One of the greatest things about travelling to Ukraine is just how close it is to the UK.
I live in the centre of Great Britain. So I have to travel basically down one long motorway (the M1) to Heathrow airport. From actually leaving my house to arriving at my hotel/appartment in Kiev takes around 10 hours. Sounds quite long, but when you consider how long it takes my friends from other countries to get there, it is a very short time indeed. For my friend in USA, it takes him nearly two days to get there and when we meet up, he sure is tired.
I first started travelling in Ukraine around 2001. I didn’t have youtube, facebook, twitter, whatsapp, google maps and all of the other stuff that folk have today!
All I had was a phone that could send text messages and most of the time there was no signal anyhow!
So travelling around in Ukraine with nothing more that an early Nokia that boasted text messages in limited areas was quite an adventure!
I really enjoyed travelling by train in Ukraine.
Since many travelled overnight between the big cities, it meant that you didn’t have to pay for a hotel stay for the nights between cities. It was really interesting to wake up in another city … another place to explore.
Cities in Ukraine are so different from one another.
In this photo, you can see me (albeit 20 years ago) enjoying the typical drink that I shared with an interesting character in my carriage compartment …
Part of footage I shot over 20 years ago!.
In the olden days, HD had not been invented. As you can see from the dimensions, this footage was shot on the PAL 720×576, which is why there are black borders either side 🙂
Ukraine has been a very big part of my life since 2001.
It began after a few work assignments in Moscow!
In 2001 I was contacted by a company who were looking for a photographer to do some work for them in Russia. The company was a foreign romance business who advertised relationship introductions. This was long before the internet agencies started to proliferate, whereby the companies would send out images etc on cd-roms to their customers. They would advertise these in personal adverts in newspapers mainly.
My task was to make an introductory clip to promote their company. At the time, many people had the usual beliefs that Russia was covered in snow all year, had no modern technology and bears roamed around the streets where peasants lived in mud huts. I think you know what I mean, the stuff born from propaganda and remnants of the cold war.
You have to understand, that at that time, OVER 20 years ago, there were no holiday tours or cruises to Russia, in fact Russia was not on any destination for travel in any tourist shop.
The first thing I did was to go down town and visit all of the travel agents to find out the cost etc of travelling to Moscow. To my surprise there were absolutely no deals for travelling to Russia. In fact no travel agency even considered Moscow as a destination!
So I had to arrange my own flight with the airline and take a chance when I arrived at Moscow! I went to Heathrow which seemed to be about the only airport offering a route to Russia and just booked a flight. Of course I had to get visas, but that’s another long story!
And where to stay when I arrived in Moscow? As you read this you are probably surprised, thinking ‘why not have a hotel arranged before travel?’
Well, in 2001 the internet was young, not like it is today. There were no such things as online bookings etc. Only high street travel agents could sort out hotels overseas. But no travel agents had contacts with hotels in Russia … it simply was not a holiday destination at the time.
I arrived at (moscow airport) very late. It was dark and the airport was relatively empty. I thought that it was quite creepy. Several guys came up to me saying ‘taxi’ and I followed them to a selection of beat up vehicles and got into one.
The guy was pleasant and on our drive to the city centre he pointed out a few things of high importance (in his view) on the way. Along the main road were forests in which prostitutes waited for business. Something that David Attenborough didn’t tell us about!
Anyhow, I arrived at Red Square. I had no idea where I was going so I told the taxi driver to go somewhere with hotels. I booked into a room. My hotel stay was quite interesting … a story for another time, perhaps!
As required, I made the film in Moscow and also made some new contacts. It seemed that locals were really intrigued with westerners since not many went there at that time. I must say, I had a wonderful time in some great bars with some very interesting people indeed.
The company was very pleased with my work and so paid me to visit another few times to produce more promo material.
Things went ok for a while until it didn’t.
I had several bad encounters in Moscow. It wasn’t entirely safe there and had a few incidents with some less-than-friendly characters and got robbed a few times. Anyhow, lessons learned … never be off your guard.
Eventually, I was asked to do some work in Ukraine, meet some agencies and make more promotional material. I must say, that I found Ukraine to be much safer and more friendly overall.
I had a few weeks spare whilst over there, so I travelled around the country. It was quite difficult because I couldn’t speak Russian. I hired translaters to get around. I toured the country mostly on trains. This was my preferred way to travel over there. The roads were deadly, like you have never seen. I remember taking a taxi from Kharkov to Crimea, witnessing several serious road accidents on the route. It was quite harrowing, so after that, any travel between cities, was by train! Also, travel by train is usually overnight, so no need to pay for hotel since you sleep on the train. I would arrange to meet the translators at the stations to book tickets etc. It was great. Friendly staff on the trains would bring coffees and biscuits. I generally tried to book a whole carriage compartment by paying for all 4 berths. Sometimes this didn’t work out and so had to share on occasions. I didn’t mind so much because I met many interesting characters and we spent time trying to communicate with each other. However, it was a real nightmare if any of them snored!
