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!
As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.
Most people know how to ride a bicycle. They learned sometime as a child and never forgot. I am not one of those people. I tried learning when I was a child, a teenager and an adult, and I have never mastered the two-wheel contraption. Whenever I see a child zip past me on a bike, I get a little jealous inside. I've always wanted to learn, but it's just something I've never been able to do.
On my recent trip to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta, I explored several of the many biking paths that wind through the area. The paths are also hikable, so I walked them instead. Although I've visited Cypress Hills several times, I never get used to the hills and lakes throughout the area. With dozens of kilometres of trails, you can spend a weekend there and never do the same thing twice. Although hiking around the park was incredible, I imagine it would be a lot more fun, and a lot easier, to bike it instead.
I was recently asked if I preferred my time in Montreal or Quebec City more, and while Montreal is a gorgeous city, decorated with thousands of green copper spires, hosts incredible festivals, has some of the most fantastic food I have ever tasted, and is spotted with beautiful parks, there was just something about Quebec City that spoke to me. Being over four hundred years old, Quebec City is one of the last remaining "walled cities" in North America, and is the only one north of Mexico. Quebec City was the location of some of the greatest conflicts in Canadian history, including the Siege of Quebec by the British.
Belonging to three very different countries (France, England, and Canada) in its four hundred year existence, Quebec City is a mixing pot of old traditions, new ideas, cobblestone streets and modern architecture. Since there is so much to see in Quebec City, I figured I would narrow it down to a couple and let you discover the rest! Here is "8 Places to Visit in Quebec City".