For the third time since I arrived in Kyiv last August, I’m currently travelling in Europe on business. It feels strange leaving my new ‘home’, however the more I’m away, the more I realise just how similar yet also different Kyiv is to any other large European city.
It’s not quick or easy getting in or out of Ukraine during wartime, so one must ensure to get as much accomplished as possible. That means hitting to as many cities as possible. This trip my itinerary includes Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Amsterdam and London.
I immediately noticed that western European cities in Switzerland and the UK are definitely more ‘shiny’ because they’ve invested more in public infrastructure like sidewalks, streetlights and basic safety. However, sidewalks in Kyiv are rather challenging because of poor planning and construction. Consequently, the average Ukrainian has mastered the awareness and control of a mountain goat – especially when navigating streets littered with craters and holes covered in ice at night!
On the surface, Europe looks much cleaner than Kyiv because superior urban planning and regulations ensure that building exteriors look quite pleasing. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that it’s just an illusion. Where it really matters, Kyiv is a far cleaner city. Nearly everyone in Ukraine smokes, yet one must deliberately search for a cigarette butt on the ground whereas the streets of London and Amsterdam are literally paved with them.
When I lived in the UK a few years ago, my typical Monday walk to work included wading through a beautiful park littered with beer bottles, food wrappers, used baby nappies and charred BBQs made from aluminium turkey pans strewn everywhere. It was a disgrace. In Kyiv however, park patrons with garbage will make an effort to find a bin for disposal. Furthermore, if you finish your cigarette and there’s no nearby ashtray, residents will actually put it in their pack or pocket, then dispose of it as they walk by the next garbage can.
Cities like London and Geneva are filled with designer clothing stores and fancy restaurants, but so is Kyiv. Indeed I’ve had wonderful sushi in both capitals. My favourite shirts are from the Ukrainian designer called Syndicate, but all my jeans are Denham from Amsterdam. I honestly can’t give this one to either Europe or Ukraine. Pretty much anything you can buy or eat in Europe you can in Kyiv as well, you just pay much more for it in any European city.
Lastly, there’s the infamous Ukrainian post-Soviet style bureaucracy and red tape. Citizens often line up for hours outside government offices to get documents stamped to issue a passport, but is this really any different from the bureaucracy in the EU? A queue is a queue and no matter what the reason, standing in line is just reality of life everywhere. At least in Ukraine, the government’s digital app, Diia, is constantly slashing the effort required to register and manage typical time-consuming municipal services.