The Shadow of Dictators

Our visit to Ukraine was a bit of a happy accident for a couple of reasons. The time in Afghanistan was cut short due to flight scheduling shenanigans and that ultimately turned out well because we were still able to see most of what we planned. Because of the flight issues, we had very timely PCR test results on our hands, opening the door to some places that would be quite prohibitive if coming directly from the United States. In particular, the Ukraine has a 48-hour PCR requirement, something that would be logistically impossible from home. With easy flights from Istanbul to Kiev, we planned the rest of our trip while flying out of Kabul. By the time we landed in Turkey, we had flights, hotels and tours all booked for Ukraine.

Now, I didn’t actually need to get tossed into a political dissident and refugee prison in Belarus to have an opinion about Lukashenko… I certainly already had opinions about Yanukovych and Putin. Being familiar with the Orange Revolution & the Euromaidan Revolution, I was already interested in visiting Kiev and spending time in a city that had thrown off the shackles of dictatorship. Even in a short time there it did not disappoint. I really enjoyed the vibe from everyone, including from all authorities that I encountered.

Besides the 48-hour PCR requirement, another entry requirement for Ukraine is health insurance coverage (similar to Belarus). Unlike Belarus though, they don’t have a racket where they sell short-term policies right there at the immigration counter. Thankfully, they seem to use some wide discretion with what passed for acceptable insurance. Surprisingly, a United States private insurance card got both of us through with only a small amount of grimacing by the officer. 

Once in the airport, forget about all the garbage online about this or that train into town and different taxis and all that. Ukraine has Uber… done. Also, right there at the airport exit you can get super cheap SIM cards and you’re good to go in a few minutes. There were definitely a lot of quarantine restrictions in town, limiting dining options. We grabbed some local takeaway and hit up a grocery store for some goodies near our hotel. Nearby, there was an outdoor memorial for a Ukrainian soldier with a small crowd gathered drinking a bit. We weren’t really sure of what was going on there so just kind of nodded and hustled past. Also, it was pretty damn cold and were underdressed.

As for our touring around Kiev, I don’t think we did much unusual. A walking tour of Kiev Pechersk Lavra and the labyrinthine caves below, the Motherland Monument and nearby museums and parks. Getting around by Uber was extremely convenient and when the charges showed up on my credit card later I was shocked to see almost all of them were less than $1 US.

I still need to visit both Transnistria and Moldova to the south, both of which are essentially closed to visitors right now. For that alone, I’ll definitely be back through Kiev. This short little visit has me looking forward to returning.

4 thoughts on “The Shadow of Dictators

  1. Beautiful art, cool military equipment displays, and tasty food. The caves below the church were definitely a diff experience.

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