Category Archives: Ukraine

Best Man at an Ukrainian Wedding

I mentioned this a while back but never got a chance to write about it.  While traveling through Ukraine I became the best man at a Ukrainian wedding…

Kiev Ukraine, A mock historic village where the reception was held

My friend Nate had been working in Ukraine for the US government for the past 3 years.  Not surprisingly he fell in love with a Ukrainian girl and was eventually engaged.  I was pumped to pay him and his finance Olesia a visit until I found out his project had been completed and he was gone.  An email came through a week after I arrived to Ukraine; Nate was back!

Nate and Olesia, Keiv Ukraine

He had suddenly been reassigned to Laos and had to get married before resettling.  So back in Ukraine at a bar with Nate, Olesia, myself and far too much Vodka, a best man was born!  Some may argue what exactly makes a “Best Man”, but that night watching Nate handle a waitress trying to rip him off $15 US by making it rain handfuls of crumpled American and Ukrainian dollars all over the bar, I knew I was the only man for the job.

Nate, Olesia and me, Keiv Ukraine
Yes, that’s me fitting in seamlessly with the wedding attire…  This could quite possibly been the only time in Ukraine one could wear black and NOT fit in.  Go figure.

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The wedding and reception turned out to be an endurance contest.  With my tour of Chernobyl the next day, I was more worried about a hangover than radiation poisoning.

My efforts to drink responsibly were in vain when awkward attempts at Russian conversation’s with Olesia’s family were quickly, and repeatedly, replaced with one unmistakable gesture; cheers (and always a shot).  Then half way through the night Nate’s father in law slams a large bottle of Jack Daniels on the table in front of us, followed by “Mbl 3aKOHuNM” (“we finish”).  And we finished.  To top things off, and while I’m not going to call anybody a liar, there were a lot of “”Ukrainian Wedding Traditions”” that required a lot of extra drinking along with embarrassing tasks just for the groom and best man…

One of Many (Captured from a video screenshot)

After a long and incredible night there was only one tradition left to do; head to the bar for some vodka and beer.

Thankfully in the end, my feared hangover never came.  The folks at Tallinn Backpackers and their pre-wedding liver training program “The Game of Life” pulled through.

Nate with all the ladies of Olesia's side of the family

What is Kazantip?

A while ago I mentiond “Kazantip” in Ukraine, the festival where I was suppose to start my trip but I never made it, which is a damn shame.  Even though I missed it I think it’s something the world should know about.  There are festivals and parties everywhere but I have never heard or seen anything as creative and cool as this one.

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Quick History

The Kazantip Republic started in an unfinished nuclear reactor and was eventually moved to it’s current location on the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea in Southern Ukraine.  It began as a party to celebrate the end of summer and the wind surfing season.

Today the festival draws huge crowds of hot babes and Russian mafia and lasts about one month (from mid July to mid August).  The Z Games take place during the day (Ukraine’s version of the X Games) and the partying never really stops.

Kazantip-41

What makes it so cool?

To enter the festival you must buy a single or multiple entry ViZa which officially makes you a citizen of the “Republic of Kazantip”.  You then must abide by the Republic’s constitution and if you find the right guy/girl, you can get legally married… well until you leave, then the marriage is void.  There’s a “President” who drives around in his hummer and a DJ list that evolves throughout the month.  While the republic forbids “sex tourist” and drugs, it encourages free love and alcohol, with emphasis on “safety”.

I’ll let these videos take over from here, but sadly they don’t do justice to the original videos I saw, but it’s all I could find.

Safe for work.

NOT safe for work (there are boobs).

Not enough?  Here’s one more video.

PS. One word of warning.  A festival appears to be trying to use the success of the original Kazantip in Ukraine to start an unofficial one in Portugal.  Again; didn’t make it, so can’t confirm or deny, but use caution if you’re planing a trip.  Kazantip Official Website.

Kiev, Ukraine

For starts, and to be fair;  I came the wrong time of the year!  Winter…  So I may be a little bitter.

The people of Kiev put up a tough front.  This initially comes across as hatred, suspicion and disgust towards you (mostly from men).  If you can break past this they are awesome, friendly and will do anything for you!  The girls at the hostel (both Dream Houses) became my closest friends and they alone brought my opinion of Kiev from neutral to positive.

The City:   Kiev is like any major European city with a few twists.  Similarities:  Not cheap, has big clubs, pretty churches, free walking tours, people try to rip you off, has McDonald’s, etc…  Differences:  Still has that Soviet Union vibe, corruption still clearly plays an economic roll, everyone (everyone) wears black leather jackets, better than Moscow (so I’m told), Russia with no visa, and the big clubs… girls strip naked and make out.

One fun fact:  A trip on the metro will leave you wondering why the escalators run at turbo speed and go on for eternity.  The reason; In a time of war they can second as bomb shelters and the walls that line the escalator shafts can be removed to retrieve the non-perishable food hidden there.  Did I mention suspicious?

I really didn’t want to write about Kiev because I knew I wouldn’t give it a fair chance in the winter, but I spent a lot of time there getting busy work done.  All in all I would say Kiev, and Especially Ukraine, is a good place to visit… but wait till summer!

