People always tell me that I am crazy for traveling on my own. I never thought so, because I have been traveling on my own since I was 16—I’m used to it. I have traveled to different cities and countries by train, bus and plane and even done cross-state road trips on my own. It’s really not a big deal. Today, however, I admit—I am absolutely crazy for traveling on my own to a revolution in Kiev Ukraine…Absolutely insane.
My short-lived adventure in Kiev is definitely something that I will tell my grandkids one day. For sure they’ll think Grandma Oh was insane after they hear the story. To be honest, I’m still trying to recollect my sanity right now as I write this. It has been such an emotional day, with many ups and downs. All I can think about is how thankful I am that I made it back to the airport safe and sound.
This is all started about two months back or so. I was trying to rearrange my plans for winter break and I had decided that I was going to Dubai on my way to Korea. The cheapest way to get there was either taking a flight through Ukraine or Saudi Arabia, both with long and short layovers. Rational me would have taken the short layover through whichever city would have gotten me to Dubai the fastest. Spontaneous mei, on the other hand, decided not to let go of the travel opportunity in either country. I actually almost bought the flight with the layover through Saudi Arabia, but because of visa conflicts, chose the Ukraine layover instead with the 21-hour layover.
So fast-forward to today, I have just spent the past 12-13 hours in Kiev. I have been spending the remaining precious hours in the airport, waiting for my 7am flight. Those damn hours in the city were such a struggle and a blessing, but more so the struggle. For all times that I have traveled on my own, I have stayed pretty confident and rational; I never got scared or panicked when faced with difficult challenges. For the first time in my life though, I almost broke down and cried because of how scared I was.
I knew before coming to Kiev that there was a Ukrainian revolution (in short, the people were upset that the new president decided not to join the European Union when given the chance). This started after I had already bought my ticket. So, I figured that as soon as I land in Kiev, I could just change my flight to an earlier one. WRONG. There was no way in hell that Ukraine Airlines was going to let me change my flight without purchasing a whole new ticket. So what did I do? I left the airport.
My apprehension already began when I got to the airport and it only got worse from there. When I tried to leave, I was instantly swarmed by a bunch of taxi drivers, but I noticed that they didn’t approach anyone else. I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb with a tumor (all day I have not seen a single non-white person, except myself). After getting out of that mess, I got onto an airport bus. The bus ride was around an hour long, which actually gave me a mini panic attack because I never actually checked exactly where the bus was going. I thought that maybe the bus was going to another random city in Ukraine, or worse: Russia. I didn’t find out until I got to the central station that that was its final destination, thank God. I didn’t bother asking anyone where we were going because I already knew the instant that I got to the airport that no one spoke English. When I say no one, I mean ABSOLUTELY NO ONE.
My little encounter with Kiev’s Central Train station was my tipping point. Kiev is the capital city of the largest county in Europe (if you exclude Russia and Turkey as Asian countries) and yet there was not one single person who helped me. I think I spent about a good hour inside, outside and around the train station trying to find any sort of help. All I wanted to do was take the bus or metro to get into the city center. I wanted to go explore and maybe see the revolution happen in person. Unfortunately, I was turned down by everyone I approached. Either they gave me a friendly “what the fuck are you talking about” face or they completely ignored my existence. I asked at least 15-20 different people, including the information center, the ticket booth and even the police for help and still had nothing. That’s when I started to choke down some tears. I never cried (can’t ruin my makeup!), but I was definitely crying and screaming on the inside. Absolutely nobody wanted to help the lost and clueless Asian girl.
Then out of nowhere, I heard someone say “metro?” and I thanked God for my savior. It was some old guy who asked me again if I’m going to the metro. I thought he spoke English so I said yes and started to blab on about how he’s the first Ukrainian I met that can speak English. Well, surprise! He DID NOT speak English, but he was rather helpful though. His name was Alexander and he is officially my favorite Ukrainian, sort of.
So what started out as him giving me a metro coin and some gibberish directions in Ukrainian, ended up as a goodbye at the airport. Alexander took me to the metro station and gave me some basic directions to bum-fuck nowhere. That’s when I had the brilliant idea to use Google translate (ended up costing me at least 60 Euros of data just for the day). At the end of the conversation, I asked him to show me around and he took me under his will. I’m still wondering if this was one of my stupidest or the smartest idea I had yet.
Alexander led me to his friend, and the three of us hopped onto a 1940s style bus. Again, neither of them spoke English and I had absolutely no idea where the hell we were going. For all I knew, they could have told me that they were going to rape and murder me and I still would not have known what they were talking about. We ended up taking the bus and walking for a total of around 40 minutes. We were definitely not in the center of Kiev anymore; my Google map showed that I was about 40 miles from the airport. FML. I’m going to die.
