Below are a few travel tips for those who have never adopted in Ukraine. It's not much, but it might be of use for those preparing to come. Reading the handbook provided by RR was extremely helpful. It has great information, and I would recommend reading it several times and bringing it with you. This info will be mostly be useful for packing and the first day or two. It does not take long before you adjust to life here.
As you read this info, please keep in mind that we have only done this once, and the information below is specific to our experience and our region.
• Pack light! Everyone says this, but believe me, carrying luggage up and down stairs in the train station and apartments without elevators is not a lot of fun.
• Bring travel size toiletries. You will be able to find everything you need here at a lower cost. We found the same brands of shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste. There are markets everywhere within walking distance.
• Bring a simple travel dictionary. It will be of great help in the market. Make sure you have your apartment address written in English and Russian, so you can get a taxi if you get lost or tired of walking around. The facilitators are great, and if you need help communicating what you need, you can call them.
• Bring all the medicine that you think you might need. I already had to take my antibiotics. Make sure you get some from your doctor before you come.
• Bring a small flashlight. Some of the stairwells up to our apartments have been dark at night.
• Layers are a must! Stick to dark colors that you can mix and match. Also, most people wear dark colors, and you will blend a little better when walking around. In the winter, it is very cold outside, but indoors it is HOT. You will be more comfortable inside if you can take off your heavy sweater. Warm boots have been a must for me. Women were all kinds of boots as part of their everyday wear. They have boot stores everywhere, but they are not as inexpensive as you might think. They are warmer, because they are leather and lined with “fur”. Women here are almost “naked” under their big coats. Often they have short sleeves, see-through blouses, and VERY short skirts; therefore they are not hot indoors. The weather has been in the 30s, and we have done a lot of walking. I have not worn my thermal underwear much, but I do have a long thick coat. If you are hot natured, you might want to bring some lighter clothing for hanging around the apartment and sleeping. Also, if you travel first class on the train, I would recommend bringing a tank top and/or shorts, or you can strip down to your undies like we did. : )
• Washing clothes…YUCK! Bring a few travel size hand washing soap and a couple of small packs of soap for machine wash. It you are lucky, you will have a washing machine in your apartment. Most items will dry in a day or two depending on the thickness of the material. Jeans take about two days if you place them in front of the radiator. If you wear layers, you only need to wash your under layers which will dry faster. Spot clean as much as you can thick clothing. Most bathrooms have a radiator tube. If you place items on it, they will dry in a day or so. If you do not have a washing machine, either wash your clothes in the bathtub or in a small wash tub. You will need rubber cloves, or you will destroy your hands. Ukrainian tip: Wash your undergarments each day when you take a bath. They will be dry the next day. You will probably not need an iron. Each apartment we have been in has had one.
These are our essentials for washing clothes by hand.
• Taking a bath/shower…INTERESTING! All I can say is… “When in Rome do as the Romans.” If you have a big tub with a seat and no shower curtain, use the seat! We tried standing and made a mess of the bathroom. Be careful getting out of the tubs, they have a big drop.
• The market…FUN! If you like peanut butter, granola bars, oatmeal, or sweetners, bring them. These items are difficult to find. It can be difficult to find the right milk and water. What may look like milk could be cream or yogurt, and what looks like water may be carbonated water. See the pictures below to get you started. Try the delicious pasties and chocolate. YUM! Our facilitator said not to buy the pastries in the open market but the meat, cheese, eggs, fruits, and veggies are fine. I am not too sure about the meat, but we did buy some cheese and did not get sick. We always have coke, juice, bananas, cheese, ham, bread, and eggs in our apartment. We love eating grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. They make quick meals. We were very glad to have granola bars on the first couple of days and during the train ride. There will be no water or food on the train, so make sure to pack something to eat and drink.
Water…Look for the one with the mountains and a BLUE cap. I wish I had brought some instant tea mix or those Crystal Light packages that can be mixed in the water bottles.
Mayo, spagetti sauce (look for the one w/ the spagetti in the picture), and butter.
