Monday, October 1, 2012

How to pack for Ukraine

Packing for Ukraine? Full of trepidation about what to bring? If you'll have access to a larger-size city for shopping runs, read through this list carefully. I'm a big fan of the travel light / Tim Ferriss' B.I.T. (buy it there) method, so I've asked some other expats for their regrets and surprises and put together this hopefully space-saving anti-packing list.

For a teaching supplies list, check out the EFL anti-packing list.

Some of these are meant to be taken with a grain of salt, of course :p
There's no need to pack:
  • Dental floss even stawberry-flavored floss is available here!
  • Brown sugar but it's super-pricey
  • Root vegetables haha, any and all
  • Veggie peelers sold in supermarkets and outdoor markets
  • Columbia gear Kharkov alone boasts several Columbia stores. If you sell your firstborn you can probably afford a pair of socks there.
  • Hot chocolate of sorts. Packets of cocoa are easy to find. During the colder months, packets of "hot chocolate" appear... yes, in quotes because it may taste a little different than you expect! In coffee shops hot chocolate usually means a tiny cup of melted chocolate that is eaten with a spoon.
  • Computer speakers I recently bought a set of speakers here. They're lightweight and portable. They suck for listening to music with bass but hey, they only cost $10 US. They do the job okay for watching a movie and I also bring them to class. Decent music speakers will probably cost about 200 grivna and are sold in electronic shops.
  • Hand sanitizer sold in pharmacies and at the checkout of grocery stores.
  • Contact lenses & glasses for example, 6 PureVision2 lenses + 120 ml Biotrue solution cost 285 grivna on sale at a local shop. And- this really surprised me- you don't need a prescription! Unfortunately contact lens solution is the same price as back home- ten bucks a bottle. On the plus side you can pick up a bottle of solution in any pharmacy. In America I used ClearCare but here I've found only Bausch & Lomb ReNu MultiPlus.
  • Microwave popcorn sold in most grocery stores even though people mainly see it as a novelty item. Microwaves, by the way, cost $50 and up.
  • Feminine products just in case anyone is worried about this issue. Ukraine even stocks the same brands as the US. Tampon selection is a bit limited- usually you get a choice between Tampax compact or traditional, super vs regular.
  • Ostrich egg and dried horse jerky not that you'll probably end up buying these... but someone obviously does because ostrich egg is sold in the РОСТ supermarket: 1 egg for 100 grivna. They also sell various kinds of jerky including horse and ostrich/emu. Yum.
  • A cell phone / cell service you can buy anything from a $10 cheap phone to a top of the line Blackberry, it just depends on how much you're willing to shell out. Phones are sold in ubiquitous little kiosks. To get service you just buy a starter kit for just a couple of dollars- you'll get a phone number and you don't even need to show any ID! It may be possible to get a cell phone plan in Ukraine if you ask around. Many people just buy cards from kiosks on the street to top up their account. I use the LIFE :) provider and spend about 50 uah a month on a card. It usually covers all of my calls and texts for the month. There are several major providers in addition to LIFE :) such as Djuice, Kyivstar, MTC. Because calls are usually free within your provider's network, it's common to buy more than one SIM card so that you can call your friends on MTC for free, then switch out the card and call someone on the Kyivstar network. Even taxi services list a number for each provider. By the way, it's also possible to buy a dual-SIM-card phone to avoid the inconvenience of manually switching out the cards. I saw one of these dual-SIM card phones advertised today for $100 USD.
  • Cold medicine read some reviews here. There's a fantastic product called Арбидол that will help you get over colds much quicker. If you can't find it, look for a similar product called Иммустат.
  • Parmesan cheese after a long hunt, this elusive product was located in the Spar supermarket.
  • Barbeque sauce hooray!

