12 Secrets to Traveling the Most Beautiful Country in the World:

 

This article was originally written for Kiva.org’s website by one of our founders, who worked with Kiva borrowers in Ukraine this summer.

Kiva is a non-profit that provides small “microloans” to help alleviate poverty around the world and was named the hottest non-profit on the planet by Time and Fortune magazines. This photo essay is the first in a three-part series about Ukraine and how Kiva works there.

 

1. If you’re traveling with a significant other, bring a padlock. (Don’t worry, it’s only for the Bridge of Love)

This bridge in Kyiv is completely full of (mostly) old locks that couples place here as a sign of their commitment. It’s the original hipster version of the heart-carved-in-a-tree tradition, if you will.

 

2. You will definitely meet some amazing people.

This is Elena. She used a small loan from Kiva.org to buy goods for her little shop in a the local outdoor market. She told us that she’s “very happy” with the growth her loan has provided.

This is Michail. The shack next to him holds a new heating system for his greenhouse, purchased with a Kiva loan. He had never taken a loan before this, due to a fear of corrupt banking practices, but his experience with Kiva’s local partner, Hope Ukraine, was fantastic and he’s no longer afraid.

Michail is an amazingly hard worker. Michail’s heater uses firewood, as gas and electric pumps are too expensive and unreliable due to frequent power outages. Michail gets up every two hours during the night from January until sometime in the Spring to put wood into the furnace and make sure the pump is free of debris. It pumps hot water through hoses in the ground near the roots of his tomatoes and around the walls of the greenhouse to keep the plants alive and provide a longer growing season. He and his wife have also taken in several foster children.

 

3. Don’t be surprised if store owners still use an abacus.

Even though she also has a calculator, this shop owner still uses the abacus sometimes. When I asked why, she said that everyone used these before calculators and it’s still faster for her.

 

4. “Salo” (aka fatback with the skin, aka bacon without any meat) is “The source of all energy and male strength,” according to a local.

Salo is best eaten with garlic or onion, as I did here. Pro tip: eating a whole raw onion is worse than the salo.

5. Multicolored nylon bags are all the rage.

6. Night trains are the best way to travel. (And you still get to see beautiful sights before bed)

 

7. Third-class train cabins are nice and cheap

 

8. If you want to travel or live outside the city, you may have to use an outhouse. (But they’re nice.)

 

9. The towns have really cool names.

Like Zaporizhzhya (say that ten times fast).

Or “Proletariat.”

10. The Kyiv metro is not only spotless, but beautiful. (Fellow New Yorkers will appreciate this.)

Orthodox mosaic in the Kyiv metro

11. Everything has cucumbers or beets in it, so develop a taste for them ASAP.

Lunch options today: pizza with cucumbers… or hamburgers with cucumbers. Ukrainians make everything healthier.

Of course there are always hot dogs with carrots, beets, and mayonnaise.

 

12. Buy a one-way ticket, because you’ll never want to leave.

Yes, that scene with the field of sunflowers from the movie Everything Is Illuminated was real, even though it seemed like Hollywood special effects. The country really is that amazing.

To be continued…