I guarantee you, had I started my trip how I originally planned, at Kazantip in southern Ukraine in July, this post would be explaining to my parents why I’m not coming home *(I think Kazantip deserves a post on it’s own so more to come).

 

Chernobyl, Ukraine

Boom.  Chernobyl is the the nuclear reactor that almost rendered Europe uninhabitable.  In 1986 an experiment was conducted to see how much energy they could generate running on low power in an effort to increase efficiency.  This resulted in a chain of explosions within the reactors core, blowing the roof clear off.  A ray of multi colored light shot straight into the sky which attracted spectators to a nearby bridge.  The bridge is now nicknamed “The Bridge of Death” because of the fatal doses of radiation they received.

Had an army of Civilians, Soldiers, Engineers and Firefighters not sacrificed their lives getting control of the situation, Ukraine would have been wiped off the map and Europe rendered uninhabitable.  The difference was a matter of days.  The nuclear fallout would have been 10x Hiroshima (Side Note: Nuclear bombs are detonated above the earth to limit the impact of the radiation, not on it…).

To be vaporized or radioactive?:  Most of the deaths where a result of radiation exposure and not the initial explosion.  Which is worse?  Vaporized; gone.  Radioactive; You get all the symptoms of food poisoning, then feel fine!  The first responders were joking at the hospital in Moscow after the initial symptoms had passed.  However, medical staff knew better.   Their skin then began melting off before their bones started disintegrating from the inside out.  After you suffer for a while your central nervous system finally does you a favor and shuts down.  So, you decide.

My experience:  I was surprised when I told Ukrainians I was going.  50% seemed disgusted by my curiosity and 50% impartial.  The disgust is what I found interesting.  As one scientist would say during the incident, “Chernobyl marks the first time in history nuclear energy has slipped out of the control of man”.  I assumed people would want to learn from such an event to ensure history doesn’t repeat.  I was wrong.

The abandoned city of Prypiat which has captivated the world far more than the reactor, through photos of abandoned amusement parks and preschools, was eery to say the least.  When the Soviet Union finally admitted something had gone wrong, the people living close to Chernobyl were told to pack a bag and get on the bus.  Today you can visit the cities remains, but even the most dishonest tourists wouldn’t dare take one of the radioactive dolls as a souvenir.  For this reason it’s been pretty well preserved and the schoolwork laying on the ground and lockers decorated with fire trucks will give you the chills.

The good news:  The Soviet Union did finally put an end the to the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from the impact of radiation poisoning;  they simply made it illegal for doctors to diagnose patients with it.  Brilliant!

PS.  I hope this picture didn’t shave a year off my life…

 

Few extras;

Radio Silent…

Where have I been?  Kiev.  Why?  I have no choice.  BUT, exciting things to come!

1.  Chernobyl – This Saturday I go and witness the abandoned city and reactor responsible for most devastating nuclear disaster in history.  I’ve always been fascinated with such world altering events, and in this case the result of a “simple routine test” gone wrong.  Also, one of my loyal readers told me the radiation makes you grow a full two inches!

2.  I’m the best man in a Ukrainian wedding this friday.  Wait what…?

3.  Leaning towards Thailand as my next destination.  So, ladyboys here I come!

 

Travel Mistake #1

Trusting someone else to book an important ticket.

I’ll try to make this short and not rant.

Some of the cheapest transportation can only be booked on non-english websites, so it requires help.  I grappled with the decision to fly to Kiev or take a train over the cost.  The train would take much longer but save a little money.  Feeling sick, tired and in dire need to move to warmer climate quickly, I opted for the flight.

I had to trust a girl working at the hostel to book my ticket.

She booked me to the wrong city.

The flight ended up costing more than I was told and more than my entire stay at the hostel.  I didn’t catch the mistake because Gmail blocked the ticket until hours before my flight and the cities are spelt different in Polish.  I first realized the mistake when I heard the city announced over boarding call.

So, I traveled less than half the distance to where I needed to go at 8x the cost of a train.

At this point I don’t know if I should be pissed, cry, or just be appreciative that she was willing to help.  What I do know is this trip is costing me $135 dollars more than the train alone and taking me 16 hours longer than the correct flight… (it’s even 4 hours longer that if I took a train the whole way).

On second thought, I’ll go with pissed.

Editors note:  It’s a good thing I re-wrote this after I cooled down.  The original post was just four letters with a bunch of exclamation points… k.

Tear in the Pack, Story by Chaz – “Welcome to Ukraine…”

“During a romantic fling in Russia, I quickly lost track of time.  An email from the friend who I had been traveling with asked if I had made it out of Russia in time.  He was refering to my visa which was expiring in one day, which if ignored, grants a pleasant border crossing arrest.  I quickly packed my bags and rushed to the train station catching the only train that would get me out of Russia in time (with only 2 hours left on my visa).  The train took me to Ukraine in the middle of nowhere arriving about 11pm.  In order to find a place to sleep I walked up to everyone I saw asking if they spoke english.  Running out of options I started knocking on random doors offering money for lodging.  I finally saw a man standing in his front door, so using hand gesturers I tried asking if I can walk on his property.  He gestured his pointer finger as to say “one minute”.   About 15 seconds later he comes back to the door, raises an AK-47 assault rifle, points to it, then points down the road.  I slept in the park.”

Chaz,