Milk and Juice
Milk - 2,5% has been the most like our milk. We bought some in a box that was the same brand but 2,6%, and it was more like a creamer. We like the mixed fruit juice the best. Our facilitator said this was a better brand, and that they also make good juice for kids.
We have yet to find a coffee maker. Most restaurants have cappuccino, latte, or American coffee available. If you like to have coffee in the morning, instant is the way to go. This one is delicious! Just add a teaspoon to a cup of hot water. I have not found sweetners anywhere. Make sure to bring them if you prefer it to sugar. I also brought packages of flavored instant capuccino mixes. I have really enjoyed those.
Love this thing! Just add distilled water and hit the button on the top of the handle…and…presto, hot water in minutes. Sorry, but I could not get the picture turned the right way.
• We have not had any problems exchanging money. There are places everywhere in Kiev and in our region as well (Kherson). We were worried about having any folds on our money, and we handled it with great care. But… I have seen our facilitator exchange money that was folded in half without a problem. You should still bring new crisp bills just in case, but don’t panic if a corner folds. : )
• Don’t drink the tap water. You may also not want to ask for ice at restaurants unless it was made with distilled water. Salads may also be questionable since they may have been washed with regular water. I ate some salad at a nicer restaurant, and I was fine. The first few days we brushed our teeth with distilled water. We asked our facilitator about it, and she said she uses the regular water, so we tried it. We have been brushing our teeth with it and have not had a problem. This may depend on the region.
• The tip at restaurants is only 5-10% of the cost of the meal.
• Money... It is worth every penny, but it is costly! There will be unexpected expenses. Some you have to pay and others are nice things to do for those who have cared for your child and for the other children in the groupa. Examples: increase in the same day passport cost from $600 to $700, taxi cost of your facilitator as they go around town getting your paperwork ready, daily treats for the other kids in the groupa, thank you gifts for the caretakers, chocolates for the caregivers on New Year and Christmas, clothes or shoes for your child if what you brought does not fit… It all odds up, so plan ahead.
The following is specific to our experience on our first day. If you are with RR, your experience may be similar.
• Kiev Airport…??!!! When you enter the building, look to your right and line up where it says “Visas”. There are some lines for “Non Visas” but they are usually not opened. We were eventually moved to the citizen window when there was no waiting in those lines. We filled out the little paper for entering the country, but the officer at customs said we did not need it since we were not staying more than 90 day. She wanted to know the address of where we were going, and we wrote the region where we were adopting. I am not sure if that was right or not, but she stamped our passport and we were in. Our advice is…go with the flow. You will then get your luggage. Use the free carts. Then, you will go through a “security point”. It is an officer either waiving you through or having your place your luggage through the large x-ray machine. After that point, you should look around for your driver. He will have a sign with your name. We did not have a driver that spoke English at the airport. It was a little scary, but don’t worry, he will take you to the apartment and Niko or Yulia will contact you. We had to pay him in dollars. It was $32, and I only had $20 dollar bills. Make sure to have some lower currency incase this happens to you.
• Niko came to our apartment about an hour after we arrived, and he gave us a cell phone, showed us where the market was across the street, and told us where to exchange $. If you are lucky, Niko will be waiting for you at the airport. He speaks English, and he will take you to exchange $ and to the market before going to your apartment. The most difficult part about not having Niko as the driver who picks you up, is the not knowing what is going on right away. Relax and know that he or Yulia will contact you.
• Make sure you buy a couple of water bottles at the airport before you fly to Ukraine. When we were left in the apartment, we had no water, no idea where to get it, and no Ukrainian money. I ended up boiling water (for at least 8 minutes), so that Randell could take some medicine. We did have some granola bars for a quick snack. It felt like we were on Ukraine Survivor that first day. : ) It did not take long to adjust to the surroundings and relax a little.
• Don’t be surprised if your driver, Niko, is also your translator at the SDA. We were expecting to see Yulia, but there were a lot of couples who needed her help that day. The SDA was very simple. We only had one question asked, “Why do you want to adopt a sick child.” Niko was great! He knows everyone there.