A one-way ticket that cost less than a Big Mac combo got me from Moscow to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. But that doesn’t mean Ukraine is cheap or that other stories I heard about the country were true.
I remember lugging my rucksack off the baggage belt and walking out to a bus outside the Kyiv Boryspil International Airport. The man at customs stamped my passport and I was on my way in an almost empty bus toward the city centre. I was one of about maybe six or seven people going to the city in the afternoon.
When I got off the bus, I went to a small kiosk outside the central station, hungry and tired after a 3-hour flight from Moscow. The young man at the kiosk grabbed me a beer and a chocolate bar. I had a DSLR camera on me - he thought I was here for work. But I told him I was here for tourism. He smiled at me and asked, “Why?”
I’d been seen the headlines. From the Euromaidan revolution, to an illegal annexation of Crimea, to a civil war that still - to this very day - still goes on. My friends had raised their brow when I told them I was on a one-way to Kiev. “Why would anyone ever go there?”
Travellers don’t learn about other cultures through headlines and hearsay. They got on that flight and come to their own conclusions. They travel. And that’s just what I did.
A week of metro rides in Kiev cost less than a day of taking the tube in London. The value of Ukraine’s currency, the Ukrainian hryvnia, has dropped immensely, especially since the outbreak of the civil war. It’s a developing country, where much of the population lives in poverty. My dollar didn’t go nearly as far anywhere else in Europe than it did in Kiev.
I went to a 5-star restaurant just outside the city centre and paid $7.50 Canadian dollars for a three-course meal. My Airbnb in the city centre cost 21 dollars a night. My one-way flight from Moscow, using Wizz Airlines, cost $14 Canadian. Of course, it also cost me the price of one Big Mac meal to fly to Ukraine on a budget airline. But that doesn’t mean Ukraine is cheap.
“Cheap” devalues a place. Kiev isn’t cheap. It’s inexpensive. Not only is travelling to Ukraine more affordable than it arguably has ever been, the value you get for travelling there is immense. There’s a lot you get out of a trip to Kiev rather than just an inexpensive vacation.
Kiev shouldn’t be seen as a compromise. It shouldn’t be seen as the cheap destination. There’s a rich history in the city that still breathes through it’s pre-WW2 architecture and the selfless locals.
Yes, Ukraine is a country that is still at war. A war escalates in the eastern parts of the country, particularly in the regions known as Donetsk and Lugansk. As well, the region of Crimea in the south has been annexed by Russia for the past two years — though this isn’t legally recognized under international law. Assuredly, Kiev is well and distant from all these locations and there’s soldiers at the border on the east of the country who will not permit tourists to enter these territories. Life goes on in Kiev.