A fairly uneventful day – if you can include within the term ‘uneventful’ that I flew to Ukraine, which, as everyone knows, recently had a revolution and is currently in the midst of a civil war. Everyone has a different opinion about how good an idea it was for me to go there; I maintained then as now (after the experience) that it was about as safe as anywhere else I went this summer. I was staying in Kiev, after all, far away from the current violence.
At the gate in Sheremetevo Airport (Moscow), I was standing next to a drunken and rowdy group of young men who quickly enough noticed the US passport in my hand and started trying their English on me. They all lived in Ukraine, although one was from Belarus originally, and apparently they had just been on vacation to Moscow. Understandable, I guess. They asked me what I was doing in Ukraine – working, studying, …? I said I was a tourist. “You crazy tourist.” Great start.
Ukrainian border control was the easiest of any on the whole trip. No visa, no questions. That beats even the UK (by a lot) and Schengen countries (they always ask at least something to keep you on your toes) and what I expect to face when I return to the US. Just, “Добре.”
On the bus ride into the city (I only found the bus because of the words “sky bus”, referenced in guides, were, thoughtfully, written with a finger in the dust on a sign), I noticed that there were flags on the lampposts along the highway. They alternated between the Ukrainian flag and the EU flag. This would turn out to be the least of the political messages on display in Kiev.
Being dropped off at the train station, I went inside and had a look. Contrary to popular belief – unless the electronic signs were lying! – there are still trains to Crimea – not to mention Donetsk. While in the former case I’m simply pleasantly surprised that they are maintaining a civil border crossing, I can’t imagine how you continue regular passenger train service to a war zone. (Maybe that says more about my skewed perspective on what the war is like than anything else).
Another thing I noticed was the guns for sale:
As I walked through a market and then some city streets toward my hostel, all seemed calm. Very calm, in fact; it was noticeably quiet, despite the presence of people. Men, young and (mostly) rather old walked about in camouflage uniforms, perhaps getting ready for the “anti-terrorist operation” in the east.