What Foreigners Living in Ukraine See and Feel about it?
Every day a new hot spot in the east of Europe appears in the world news. Now people in other countries distinguish Ukraine from Russia.
Thanks to Ukrainians, something has changed in English
Or rather, in the practice of its usage. This year, the definite article the was removed from the name of our country. Officially, the article was removed in the early 1990’s, when The Soviet Republic Ukraine was replaced with new state Ukraine; however, many continued to use the old name with the article. From time to time even the journalists of such respected publications as the Daily Mirror, not to mention less-savvy English-speaking citizens used The Ukraine.
Every day a new hot spot in the east of Europe appears in the world news. “Until recently, most Europeans perceived Ukraine and Russia as a whole – different parts of the empire,” says Thomas Ahelis, director of The International Institute for Quality in Public Relations (IQPR), “Now in Europe they finally form the idea of Ukraine as a separate country that seeks support”.
Today it is too early to reporting on the victory in the information field. American journalist Chris Collison comments: “Covering events in Ukraine, European and American publications often order texts from Russian correspondents who are influenced by the general mood in the country.” Take into account the Russian media broadcasting in the West, and you will understand that in such conditions it is very difficult to be on the information war. ” But there is definitely a remarkable shift in the minds of Western audiences.
How foreigners see Ukraine and Ukrainians?
We asked those who lived and worked in our country for a long time about it.
Jeremy Borowitz, USA, Economist
American Jeremy Borowitz claims that Ukraine has made him better
– After the university, I joined the Peace Corps and applied for a trip to Ukraine. My first shock was when I got to the destination – Boyarka village, Lysyansk district, Cherkasy region. The nearest town is Bila Tserkva, 100 km away. There is no electricity in the yard. If you want to eat, go to milk the goat. From all the benefits of civilization in this village the only one they had was a school where I had to teach English.
The locals called me “American spy.” I understand that in their eyes I looked exotic, but they were even more surprising for me. How is it possible that in the 21st century people living in the center of Europe would live in such conditions and consider this to be normal? Later I realized that they had something I did not have – patience.
Another virtue I learned about in the Ukrainian village is it is better to hurry slowly. We Americans do everything quickly: as soon as an idea is born, we immediately begin to implement it. I remember I suggested publishing a school newspaper, they promised to help me, but nobody moved a finger. My endless reminders did not work. After a while, when I had already forgotten about it, they came to me and said: we are doing it. Ukrainians generally think long about everything before they act, and we on the contrary do and then we think.
But the biggest shock was not Boyarka itself, but by the contrast between it and Kiev. All you have to do is drive 170 km and you’ll find yourself in another epoch. A little later I found friends in Kiev and a couple of times I arranged excursions to Boyarka for them. They reacted as if they were on another planet. Here is something that is really unbelievable: Ukrainians do not know how others live in other settlements.
Ukraine has made me more patient, wiser, more religious, more forgiving of other people’s weaknesses, but perhaps the main lesson taught to me by this country was the lesson of openness. We Americans are polite but very cautious. We willingly smile at strangers, but we hardly get friends and few people are allowed into our private life. With the Ukrainians it is on the contrary; at first they seem unfriendly and harsh, but if they open the doors of their home to you, they also open their hearts.
Mordechai Neuwirth, Belgium, organizer of educational programs for youth
The native of Antwerp Mordechai Neuwirth says: today raising children in Ukraine is much easier than 15 years ago
“I’ve lived here for 15 years and I’ve seen two revolutions. For the European, this in itself is surprising. In addition to the revolutions, there were also evolutions, and very important ones. One of them is a change in attitude towards children. When my wife and I came to Ukraine, our eldest daughter was just over a year old, and our son was six months old. I remember the stewardess told us that taking babies here is not a good idea. “This country is unfriendly to children,” the unknown girl warned us.
