What’s it like to live in Ukraine?

Two expats talk about what it’s like to live in Ukraine and what they do or don’t like!

Although I spent most of my life in the Czech Republic, I am originally from Ukraine. I got to visit during Christmas 2018 and I like to visit every year or every other year. I only ‘lived’ in Ukraine until I was three and a half, so it didn’t really count. When I visit, I love being there and I wonder what life would be like there.

I also follow Quora. Out of all the newsletters I subscribe to, it’s the only one I actually open and read regularly. Based on the questions that you click and the interests that you select when you sign up, it’ll learn exactly what you like. Today, I saw a question about Ukraine and I couldn’t help clicking. Here it is: https://www.quora.com/What-do-you-like-and-dislike-about-living-in-Ukraine

What do you like and dislike about living in Ukraine?

Thank you Alain Belanger for this answer:

I’ll answer this as an expat living in Kyiv for the past 18 months. It’s an outsider/foreigner’s perspective and it’s also the perspective of someone who has a job that provides an income that most Ukrainians could only dream about. With those caveats, here are my thoughts. Let’s start with the likes:

  • It’s inexpensive. Food, rent, utilities, transportation, restaurants, etc, it’s all cheaper than in my home country of Canada, cheaper than in the “West” in general.
  • The people are fairly friendly and welcoming, despite my poor Ukrainian and Russian language skills, I’ve still had mostly positive experiences. It’s also pretty safe as long as you’re reasonably street wise and exercise a normal amount of caution.
  • A lot of tourist gems that are usually little known in the West. Many interesting and historically rich towns and cities and beautiful landscapes.
  • It’s close to the EU, as well as Russia, Turkey, large parts of the Middle East, etc. Reasonably cheap flights aren’t that difficult to find.

Now for the dislikes:

  • Poor infrastructure. Roads, rail, ports, airports, parks, etc can be in very bad shape.
  • Pervasive corruption. It’s behind the scenes and doesn’t emerge much in day to day life in an obvious way. I’ve never been shaken down for a bribe, but it’s a serious problem nonetheless that is holding the country back and those in power aren’t doing enough to combat it.
  • The huge inequality and poverty. Labor just isn’t valued much and salaries are pitiable. In my work place my Ukrainian coworkers are paid a very small fraction of what I’m being paid, for essentially doing the same work. The unfairness of it jumps out at me, but the fact is that teachers are severely underpaid and undervalued in Ukraine, but native-speaker foreigners can command high wages.

Here’s another answer by Oluwaseun Oloruntegbe:

What I like about living in Ukraine

  1. It is relatively peaceful and safe. Regardless of the recent crisis in the East and Crimea, it still feels safe to live here.
  2. Cheap and quality internet access – both WLAN and 3G/4G. Internet access does not get any cheaper than it is in Ukraine.
  3. The food – I love the variety. I love that fruits are available and affordable in summer.
  4. The people – I love the sensible ones, I don’t care much for the stupid ones.
  5. Winter – it’s beautiful and white until it becomes unbearable (for a short while)
  6. Springs – helps me appreciate the beauty of life after a cold and colorless winter
  7. Autumn – I love the yellow leaves – makes me appreciate the beauty of life
  8. Transportation – getting from A to B in Ukraine is as easy and affordable as it gets. You don’t have a car, not a big deal. Just take the metro, mashrutka, train, taxi, uber, tramvai, trolleybus etc. as everyone else. Even car owners park at the metro station and take the metro. I know I do (only I park at home).
  9. Family – I love that many Ukrainians still value family values
  10. Family – My family is here and I love waking up to their beautiful faces everyday.
  11. Affordable living – for a beautiful and capital city like Kyiv, it is fairly affordable as are other cities in Ukraine.

