Kiev, Ukraine Report of what it's like to live there - 02/25/13
Personal Experiences from Kiev, Ukraine
1. Your reason for living this city (e.g. corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.):
2. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
3. 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?
Honolulu; it's about 30 hours away.
4. How long have you lived here?
(The contributor is associated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Kyiv for eighteen months, a third expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Large, apartments in town: they are ugly on the outside, but charming and elegant inside. Some families are getting houses near the NEC.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are large grocery stores, such as METRO (like a German COSTCO). Almost everything is available. Locally produced products are cheapest. Our favorites are the beer and ham (plentiful selections of both). Vodka is cheaper than bottled water.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Studded snow tires. Better winter wear. Anything with lithium batteries cannot come through pouch.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Ukraine is not yet an eating-out culture. There is a lack of family-friendly restaurants, but it's changing. McDonald's is always jammed.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Maybe mosquitoes in summer. Haven't seen a single roach.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch (no DPO).
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but pricier than comparable US facilities.
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?
Only the machine at the embassy can be trusted. If you use an untrusted machine, change your PIN immediately afterward.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
One good non-denominational Christian church.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Several English "What's Happening" type magazines.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
More Russian skill is better. The younger generation is more English-friendly.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Kyiv is not wheelchair-friendly. Baby strollers are difficult to move on the crooked sidewalks.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe except for pickpockets. Metro subway is clean, fast, and cheap (one piece of Ukraine that's actually done right).
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?
Bring a 4X4 with high clearance and good tires. The roads are appalling and will reduce the life of your car prematurely. Driving is a stressful exercise because you're simultaneously dodging other cars, pedistrians dressed in black at night, stray dogs, and kitchen sink-sized potholes. If you see a tree branch sticking out of the road, it was likely put there by a good samaritan as a warning for drivers to steer around a hole deep enough to break your car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
This varies depending on the building you're in. Mine is horrible. My neighbor's is blazing.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Pay-as-you-go is cheap. Any unlocked GSM phone will work (including iPhone).
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?
No. But be advised pets entering the EU (and several other countries) FROM Ukraine will need a rabies anti-bodies (titer) test. There are no labs for this test in Ukraine so blood samples are sent out (typically to Moscow), which is time consuming and expensive. Titer test is not currently required for entry to the US.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
A few good vets, and a good kennel in the suburbs.
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?
Only if you have a corporate job or work at an international school. Otherwise, even if you speak Russian, the local economy won't pay US wages.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business at work, casual but neat outside.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpockets. Otherwise, quite safe to walk around even at night.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical system isn't generally trusted for anything critical. Many prescription meds can be bought over-the-counter at local pharmacies.
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?
Seems ok; I'm not aware of any problems.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I've heard no complaints other than long commutes for some.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Check with each school.
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?
Only in Russian/Ukrainian.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
School programs like soccer. If you're adventurous, there is a youth ice hockey league that is not advertised, but it's superb and a great value.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Seems OK after the initial shock of moving in.
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?
Plenty. There is lots of opera and very professional stage performances for low cost.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a decent post for families, and relatively safe. Activities are not limitless as they are in more industrialized countries.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There has been recent isolated violence against local gays by skinhead-like groups. Some Ukrainian law-makers want to outlaw "pro-homosexual propaganda".
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
If you're not Slavic-looking, you will stand out. But my Asian spouse has been treated very well.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Odessa is a fun summer getaway. Make local friends, they'll show you the real Ukraine if you're open to appreciating it. Take an overnight train to Lviv or Bukovel ski resort.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Many old churches and historic sites. There's a great indoor water-park. I recommend the Chernobyl tour.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Vodka, matrushka dolls, local art.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Observe the cultural shift as Ukraine struggles to emerge out of its despairing soviet past. If you're a single guy, I've heard the high-heeled hotties are plentiful.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but with more informed expectations.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Dill and sour cream and your expectations of customer service and order. Very few things work as they should.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience, cold weather gear, ice cleats (Yak Trax were insufficient this winter).
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Ukrainians are generally well-mannered, polite, and culturally conservative. Kids are respectful of adults. If you've never experienced Eastern Europe, you might be in shock for several weeks. It will pass, and you will not be so affected by its bleakness and dysfunction, and you will start to enjoy the authenticity and the nostalgia of post-soviet Ukraine. What you see and experience is real - there is nothing artificial here.