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Wednesday 8th August
I'd made it, this far at least, but getting this far over the last two weeks made it seem that my trip was half over. Of course this definitely wasn't the case. It was now over two months since my 'Outta here party' where Susanne had discussed the possibility of our meeting up somewhere in Europe and travelling together and now it was coming together.
If my memory serves me well it was early morning as I left the station and tried to find my bearings. I looked around and found Kiev to be in a state of repair or modernisation or something but everywhere I looked there were roads up and everything seemed to be under construction. I was hungry and needed to change money - quick!
I wasn't sure what I'd let myself in for as I tried to find my way around. The were clouds of dust, noise and incomplete pathways within my first few steps from the station. All around were crowds of people bustling to and fro, some in military uniform, others in clothes remeniscant of pictures of communist Russia, alongside shell suits and Nike trainers. People selling plastic toys and vegetables,amongst other wares. As far as I could see - I was the only non-local. No one, it seems spoke much English although the international word Bank got me pointed in the right direction.
Leaving the station behind me I found that the streets were more 'normal' and under less construction. I later found out that Kiev is now being 'modernised' in a bid to join the European Union.
After going to the right building but wrong bank, I was directed again to the right bank and checked over by the security guards. I changed some Swedish Kroner but gave the girl at the teller a laugh when I tried to change Byelorus Roubles.
Money changed and some bread bought, next I had to find out how to get to Mission East. I had the telephone number of Vadim Kuzminski, who co-ordinates the Mission East organisaion here in Kiev. Although we'd not met before we'd been in touch via e-mail after Susanne Palm had given me his e-mail from her meeting Michael Wallenberg, a fellow Swede whom she'd met in Taipei. Michael is what's been described as 'a larger than life figure' both spiritually and physically, who dedicates his time to helping such organisations as Mission East help find aid, usually medical aid, for underpriviliged children, orphans, and young people as well as rehabilitating drug or solvent abusers.
Not totally sure of what we were going to be doing over the next few days, I'd mailed Vadim from the UK and we'd arranged that Susanne and I would meet up in Kiev on the 9th. I was a day early. I was hoping I could find a way to help out in the Mission - being an English teacher and having experience with kids - but I wasn't sure what contribution I could make here. I made my way to a hotel to try to phone Vadim. Unfortunately he wasn't available.I asked the counter assistant if she could help me locate the Mission on a map of Kiev so I could make my way there. While in the foyer of the Hotel Libid, the lady at the desk who could speak some English was very helpful. I could wait in the waiting area and also freshen up some in the bathroom while I was waiting. Eventually we did get in touch with Vadim and I was told that he would come to the hotel to pick me up. I tried to explain that I didn't want to put anyone out of their way and that, given the address, I'm sure I could find my way.
Mid morning and it was getting hot, while waiting outside the front door of the Hotel I was given a glass of water by the head porter and he also proudly gave me a copy of the hotel brochure, on the cover of which he was standing by the front doors.
Unsure of who would be coming to meet me, I watched carefully as business people entered or walked past the hotel. How would they know who I was? It wasn't so long before Vadim arrived. A slim young guy, a lot younger than I had expected to be heading a project such as Mission East, upon which so many people have had their lives restored. Apparently the Mission car had been totalled by other visitors recently so we were to travel by Underground to the Mission. I didn't mind this.
The underground system in Kiev is amazing. It has an antique feel to it and it runs deep, very deep. The reason for this apparently is that during Communist times the underground doubled as emergency shelter against nuclear warheads. To get to the Mission in Livoberezhne we had to change at a couple of stations. To give you an idea of how deep undergroundthese stations are - it took two whole minutes to ride the escalator. At one station later on in my stay here, we changed escalators after one level - and the second escalator also took two minutes to complete - I timed it out of curiousity one day- four minutes twenty seconds to get from the bottom of escalator one to the end of escalator two!
As we made our way from the city centre to Livoberezhne by subway I noticed that there were people selling things everywhere. Inside the station, on the trains, this is illegal apparently but better than selling drugs or turning to crime - which are two big problems in post-communist Kiev.
Livoberezhne is a fair way from the station and it seems that the area is mainly residential. The buildings are drab and grey and there are some buildings that got started, but never finished due to economical troubles and wouldn't you know it, the brightest building in Livoberezhne is McDonalds. During Communist times people were housed in these huge communal apartment complexes, each of which could house a small town, and of course everybody would know their neighbour - often out of fear that they would be turned over to the communist police for some minor discrepency. Within the blocks that wall in these complexes you can find old people sitting on benches or selling sparse vegetables and brightly painted but battered tubular playgrounds where children play.
We made it to the mission, outside of which was standing an old ambulance. This is one of the mission's projects. A mobile dentist to tour the country offering free dental care. It will take US$20,000 to get the vehicle fitted out and on the road. Unfortunately the Mission is not government funded although they do have some subsidies on rent etc... so they must rely on donations for their projects.
In the mission I was introduced to Ludmilla, the caretaker and cook of the centre. Luckily my 'malo pro-ruski' helped me out here as Ludmilla only speaks a little English (or so she let on.) Of course the national language is Ukrainian but Russian is also widely spoken for obvious reasons. Vadim showed me to my room which was a double and I was left to shower and get settled some.
I was invited to eat lunch which Ludmilla had prepared and although everyone at home had told me not to eat local produce because of the vincinity to Chernobyl (only 100km north of Kiev) I didn't want to upset such generous hospitality. Vadim must be used to apprehension of people eating here as he assured me that Ludmilla only buys from a market that has food brought in from other parts of Ukraine.
After lunch we headed out to the Chinese embassy as I'd got to get myself a visa to China. I was pretty sure that it'd be all closed up, as visa sections usually are after lunch time, but Vadim had made a call and we'd been advised to go along this afternoon. We were told on arrival that we should be there in the morning. Miscommunication, apparently, or as we (could well) say in the west the left hand not knowing where the arse is at (that might just catch on! In the following days I was to have a number of opportunities to use this phrase.)
Not having any reason to hang around the Embassy any more we moved on and Vadim took me around the old city where the golden and green domed cathedrals were before heading back into town, where we found a more modern bustling city complete with break dancing kids, before heading back to the mission and getting my head down for the night.
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Last updated 11/02/2002- Created using Tripod Freeform by Rob
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