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Living in Ukraine

As more and more people from countries such as Ukraine come to live in the West, there is a very small but noticeable movement in the opposite direction. In Kiev you can find many foreigners who are living in Ukraine for a period of a few months to many years.

Foreigners living in Kiev tend to fall into the following categories; those employed my multinational companies (such as lawyers, accountants and engineers). They generally lead the good life; receiving a tax-free western wage with many expenses paid for. Secondly are the foreigners who stay in Ukraine for a few months on an extended holiday. More often than not these are men who are seeking a wife in Ukraine. Thirdly is the category of foreigners who do business in Ukraine, and live here either permanently, or for a long period of time. There is an increasing amount of such people, and they are attracted by the large amount of business opportunities in the country, and the relative lack of competition. There is a wide range of opportunities, from real estate to restauranting to tourism. This can be a very interesting and stimulating life, although by no means an easy one as there are a number of challenges inherent in doing business in Ukraine.

Outside of Kiev, with the exception of Odessa, there are few foreigners actually living in the country. It is possible to bump into western tourists however, particularly in popular spots such as Crimea, and in Internet cafes practically anywhere in the country!

Ukraine is stimulating to the senses. Whilst in Britain I find that everyday events and surroundings are a lot less colourful, and a lot more sanitized, there is a lot more life on the streets here, and things tend to be a little less predictable. The markets are bustling and full of energy, and in public places people do not just pass by, but often find time for relaxation as well. Everywhere in Ukraine you can find people relaxing on benches or simply standing on a street corner with friends, sharing a beer and enjoying the atmosphere. There is a festive air around the center of my home town Simferopol at night, and I find that a leisurely stroll down the main street offers a fascination that an evening stroll down a British high street just cant match.

The weather here is more interesting too. In Ukraine there are real seasons, and when spring comes around in April the change is very dramatic; as a long and cold winter turns into a summer that can only be dreamt about in Britain.

As well as the positives, there are also negatives inherent in living in Ukraine. Perhaps the single most difficult thing about living in Ukraine for me is the sense of isolation that I sometimes experience. If I lived in Kiev this would probably be different, but in Simferopol I am the only foreigner I know to be living here. I do have local friends and I very much enjoy interacting with them, but in Ukraine I will always be someone else and someone different, it is very difficult to amalgamate to the degree that foreigners can in immigrant filled Britain. In addition, there are many things that I cannot talk about to my local friends. For instance, I have travelled to many countries in the past, but I don't feel comfortable talking to local friends about such things, as they've never had the opportunities to travel that I have.

When living in Ukraine one also has to deal with the spectre of Ukrainian service. It really can be extraordinarily bad, and as a westerner who is used to good service this can naturally wind me up. I did have a phase when it started to really annoy me, but fortunately I passed through that and the way I survive now is by (in the event of diabolical service) keeping in mind that if I don't like it enough, I can always leave. I thing such an attitude is necessary because otherwise such little things that accumulate could make living in Ukraine very frustrating.

Working with locals - I have found this to be a challenge. I have contacted numerous people on many occasions with suggestions and ideas related to my business, which would be mutually beneficial for both of us. The initial response is usually positive, and I leave thinking that this time I've found someone good, but then as we begin to work it becomes obvious that he or she is not prepared to do anything on his own back, and wants only to follow me and get a piece of the action on the way. Next thing I know I hear that person complaining that they don't have enough money; and I get exasperated. One can dredge into the history and culture of Ukraine to find reasonable explanations for all of this, but it doesn't help the motivated foreigner to do business who wants things done now, and not in a months time! For the record, before any Ukrainians read this and get offended, I by no means refer to all the locals I come into contact with here. Some of them are very self-motivated and forward thinking, and those are the ones with whom I end up working.

The issue of finances is interesting to anybody considering living in Ukraine. The upshot is that in Ukraine overheads are small, and if you want to live a simple no-frills life, then nowhere in Europe can beat Ukraine for its cost of living. However, if you want to live in any way like you are probably used to living in the West - buying luxury food items and household goods, going out to clubs and restaurants, and generally being consumerific, then you will need not much less money than you need in the West. Whilst the average family in Simferopol gets by on about $600 a month, that's achieved less as a result of low prices, and more as a result of the family leading a much lower standard of living than we do in the West. Some things you might take for granted, they will take as an annual treat.

One of the most interesting things for me about living in a foreign country is that I began to see things from a new and fresh point of view. This applies to a wide range of everyday mental processes; such as opinions, ideas and prejudices. As an example, Ukrainians often consider foreigners to be cheap. This I could never understand unti'd lived here long enough to fully understand their attitude to money. All these opinions and prejudices about foreign cultural quirks are formed through the filter of reality that constitutes a person's own culture. Ukrainians get money and they spend it. They buy something expensive then tell their friends how expensive it was. Westerners get money and they save it. When we buy something cheap we often tell our friends about how cheap it was. With a background so different it is no wonder that one culture calls another cheap, when the truth is that the 2 cultures simply have widely different attitudes towards money.

Whilst on the surface, to the uninitiated Ukraine might feel and look not vastly different to what they are used to in the West (unlike, say, Bhutan or Burma). There might not be elephants walking down the main street in Ukraine, but the interesting thing about living here is that it really is vastly different, but a lot of these differences are quite subtle, and it takes time to become fully aware of them. Even after years of living here I'm always learning new things that I didn't know about concerning the people and the culture. That makes living in Ukraine fascinating. Sometimes I feel that I know the place very well, but often enough I still get a surprise as I find out something new that I had yet to see. Living in Ukraine constantly keeps me on my toes, and can never be described as boring.

I often get asked, what are the good and bad points of living in Ukraine, and would I advise it as a good place to live? My short answer to this is as follows - I like living here, but I know of foreigners who don't. It is closely connected to your personality and what you find important in life. I would advise anyone who is considering moving to Ukraine to spend 3 or 4 months here first, to get a feel for the place beyond the typical (temporary) euphoria experienced in the first few weeks of being somewhere new.

Of-course, most people who travel to Ukraine come as tourists. Want a vacation in Crimea? We have your accommodation needs covered!