Uncomfortable in Ukraine


Most people begin travelling in a group, whether it’s with family, school or a group of friends. For seasoned travellers and those with goals of seeing the world, it becomes apparent at some point that you will have to travel to some places alone. It may be because people can’t make it, or no one wants to go with you. For me, it was an alternative reason but I’m sure if I had asked someone to come to Ukraine they would have said no. it’s not that popular to meet someone in the UK who is looking to go to Ukraine anytime soon.

I was working for a charity on my placement year when I was accepted onto a training course in Armenia on gender equality. I was overly excited especially as airfare taken care of. I wasn’t knowledgeable of Armenian culture, history or politics but I was keen to know. When it came to booking flights all the flights were connections. Many stopped in Greece but that isn’t one of my favourite airports, and I always want to go somewhere new so I decided to stop off in Ukraine. On the day to leave my grandmother dropped me at Gatwick airport (after we accidently went to Heathrow), I can remember standing in the check-in line worried as I was the only black person on the plane. At one point I was tearful, but I held back my tears. Once I had got through customs and was in my Ukraine International Airlines seat the health and safety information was spoken to us in Ukrainian – a language I don’t know. But I passed this off as something that happens on flights infrequently filled with foreigners. When the food trolley arrived I ordered a coke and was surprised that they wanted me to pay in euros! The currency of Great Britain is the Great British Pound, the currency in Ukraine is the Hryvnia, I had no euros so had to pay extra in pounds. I fell asleep at some point and when I awoke it was only a short white before I arrived in Ukraine.

I don’t think I had any expectations before I arrived in Kiev, but the airport was nice, modern clean, I was transported through transit customs quickly and through to the terminal gates. I was lucky that I had time to roam the airport for around 4 hours. I have a deep love of airports, the first thing I did was walk all the way up and down, many people were staring as I was one of less than 10 black people in the terminal. I assume black people don’t holiday that much in that side of that world? Who knows. I went inside the smoking box to smoke a roll up, which was slightly uncomfortable as I was the only female smoking (which didn’t bother me) but I could see that the men were staring at me and not in a smiling friendly manner. It seemed as though people were intrigued by me being there, but not as though they were exactly happy with my presence. Now the fact that these people are in an airport and that I didn’t speak to them means they might not have even been from Ukraine. Once I left the smoking box I knew that I wanted to get some food, at the first sandwich bar I lined up at, a group of men came over who seemed quite rowdy. Even though there was a giant que, the bar owners let these men run past the que and order first. So I left that que because I didn’t want to spend my money with people like that. The second sandwich bar was much quieter, and further down the terminal. Here I ordered a sandwich and a sprite, which came to £5. I was thinking this is quite expensive, but a girl had to eat. When I opened the sandwich box, turned out it was half a sandwich. I think this is the way sandwiches are made in Ukraine? Then I went to buy an iPhone charger because I realised I had left mine at home, I found the nearest electronics shop, and asked the clerk if they had an iPhone charger. The clerk brought one over and it was £35! I had no choice but to buy it, but by this point, I was thinking Ukraine didn’t seem as cheap as it is made out to be on the travel guides. Obviously, airports are expensive but come on.

I was on my phone a lot at the time and I can only really say that I liked Kiev, it was warm, I would go back to get a feel of the city. To experience the culture. But I would probably want to go in a bigger group since I’m not sure I would be able to make friends in the country, and when the conflict in the country has calmed down. How was your time in Kiev? I can only say mine was an uncomfortable 4 hours in an airport.

Shaneka Knight



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