Kiev, Ukraine Report of what it's like to live there - 04/14/08

Personal Experiences from Kiev, Ukraine

Kiev, Ukraine 04/14/08

Background:

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

No - I've lived in Lima, Peru, Buenos Aires, Argentina, etc.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Almost 2 years.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Anywhere from April to October is a great time to travel. Most flights have a stop-over in Europe. There are some direct from NY.

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

I am an U.S. Embassy employee.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All apartments are in the center of town. Most I have observed have been very nice but the common areas are often lacking. Commuting depends on the embassy building in which your office is located. I walk about 25 minutes but most apartments are closer. All this will change dramatically with the new embassy compound scheduled to start in 2008/09.

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

Between the Commissary and local grocery chains, you can get almost anything you want and it's getting better all the time (we're foodies and this is important to us). Food is cheaper than in the States, especially for produce. Meat can be iffy, local chicken and pork are fine, beef less so (you can order from the Commissary though). As always, if you use local brands, your grocery bill will be significantly less than in the States.

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

We shipped Asian and Mexican ingredients and were happy. In retrospect we probably shipped too much. For some the availability, price (expensive) and quality of wine leaves something to be desired but again, it's changing for the better.

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

McDonalds, lots of pizza places, and Mr. Snack (a Ukrainian subway) as well as other Ukrainian fast food places. Restaurants are opening all over the place. It's gotten a lot better since I've been here with a trend to move away from old Soviet big menu type places to more affordable bistro type restaurants. There are two Indian places, Georgian, Italian, French, an acceptable Mexican spot, TGI Friday's and imitators, and lots of sushi places. Basically, you can find anything you want to eat here and prices are, in almost all cases less, than what you'd pay in the States.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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

Widely available. I think we pay our nanny about US$4-5/hour.

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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?

Don't use an ATM card. Use credit cards only at trustworthy establishments. This is a cash economy in general.

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

Yes, there are Catholic, Church of Christ, Baptist (I think) and Mormon services in English and probably others.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes. Lots of English TV on the basic Volia cable package. Two weekly local English periodicals. U.S. or English newspapers are not common.

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

English is not widespoken, you can get by with a few phrases in Russian or Ukrainian but those with language generally have a much better experience. Note - Ukrainian is becoming more widely spoken all over but Russian is still predominant in Kyiv, the East and South.

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

Lots, Kyiv and Ukraine in general has very little in the way of assisting those with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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

Yes, and yes. The caveat being this is a big city and all the usual precautions apply but we use public transportation all the time and have never had an incident.

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3. 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?

Most major car brands have services here, most of any car will do. Winters can be rough and streets are not really plowed so a car good in the snow is always a plus.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes but it depends on where you live. It's becoming more widely available but I think we pay about US$30 a month and have all the internet we need.

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

No, cheap and plentiful. Embassy provides employees with one.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Skype works like a charm.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Vets are great, kennels virtually non existent. Embassy families have their housekeepers watch pets or swap with other families when they are gone.

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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?

Perhaps if you speak Russian or Ukrainian.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Formal. More so than in the States.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate - it's a large city in a post Soviet country with all the drawbacks that come with it. My wife who has asthma has not had any problems here.

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

Minor with the caveat that you are not a minority. In my opinion, Kyiv is generally as safe or safer than most big cities in the U.S. Violence against minorities and people of color are unfortunately at an unacceptable level and all too frequent.

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

A real drawback, pretty primitive. embassy personnel are routinely medivaced.

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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?

Much like Chicago or Minneapolis, you suffer for 4 months to get 8 months of absolutely beautiful weather.

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Schools & Children:

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

No experience but from what I hear, parents are generally happy with either Kyiv International School or Pechersk.

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

Unknown.

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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?

Widely available and inexpensive if you put your child in a Russian or Ukrainian speaking preschool. English ones are much more expensive. Nanny help is widely available and good (ours is a former preschool teacher with a university degree).That said, with the economy improving, and inflation, nannies, though affordable, are not cheap and costs are rising.

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Expat Life:

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

Pretty sizable embassy - a large number of other expats. I suggest IWICK (an international women's group) if you want to branch out from the embassy community.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good as far as I can tell but I'm a glass half-full type. We love it here.

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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?

Virtually everything you can want from sports to arts to restaurants are widely available and accessible.

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

Great for all types. Plenty of park space, museums, outdoor activities, restaurants - basically something is here for everyone.

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

Unsure, I tend to doubt it.

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

Yes - Racial prejudice is a problem.

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

Kyiv has lots of sights. Travel in country to Odessa, Western Ukraine - Carpathians, Lviv. We drove to Moldova and Romania with no problems.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Ukrainian art - Samovars and various nicknacks.

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9. Can you save money?

Absolutely with 20% differential it's quite easy. You can also find lots of ways to spend your money as well (restaurants - trips to Western Europe etc.)

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Without a doubt.

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

Golf clubs.

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3. But don't forget your:

Winter clothes. I'm from Wisconsin so the winter doesn't really bother me too much, for others it can be tough.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

All in all, it's been a great experience for me and my family.

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