Kiev, Ukraine Report of what it's like to live there - 04/29/13
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?
This is the first experience we have had living overseas.
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?
Our home base is Texas. It takes aproximately 17 hours round trip. The Flight is Kyiv to Houston with one stop in Amsterdam.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have been living here for 2 1/2 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband works for the State Department. I have enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom with my baby who has grown into a little World Traveling Toddler.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Average housing. There are very few single-family homes. Most homes are apartments in the center of the city, usually located near public transport and grocery stores. The commute time has increased since the move to the new embassy. Now it takes 30 - 45 minutes in normal morning and evening traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are average priced. If you buy vegetables and fruits in season you will be paying the equivalent of 25 cents / lb for (potatoes, carrots, cabbage, beets in the winter), (watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash in the summer. Most things are also very accessible. If you do not want to go to grocery stores, you can usually negotiate in the Rynoks (outdoor markets). The produce is usually beautiful and fresh.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Chocolate chips, peanut butter, decaf coffee, Dr Pepper, American baby food.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, (Also McFoxy, Ukraine's chicken version), KFC, TGIFridays, Domino's. Also a few local chinese fast-food and Hot wings fast-food places.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I don't think the insects make it past the -20 degree winters. There are no bugs that I have seen.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help will run about $5 an hour for someone who cooks, cleans, watches children, and takes care of pets. It is very available here and very good. It is a big help having an extra hand around the house.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
We use the gym availabe at the new American Embassy.
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?
You cannot use credit cards or ATMs here without extreme personal risk to it being stolen. This is a cash-only economy. Venders will accept credit cards, but this country has one of the highest incidences of fraud, so it is at your own risk.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are several Christian churches, and there is also a pretty big Mormon presence. Personally, we attend the local Catholic church (St. Andrews) that has an English-language mass at 8:40 Sunday mornings. There is also a Spanish mass at another Catholic church at 11:00.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Voila cable has a package that has intermixed English and Ukrainian channels that is very interesting. $20/month. The Kyiv Post is a good English-language newspaper that you find around the city, and it is free at most restaurants.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
The more the better here. Not very many people speak English. More and more young people are, but it is still rare to find someone speaking English. If you know a few things like how to buy groceries and make some small talk, life is a lot more pleasant.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It is very difficult---and I just have a stroller I have to worry about. The amount of potholes, coupled with the terrible, long winters and lack of elevators/ramps of any kind anywhere, make it very difficult for women with strollers and babies---not to mention if you had a physical disability. Also, frequently there are no crosswalks. In order to cross the street you must walk down a set of stairs, be underground for a little while, and then walk up another set of stairs to get to the other side. There are no elevators or ramps either. When using Metros there are no elevators. You must use your stroller on an escalator to get up and down. I found I have gotten pretty good at doing this.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes. Metro buses and taxis are very safe and affordable. Metros & buses charge 25 cents to get you anywhere in the city.
Taxis run about $5.00 to get anywhere in the city. You just have to watch out for pickpocketing.
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?
There are lots of parts for German and post-Soviet vehicles. I would suggest rugged terrain vehicles, SUVs not sedans, due to the horrible road conditions in the city and even worse conditions outside of the city. Also, snow tires or chains are a must, due to the long, harsh winters (Nov-April).
Phone & Internet:
1. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Buy one in the States, get it unlocked, and then come here and get a SIM chip to stick in it. Services are very cheap. I can run my phone on $10 / month.
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)?
We take our dog to a local English speaking vet and he has been great. We found Ukrainians either absolutely love or hate pets. There is really no middle ground. Also be careful of stray dogs. We had a pack attack our dog when we went for a stroll in the park. Since then measures have been put in place to minimize this, but it still happens.
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?
There are teaching jobs and ESL jobs on the local economy, but even more jobs available at the U.S. Embassy.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It really depends on the weather. Ukrainians also have a much different view on what is appropriate to wear both in public and at work then Americans.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There is only a problem with pickpocketing on the metros and busses. Just make sure to have a purse or backpack that zips when you are using public transport. I have never had a problem.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No concerns. Public health care is terrible, but if you can afford the private hospitals they are very good.
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?
Air quality is not an issue here. It is overall pretty good.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
FRIGID! Don't forget your Parka, and your kids' parkas x 2. It snowed from November tho April this year, and in April we were slammed with about 3 feet of snow in 2 days. One winter the temperature dropped to -20 degrees F for 3 weeks. The weather here is cold and erratic in the winter. Also, plan your vacations for winter to get out of here if you can. The sun does not really come up, but it is a cloudy, overcast grayness from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when it gets dark again. This lasts from November through March.
On the upside, summers are BEAUTIFUL! Great weather, beautiful flowers and trees. Everything blooms and everyone is happy.
Schools & Children:
1. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There is soccer.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It is an average size, but we are definitely growing.
2. Morale among expats:
Morale is good. There is a great family-type community here and, everyone is pretty happy. Things have gotten even more interesting since the move to the new embassy compound.
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?
There is a great opera theater that has inexpensive and wonderful ballets, operas, and symphony concerts, and it plays six days a week. There are also some fun cultural places to see: Park Kyivan, a Russian/Ukrainian version of the Rennaissance Festival.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a great city for all types. Singles, especially men, have a great time with the 10-1 Ukrainian women-to-men ratio. Families have a great time with camping, barbeques at the lake, children's museums, wonderful playgrounds, and great shopping center complexes complete with bowling alleys, Ice skating rinks, roller rinks, arcades, Indoor playgrounds, bumper cars, and Ukrainian-dubbed movie theaters.
Couples also find there is a lot of entertainment with the regular marathons here, salsa clubs, restaurant/bars, and generally good and friendly community.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I have heard there has been serious discrimmination against people with darker skin tones. I would be worried about the physical and emotional toll this place might take on some people.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There are some very interesting places to go and explore here. Some of the most interesting places we saw were: the Polish town of Lviv, Kaminets Podilsky (Ukrainian Castle), Chernobyl, and the Crimea (beautiful beaches). Also, if you love skiing you will really enjoy it here. The skiing in the Carpathian mountains is beautiful.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Parks, Shopping complexes, underground shopping, skiing, museums, restaurants & bars.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are some beautifully hand-crafted Santas, Maschrutka Dolls, wooden sculptures, scarves, and paintings. Head down the "Spoosk" for all of your tourist needs.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The local culture is very interesting, it being a post-Soviet country. A great advantage, though, is the amount of money you can save living here.
10. Can you save money?
Absolutely! Kyiv is a pretty inexpensive city---and flights to other parts of Europe through Wizz Air are remarkably inexpensive. (Example: $90 round trip to Venice.) Take advantage of as much travel as possible.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes! This has been a great first-overseas post for our family. It is considered a hardship post, and yes there are frequent power outages, hot water outages, and the occasional protests are difficult at times. However, all around, this is a beautiful country that has a beautiful culture to share.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Prejudice and High expectations. Kyiv is a wonderful city if you keep an open mind. There is some beautiful culture here and Ukraine is just beginning to come into it's own after being under oppressive Soviet Rule for so long.
3. But don't forget your:
Parka, snow tires and peanut butter!
4. Do you have any other comments?
Travel! See Europe and the countryside!