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!
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
Last year I put together 50 Images That Showcase Regina, and it was very successful. However, I did that article early into the year and missed out on some pictures I would take later, so I decided to do it again this year. These pictures were all taken either in late 2015 or in 2016.
If you guys enjoy this article as much as you liked the last one, I might start making this an annual thing.
Some of you may recognize a few of these pictures from earlier in the year, but there should be a few here that none of you have ever seen before.
Love poutine, Justin Trudeau and just about everything Québécois? G Adventures had the right idea including Montréal in two of their Canadian tours, but Montréal isn't the only noteworthy place to visit in Québec. Now, this tour doesn't give Québec the justice it deserves either, but hopefully it inspires you to take your time to explore the wonders it has to offer. Québec is a beautiful province with a long history, stretching back over four centuries, so this tour is dedicated to the incredible history and culture of French Canada.
Our fictional tour starts in Montréal. If you've read my Five Historic Canadian Cities article last week, you already know Montréal is one of Canada's most lively cities. Packed with some of Canada's most impressive scientific museums, Montréal is also home to an archeological and historical museum, Pointe-à-Callière. Inside one of the most unique buildings in Old Montréal, this museum ventures deep into the history of the city and explores its foundation, its struggles and its changes. With 375 years of history, to uncover this museum starts off with the discovery of Hochelaga and showcases various sections of the original sewer system. The museum also has several illustrations showing the plagues and fires that once decimated the early city. The museum also has an interactive section about the pirates that once terrorized the St. Lawrence River. This museum is one of my absolute favorites, so if you love museums as much as I, you'll want to check it out.