A warm welcome
As our flight took off from Amsterdam, I had no idea what to expect. It was my first visit to Ukraine. And the destination was not just Kiev, but Cherkasy (anyone?;-)), a good 3.5hr drive from the Ukrainian capital. It was about time for me to visit our Ukraninian partners, following a year of intense and fruitful collaboration.
As our flight progressed, I read through the tourist guide in search of background, as a patch to my ignorance on the country, its history, people and culture. Upon arrival I had the following welcome message in my head: Chernobyl in the North, heavy pollution and fighting in the East, post-order brides in the South and deforestation in the West. Not to forget: make sure to visit Crimea, as it is one of THE places to be.Once again: welcome to Ukraine!
Having traveled to a number of countries with a ‘difficult’ history, how could I not expect to see sad looking people, mentally scarred with a reluctancy to believe things will get better anytime soon? After all, it is not just about the more recent events; Ukrainian citizens had a ‘rough time’ for over a 100 years. Sovjet domination and Russification. A fierce battleground and forced labor during World War II (Ostarbeiter). One and a half million Jewish people killed during that same period. Not to forget the scars left by communism thereafter.
Taken by surprise
Ukraine took me by surprise. I saw nothing but friendly people, willingness, positivism and a relentless drive to make the most out of what is possible. I met the most wonderful people, showing us around, dancing, laughing and always in for a drink. No time wasted, not much complaining. Instead: looking for solutions, always, everywhere.
I feel spoiled. We, as a Western society, spend time protecting our ‘acquired rights’. Traveling to Paris today by strike-sensitive Thalys, I – once again – have to keep my fingers crossed whether I will make it or not. In Ukraine, there are about 45mln – often highly educated – people within a 2hrs flight reach to most, willing to go the extra mile on just about everything you can imagine. Need a little help on Sunday morning, no problem. Return from holiday to attend a meeting, no problem. Up to the level it feels uncomfortable? Not to forget, it comes with genuine commitment (not driven by fear) – just look at above picture, what a smile!
Not everyone masters (good) English, preventing this wonderful talent pool to break out of isolation for a number of years to come. Yet with programs in place to teach English across schools from the age of six, it is a matter of time only.
Consumer prices in Ukraine increased by 51.9 percent year-on-year in September of 2015, alone. Not good. Forget about buying international products with a Ukrainian salary. A jar of Nutella or a pair of Levi’s jeans will set you back just as much as it does in Belgium or The Netherlands. Yet, in search of authenticity? Ukrainian shopping streets are not dominated by the world’s well known brands. It leaves ample room for a scene of local entrepreneurs, unleashed creativity with a local sauce.
As a former colleague used to say – ‘never waste a good crisis’. I can guarantee you, our Ukrainian colleagues don’t.
Ukraine, you rock! See you soon.