Once on the spot, we understood what it was about. A simple example: the layout of the lobby in multi-apartment buildings. They were built as if their tenants would never have to go out and come back with baby carriages or let their kids who had recently learned to walk go outside of the flat. Steep stairs, dangerous, open spans.
I then noticed that on the streets there were almost no parents with children. If someone was walking with a baby, he was usually carried in front as something fragile and constantly endangered. In Kiev, we settled in Podol, and soon after the arrival we wanted to walk along the bridge to the Rybalsky Island. We stuck in the middle. The path was clearly not designed for walking with a double stroller. I’m not even mentioning what a quest it was 15 years ago to search for diapers and high-quality baby food. Fortunately, now everything is different. Now on the streets you can often see families with two or three children. This is a sign of a healthy society.
Ukrainians, of course, have something to share. For example, respect for someone else’s mentality. Here people live their lives and do not interfere with neighbors. However, indifference is the other side. Sometimes a neighbor has a problem and one needs to intervene. I still do not understand some forms of privacy protection that are common in Ukraine. For example, why it is considered to be indecent to ask how a person earns his money when you just met. In Europe it is quite natural to inquire about the activities of the interlocutor. The first time I noticed a negative reaction to such a question I thought: “Probably, he is doing something illegal.” But it is impossible to imagine that most of my Ukrainian acquaintances were criminals.
Miriam Horowitz, USA, Costume Designer
Miriam Horowitz (pictured right) says that in our country they know how to do a fashion show
– In winter, I was invited to Kiev for a few days to organize a show of historical costume at the Fairmont Grand Hotel. After the end of the show, thankful customers arranged for me a short trip around the country. They could not go, but they gave a car with a driver for the whole day. Just then, after a short lull, the bloody events on the Maidan flared up with renewed vigor. We spent a day far away from Kiev and did not know anything, but by the evening, when we were going to return, we experienced real stress. The driver turned on the radio; there were disturbing news about the victims, the emergency situation and the probable closing of the entrance to the city. It sounded like there was nowhere to go back. The driver was constantly called by friends and relatives – they asked him not to go, to spend the night somewhere on the road. He really was determined to stay in Zhitomir, but for me it meant to be late for the morning flight to New York.
I was really stressed; I called my customers and asked to find some way out of this situation. To my surprise, they answered quite calmly that I do not need to think about anything special, I can just go back to Kiev and everything will be all right. Basically, that is what really happened. Probably, the people of Kiev are already accustomed to revolutions and do not panic when something similar happens, unlike us, spoiled by a peaceful life.
Before this trip, I had stereotypes about Ukraine – a country in the third world, where there was devastation and poverty, and gloomy inhospitable people walk on broken roads. Reality pleasantly surprised me. First, Kiev was very beautiful and civilized. The center was impressive with its luxury, which I did not expect to see after listening to the poverty and thrift of the Ukrainians. Stylishly decorated showcases, expensive cars, very young girls wearing Chanel and diamonds. Living in New York, I do not see such a concentration of glamor, which seems to have long been used to Kiev.
The local people turned out to be nice people. My actresses were students of the theater school – wonderful teenage girls, each of them emitted light. There was almost no time to prepare the show, it was necessary to work from morning till night, but they never complained of fatigue. Before coming here, I assumed that I would have to teach Ukrainians how to do the show; it turned out they perfectly know it. Everything was perfect – no worse than in the US, Europe, Brazil or Argentina.
Vicki Taylor, UK, PR Coordinator
– I live and work in Dnepro for almost 11 years. I have already adapted to many things, and still there is something in this city that it is impossible to get used to – clothing markets. These are live, always noisy and littering tangles where everything is intertwined. This is where most of the inhabitants of the city buy their cloth. Friends said that Ukrainian clothing market is like an oriental bazaar somewhere in Turkey. Nothing of the sort! It is a completely unique phenomenon, and not only because underwear, boots and insect repellent can be sold from one counter.