They ended up taking me to this weird parking lot/garage place and my heart sank. The movie Taken came across my mind (one of the only handful of movies I’ve ever seen in my life, but it so happens that I’ve seen it at least 20 times), yet I was remotely calm. Out of naivety or being desperate for help, I trusted Alexander. He made a bunch of hand gestures and I finally understood that he meant that this is where his friend works. He wanted to drop off his luggage with his friend so that he can show me around the city.
First, he took me to a supermarket and got us some snacks, then took me out to eat. We went to some cafeteria-like Ukrainian restaurant to get more food. I hated the fact that all the food was unheated (can’t stand cold food), but it was still very delicious.
We were in that restaurant for like a good two and a half hours. Alexander had a lot to say… a lot of things that I did not understand. I came to Ukraine not even knowing how to say hello or thank you. Yet, I was having conversations with this guy. Half of the conversations were through Google translate, but a lot of the things he typed in did not come across in English (I actually taught the old guy how to use a smartphone). We talked about our families, what we do and a whole lot of gibberish that I didn’t understand.
This is something Alexander wrote for me to put into Google translate… I ended up just taking a photo of it and sending it to my Russian friend for translation. Russia said that it says something on the lines of “having a daughter and that I should meet her… I’m unique and beautiful… never met anyone like me.” And the newspaper was from Paris lol.
I had to remind him constantly that I wanted to go to the city center to see touristy things, but it took him forever to finish his food. He also wanted to keep drinking vodka, which he made me pay for (I didn’t even have any, since that would be breaking my travel rule: never drink when traveling alone). Finally he finished and took me into the city center.
Getting to the city center was another trip of its own. Alexander lost his way at least twice and we lost so much time inside the metro (another 1940s style transportation). It sucked because I wasted so many daylight hours waiting for him to finish his food and in the metro station. I wanted to visit the churches and/or walk around the city center. At the same time, he was such a blessing. He carried my entire luggage all day, refusing to let me hold them and then finally took me to the Ukrainian revolution. He took me to the heart of it.
I was so scared at first because I wasn’t sure how violent or politically intensive it was going to be. To be completely frank though, I felt like I was at some special festival event. There was a band that was playing when we got there and they were amazing. I wish I knew the name of the band because their songs were so captivating. Of course, I didn’t understand what they were singing about, but you can feel their passion through the melody. I was having such a blast like as if I was at a live concert. Then there were a couple people who gave really angry speeches, but that’s as scary as it got. Alexander and I stayed to listen to some before I said that I wanted to go back to the airport.
Getting to the airport was yet another shit show. Since Alexander and I were already in the metro, I could not use my Google translate to communicate with him. To be honest, I was scared that he didn’t understand that I wanted to go to the airport tonight. “ME. SLEEP. AIR-O-PORT.” was basically all I kept saying. He pointed at his watch and kept repeating “no bus” meaning that the buses to the airport stopped running. I kept telling him that the buses run at night, but he never understood me. We transferred to different metro lines and my heart kept sinking because I thought he was taking me to his place to sleep for the night. He kept mentioning sleep and bus so I thought he meant that I should sleep and take the morning bus tomorrow. I was pissed. I had no idea where I was or where I was going and all I wanted to do was go to the airport.
A good half hour later, Alexander and I were finally above ground. We were in the middle of nowhere with snow and wind blowing in every direction. My heart sank deeper, not because I was scared of Alexander, but because I didn’t think that I would be going to the airport tonight. Then he reassured me when he pointed to some obscure bus station and said “air-o-port bus.” Unfortunately, that was not the bus. One of the driver pointed out where we actually needed to go. So, Alexander and I j-walked across the 6-lane highway to the other side. We waited for the bus for a bit, but it wasn’t coming anytime soon. I had seen one go the opposite direction, but I was not sure how long it would have taken to come back around the other way.
After a good 40 minutes of waiting, Alexander and I saw a woman trying to hitch hike. It was rather random, until I ended up taking her ride. After observing her for a while, I saw a black Mercedes pull up. Then Alexander approached the car with the hitchhiking lady. They were both talking to the driver and the next thing I knew, Alexander was telling me to get in the car. Call me crazy, but my ass was freezing in the Ukrainian winter, so I got in.
It was rather a very short ride to the airport. The metro station must have taken us far outside of the city because the ride was only about 10-15 minutes long. Alexander came inside the car with me for protection, which was really nice of him. The driver kindly dropped us off at the airport and parted ways. Alexander soon left, too, on the airport bus.
Now, I am rotting away at the airport, absolutely exhausted out of my mind. I got back to the airport around 10:30-11pm. I slept maybe for two hours before waking up due to paranoia that someone was going to steal my stuff. It is currently 5am and I still have another two more hours to go…
To be honest, this whole experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was pretty emotional at first because I was scared shitless, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t that bad. I’m safe and sound… and I have a cool story to tell. On the other hand, I am just SOOOO HAPPY to be leaving Ukraine to go to Dubai. Check back in a couple days for an update on that :)
xoxo from Kiev,