What I don’t like about living in Ukraine

  1. Winter – it’s wet, cold, slippery, and mostly unnecessary
  2. People – I don’t care for people who have made alcohol and cigarettes the center of their lives. I despise those who abuse others (including children and women) under the influence of alcohol
  3. Low salary – I think I do well for myself but I hate seeing people, who work hard for so little, suffer
  4. The politics – it’s weird and confusing. I think Ukrainians can do better than the people they (or are forced to) elect to represent them
  5. Labor migration – I hate seeing the best people (character, intelligence, and entrepreneurship wise) migrate to the United States or the European Union. Ukraine needs its best people to grow at a faster rate
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Rainbow Bagels: They Look like a Unicorn, Taste Like 💩

The bagel was sugary yet flavorless, the beautiful twirls of colors wasted on what tasted far from the rainbow I expected. I had to scrape the cream cheese onto a regular piece of bread to get the grossly bland flavor out of my mouth…

Bored of regular New York bagels and coffee after just one month of living in Brooklyn, I decided to venture out and sample something special. Somehow Googling “glitter coffee” took me to the The Bagel Store’s website. I couldn’t find what I was looking for but the words “rainbow bagels” and “the bagel that broke the internet” combined with pictures of crazy colors had me intrigued. I just had to try one but I didn’t want to do it alone.

I got to their store at 754 Metropolitan Ave way too easily, already worrying that if the bagels tasted as good as they looked I’d be tempted to hop on the L train for 15 minutes for a fresh taste of the rainbow every single day. Perpetually early, I got there with time to spare and was disappointed to find that the place was tiny and hot. But at least there was an empty seat for me to sit in while a waited!

After just five minutes of me waiting the two men behind the counter started eyeing me and I overheard one asking if I had ordered anything. It was my first experience of New Yorkers being rude and it made me squirm in my seat, going out of my way to check my watch, sigh and pretend to text so that it was clear that I’m waiting for someone. Why else would someone sit in an non-airconditioned bagel store in the middle of a heat wave?

Five more minutes passed, I made accidental eye contact with the staff who didn’t return my smile, so I got up and waited in the doorway which provided a pleasant breeze and was slightly less awkward. My friend finally arrived and we went in to buy some bagels, “to-go” of course, to avoid the heat of the place and the coldness of the staff.

I ate the bagels a few hours later at home after toasting them on the stove, taking some pretty pictures and slathering them in tofu cream cheese. A sweet stuffy smell filled the kitchen but my hopes were still high… until my third bite. The bagel was sugary yet flavorless, the beautiful twirls of colors wasted on what tasted far from the rainbow I expected. I had to scrape the cream cheese onto a regular piece of bread to get the grossly bland flavor out of my mouth. They should call it the bagel that broke the planet after a tsunami of colorful bread clogged up toilets and overflowed landfills.

Despite the unpleasant experience with the store, the staff and the rainbow bagel itself, I plan on returning to give their glitter bagel a chance. Now that my expectations are so low, nothing can disappoint me. Right? Plus I still haven’t tried edible glitter and since I can’t find a sparkling coffee anywhere, a blinged out bagel will have to do for the time being.

All in all, I recommend the rainbow bagel if you’re an Instagrammer or just want to check it off your bucket list like I did. Please don’t feed it to any birds, unless you hate them and want them to die. Just keep in mind that crows never forget a human face and will get revenge if you torture them with this rainbow 💩.

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10 Most Bizarrely Awesome Food-Themed Earrings

For some reason, fruit seems to be the most “socially acceptable” food to wear as jewelry. Candy is also considered more or less “normal” although mini Kinder Eggs do take it a bit too far. But why does the concept of sausages dangling from your ears seem so crazy?

Food and fashion have always been in the spotlight of our society, playing an important role in our self-expression and identity. It is no wonder that food-themed fashion has made its way into our lives and onto many Pinterest boards. In the past, a pizza-print t-shirt may have been intended as a gag gift but today food can upgrade your fashion style.


Jewelry is the perfect subtle way to make a statement without turning too many heads at the workplace. Start small by wearing tiny strawberry studs to compliment your favorite red top.

For more casual occasions you can brighten up a chic all-black outfit with rainbow lollipops or ice cream that will never melt. The options for incorporating food into your daily fashion are limitless.

