The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly of Living in Ukraine

Posted on 01/08/2014 ~ Categorized as Live
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As the lead inbound marketing consultant and web designer, Don Halbert practices what he preaches and enjoys living, working, playing and investing abroad in Costa Rica.

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In this age of lowered expectations, reduced freedoms and the specter of Big Brothers’ insatiable quest for more intrusion into our daily lives, which is surely to be found among the more technologically advanced civilized Western countries, many have sought out and in some cases found various places about the world that offer considerably more freedom, privacy and less expensive lifestyles. Although living in Eastern Europe is not anywhere even close to living on the French Rivera, it does have several advantages to consider.

Here are just a few of the reasons to consider Ukraine:

1) Its a much less expensive place in which to live. Example: My wife and I live in what is considered a nice (for Ukraine) 2-room apartment and are presently paying only $150.00 per month for rent. Here is a site to find your own choices for accommodation in Kiev. The remaining utilities including: high-speed Internet cable access, natural gas (most often included in the rental fee), water, electricity and telephone expenses (less any international calling) typically run at between $20 to $30 per month.

2) Seldom do I/we need to spend over $400 to $500 US per month for all of our daily and monthly needs.Im able to save well over half of my pension funds in a solid, reliable and stable bank, which pays me 12.5% interest!

3) Food is plentiful and relatively cheap! Although one cannot expect the variety of foods found in the US or Western European countries, it is adequate by most anyones standards. Examples: Chicken is sold by either the piece or whole. It generally runs between 15 to 18 Grevnah per Kilo. [At the date of this writing, the US Dollar is worth 5.04 Grevnah] This equates to $3.57/Kilo or roughly $1.62 per pound.]  Fruit and vegetables are even better buys, especially when in season. Carrots run around 2.50 to 3.50 Grevnah per Kilo. That equates to 50 cents per kilo or 2.2 pounds for 50 cents! Vegetables are a real bargain here and often of high quality. Theyre usually grown in very rich organic soil.

4) Local Transportation is dirt-cheap! One may travel almost anywhere within town for 1 Grevnah! Remember a Grevnah is about 1/5th of a U.S. dollar or about 20 cents. If one takes one of the methane powered older buses its only half a Grevnah or 10 cents!

5) Ukraine has far more than its share of beautiful women! If youre lucky enough to marry one with a heart of gold (such as my wife) and not a gold-digger, it will make your living in Ukraine considerably easier, but its not entirely necessary. If you are willing to purchase a home here it will be relatively easy to live here without many difficulties. I know a Canadian fellow who is not married and is living here quite satisfactorily with even less Russian language ability than my own

6) The local people look favorably (usually) upon visitors or residents from the U.S. This is not often the case in many countries throughout the world as you, dear reader, may already be aware! This is a huge benefit!

7) It is very easy to find places where one can change most currencies including: U.S. Dollars, British Pounds, Russian Rubles and, of course, Euros. A few other currencies may be exchanged here but exchange points for them are not so readily accessible. These include: Australian Dollars and Swiss Francs.

8) Bank savings interest is considerably higher here! It is very easy to find sound and firmly established banks, which pay 12.5% interest on local currency. Some offer as high as 17% but are not always as reliable. Both Raiffeisen (An Austrian Bank which does business here) and OTP (A Hungarian bank) are quite reliable and easily accessible in Ukraine.

ATMs are available in many locations all over the cities. (But you might not find one that has the English language option).

9) There are several Super Markets scattered all over the cities as well as  innumerable smaller open type markets and kiosks near every neighborhood. Although the variety can be restricted, the supermarkets are usually the better places to buy consistently good products.

10) I feel safer and more secure here than in any large city in America even at night!

11) Medical care in Ukraine (for residents) is free! One needs only pay for the medications and associated materials needed to administer them. I know this is true since I had occasion to use it recently for a heart attack! The care was professional and competent even if  not employing the latest technology available elsewhere! If I had this hospital stay (21 days) in America, it would no doubt have cost me $6,000 to $8,000U.S. or more. Here it cost me around $400U.S.

12) Real Estate can be purchased here (Dachias) for as little as U.S.$4000.00 to U.S.$5000.00! A Dachia is usually a place out a bit from the city in a country setting that is not usually intended for every day living. A Dachia usually has running water (typically located outside the building) and electricity. It usually has only an out-house for toilet facilities. But they can be upgraded fairly inexpensively. Most are fairly near bus-stops.  Real Estate in Ukraine has experienced an unrealistic increase in perceived value within the past 5 years. An apartment, located in the city where I live, that sold for U.S.$5,000.00 5 years ago now sells for up to and in some cases above $40,000.00. A modestly appointed and minimally acceptable to most Western tastes yet still decent, low-range apartment will cost that much or more.

