January 2006


The Ukraine

My sister is constantly irritated that whenever I go and visit places, I don’t bother to learn the local language (notable exceptions: the United Kingdom, Ireland, and most of Canada). However, not knowing the local language has not usually been a problem, since although I don’t speak the local language, I am able to read the signs.

This is not the case in The Ukraine.

Ukrainian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, full of odd characters like Б Й П and (confusingly, it’s not a 3) З. So in Prague, where I am able to navigate the subway and find my way to IP Pavlova by reading signs quickly and listening to the Czech announcements, it’s not so obvious in Kyiv (Қиїв), where while the subway maps have Latin alphabet names in small type below each station name in Ukrainian (try to imagine the reverse situation in New York City), I’m not yet in tune to what I need to listen for in the language.

Additionally, since I stayed with Katya’s family, transportation was a bit of a challenge. The city has public transportation (buses, trolleys, and the subway), which is supplemented by much more frequent and convenient private busses. One could take the trolley to the city center from Katya’s home, but in the time that it took our private bus #500 to traverse the distance, I counted exactly one trolley going our direction, and we passed it at a high rate of speed.

I think I could master this part of the journey—the getting to the city center is easy since I would get off the bus at the end of the line. It’s the return I think I could have problems with, since getting off requires yelling out to the driver and telling him to stop. There are several problems with this approach for me. First: I have no idea what to yell out to request a halt, and, perhaps more importantly, I’m still not quite sure where I was. I know that I was on the left side (east) of the river, about half way between the core and the airport, but beyond that, I’m not really certain.

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