Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Kiev so far

I'm currently 3 days into a 2 week stay in Kiev and having a fab time (shout out to my university for funding me for unknown reasons that I will not question because free money). At the moment I have more free time than expected because the language school I'm at doesn't have anyone else at my level, so I'm having intensive individual lessons rather than the group classes I originally planned for, which reduces the amount of class time I get.

On the plus side, I really think I am at B2 level for Russian: I did 2 placement tests, one of which was B1, which I got completely correct, and one of which was C1, where I made lots of mistakes, mostly due to vocabulary, but also got a lot of the questions right. I feel like I am at the same level after 1.5 years of studying as I was with my French or German after 6 years, which is pretty incredible.

In itself Kiev is a lovely city, but I can't help thinking that anywhere I look in the city centre, I can always see all 3 of: a picturesque church, lots of roadworks, and a McDonalds, which makes every glance a strange collection of cultural clashes. I was only expecting the first of these three, especially after various anecdotes from the last time I was in Ukraine, where people essentially told me that the head of national transport found plenty of other ways to deplete the budget, without the risk of any roads getting repaired or any connections improved. Something which also worries me disproportionately is that cars are allowed to turn blind corners onto zebra crossings and don't feel obliged to stop, despite the green man tempting the pedestrians into an early grave. It seems that zebra crossings as an entire concept depend on you daring to cross, rather than the cars having any obligation to, as I've tried to capture in the following image, which shows a ~6 lane road, where the crossing relies on you putting your breakable human form directly in front of these uncaring vehicles travelling at speed.

I have so far only had the chance to wander around admiring the beautiful buildings, and I have visited one museum, the National Chernobyl Museum. It's really worth paying the extra £2 for an audioguide, because the exhibition doesn't really make much sense without one, although the photos do speak for themselves to a certain extent. Included in the exhibition are some wonderful portraits that really highlight the fact that every person who died in the tragedy was an individual with their own life. I found it particularly striking to hear of the individuals who decided to stay in the power station after the explosion to try and reduce the damage, rather than saving themselves, acts which surely reduced harm to others significantly.

In case you feel like visiting Kiev, on reflection I wouldn't recommend coming alone unless you have at least a bit of Russian or Ukrainian to support you, especially (sadly) if you are female. Things are improving here, but like in many parts of the world, young women are not treated as adults like you would expect, say, in England. This has resulted in me getting a lot of unwelcome advice from people who obviously are not in a position to be offering advice: for example, a middle aged man completely seriously offering me his clandestine vodka at 4pm, while criticising me for drinking water with my meal because it's very bad for my health. I mean, I don't even know where to start with that one. Metro journeys cost the equivalent of 12p per trip though, so, swings and roundabouts.

(Just a heads up: if you ever travel with Ukrainian International Airlines, they only have online check in for about half of their flights, and waiting to check in in the airport, with the check in staff being possibly the least helpful people I have ever come across, was really unpleasantly stressful, especially since their inefficiency led to people who had been queuing for over an hour nearly missing their flight.)

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