Once you cross the line and enter the richly flavored world of food jewelry things can get a bit silly. Would you wear sushi earrings at a Japanese restaurant? Or elegant wine glass earrings for a classy night out with the girls?

For some reason, fruit seems to be the most “socially acceptable” food to wear as jewelry. Candy is also considered more or less “normal” although mini Kinder Eggs do take it a bit too far. But why does the concept of sausages dangling from your ears seem so crazy?

Think you’ve seen it all? Well, think again… A popular online jewelry store in the Czech Republic will challenge everything you know about fashion. This handmade jewelry is made using polymer clay and it is taking the internet by storm.

Take a look at their 10 most bizarrely awesome creations:

10. Would you like a soda with that? These pizza earrings are perfect for proud foodies.


9. One of the best sources of potassium can also be great bling.


8. Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear! There’s nothing like vodka or rum shots on a night out.


7. Remember that girl who only ate McDonald’s chicken nuggets for years? She’d probably appreciate these unique earrings.


6. Italians are all about their espresso shots and pasta. Can’t afford to trip to Italy? Bring some Italy into your life with pasta earrings!


5. Scientists have discovered that cheese is highly addictive. Fuel your addiction in a more healthy way: by wearing cheese instead!


4. The world is obsessed with macaroons because of their cute size, colorful design and mouthwatering taste. Macaroon earrings let you enjoy the dessert indefinitely!


3. Party sandwiches are the perfect way to feed all your guests. Get into a party mood by wearing your favorite sandwich!


2. Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you want everyone to know what you had for breakfast, wear bacon and eggs earrings.


1. Not everyone eats meat or *gasp* cheese. Vegetarian diets are gaining popularity every day, so why not wear some vegan-approved lettuce earrings?


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Dragon Boat Festival in Shanghai

The Dragon Boat Festival is a popular Chinese tradition involving dragon-themed boats racing down the river. There are different types of boats that hold various amounts of rowers. Every team always one drummer who’s job it is to keep a steady rhythm for his team to row to.

Unless you plan weeks in advance, you won’t be able to snag train tickets to one of the popular places near Shanghai that go all out for the festival. Hangzhou is one of the top spots to celebrate the festival and it’s only about an hour away, costing around 100 RMB ($15.)

Ctrip.com only lets you buy tickets 60 or sometimes 30 days in advance. We set an alarm to the exact time that we could buy our ticket and the earliest ones were sold out within minutes – the return go even faster. Also keep in mind that Ctrip can have high booking fees, as high as 30 RMB per person ($5). Once you pay for it online, you still need to pick it up at the train station which requires the confirmation and a passport. We’ve gotten away with a digital photo of a passport twice, but you shouldn’t risk it.

Back to the dragon boat festival. We stayed in Shanghai and watched it from Zhongtan Lu. I’ve already experienced a dragon boat festival in Prague at a Rotary event and this wasn’t much different. It was pretty low key and there was a tiny stage on the other side of the bank where a few performers were performing simple dragon dances. It was cool, but I wasn’t especially impressed. But maybe I’m just spoiled!

The top places in China to see the dragon boat festival according to Wanna Travel are:

  • Yueyang International Dragon Boat Race: Miluo River Dragon Boat Race Center, Yueyang, Hunan.
  • Zigui Dragon Boat Racing: Xujiachong Bay, Zuigui Country, Yichang, Hubei
  • Miao People’s International Canoe Festival; Qingshui River, Guizhou
  • Hangzhou Xixi Dragon Boat Race: Xixi Wetland Park
  • Bamboo sea Dragon boat race in Anji

Just keep in mind that if ticket prices during this time are high – whether you are flying or taking the train. Plan your trip in advance to ensure a good place to stay. Finally, don’t forget to eat zongzi during the festival. Zongzi are those cute rice triangles wrapped (and cooked) in bamboo leaves. They are prepared differently around the country and they can be filled with sweet bean paste, savory meats, etc.


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Restaurant Manners in China

A typical Chinese restaurant offers a wide variety of food including tofu in all shapes and forms, at least four different styles of pork, dumplings, rice, noodles, veggies, fish and chicken. When you order a dish, you’ll notice immediately that the portion is huge – that’s because you’re supposed to share everything.