Did you pay attention to how women in the markets try on bras? For me it was a revelation. I’ll never forget the moment when a lady aged under fifty, standing next to me, took off her T-shirt and, without embarrassment, proceeded to fitting. In Europe, exposure to the public is always a demonstration of the beauty of the body. Here something fundamentally different happened; she undressed not to show herself and attract someone, she behaved as if there were no people around her or she did not consider them people. The amazing ability to ignore everything and everybody, in my opinion, is the reverse side of the lack of respect for each other and for oneself.
Bozhena Tsvetkova, Bulgaria, architect
– Ukraine is a very beautiful country, an amazing cocktail of European and Asian. The proximity of Baroque and medieval buildings is fascinating. The struggle of Ukrainians for political independence is also praiseworthy. At the same time, there is a lack of self-esteem. It feels like if the person here initially considers himself somehow defective.
Plastic surgery is a very simple example. Never and nowhere before have I seen so many women with a “corrected” looks as in Kiev. One gets the impression that in Ukraine those who have money go to plastic surgeons as in other countries they go to dentists. In the office of a respected metropolitan company, where I was invited to work, every third girl had something corrected. And most often that was lips. Now silicone lips are a landmark of Kiev for me. I’m over 40, but I always diligently took care of my face skin and I think that for my age I look great; so I was really shocked when one of the employees in the office said that it’s time to hide my nasolabial fold as it became a furrow. A kind woman even offered me a doctor’s phone that does uronic acid injections to everyone who wants to get rid of wrinkles, and said it’s much better than botox. I wanted to snap her head off, but I did not say anything.
Chris Collison, USA, Journalist
American journalist Chris Collison has been living in Ukraine for more than three years, but still does not fully understand what is happening here.
– I have been working in Ukraine for three years and do not yet have a simple formula describing the situation in the country. Everything is too complicated here, you can never describe it with aa couple of phrases.
If we talk about mentality, there are a million minor differences. Here, even the food is not bought in the same way as in America. They walk through the streets faster, they are more nervous when standing in lines, and so on. One more detail that I noticed in Ukraine – here people are too dependent on family and friends. They count on relatives in issues where Americans rely on public institutions. This is how people in your country compensate lack of social protection – you are compelled to protect yourself and each other.
Sasha Navalku, France, lawyer
French citizen Sasha Navalku says that Ukrainians are idealizing his homeland
– Recently I visited Ukraine – in the midst of the revolutionary events in Kiev. It was scary but surprisingly the riots in the city did not affect the plans. The violence was localized in a small area and in the neighboring streets life went on as usual. In other countries I did not see anything like this.
I met very nice, friendly people here and noticed one interesting thing. They have some strange, idealized view of Europe. To them France looks like paradise, cloudless and carefree. In fact, we have plenty of problems that Ukrainians have not even heard of. Perhaps the misconceptions stem from the fact that you cannot travel as we do. Only after seeing the world, you come to the conclusion that it is possible to live dignified anywhere; it is not a question of geography.
Hanna Holt, Germany, developer
– Ever since I came to Ukraine, I constantly hear all sorts of advice from local residents. Most often it is about raising children. One day my driver addressed me as if I had just killed someone in front of him. It turns out that he saw my children running barefoot in the garden. It was strange to him that I do not understand that babies can catch cold or get hurt. Of course they can – children sometimes catch cold, this is not fatal. In addition, it was hot, the earth warmed up; it was not November when I let them run barefoot.
I take care of my children no less than any Ukrainian mother; I just give them more freedom. Here the child is perceived as something fragile, in need of round-the-clock supervision and custody. I proceed from the fact that a child is a person, and people need space for development. They sometimes get sick, fall, get bruises, it happens; they cry, and it’s not scary. I remember once my Ukrainian friend was surprised when he saw my three-year old child making a tea. I said: “Yours could do the same, but every time he climbs onto the stool to get to the teapot, you stop him.”
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