sumy to Kiev or back (5 hour trip) is quite low, 100 hrivna (10 EURO). During the second half of the trip a movie was shown on a TV (also ripped from a DVD, I saw the notice from the ripper ;-)). I guess good for such long trips, though for some reason, I was never bored on these 5 hour trips. It was fun to see drivers navigate the bad spots on the road, how they overtook other (slower) traffic etc. Even cyclists! I saw a reasonable number of cyclists in Sumy, even 2 bicycle shops!


In Kiev I saw far fewer cyclists. I don't think what I read in the 'Bradt travel guide to Ukraine' is true at all. There it is claimed that cycling in Ukraine is dangerous and drivers don't watch out for cyclists nor pedestrians. What I saw in Sumy and Kiev was that drivers in cars in the city looked out very carefully for pedestrians and I'm sure cyclists would also not be overlooked. In Ukraine traffic lights have a countdown timer to green/red which is nice, we don't have this in NL except in a few places for bicycles and usually it doesn't work well to give a time indication (dots going off at an irregular speed or if it's linear, having to keep track of dots as time which doesn't work well, a number is much better). I didn't see cars riding on the pavement (sidewalk) in Kiev, as claimed in the Bradt travel guide, except in cases where it was supposed to be that way, such as before my hotel (Lybid) in Kiev, and at the Belveder restaurant (also Kiev) there was a similar situation.

Kievan restaurants can be incredibly expensive, especially when ordering caviar! ;-) I liked most of the food I tried, I tried some soft drinks in Sumy and Kiev such as Bon Buasson (Бон буассон) which has a few nice flavours I never tasted in any softdrink in NL. Oh you may think this is silly, but I prefer such a drink to any alcoholic drinks :)

In a specialty restaurant for Ukrainian food (I will look up the name later), I had some great Пирожки (transliterated: Peerozjkee), one type was with egg, another with meat. The best food I ever tasted!
I've been on a boat trip in Kiev and walked around the hill with a funicular to the top where there's a church (Saint Andrew's church). There are a few more churches in that area, all very beautiful. But not just the churches, I like most buildings. There is a steep road to the top as well, which we walked up first. Along this road is situated Bulgakov's house btw. (it was closed the day I went there), and you can see Gogol's 'nose' on that road :).

Along that road was a curious phenomenon of houses being restored, and to keep up appearances, a sheet showing what the house should look like was placed in front of that. It's hard to say what state the real house was in :) The comment from someone who showed me around was that this way you're almost like walking in a cartoon! ;-)
Here's an example:

Metro: Just get a coin for 2 hrivna (0.20 EURO) and you can go anywhere. It's a bit cramped and the carriages show a crude level of manufacturing on the outside which you'd never see in NL or Germany. This reminds me of the T34 tank in WW2, vs. the German tanks. But of course the Germans lost.. Too much emphasis on making something perfect is not productive!

It gets you where you want to go very quickly (there's another one after a few minutes), and cheap, so it's cool :)

3a. More pictures from Kiev

See this page.

4. Leaving Kiev, and Ukraine

Taking off from Borispil it was apparant how much more forest there is around Kiev than around towns/cities in NL...

Seeing Amsterdam from the sky before landing already wasn't pretty. Ok, I will say it directly: It looked ugly!

After landing I immediately wanted to return to Ukraine...

Update 24 April 2013

The BBC broadcast a series of art programmes recently "The high art of the low countries" about art in what is now Belgium and the Netherlands, and then "A night at the Rijskmuseum" about Dutch art. In that series about Dutch and Belgian art the presenter already mentioned what he said at the start of the program about the Rijksmuseum, namely Descartes' saying that "God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland". In the series a bit more was elaborated on this, that parts of the landscape had been manufactured, and that cleanliness was so important, and he said this is why for example many people in NL don't have curtains closed at night, to be able to show this. Perhaps that is true, but in any event the cleanliness and manufacture is something I saw everywhere in western part of NL in particular (the provinces of North Holland, South Holland, Utrecht and more). This manufactured surrounding is exactly what I don't like about the Netherlands: It's too clean, too square, too neat, which shows a mindset of wanting to control everything, far too much. This is clear in daily life in way too many nonsensical rules for things that are silly, whereas there is not enough emphasis on more important matters.

So when I saw the rolling landscape of Ukraine, the bad pieces of road in various places, sidewalks that are not perfect in lots of places, to me it didn't ugly but instead it looked beautiful. Just as with the detail put into manufacturing something to look perfect, which I mentioned above with respect to the metro, making something very nicely finished costs way more time/effort/money than making it good enough which shows to me that people are more busy with 'stuff' than with 'life', and in Ukraine people are more busy with life. Perhaps this is logical, a natural evolution through which everyone goes (and all countries go), as the more you have, the more you get distracted, or I should say, the more you can get distracted by those things. Then the important things in life are not how to live, nor family, but the car you want to buy, and the new mobile phone, DVD player, TV etc... But this is a subject for a philosophical treatise perhaps :)

Last modified: Mon Oct 14 07:36:24 CEST 2013