East to East: From Ukraine with Love: Part 1

Photo Credit: https://www.calvertjournal.com/features/show/4927/kiev-now-kiev-or-kyiv-what-to-call-ukraines-capital

9th February 2019

So, I’m currently sat in the breakfast hall of the aptly named ‘Ukraine Hotel’ in Kyiv, Ukraine – if you had not guessed. It is my first full day of my ISV, International Study Visit, with the British Council – I know right, dead fancy.

Before I recollect the past twenty-two(ish) hours, here’s a little bit about why I’ve ended up spending a week with people from: Palestine, Ukraine, Pakistan, America, Canada, Lithuania, Scotland and England. I’m part of a programme called ParliaMentors, which is part of the Faith & Belief Forum. The purpose of the programme is to create a social action project in my local constituency; hence, I’ve spent the last six months planning one with five other QM students, with the mentorship of Stephen Timms, the MP for East Ham. Essentially, after a lot of back and forths, we have been running food, clothes and sanitary product drives (so if you have any extras of these feel free to give us a donation!), and we will be holding career/preparing for university workshops for college students. In addition, the F&BF in turn is part of the British Council; every year they organise international forums for all nations which have a British Council in their country. And if you are part of a programme which is within the British Council you can apply to go on one. So here I am. Now back to the main event. 

Yesterday, Saturday, I had the joy of waking up at 6:50 am to catch my RyanAir flight from Stansted Airport. The journey was approximately two hours forty-five minutes, a standard flight, take off and landing – no crashes, emergency landings or a certain nation’s missiles causing us any bother. Nihilistically, I spent most of the flight imagining if the plane was shot down how I would attempt to parlay with said belligerent army – in case you were wondering, it was fool proof.

We landed at 4:45pm Ukraine time, that two hour time difference really hit me; Balraj (a ParliaMentor from the university of Birmingham team) and myself were greeted by a taxi driver who then took us to his ‘really good and honest friend’ who ushered us into his Volvo.

Now I appreciate that my forty-five minute airport transfer is probably not that interesting, but hey it bulks this article out and gives you an edgy perspective of Kyiv. First off, not that I can comment considering I have no license, road safety does not exist here. Second, it’s not that snowy – overall it wasn’t even that cold. Now, that’s hazards and climates covered; what stood out for me were the street signs. Everywhere you looked there billboards of men all suited and booted, pointing sternly – when I first saw these I wasn’t sure if they were politicians, PPI ads, or Ukrainian injury lawyers for you. I have now learnt they were indeed all politicians, the Ukrainian presidential elections currently has forty-four candidates! The other sign that stood out was the only one in English, can you guess what it was for? Oh yes, Harem Men’s Club. 

[Sidebar: At first Ukrainian techno was blasting out of the radio, next thing you know, Ellie Goulding’s hit 2012 song Fire starts playing – who knew she was so international.]

After a while, I saw a big ol’ sign saying, ‘Welcome to Kyiv’ and what could I see? Flats, flats, and more flats – down the side of each there were bizarre Biblical, Soviet-esque pieces. For the entire fifteen to twenty minute stretch there was one big supermarket and a couple of little ones; I later asked Anna one of the British Council facilitators if I had misinterpreted what I saw – I hadn’t. She explained that most people who worked in Kyiv lived on the outskirts in this concrete jungle. 

Once we had passed through the ****, we were back onto the motorway, and then we crossed a bridge into lights – the lights of Kyiv. We drove up and down cobbled, windy hills and then into the main square; it was a mix of old country, Soviet realness, and clearly growing pop-ups of modern infrastructure. When we arrived at the hotel I was gobsmacked. I had assumed we’d be staying in a fairly standard hostel – we would be close quarters, but we were here to meet new people after all and our beds would just be somewhere to lay our heads at night.

Oh, I was very wrong. As you can see from the below photograph Hotel Ukraine is far from a hostel. Inside it is like a bizarre fusion of the White House, 70s Bond casino type thing, or a more contemporary Grand Budapest Hotel – lots of marble, big old pillars, many a chandelier or two. 

Photo Credit: https://www.expedia.co.uk/Kiev-Hotels-Hotel-Ukraine.h47342.Hotel-Information

I was further shocked when I found out I had my own room – en suite, a stunning view, an actual duvet and all! However, I won’t lie, I found it amusing, if slightly odd, that every appliance in the bathroom had huge stickers saying: ‘This has been disinfected’ on them – no matter, better than being filthy.

After I’d unpacked, I poodled down for some dinner – once again, my expectations did not do the programme credit. I had expected, and to be honest looked forward to something quick and filling. Oh no, three course cuisine was presented to me. 

  • Starter: Greek salad – omg so much feta.
  • Main: Salmon fillet (as a student fish is like the luxury of luxuries), mash (actual mash not smash!), and some green sauce, or maybe it was a jus, or even a coulis – either way, it tasted damn good.
  • Dessert: A cinnamon and apple pie thing – you will quickly realise a recurring theme of this trip is not only the amount I eat, but also the size of the portions – the cake alone could have fed a family of four.
  • Side dish: Bread – now, this was no normal bread, uhuh this was premium – I even liked the seeded wheat. 

After slightly coming out of my food coma I waddled to my bedroom and instantly fell asleep. However, I was up by 7:30am for breakfast – no ordinary breakfast I’ll add. Yes there was the usual continental and questionable fry up, but there was also pickles, cold meats, cake, herring pancakes, coleslaw and broccoli. 

Well, we are now in the present. If you’ve managed to stay marginally entertained then I’m impressed; today was probably the least exciting! The rest of the week involves: Ministers, a Lady who painted all the walls and ceilings in her house, and me mistaking Shakespeare for Willy Wonka. Stay tuned…

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