When in Ukraine

My first article about Ukraine that I had a chance to write for my college newspaper in 2014

6th June, 2016. Monday

It’s 6 days left until my first ever trip to Ukraine. The first time I wanted to travel to this place is when I wrote a feature article about the Ukrainian resilience during the conflict with Russia. The courage, will and determination to build their country back after a major set-back has given Ukrainians a very high place in my heart. One of the most visible areas this hard-work is paying off is the rising confidence in tourists, making Ukraine an emerging hotspot for Tourism in Europe.

This trip is organized by Norwegian-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and they are the ones who arranged the accommodation and other logistics. I cannot wait for the 12th to board on the flight and call this place home for a week.

8th June, 2016. Wednesday

Picked up my passport with visa yesterday. Things have started to seem real now. It’s so much to be done at office before I leave. Next two days are going to be extremely hectic.

12th June, 2016. Sunday

08:56 AM.

Flight leaves in 30 mins. It’s been a crazy morning. The flight attendant is asking passengers to board the plane as I am quickly writing down a few words after rushing to the gate. I wish I had woken up 30 mins earlier or had avoided ironing the clothes last minute. Would have gotten more time to breathe and catch the flight without stress. Anyways, all is well that ends well

21:36 PM

The arrival in Ukraine was not great. The passport clearance took me to another room and asked questions which I have never experienced before. However, all that was made up by my friends who were waiting outside for a long time.

The apartment we are staying in is at the central city street and I can hear people play guitar and sing outside since it’s Sunday night. The city has a mixed eastern vibe which feels familiar. Life in Kyiv seems so vibrant and I lam enjoying the aura immensely.

We had dinner at a Georgian restaurant, the food was ok. Met all the friends after two months and laughed all evening despite being so tired. This week is going to be a memorable one.

14th June, 2016. Tuesday

Day 1 was amazing. Had a lecture on project management at Kiev School of Economics, went to the parliament for a guided tour, had a presentation by a professor from NTNU at Kiev Smart City Hub and ended the day with a fabulous Ukrainian dinner.

One thing I noticed was that the teachers are highly respected and people don’t challenge them even if they are not articulate in conveying their point. However, later when we met a parliamentarian, all the Ukrainians grilled him with very tough questions about corruption and effectiveness of the parliamentarians which made me realize that it’s only the respect factor that leads to students not challenging the teachers, something we have in Pakistan too.

Random happy moments of the day: Amidst all the program, me and a friend managed to crash a wedding photoshoot while walking around the street and took pictures with the bride and groom. They were super happy to have a tourist come over asking for pictures. Spotted a random park outside the smart city hub and sneaked in to try a few rides without anyone noticing since the group was already set to depart for dinner. Ukrainian cuisine has surprised me pleasantly; rich food with variety of tastes. They include soup or borsch in everyday meal, a norm similar to Singaporean cuisine.

The wedding photoshoot

15th June, 2016. Wednesday

Attended a presentation by Professional Ukraine initiative which is a group founded by 10 young Ukrainian professionals privately and has 3000 members, all Ukrainian students who have studied abroad. The group serves as an advisory service (mostly voluntarily) for the government for the deregulation as well as introducing new regulatory reforms. I found the presentation very inspiring and it made me think that these kinds of initiatives coming from civil society is what take countries forward.

Went to an Italian restaurant for dinner and watched soccer game between Iceland and Portugal. Iceland managed to restrict Portugal to just one goal despite Ronaldo playing for the other team leading to an awkward draw.

Walked back to my apartment after watching the game singing and walking in the rain. It’s been a great day.

17th June, 2016. Friday

21:03 PM

I sneaked out after dinner today to have a quiet evening after last two hectic yet exciting days.

It’s been great meeting new people, learning from them. The group participating in the program is impressive; so accomplished yet so down to earth, helpful, cheerful and warm people.

I miss the comfort of my home and my routine but a wise friend once told me that great things happen if you leave your comfort zone. Being in a new country forces you to leave your old perceptions about the place behind and put yourself in the shoes of the locals. Living amongst them, talking to them, knowing their problems and finding similarities with yourself help you develop a fondness which you always take with you.

Listened to a street singer playing “Let it be” by The Beatles which gave me a very calm feeling. Sometimes it takes nothing to be peaceful and happy and sometimes it takes all your energy.

23rd June, 2016. Thursday

22:31 Pm

Didn’t get a chance to write in last 5–6 days. Last few days in Ukraine were a roller coaster ride; excitement to see the cultural hub of Ukraine (Lviv), meetings with the city council and deputy mayor of Lviv and finding out about their work to increase the competitiveness of the city in terms of tourism and public services, homesickness for a short while and the anxiousness to get back to routine, some life changing conversations with the people I met through the program, some of the richest tastes in cuisines I have had and the thrill of watching Euro cup with so many soccer fans.

If one asks me what is the most valuable thing I took away from this trip, it’s the people; the opportunity to build friendships, and to view the world with different eyes and the laughter and joy that I shared. Got a chance to learn a bit more about myself and stretch my comfort zone. The stable routine makes it easy to live life in a set pattern and anything that disturbs it feels chaotic and challenging. However, it is also necessary for self-growth to allow some chaos.

View of Kyiv from a tower in Lavra (A 1000 year old Monestery)

On an ending note, Ukraine is a beautiful country and Ukrainians are kind, passionate for their country and hospitable people; I am grateful for the lovely memories and the warmth.

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