13) It is usually easy to find locals whod like to improve their English language abilities. So, its not difficult to find paying students for English lessons. The going rate is 20 Grevnah per hour! Or about $4.00/hour. This doesnt sound like much, but keep in mind that $4.00 goes a lot farther here than in America!

14.) Fluency in either Russian or Ukrainian is not necessary in order to manage everyday things like shopping and inter or intra city travel. I manage well enough on my own with a Russian vocabulary of only about 300 words.

P.S. There are many Laws in Ukraine! But, few of them are ever actually enforced. The local police are not particularly interested in putting people in jail as in some other countries. If a law is broken there is usually only a relatively small fine involved and one is back on one merry way with no grudges held. The police largely leave those who keep their noses clean alone! Money can buy one’s way out of most situations.. In this sense it not unlike the WildWest  of  North America. Politically speaking, Ukraine has technically  joined the U.S. in The new world order,. but in view of the fact that Ukraine is such a poor country, it will likely be quite some time before cameras will be at every intersection of the cities here owing to the fact that Ukraine simply cant afford to do so! Theres a flat 20% tax on everything! This is usually not noticed since its almost always included in the purchase price.

What to see and do in Ukraine

Western Ukraine (especially Carpathia) is mountainous and has good fishing in lakes and some streams. Snow skiing is available at very reasonable costs. No fishing licenses are required or even available. What is referred to, as Crimea by  Westerners is known locally as Krim.Yalta and Sevastopol are located there. Good Trout fishing is possible in/near Sevastopol. Otherwise most of the fish here are not what most westerners would consider good game fish except pike. Locally they are known as Chukka Krim has a protecting arm of mountains looking outward to the Black Sea. It is known of as the Riviera of Ukraine! Many rich people live there. Im told the fishing is good and that the quality of life is considerably higher, cleaner and generally better than in Nikolaev where we live.

Were planning a trip there this summer with some friends from Holland.

And now for the Bad News

Im inclined to believe that Red-Tape was invented here in Ukraine. Huge amounts of formal and typically necessary paperwork must be kept and safely stored for future situation(s.)  Notarization of legal documents includes the hand sewing (with red thread) of the documents that are more than one page in length. No one here in any governmental office seems in a rush to get his or her work done. They are frequently quite slow and not particularly efficient. A simple request for a residence application can take several trips to the same office and waiting for hours each time to be seen!  If you dont have the patience to deal with things like these, dont consider living in Ukraine!

Ukraines infrastructure {roads, sidewalks, public toilet availability, telephone system (still uses the mechanical make/break contact type similar to that found in America in the 1940s), sewerage system and water supply} has not been improved significantly since the end of WWII. Readily available clean rest rooms are rare and frequently a huge disappointment.  One smells them long before one actually sees them, especially in summer.

Some Ukrainian merchants tend to try to take advantage of Westerners, especially Americans, by changing their prices for various things once they are aware of one’s nationality.  Best to be aware of the possibility of this and search for the more honest traders.

The food in restaurants lacks variety and does not really tempt the palates of American especially.  There are now a few non-smoking restaurants which are not all that bad. In Nikolaev there are three where we eat: Celentano and Sport Restaurant near Stadion and Straus inside Mega Market. All of these are located on Prospect Lenina in Nikolaev and easily found. Kiev, the capital has a new Ukraine Building near the train station that has a good variety of styles of food and it too is totally non-smoking!

Characterwise, many Ukrainians have a different view of ethics and will seldom admit to making a mistake – I feel sure this is something to do with having lived for decades under a strict communist regime, but it is a difficult trait to get used to. Work should always be supervised and it is unwise to pay upfront as the temptation to just disappear with the loot is too great.

Decent quality clothing and shoes are really rather expensive here and the variety is severely limited. This is slowly changing.

Now last but not least The Ugly!

Ukraine is, for the most part, a dismal and somewhat at first glance depressing place visually, owing largely to the ubiquitous gray apartment buildings in which most people here live. Lack of investment in the cities leads to broken pavements and overflowing rubbish bins and there is a lack of variety in the shops; but this is just a difference in lifestyle due to may years of past economic decline.

In summary:

If you can handle the negatives, Ukraine still has a lot to offer. I prefer to live here than in the states mostly due to the general sense of Freedom and economic and political advantages. Remember I feel safer here than in any large U.S. city late at night! Its surely something to keep in mind!

Excerpted from “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly of Living in Ukraine” in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 91.


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