But don't expect to find:
  • Asparagus occasionally this shows up in a restaurant. I'd love to know where they're getting it from!
  • Crock pots
  • Cheddar cheese 
  • Water chestnuts D and I went to a Chinese food restaurant in America when we first started dating. "Hey, this is pretty good!" he said, surprised, after taking his first bite of the stir fry. "But.... why the raw potatoes?" Yep, those were the water chestnuts. I didn't think any more of it at the time, but now I realize that I have never seen them sold in Ukraine.
  • Chai tea although flights to the Middle East are cheap... You can pick some up on vacation.
  • Stationary sets {sob!}
  • Un-themed greeting cards out there, but rare
  • Mailing supplies so far I haven't seen much in the way of boxes and envelopes. Dear friends, this is why you haven't received much from me. It's also a pain to go to the post office.
  • Dishwashers
Do you have anything else to add to this list? Leave a comment below!

For me, part of the shopping struggle here is that everything is sold in (comparatively) tiny packages. No more 20-roll packs of toilet paper. Toilet paper is sold in individual rolls (the rougher local product) or 4-pack (the fancier stuff). Once I might have seen an 8-pack. Another example- I'm used to buying a big 100 capsule bottle of ibuprofen back in the states; here ibuprofen is usually sold in an un-boxed blister pack of 12 or less pills. It feels greedy (or strange?) to ask for multiple packs so the buying of ibuprofen is a constant process.

A word on clothes:
Before coming to Ukraine, consider your style and your size. If you're a woman and you like high heels, bows, and sequins, you'll like the clothes here. If you're a man and you like tight jeans, styled tops, and pointed shoes, you'll fit right in. If you wear a smaller size you'll be able to find clothes that fit.

If you don't fit the descriptions above, you may encounter slim(mer) pickings. Be warned.

Another drawback is that not only the sizes here are different, the label doesn't necessary indicate the actual fit. Shopping by size is not a good idea. I was taken aback while shopping one day to find that size 32 pants in one style were actually a vastly different size than size 32 pants in another style... from the same manufacturer! The salesclerk just matter-of-factly shrugged her shoulders at this.

A final consideration is price. Clothing isn't that cheap in Ukraine. I can't speak for men's clothes, but for women $12 will get you a low-quality t-shirt and $20-$30 will get you a low-quality sweater. Ditto for the shoes. By low-quality I don't mean immediate appearance- I mean that after one season it will have pilled or somehow fallen apart. Also I suspect that there really isn't a big difference between "gentle" and "regular" on the washing machine settings and this doesn't help the lifespan of your garments.

If you're curious, here's a link to my clothes packing list. Most of them were second hand store buys; I thought that if I bought fancy brands the clothes would last longer... which turned out to be only sometimes true. Looking at that list it seems that I brought a ton of clothes but most were really lightweight- all this plus my teaching supplies fit in a duffle bag and a suitcase. It saved a lot of time to bring clothes because it meant not having to shop for much, only a pair of jeans. About half the items on the list are either worn out or lost (scarves, etc) at this point. And I'm sick to death of what's left! :p Time to go out and do some clothes shopping.

I wish you luck with your packing process. Travel light, enjoy Ukraine, and learn to live like a local!


  1. I love your lists. You do so much research. And I'm sorry to brag but asparagus is available in Kiev at Mega:) and I can buy toilet paper in packs of 8 at Billa. And really? No dishwasher? Arbidol is great, it's a Russian treasure, we used to get it there all the time, I didn't know it was available in Ukraine, thanks!

    1. Hi MCD, thanks for dropping by! :) Did you see your "oh, jerky" entry linked in this post? I probably would never have noticed the package of horse jerky, but it just so happened that I read your post and then saw the same brand here in a shop. And you have asparagus there? I'm sooo jealous!! :p Must come to Kiev soon.

      Yep, no dishwasher. Anywhere. I've only seen one dishwasher in all my time and travels in Ukraine, and it was in the fancy apartment of another expat. I guess we're getting used to washing by hand again. Hope you guys have one though, because big family = lots of dishes!