Several months ago I visited Ukraine for the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. I spent a few days in Kyiv and learned about Ukrainian culture, their heritage, their history and their place in the world. It also happened to be Orthodox Easter Sunday when I was there, so I took part in some of the festivities.
While in Kyiv I also saw plenty of soldiers, many coming and going from the subway station, while others were patrolling the streets. There was also plenty of anti-Russian propaganda. Although there is no war in Kyiv, there is in Donbass, in Eastern Ukraine. Since 2014 pro-Russian forces have been shelling Donbass. Death tolls on both sides of the conflict are approaching 10,000, with over 22,000 people wounded and almost two million displaced.
This conflict is often skimmed over by the media but many sections of Donbass have limited water, food and electricity. Buildings are shelled out and abandoned apartment complexes are used as military bunkers. There are also reports of prisoner of war camps where prisoners are being tortured by the rebels.
Vice News just did an interesting video on what's happening in Ukraine, and while it's a half hour long, it's very much worth watching:
Unfortunately, this situation isn't new for Ukraine. For centuries Ukraine has been at a conflict with Russia. One example occurred from 1932 to 1933 when the Soviet Union began a purposeful mass starvation of Ukrainians. This starvation is known as "Holodomor" and resulted in the death of between 2.4 to 7.5 million people.
Over the past few years Ukraine has made major leaps in both quality of life and economic growth, but has also had to overcome many challenges. Russian is still spoken throughout Ukraine and many Soviet buildings, monuments and attitudes still stand – although the government is undergoing a constant Decommunization to remove them. Many believe in a few years Ukraine has the potential of becoming a major player on the European stage.
Unfortunately, Ukraine has a problem with corruption and bribery, with levels similar to that of Uganda. This is both because of the Soviet influence over the past century and because the country is very poor. Murder rates in Ukraine are four times higher than in Canada, but are on par with the United States. Ukraine also has some of the highest numbers of sexually transmitted diseases in Europe, but they also are much lower than the United States.
Ukraine is split between two worlds – Western Ukraine, with their rising quality of life and improving economy, and Eastern Ukraine, which is being bombed and mortared on a daily basis. Travel to western cities like Kyiv, Odessa and Lviv are safe, but travel to cities like Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts are not. If you want to know more about the situation in Ukraine, visit the Government of Canada's travel advisory website.
While I only spent a few days in Ukraine, I had very few problems getting around. The architecture is beautiful, the history is fascinating, and the food is delicious. With my mother's side of the family from Ukraine, I was excited to learn more about my family's heritage and I wasn't disappointed. I had a wonderful time in Kyiv and I recommend the trip to anybody thinking about going.
If you are visiting Ukraine, here are a few tips to follow:
There are plenty of "fake" taxi drivers around airports and train stations. While they may approach you, do not acknowledge them. My experience with these taxi drivers made a fifteen minute drive take over an hour, and cost me over $100.
Pickpockets are everywhere, and Ukraine is no different. Don't carry too much extra money on you at a time and don't carry your wallet in your back pocket.
There is a frequent "wallet scam" in Ukraine, where an individual will drop a wallet, hoping you will pick it up. Once you do, this person will claim you stole it. Then, they will demand you show them your wallet to prove you took none of it. Once you take out your wallet, they'll then steal it from you and run. There are several variants of this involving either bags of money or people pretending to be police (or sometimes real police!) so just remember: if you see a wallet on the ground, leave it on the ground.
Ukraine is known worldwide for its beautiful women, but they are often fakes or scam artists. If a beautiful woman approaches you in Ukraine or emails you and asks for money to come overseas, just ignore them. This may seem obvious to some, but thousands are scammed each year by the dream of having a beautiful Ukrainian wife.
Keep a copy of your passport on you at all times. I didn't do this, but the Government of Canada travel advisory website recommends it.
The Ukrainian currency is Hryvnia, and it probably isn't available at your local bank. You'll want to get Euros and exchange them at either the airport or a train station. One Ukrainian Hryvnia is about 5 Canadian cents.
Have you ever been to Ukraine? Would you ever go? Let me know in the comments below!
Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
Part 12 of my cross Canada series takes us to the smallest province in Canada, Prince Edward Island. However, don't let the name confuse you: PEI is actually 232 islands!
PEI also happens to have smallest population of any province in Canada, with only 146,300 people as of 2014. This means this province has less people than my hometown Regina!
Being so small, however, it was difficult to find images on Instagram. That isn't to say there's nothing there worth seeing! Quiet the quandary, actually. PEI has a few very unique locations that drive their tourism. One of them is the gorgeous themed village of Avonlea, named after the village in the hit novel "Anne of Green Gables" published in 1908. This story, and the subsequent stories, follows Anne, a red-haired "fiery" orphan who grows up on PEI. The story is an international bestseller, and is strangely very popular in Japan (or so I've been told)!
Stonehenge, Saskatchewan, is just a little over two hours southwest of Regina, just past the town of Assiniboia. I've explored this area of the province before on previous trips, but I've never been to Stonehenge. In fact, my journey started out as a trip to Castle Butte, but after seeing a nearby marker for Stonehenge on a map, that quickly became my primary destination.
I've driven this area a few times looking for abandoned buildings. Normally I'd keep an eye out for them, but I knew most of them were a little further south. Before I got that far, I took the turn off to Ogema.