That was it for me. I was hooked on the diversity and fascination that is Ukraine. Every year since, I spent a few months in Ukraine. I have spent time in most of the larger cities, both in hotels and in rented appartments. Sometimes I travelled alone and sometimes with friends. I even took some of my mates from the UK on a few holidays there, since they had become fascinated with my stories.
Further down, there are some photo galleries from the major cities I travelled to. I did also go off the beaten track and visit outlying towns and villages too, but I cannot remember their names. I visited families in both the main cities and small villages and it was so nice to experience the differences and hospitalities.
Well, like absolutely anywhere in the world … there are some extremely nice people and some extremely unpleasant people.
I have had encounters with many interesting people indeed, from those with great personalities to some seriously dangerous characters.
All I can say, is that my time spent in Ukraine has given me some wonderful memories that I will treasure forever 🙂
Here I am being treated to the hospitality of a family who lived in a rural area near Kherson. They grew and sold their own vegetables.
Sometimes, myself and a few friends would travel to Ukraine.
One of my friends, also called Andy, liked Kiev so much that he stayed, worked and lived there for quite a long time.
We used to visit an Irish pub called O’Briens and it became pretty much our local. Here we met many interesting people … and my friend met his future wife, Alla!
They got married in Kiev on Christmas Eve, 2005.
A Ukranian lady thought that it was a good idea to present me with a nice set of earings, the floaty ballon style 🙂
This city has a very large main square. Here I have seen many events and demonstrations, pop groups and other attractions over the years. Kharkiv is an old city with old style cobble streets in many places. When I first visited in 2001 there was not so much traffic around and it was interesting to see the soviet style cars. But as the years went by, like most places in the world, each year, more traffic.
There is a big park with many walkways where people gather. There is a zoo but I found this a little depressing. Whilst the ducks seemed to have a great big lake to live by, the enclosures for the larger animals, like the bears, were pitifully small. I know that there is not a lot of money for such attractions, but still, I felt so sorry for the animals. I am not a great fan of zoos, to be fair.
Hidden away in the old park is a really nice restaurant …
As major cities go, I think this city was one of the poorest with many run down buildings. But hidden amongst them were some very interesting and stylish restaurants. And like much of Ukraine, the food was delightful. I must say that I found this city to be very interesting and I spent many days walking for absolutely miles.
There was a bridge over a shallow river. There were people collecting things down there and still to this day I don’t know what they were putting in their baskets? I think maybe collecting crayfish/crawdads … but this is just a guess?
I took a photo which I found quite poignant … a little girl walking alone with a little case …
This city is so interesting. Remember that what you see here goes back some 10+ years. At the time, it was so diverse. Under a lot of construction and development. It was a mixture of styles. An impressive walkway along the river with some amazing boat restaurants.
The town centre was so modern with shopping centre that was much more impressive than those in England. Actually, even at that time, I was amazed that the shopping centres in most of the cities in Ukraine were far superior to most cities back in the UK!
Another city that I spent days walking for many miles. There were trams everywhere, I could imagine that I was in New Orleans, as I walked down the tree lined streets with people selling things from food to art. And it didn’t go un-noticed that most of the tram drivers were ladies.
Yet another amazingly interesting city in Ukraine!
This appears to be very industrial, based around the water and power. Fascinating to walk around, visiting the lakes, with barges of stones and hydro-electric stations, lots of power lines from here!
There is a very strange bridge, a sort of suspension style bridge which moves in the wind. I was nervous crossing it because of the few lanes of fast traffic, the swaying motion and the fact that people over there drove on the wrong side of the road 🙂
Yes, it’s tricky when you have to dodge traffic on a wavy bridge, especially when that traffic comes from the wrong direction … at least in my mind, anyhow!
There is a lot of activity around the river of this city.
We hired a yacht to sale the river. There is actually a thriving lifestyle based around this huge river, including a public ferry service, with platform stations where people wait for the boats.
Also there are many river cruises, floating disco boats and the like.
Not a lot to do in Kherson, but as usual in Ukraine, a tonne of great restaurants with superb food for great value!
A fascinating city with lots of old buildings. My appartment here was really ancient, it seems. But the artwork was very nice 🙂
Like many of the other cities and towns that I visited, I spent days walking around, taking in the architecture (not that I know much about that stuff, but interesting nevertheless).
One thing that really stood out about Odessa is just how annoying the young ladies are. It was hard to walk down the street without getting harrassed every 50 yards by groups of girls wanting you to join them at their ‘favourite’ restaurants. Good job I had enough experience over there to know the real motives, but these are other stories for later, maybe 🙂
Whenever I meet a foreigner in another country who has visited London, they tell me that they therefore know what England is like. Well, that is so far from the truth … London is nothing like the rest of England.
And likewise, with Kiev. If you think that by visiting Kiev, then you know what the whole of the Ukraine is like, then you couldn’t be further from the truth either.
Ukraine is so diverse, as you can see from the photos from the cities I visited.
Kiev is a beautiful city, with amazing architecture, great restaurants and entertainment. The closing of the main street over the weekend makes for a very fascinating city to visit.
Although Kiev is a truly amazing city … you should get on the trains and visit the rest of Ukraine … it’s like travelling in time when you appreciate the diversity and beauty of this great country.