Kiev, Ukraine Report of what it's like to live there - 07/21/12
Personal Experiences from Kiev, Ukraine
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
First expat experience
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
There are direct flights from Kyiv to the States (generally NYC), but I always flew through Munich or Frankfurt. About 2.5 hours to Munich/Frankfurt, and then 9 hours to the East Coast.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartments downtown, although with the opening of the NEC I think they're trying to shift housing closer to that facility. Some houses out past the NEC. Commute times have gotten longer for most people since the Embassy moved.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Between grocery stores and the produce markets, you can get basically anything you want in Kyiv. I found the prices extremely reasonable, I spent way less on groceries in Kyiv than I did in DC.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Peanut butter, any ethnic spices. Brands you're particularly fond of. Otherwise, you can easily find everything you need in Kyiv or at the commissary.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Puzata Hata is the classic Ukrainian fast food, you can eat a huge meal for around $4. There's also McDonald's and its Ukrainian knockoff, McFoxy (I never went).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Small black flies/gnats that get EVERYWHERE in the summer. They'll really stain your clothes if you smush them, so resist the temptation.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch. Some people used local UPS/DHL/FedEx with success.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available at reasonable prices. I had a housekeeper who came once a week, I paid her US$30ish/week.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. I belonged to a very small gym right around the corner that had everything I needed for about $80/month. Expensive, but not outrageously so. That said, some gyms are outrageously expensive. Shop around, there are options.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Some people use credit cards on the local market with no problem, I was very leery of it. I only ever used ATMs at the Embassy or USAID. Cybercrime is rampant in Ukraine, exercise extreme caution. Also, it's still a cash economy in many ways. A lot of places won't take your credit card even if you do want to use it.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. I'm sure there are Episcopal and Catholic services available in English; anything else I wouldn't swear to, but I'd be surprised if more weren't out there.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes to TV, never saw an English newspaper on the street, but I'm sure you could get them. I had 100+ cable channels (many English) in a bundle with my internet for about $40/month.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is still not widely spoken in Kyiv, although a surprising number of restaurants do have English menus. Speaking Russian will make your life much easier.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many. There are basically no concessions made for physical disabilities in Kyiv.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe and affordable. You can use the subway, trams, marshrutkas (mini-buses), or buses quite safely and extremely cheaply (between $.25 and $.50 a ride). Taxis are also plentiful and very cheap, $3-5 basically anywhere in the city. You can get to the airport for $15-$20, but if you don't arrange for a taxi to pick you up ahead of time, taking one from the airport is more expensive.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
I got around just fine without a car, but if you want to bring one, I think a compact or maybe small SUV (if you want to drive out to the Carpathians, etc) would be best. Definitely don't bring anything huge. This is not the place for your Escalade or Hummer. You might want to ship some parts.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. See above for pricing. I found my cable/internet company in Ukraine a million times better to deal with than Comcast, and speed was excellent. Maybe 3 outages over 18 months, never more than a day or so. That said, your access to internet is entirely dependent on where you live. If your building is wired for a private cable company (i.e., Volia), you're good to go. If it's not... good luck dealing with TeleSystems UA or whoever.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Embassy/AID employees will get Blackberries, but for family members it's very easy to buy a phone and SIM card on the local market. Pay as you go.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
A few vets that people seemed happy with. Not sure about kennels.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
If you speak Russian, maybe. Otherwise, it'll be very difficult.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Ukrainians dress up. And ones who haven't had a lot of exposure to Westerners will frown on you (literally) for dressing down in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No physical security concerns. You always hear about pickpocketing on metro/buses/trams, but I never had a problem. Pay attention to your surroundings as you would in any big city, and you'll be fine.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health Unit at the Embassy is fine, there's one clinic in the city (Boris?) that seems to have a good reputation. But in general, avoid Ukrainian medical care. Medevac is your friend. Although I did hear of people being happy with local dentists.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
I found the air quality generally good. Some pollution, especially in winter, but nothing too terrible.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Like the Northeast US. Warm summers, COLD winters (especially early 2012), brief but nice spring and autumn. Sometimes there's a lot of snow, sometimes there's none. Sometimes it's blazing hot in the summer, sometimes it's much more mild. Like I said, like the Northeast US.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No personal experience, but parents and school-aged children seemed happy.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Again, no personal experience, but most people had nannies and adored them. I knew some people who considered extending just to keep the nanny!
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Not sure, but I think at least the basics (soccer, swimming). Not sports, but I know some kids took music lessons from amazing teachers.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Generally good. Winter can get depressing, but otherwise good.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Basically anything you want to do, any time you want to do it. Unless you are a single woman, and you want to date.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for families, good for couples, excellent for single men. Good for single women who don't mind the prospect of not dating for a few years.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I wouldn't say gay pride is a thing in Kyiv yet, but at the same time, I knew some gay expats who got along just fine (better than single straight women, in most cases).
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Racism is still a huge problem in Ukraine. If you're white, no problem. If you're East Asian, you'll probably also be fine. Otherwise, you'll at best be in for some rude staring, and at worst... things can get really bad.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
CRIMEA.I really thought that I just did not like Ukraine until I went to Crimea. Beautiful sea, interesting history and architecture. Yevpatoria is a hidden gem.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Many! Beautiful parks, opera and ballet for cheap, concerts come through frequently, restaurants abound. There's also the Hydropark in summer, and many beautiful nature getaways just outside the city.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Some local artists, some typical Ukrainian handcrafts (embroidery, etc.)Otherwise, nothing great.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Ukraine is definitely still a developing country, although it's hard to tell if you never get out of Kyiv. There's plenty to see and do, and it's very easy to get out for a break in Western Europe. I didn't skimp while I was there, but didn't go nuts either, and managed to save a nice chunk of change.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably not, only because it's so hard to be a single female there. All others should definitely consider it, though.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Amenities, consumables, bicycles (for the city, at least, I think only insane people would ride a bike in downtown Kyiv).
3. But don't forget your:
Patience and nice shoes (they can be repaired for cheap when you inevitably ruin them on the streets).
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
People say Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel, so... try it.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
If Kyiv gets you down, go see other parts of Ukraine! I waited way too long to go to Crimea and it was a revelation.