At a typical Chinese lunch or dinner, the organizer/host of the event will order many different meals. These will be brought out in a random order and placed on a rotating table. Everyone gets their own bowl and helps themselves to whatever they like. There is no Chinese saying like “bon apetite”, as soon as there’s food you can just dig in!

It is customary in China to provide your guests with much more food than you could ever eat. If you finish everything in front of you, more will be ordered. Taking leftover food to go is iffy. It can be considered rude if you’re among colleagues, for example, because it’s not fair for one person to take home something that someone else might want. This leads to a lot of wasted food.

When it comes to drinks, there is usually tea and hot water served for free. 2% alcohol beers and low quality Chinese wine is commonly available, however it is completely acceptable to bring your own drinks. We often buy wine, beer or cold water from a nearby convenience store and the locals do it too.

Communicating with restaurant staff is quite different too. It’s completely polite to yell for a waitress to come and to ask for whatever you need without saying “please” or “thank you”. Nonetheless, I’m sure they won’t be offended if you say it as long as you don’t try to tip them. Seriously, they’ll chase you down to return even the tiniest change, so don’t do it.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever experienced at a Chinese restaurant?

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Wasting Plastic: China & Recycling

China is ahead of the Western world in many ways but is still trying to catch up in others. Wasting plastic in combination with not recycling may be the most baffling thing about the country that is so desperately trying to improve it’s pollution situation. While China has taken many effective steps to reduce pollution, it could do so much more.

Like most people educated in west, I had “reduce”, “re-use”, “recycle” drilled into my head from an early age. When I lived with my parents, I would get scolded by my father for not taking the paper labels off plastic bottles when I recycled them. He would even scrub every glass , carton and plastic container religiously before recycling.

We were also big on re-using and up-cycling. Our kitchen counter was overflowing with bags that we could use again and again until they fell apart. My impressive collection of pens, pencils and markers was stored in cut and spruced up milk cartons and plastic containers. My father was as obsessed with buying expensive office supplies as he was with keeping anything that could be re-used. China could learn a lot from him…

Chinese stores are obsessed with plastic bags. When you buy fruit or vegetables, for example, you have to beg them not to put each one in a separate bag. If you ask for the price sticker to be stuck directly on an eggplant, they will look at you like you’re crazy. Just the other day, my husband came home frustrated for having to argue with vendors. Isaac managed to save five bags on one shopping trip. What if every single Chinese shopper did that? BILLIONS of bags could be saved DAILY.

Online shopping, which I am addicted to because of my newly discovered crafting obsession, is always bittersweet. Everything is in an individual bag, in a larger bag, covered generously in bubble wrap, sometimes wrapped in cardboard and finally taped shut in a box. Even items that are unbreakable. Every delivery results in a huge pile of stuff that could be recycled but won’t, just because we’re in China.

Fortunately, we live in a small village and a lot of people here are very poor. Some make extra money by collecting cardboard and selling it for pennies. We leave all our re-usable items, cardboard and glass next to the trash and everything disappears immediately. So I guess hope isn’t lost completely, but China could really step it up!

*The photo is from Isaac’s classroom. He’s trying to teach 26, six year old children about recycling!

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Why are there Daily Fireworks in China?

At least once a day I jump out of my skin, sometimes spilling coffee or tea, because of sudden machine-gun-sounding fireworks. These fireworks have nothing to do with holidays and don’t happen at night, so you can barely even see the pretty colors. So why would Chinese people waste their money on day-time fireworks? Many reasons, apparently.

Traditionally, the fireworks were made by lighting bamboo and the loud noise would scare away evil spirits. Even today, the purpose is the noise not the visual which is why they are set off during the day. Some reasons to set of loud fireworks include weddings, funerals, the opening of a shop or the start and completion of a large project.

Since Chinese cities have such dense populations, you can imagine why these fireworks happen at least once a day! I think the record for me has been four scares-by firework in one day. You get used to it, but sometimes it still catches you by surprise. Like when you’re running for the bus and they start going off 3 meters behind you. Does me being scared of them make me an evil spirit?

