Thursday, August 7, 2014

The trip that wasn't (a cautionary tale for travelers)

Things started out normal the day we planned to leave Ukraine.

The usual up-all-night-frantic-cleaning-and-packing marathon (guess some things can never be grown out of!), the handing over of keys to the landlady around 5 AM, the lugging of bags down to a friend's waiting 1985 Moskvich. One other early bird... or rather, late drinker... stumbled past us with a cheery "Good morning!"; in short, all was well.
A cat is hiding inside one of these bags.
The drive was surreal. Dawn was just beginning to light up old landmarks- the childrens' playground built like a fortress, the XMK sausage factory, the overpass of railroad tracks we had climbed over one winter's day long ago. "I just don't think you're leaving, Katherine, it's just not believable", Timur said as he drove on towards the airport.

And he was right. Although we didn't know it yet, Ukraine and I weren't ready to be parted. Not yet.

Sunrise at Kharkiv's international airport.

What followed was a harried and confusing exchange of words, paperwork, and luggage. 

Passing a brief vehicle inspection from 2 security guards- one with an AK47- we queued up at the end of a long line inside the airport. It was weird to be suddenly surrounded by conversations in English, like we were already in a different country. The group in front of us was a Japanese/British news crew, pushing their bags along with a look of deep exhaustion. After they turned away from the counter to find the gate, we stepped up with tickets and IDs in hand. This was when my absolute rookie mistake was brought to light, for all passports eventually expire and they should always be checked before embarking on a trip! :p That's right, the passport's best-by date was 40 days prior, eek. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

On the plus side, at least, the documents that we'd been paying more attention to (cat travel paperwork) were completely fine. Our little gray friend was cleared for the flight and D immediately rushed off to get him inspected. By the way, if you're ever traveling abroad from Kharkiv with a pet, get the final animal export certificate done from here to save you from the crowds at the Kyiv airport. Кит turned out to be a super-easy travel mate. I didn't get to travel with him, of course, but the word was that security, flight attendants, etc all fawned over him while he played stuffed animal. Just like this-

Back to that morning... D and I had barely 3 minutes to coordinate this sudden change of plans, probably the one eventuality we hadn't discussed. Getting a new passport was easy to figure out but in the meantime I had no grivna, no computer/internet device, and the landlady's new tenants were scheduled to move in later that day. Ugh. "Well", Timur chipped in, "my feeling was right! You're not leaving us yet!" and I thanked my lucky stars that he was there with us that morning!! What followed was a day of craziness but a day that again underscored the kindness and generosity of the Ukrainian people. His family welcomed me in to their apartment with a small glass of vino "for nerves" and made it possible to be en route to Kyiv by the following morning. Spasibo ogromnoe, Timur : )

But as нет худа без добра, every cloud has a silver lining, this story turned out to have plenty of them. There was a window seat on the fast train to Kyiv, blinding yellow plots of sunflowers (at last!) and massive fields of corn stalks. The couple in the middle/aisle seats played cards for most of the journey, the guy saying "Oh shit" in English every time he got a bad hand. 
It's Poltava!

There's more I'll share about Kyiv in the next entry, for the city had a very different feel to it this time, but in short- it all worked out. The embassy staff were very efficient and helpful and able to provide a temporary travel document right away.

Let my mistake be a warning for you, travelers and future travelers :p Take that extra 5 seconds now to check all your expiration dates to avoid future problems. 

And after you've done that, grab a cold drink and settle in to read the thoughts of Brendan, an ex-Kharkiv blogger who's now briefly back in town. Welcome back, Brendan! 

Kyiv photos coming soon...


  1. Oh dear, you must have had an intense moment of panic there. I'm glad it worked out--and that you got to see the fields of sunflowers in the end. What a tale!

    1. Yes, it turned out a blessing to have those few extra days : )

  2. We were wondering who had to stay back in Ukraine and why. Glad to hear that it went smoothly considering the circumstances!

    1. Thank you, much more smoothly than anticipated! Off to read about "mixing cob" on your blog now...