Woah... Ukraine is a wild place...
Seriously, it's like some hectic/crazy Thailand of Europe. It's dirt cheap, no one cares about anything and if you have enough money you can do whatever you want. Armed police and militia walk the streets. Every day something crazy happens. In the west militia groups fight against the government for control of weapon deals and territory. In the east the militants fight side by side with the government against Russians. In Kiev, militants catch the train with AKs and RPGs next to guys in suits, like just another day at in the office. It's pretty messy.
Yes, definitely the wildest energy I've ever felt in a city... but let me start from the beginning...
From Warsaw, I set off on a hitching mission to Kyiv. I gave myself 4 days to get there in time for the Chernobyl tour. I got some good lifts, but long waiting times between lifts put me behind schedule (I don't like to travel on a schedule but sometimes ya can't help it). In the first day i only made it 150 km (out of 800).
On the second day I crossed the border. My lift over the border was from a Ukrainian couple. They didn't speak one word of English but were happy to help me out when i pointed to Lviv on the map. The border crossing took more than 4 hours so i lost even more valuable time on my mission. By the afternoon we made it to Lviv. I was dropped off out of town on the road to Kyiv. I tried hitching here for a couple of hours but with no luck. I checked the time and calculated that i only had 36 hours to hitch 500 km, and at the rate i'd been going, I wouldn't make it. Reluctantly I threw my cardboard sign in the bin and started hiking the 7 km to the train station. Once I made it to there, i was disappointed to learn that the night train was fully booked and I'd have to wait 6 hours overnight to catch the morning train. I walked outside the station to assess the situation... militia, homeless and deros were everywhere. They drank vodka on the streets, slept on the benches and yelled at each other in the parks. With no cash for a taxi or energy left to hike the few kays back to town. I smiled crazily to myself as i pondered my next move. First things first, I thought, I need to get the hell away from this train station. I hoofed it down the road and away from the hectic scene behind me. After 500 metres i walked past a secure paid car park. It had high fences all around it with a few trucks and cars parked inside. That's gunna hafta do mate, I convinced myself as i pulled myself and my gear over the fence. A quick glance over the shoulder to check no one saw me do the jump and i was away. I found a truck/van that looked like it hadn't been moved in months, threw out my bedroll and climbed under for a kip.
I had a very shallow sleep and woke up 10 min before my alarm. Quickly packed my gear and got to the station. As we took off out of Lviv the sun was just peeking through the clouds, an array of sunbeams and colours filled my eyes. I could hardly contain my joy. A combination of over tiredness, the relief of making it through a night on the streets of Lviv and the beauty of the sunrise made my brain dump all sorts of crazy chemicals. I was pinging like a 15-year-old on ecstasy. I just wanted to give everyone a hug and run around waving my arms in the air. This lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes then I crashed harder than Peter Brock in a Daytona Coupé. I awoke about 30 min out of Kyiv and started looking out at the countryside. One thing i noticed is that there were no fences along the rail lines and lots of little paths that crossed the tracks. As we got closer to the city i could hear the train driver getting on the horn more and more. People stood right next to the tracks waiting for the train to pass before they continued crossing. I had the thought that it seemed a bit dangerous but figured it's Ukraine: getting hit by a train is the least of these guys' worries. Nek minnit, the horn comes on for a solid 10 seconds. I was sitting right in the front of the first car and looked out the window to try get a look at what's going on. BANG, I felt the impact through my seat and saw a body cartwheel end over end along the tracks. ˝FUCK ME!˝ I exclaimed aloud and looked around to see if anyone else saw it. Either no one realised what had happened or it didn't register as a major event 'cause no one seemed to react. The train driver threw out the anchors and a couple of guys ran out from the front cabin, down the aisle and out of sight. I couldn't see what was going on from where i sat, but after 10 minutes the train guys returned to the cabin and we were away. On arrival at Kyiv station there were some inspector type people with clipboards and paperwork waiting at the platform to fill out a report. I got off the train to see the train driver hanging out the window laughing and making jokes in Russian to the inspectors who also found the situation humorous. "Welcome to Ukraine!" I told myself as i walked away half in shock.
The next day began the tour to Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. OHHH YEA! This place is soo amazing, it's hard to put into words how incredible this place is. We had a look at the old nuclear power plant and reactor 4. Went abandoing and roof-topping in the town of Pripyat and explored heaps of creepy places like the kindergarten, school and theme park. The guide, Tanya, was awesome. She loved her job and was just as excited to be there as everyone else. She let us run off on our own little adventures as long as we came back, and was a wealth of information about the Zone and the events that took place there. Great job Tanya!
That night we stayed at the Chernobyl Hotel. There was another Aussie bloke, Johnny, on the tour who discovered that shots of vodka were only 8 hryvnia (50 Australian cents) at the bar and started buying rounds for everyone. This kicked off a chain reaction of round-buying that had devastating affects on some English and French pussies who were also on the tour. It was a great night, though there were some sore heads in the morning. Johnny and I were sweet though, banging on doors at the crack of dawn to get everyone amped for some adventure.
The second day included more exploring in Pripyat and a look at the "Chernobyl-2" missile detection system. This mammoth, 150m-high, over-horizon radar was pretty impressive. Built by the soviets in the cold war era to detect a nuclear missile attack from America, it was so big and awesome that i just couldn't help myself... when Tanya turned her back, i had to climb it. Made it to the top and it only cost me a pair of undies. It was very high, the highest I've ever climbed. Looking down gave me the willies and the view was breathtaking. I took a few quick pictures, soaked it all in for a minute, then missioned back down before i had a heart attack.
Wow, had a mad time in the zone. I could have stayed for weeks exploring this unbelievable area. But unfortunately the time to leave came way too soon and before i knew it I was back in Kyiv.
I spent the next 4 days in Kyiv with a Dutch blok] named Okke who i met on the tour. Okke was doing an internship in Kyiv as apart of his studies to become a diplomat. He was my host and tour guide in town for the rest of my stay which was great because he know a lot about the situation in Ukraine and was happy to tell me all about it. I leaned heaps of interesting history about the area and the conflict in Ukraine. Man, it's such a beautiful place, Kyiv is one of the oldest cities in eastern Europe and the buildings and land are so nice. The country is so rich in history it's a shame there is war and corruption there. It would be such a great place if it wasn't caught in the middle of a shit storm...
On Tuesday we met up with some other guys and drove out to a shooting range just out of town :D You can't go to Ukraine without shooting a Kalashnikov I reckon. We found the range and were beside ourselves when the supervisor came out with an AK-101, Tavor, two pistols, a Z-10 .308 sniper rifle and of course... an AK-47. The instructor only spoke Ukrainian/Russian and there was another guy translating. These guys were great value, cracking jokes, swinging assault rifles around and punching durries while they loaded magazines. It was a 25m indoor range. The AK-101 and Tavor had red dot scopes while the folding stock AK-47 was iron sight. I noticed the AK-47 had 1972 stamped into it. I wondered where this thing had been in the past 40 years. How many people it had shot at or even killed. Or how many of its owners had died with it in their hands... and there i go thinking too much again haha.
After a week in Ukraine I was ready to leave. I had an amazing time there and crossed a few things off the bucket list but it was time to move on. It is a high energy area and after a week i was pretty stretched out. It'll be nice to get somewhere a bit more stable where i can relax and unwind a bit.
Next stop: Budapest.
Thanks to everyone back home who replies to these emails, it's nice to hear from yas. I'm going to send a few post cards out soon, if you want one send me a mailing address.
Hope yas are having a ripper.