For store openings, the fireworks are obviously set off in front of the store. When it comes to weddings or funerals however, it can be done wherever. Unfortunately people’s top choice is usually the courtyard of large residential complexes. I happen to live on the 4th floor of a 17-floor building and my badly-insulated bedroom window faces the courtyard. A firework wake-up is very unpleasant, believe me.

Due to the large amounts of people traveling with fireworks, certain safety regulations are in place. Any time you go on the metro, for example, you have to go through a metal detector and your bags are scanned. All fireworks that are found, are confiscated. In case this isn’t enough, many public areas are plastered with “no fireworks” signs.

I am not quite sure about the regulations for fireworks in large cities like Shanghai or Beijing, but in our little town no one will stop you from setting them off whenever or wherever you want. That’s why you should always expect fireworks. After all, jumping every time you hear a loud noise makes you uncool!

Do you have any funny stories about getting scared by unexpected fireworks? Please share in the comment section below!

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How to Get Cash Anywhere in China: No ATM Necessary!

China is the land of smartphones and genius apps that will make your life easier. People of all ages and financial backgrounds have internet phones, since Samsung/iPhone quality alternative cost less than $150 (and the most primitive smartphones can cost as little as $15).

Everyone who has a smartphone also has WeChat, an app that acts as Facebook, PayPal and WhatsApp all in one. Most stores and even street vendors accept WeChat payments, so you’ll rarely need to carry lots of cash. Unfortunately, you may run into a place that doesn’t accept WeChat…

I happened to find myself at a Chinese hospital with no cash, no functional credit cards and no friends to lend me money. After a brief moment of panic, I started asking strangers if they had any cash and flashing my WeChat at them. The first two people I approached were cashless and very apologetic but the third had a large wad of bills that he happily gave me in exchange for a WeChat transfer that took mere seconds!

I was very proud of myself for figuring this out and showed it off to a Chinese friend. After they laughed in my face, they told me that this was very common in China. Being helpful and giving is part of the culture, especially when it comes foreigners asking for help. Also, WeChat is 100% trustworthy so it’s literally impossible to steal money this way.

The only downside to this amazing way to turn any stranger into a zero-fee ATM is that you need to have a Chinese bank account to use with your WeChat Wallet function. So this is only applicable to expats living here long-term. Have you ever tried this before and have any stories to tell? Please share in the comments below!

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China Doesn’t Sugarcoat Meat-Eating & Neither Should You

Eating fresh meat comes at a price. Can’t bear to look? Then maybe you shouldn’t be eating it.

The meat-eating industry is not pretty. We all know the horrors that go on in slaughter houses but few of us go out of our way to stop it. I’m not here to shame anyone. I happen to be a regular meat eater and a cheese addict which causes even more cruel animal deaths. Living in China has desensitized me by showing me dead animals in various stages of production and I can’t commend them enough for being so open about it.

Have you ever seen one of those videos where a child finds out that the pork on their plate used to be a cute pink pig? Chinese kids grow up knowing exactly where their meat comes from which lets them make an informed decision about eating it. There may not be too many vegetarians in China but at least no one is kept in the dark about what they are eating and how it is killed.

As I mentioned before, I have become quite desensitized and no longer look away from the gruesome scenes in the market. I have always known how the meat I eat suffers and it would be hypocritical of me to look the other way and then eat it anyway. Before you judge me, it’s not easy to change your entire diet overnight.

Seeing squealing pigs squeezed into tight spaces for transport (which is hidden in the USA and Europe but is done openly in China) has impacted me. My husband and I no longer eat pork when we can avoid it and we plan on gradually changing our diets to eliminate first beef, then chicken and finally all other meats. But it takes time.

We are also aware that simply not eating meat is not enough to make the world a better place for animals. The milk industry is just as bloody, if not worse, the medicine we take is animal-tested and all means of transportation continue to destroy our environment. It is virtually impossible to live without harming the world around us and I have so much respect for anyone who tries to do less damage to it.

