It was time for me to re-unite once again with two of my best girlfriends. Our mission? Rendez-vous in a different city every time we meet. Previous adventures have taken us to Stavanger, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Riga, Bucharest, and most recently, Kiev, Ukraine!
My whirlwind leading up to landing in Kiev
I most definitely identify as someone that is always ‘on-the-go’, but I have to admit the weeks leading up to my trip to Kiev were a blur. In the three weeks before taking off from Kiev I had travelled from London to California, back again for knee surgery in the UK, flew back out to California, then returned once again to London in order to fly to Kiev the next morning.
I was mentally and physically drained, hobbling on crutches as I went, but I was determined to get to Kiev and enjoy a new destination with two of my best friends.
Landing in snowy Kiev
Due to my recent knee surgery, I had experienced ‘assisted-flying’ for the first time on that second trip to California, and now it was time to be wheeled on and off the plane to Ukraine.
I sat tentatively in my aeroplane seat on the snowy Kiev runway, wondering who’s trust I was about to place myself in. As the other passengers filed off the plane, a stoic Ukrainian man matter-of-factly placed my things onto the wheelchair awaiting me, and helped me into my seat.
He proceeded to wheel me through the chilly hallways of the airport in an ominous silence. I decided to (pardon the pun) ‘break the ice’ by exclaiming, ‘Wow, it’s cold’. In that instant, he lightly grabbed the fluffy hood of my jacket and put it over my hair exclaiming, ‘Ukrainian hood!’. From that moment, we laughed and chatted together, as he continued to wheel me through security, even helping me into my car.
After this first encounter, all of my tentativeness about feeling vulnerable in a foreign country shifted back to my usual state of positive passivity when absorbing and exploring a new destination.
Navigating to my hotel
My taxi ride from the airport was my first glimpse at Ukraine from the ground. As we whisked towards the city centre, I looked out to frozen tower blocks and colourful advertisements, icy lakes, and grandly ornate statues.
Along the way, through broken sentences I enjoyed commentary on our trip from my driver. There was a wonderful patriotism from him that made me look upon my new surroundings with a better-informed lens.
After about thirty minutes, we arrived at my hotel. All that stood before me was a deeply snowy path. It was at this moment the taxi driver got out of the car, picked up my bag, and proceeded to link arms with me to help me into the hotel.
Traversing that snow would have felt so unstable and treacherous, yet the actions from this stranger enabled me to arrive safely to the hotel’s reception. The driver even spoke to the receptionist on my behalf to get me settled. I stood in a pleasantly surprised stupor, I’d touched down in this foreign land for barely an hour and already the helpfulness of those I’d encountered had subverted by expectations.
Of course I had to eat ‘chicken kiev’ in Kiev
After such an exhausting few weeks, I was finally sitting in a wonderful hotel room that looked out over a snow-capped Kiev. I couldn’t wait to get to my friends who had already landed the day before and were out exploring.
I met them at a placed named Spotykach. They describe themselves as, “a perfect place for everyone who loves Kyiv or has an intention to fall in love with it” and I’d have to agree it was an ideal warm welcome into Kiev.
Three friends re-united, we hurriedly caught up on our latest stories and news whilst enjoying a very surprisingly affordable bottle of champagne. I personally opted to start my first meal in Kiev with, of course chicken Kiev, and borsch; their deliciously sweet and sour soup made from beetroot, which I enjoyed very much.
A small act of kindness that defined my trip to Kiev
After a satisfying and hospitable catch-up, we wandered out into the night to explore the snowy city.
We happened upon St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, marvelling at its immaculate pale-blue walls, and ornate, gleaming domes. Spontaneously, we decided to enter, and to our surprise we discovered a ceremony was taking place whereby members were lining up to be blessed.
The atmosphere was perfumed by a heavenly drone sung by young men of the monastery, draped in robes. I think the fact that the lyrics were entirely in Ukrainian made for a more magical and surreal experience.
I was standing near the entrance, on my crutches, breathing in the atmosphere and watching the procession, when others started to notice me. Many were beckoning me to join the line to be blessed.
For a moment, I pondered whether I should partake in this ceremony, but quickly made up my mind that I would seize this very unique experience. I lined up, with many kindly ushering me ahead of them once they spotted the crutches.
I grew more and more nervous, desperately trying to glance to the front of the queue to memorise the correct protocol. It seemed members would kiss a photo in a page of the bible, turn around and then walk up to a senior member of the congregation where he’d bless you and mark your forehead with oil.
Throughout the ceremony, my heart was beating and my adrenaline was flowing from finding myself in such an unexpected and intense environment. I was so conscious to not ruin any of the proceedings or offend anyone. But it all went smoothly, and I felt exhilarated and accepted.
We stayed for a little while afterwards, exploring more of the monastery. As it became time for us to depart, we headed towards the door to leave. It was at this moment a small act of kindness defined my trip for me, and how I view Ukrainians.
A member approached me, gesturing and speaking in Ukrainian to me. Although I understood none of his words, I could tell he was trying to understand why I was on crutches. I pointed to my knee as an explanation. Saying nothing, he lightly touched my leg in a consolidatory manner. He then produced a small, laminated card with a photo of a saint on it and presented it to me to keep. He bade me a smile, and made his way out of the door, and into the dark city.
I was so touched by this thoughtful gesture from a stranger, in a foreign land, who in his way wanted to give me something to help me heal. This is one of my most prized ‘souvenirs’ from any of my trips. It was so sweet, so unexpected, so simple.
Kiev = Kindess
That brief moment in St. Michael’s defined my experience of Kiev and strongly set the tone for the rest of my time in Ukraine. I focus on that moment, but it became part of a series of kind gestures that defined my trip.
From the kindly airport assistant, to the over-and-above tax driver, to the concerned monastery member. From a gentleman stopping me in the street to ask if I had become hurt in Ukraine and to wish me well, to the sweet restaurant and bar staff that accommodated me wherever I visited.
It wasn’t just me, in my vulnerable state that could feel the ‘Kiev kindness’. When we were ready to depart, my friend, Helen was struggling to close her suitcase in the airport, and a young gentleman ran over to help her force the zip closed, not even waiting for a thank you, before returning to his business.
My trip was brief, but my time in Kiev is my very special snapshot of a city and a people that have experienced such tumult. Yet on my sub-zero adventure in snowy Kiev, what will stay with me is the warmth, and kindness of Kiev and its inhabitants.
I leave you with a list of spots I visited
To eat and drink
- Alchemist Bar for great cocktails
- Mur-Mur for rooftop views and great, healthy options
- Spotykach for local cuisine
Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much