Aussies round the world: Insane in the Ukraine

Lost-Lara-Ukraine

This is a guest post by Aussie expat Lara, who writes about her life in the Ukraine over at Lost Lara. She’s also lived the expat life in London. Are you wondering what it’d be like to live in a town where you don’t speak the language and no one speaks English? Lara knows all about it. She also has a favourite tank. Yeah, you read that right. Find her on Facebook and Instagram for more great tales.

“Ukraine, hey… what if you don’t like it?” my colleague and good friend pressed me after I announced that I had taken a job in a city I couldn’t pronounce, in a country I’d never visited.

What was he talking about, not liking it!?! I’d moved to London almost two years before and had found it one of the easiest things I’d ever done. I’d travelled all over Eastern Europe (although, admittedly, not to Ukraine).

Can you feel the other shoe dropping?

I arrived at the end of summer, and after only about three weeks of autumn it felt like winter was truly upon us. Temperatures of -18 became “normal” and I found myself questioning my own sanity (and nationality) when I remarked how warm it was when the mercury climbed as high as -10.

I had struggled through learning the Cyrillic alphabet before I arrived, but hadn’t retained a single actual word. I was under the misconception that, like every other European city I had visited, there would be a level of English spoken. Well, there is, and that level is zero. I would have gotten by just fine with this laissez-faire attitude in Kyiv, but in Dnipro it is a different story.

Lost-Lara-Ukraine-tanks

Dnipro, formerly Dnipropetrovsk, is home to the Yuzhmash rocket factory, one of the largest and most powerful producer of nuclear weapons in the former USSR. As such, it was a closed city to western people. Ironically, Yuzhmash now supply both the USA and Canada with rockets today.

A hangover of this time is that many people in the city have never learnt English, they were not taught at school and have not had any need to learn since – how many English speaking tourists do you know that have visited Dnipro, Ukraine? It’s much more common for people here to have German as a second language, often I’ve had taxi drivers or bartenders say (in Russian):

I don’t speak English, can you speak German?

So there I was, freezing cold and alone in a country where I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t speak to anyone. But, I remembered the perfect quote to make you happy when you’re sad (or sad when you’re happy. “This too shall pass“.

lost-lara-Ukraine-snow

The ice eventually thawed, although we had snow as late as April this year. I’ve learnt to speak enough Russian to survive. I found a supermarket that sells the imported things that I missed – don’t go thinking I’m too fancy, I mean things like tinned tomatoes and hummus. I’ve even managed to make a few friends. Living here was the catalyst for writing my blog –  so that no English speakers in Dnipro ever need to feel as isolated as I have.

My adage for anyone planning to move abroad had always been “Just give it three months, if you still hate it, then you’re allowed to leave.” Moving to Ukraine was one of those rare times when I actually decided to take my own advice.

Aussies Round the World | Aussie expats | Living in Ukraine | Moving to Ukraine | Australian expat in Ukraine | Lost Lara | Aussie | Expat | Aussie Expat in US | expat life
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20 thoughts on “Aussies round the world: Insane in the Ukraine

    1. I would be scared out of my mind to move somewhere that I couldn’t communicate with people. Lara is definitely brave 😀

  1. I’ve been here for 10 months now! Food is good but there’s not a tremendous variety. A lot of meat and potatoes. They have the best cakes I’ve ever seen in my life though!!

  2. This is so incredible! I totally would have panicked and left within a few days. Meanwhile, I’m an expat in the UK and I can’t stop complaining about not having air conditioning! This is such a great series – love hearing stories from other bloggers.

    1. Hahaha, as long as you have a radiator, you’ll be fine. Doesn’t the cold bother you more than the heat over there?

  3. I just wonder why did you opt for learning Russian and not Ukrainian, since being on location? I speak Russian freely, but I would jump at the opportunity to learn Ukrainian! My grandfather was born in Ukraine, and I visited as a child, so this country has a special place in my heart!

    1. I’m in Eastern Ukraine so most people speak Russian as a first language here rather than Ukrainian. Even in Kyiv Russian is more commonlly spoken at home. It also seemed more practical, in that I could potentially use it other places that I travel. I fully support the promotion of Ukrainian language, but in terms of getting around, poorly pronounced Ukrainian wouldn’t get me very far.

  4. Hehehe, it made me laugh! What a courageous girl! 😀 I love the fact that she is so positive and taking in things as they come, such a good attitude. Seems like she’s having a good time there. Love it, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  5. So brave to move to a country so different to what you know. I was offered a job in Russia to teach English, and while I REALLY wanted to go, I turned it down becasue I was a lesser known city about an 6 hour flight from Moscow where apparently English was non existent. I panicked! So cool that you just went for it!

    1. Russia would worry me a little especially a smaller city. There’ll always be other opportunities Chiera!

  6. That’s a brave story. You must be a very courageous woman. I am not sure what I would do in this situation but I guess a positive attitude as you mentioned “this too shall pass” is a great way of going. Kudos

  7. You’ve got such beautiful writing. Adjusting to new places always comes with its challenges. I’m from Canada, so winter is not new to me but the language barrier would be (at least a new one!). The best part is that you always grow from these experiences 🙂

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