Anyway, back to China… When you walk into a market you will see meat in all shapes and forms. Entire skinned animals, cut off heads, bloody hooves, duck heads, chicken feet and pig testicles are put on display for everyone to see. Sometimes you will even see live animals that can be killed for you on request. There is no fresher meat! But it comes at a price.

A few weeks ago, Isaac and I were returning home after a day of e-bike riding and exploring the neighborhood. We ran into a large crowd of people standing right by the entrance to our apartment community. We had to investigate and we were so shocked by what we saw. Hanging upside down was a headless ram that was being skinned… and children as young as two were watching!

This reminded me of Christmas in Prague where children cheer as burly men with large machetes behead carp publicly. I would always look away but this time I didn’t. The ram was already dead and the preparation process was strangely mesmerizing. Once the hooves were chopped off, the skin was stripped off effortlessly all in one piece. The men from Xinjiang (the largest autonomous region in China) placed the skin fur down on the ground and used it as a mat for the ram’s organs.

The ram was hung on two hooks by it’s feet so that it could be chopped in half with an ax. Expertly, they first cut the ball sack in half and continued hacking down until they could remove the stomach and intestines. The liver, lungs, heart and who knows what else followed. All of these were neatly laid out on the ram’s own skin. The beauty of it all? Every single organ, piece of bone, drop of blood and inch of skin was going to be used. In China, no part of the animal goes to waste.

By the time we left, the ram was no longer recognizable and was chopped into four large pieces. After spending an hour in a nearby cafe, we returned to find a long line of hungry people drawn to the delicious smell of smoked skewers of meat. We joined the line and paid 30 RMB ($4) for a generous amount of the freshest meat we’ve ever tasted.

After watching the ceremonious preparation (although we were glad we missed the actual slaughter and bleeding) we felt like eating part if it was a way of honoring the dead animal – which is not something I ever thought I’d feel or think. The ethics of the meat eating industry are definitely complex and debatable. Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences in the comment section below.






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Chinese Liquor: Never Been Sicker

Chinese liquor is strong and cheap. My favorite is a medical herbal wine that tastes almost like Czech Becherovka!

I am still completely confused about Chinese drinking habits. Chinese beer might as well be water with it’s 2% alcohol content but their hard liquor is dirt cheap and crazy strong. They sell 5 liter jugs of what looks like water (and costs almost as little) but is actually 60% liquor!

A lot of Chinese alcohol is made with rice or other grains such as millet or wheat. This goes for wine as well as several types of hard alcohol. Chinese wines taste nothing like they do in the West and typically have a much higher alcohol content (typically 15 – 20%). Although I am not a fan of rice-based drinks, I have to say that Chinese plum wine, considered a women’s drink, is absolutely delicious!

Before moving to China from the Czech Republic, I had no idea how much the doctors have in common. When I had problems with high cholesterol as a 15-year-old in Prague, a Czech doctor wrote out a prescription for some pills. After we took it he gave us an off the record recommendation: a shot of tequila ever morning before breakfast. I started hating tequila after the first month, but my blood tests quickly confirmed that it worked better than any medication.

In the past, Czechs believed that the secret to a long and healthy life was a five deciliter shot of Becherovka (35% herbal liquor) every morning and evening. Traditional Chinese medicine isn’t too different. In the past, alcoholic beverages that included extracts of minerals, herbs, plants and even animal parts were used to treat a myriad of health problems.

The temperature at which alcohol is best enjoyed is at 35 – 55°C which is said to release the best aroma without weakening the drink. This generally refers to wines and liquors. Beer is usually served chilled or at room temperature.

It is difficult to resist the ridiculously low prices of alcoholic beverages in China which is why we keep buying and trying them. However most of them are hard to enjoy if you’re not used to them and this is coming from someone who loves drinking straight vodka. The only Chinese drink I have grown to love has been the Jing brand Chinese medical wine. With an alcohol content of 35% and an herbal flavor, it is basically the Chinese version of Czech Becherovka!

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