Kiev, Ukraine Report of what it's like to live there - 04/29/14

Personal Experiences from Kiev, Ukraine

Kiev, Ukraine 04/29/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I lived abroad a few times without children (Europe, Asia, and Africa) and this is my second post as a family.

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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?

3 to 4 hours to a connecting capital in Europe and then 8 hours to Washington DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

18 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

My husband is an American Foreign Service Officer.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most families live in apartments. There is some embassy housing in single family homes near the Embassy.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Your best source of produce is the local open-air market. If you can, have a friend introduce you to a favorite seller and visit him/her loyally if s/he provides you good produce at a good price. I also ordered basic cleaning supplies, boxed milk and such for home delivery from Furshet (well worth it especially in the winter). The French Institute near the French School has a small CSA that is a good source of "organic" produce, eggs, and some meat.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax, good chocolate, peanut butter, vitamin D, and a steady supply of yak trax.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is a lot of fast food in-town. Restaurant food is expensive. There is good food in Kiev but not as much as you would imagine. This is not a food city by any means.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None for us.

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Daily Life:

1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help is expensive considering the income per capita in Ukraine but cheap compared to the USA. The embassy rate has been around US$5 per hour.

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2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a gym at the Embassy. The cost of a good swimming pool is exorbitant. If you prefer, you can use a local pool for little money if you bring them a health certificate. There are some exercise classes in-town as well.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We are warned against using ATMs and credit cards. I did use my credit card at MegaMarket.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

The one English-language religious service we could not find is Orthodox Christian. Otherwise, you are covered if you are Mormon, Catholic or Protestant.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Learn as much Russian as you can. You will need it for your daily interactions. Ukrainians are very kind and forgiving to the foreigner who tries to speak to them.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

This city is not at all good for someone with physical disabilities. Make sure to bring a strong jogger stroller to manage the streets even in the summer.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Local buses. trams and subway trains are safe and affordable. There is a bus loop that runs in the center of town that is great for getting around weekdays and weekends.

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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?

The roads are rough and you will feel safer in a 4-wheel drive.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Local service is cheap. Ideally, bring your own phone.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Check out "Kids in Kyiv" for volunteer opportunities and also helpful information in general. This is a poor country and there is no shortage of volunteer opportunities.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Pick-pockets. Protests. Wild dogs were our biggest problem. I would not recommend housing off of Artema to anyone with a family. I had wild dogs come all the way up to my stroller. It was the most terrifying part of our experience.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The local healthcare system is horrible. There are a few places that everyone seems to go that have a good reputation. Local dental care at a good clinic is very reasonably priced and high quality.

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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 OK for a developing country but this is a dirty city full of old cars pouring out unregulated exhaust.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Winter is a serious part of the Ukrainian experience. During the winter we spent there, we had an inordinate amount of snow. You need to purchase heavy gear; Land's End is a good source. I found Yak trax necessary as well. Make sure your kids are covered from head to toe. The sun basically disappears for eight months out of the year and this can be brutal for those of us not familiar with this kind of climate. Sidewalks and buildings are also not cleared well. We lived off of Artema and our street was not cleared until the end of winter. If you use a stroller, you need a jogger stroller if you hope to use it in the winter. The danger of ice falling from buildings is very real and can restrict your mobility. Try to leave for a good chunk of the winter especially if you have small children.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

My kids were little. My daughter attended P'tit Cref (in the center of town) and I would highly recommend this school full of caring teachers and small classes. I also know families who were very happy with the French School in the center of town. I chose to not send my daughter to KIS because of mixed reviews and PSI because of the commute time that is often over an hour each way.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

This is a concern in all international schools. Oftentimes children with significant special needs are just put in regular classrooms.

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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?

P'tit Cref is excellent. There is also a (very loosely defined) Montessori School in the center of town. Many families are happy there.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The size is fairly big and the morale dips considerable in the winter.

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2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I think this is an ideal city for singles and childless couples. There is a thriving nightlife and the flights to Europe are cheap. It's a hard city for families with little kids especially if you are not used to the dark winter days. Summer is a much happier part of the year but do not come here thinking that this is anything other than a poor European city. Traffic is significant issue in town. Realize that you will spend most of your time in your section of town.

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3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

No.

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4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

You will get looks if you are even olive-skinned. Ukrainians are generally kind and peaceful but be ready to be the center of attention.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Marinsky Park, Mosaic Park and the grounds of Saint Sophia's are great locations for families with little kids. We have also taken advantage of some cheap flights to Western Europe for getaways.

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6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Many families love to visit Lviv. In town, there are many parks but my favorites are definitely Marinksy Park and Mosaic Park. When the weather is nice, get a grounds-pass at Saint Sophia's and bring a blanket. It is definitely the cleanest and prettiest space of grass in the city. The playground near the Old Chancery is also nice. The best resource for families with little kids is a listserv called Kids in Kyiv.

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Kiev is rich in history and this is a great vantage point for travel into the rest of Europe.

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8. Can you save money?

Kiev is surprisingly expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I would never have accepted housing off of Artema because of the stray dog problem there. I would also have spent a lot more time out of the country during winter.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, but ideally as a single or a childless couple.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Flip flops.

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4. But don't forget your:

Yak trax, down jacket, jogger stroller, vitamin D, and silent alarm for stray dogs.

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