Traveling around Ukraine by bus sometimes feels to me like I’m back in the USSR. Bad roads are like hello from the soviet days. Frustrating but charming.
This time I am going by bus from Kirovograd to Alexandria, Ukraine. When you are driving around Ukraine, especially in province areas, there is no possible way to drink water from a bottle without hurting your lips, or write something that you could easily read later, especially on a shaking, rattling bus. Of course there are all kinds of buses in Ukraine, and I tried many: the good, the bad, and the ugly. A lot of them are just means of transportation- comfort is optional. I’ve been traveling like this since 17 when I went to the university in Kirovograd. It feels like my body still remembers every bump and pothole.
It is 5:20 p.m. and we are all sitting on this old, worn out, dusty small bus, simply happy to be going to our final destination safely and on time. Right between Kirovograd and Alexandria there is a small town Znamenka where the buses stop for a break usually anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. The bus is entering the bus station and I know that there will be gypsies asking for money, and the same babushky (elderly ladies) will be selling pirozhky for about 5 UAH (61 cents) each. They come into the bus and say “pirozhky, pirozhky, goryachiye pirozhky” (stuffed buns, stuffed buns, hot stuffed buns), and repeat it about 10 times. There are stray dogs running around. Homeless looking for a way to get a few Hryvnias (Ukrainian currency) to buy another bottle of vodka. And it is just a part of the flavor that is hard to understand and fall in love with; it is something I grew up with. Not that I’m proud of it, but I simply accept it the way it is. It is part of me and I do not take it out of my being.
I have mixed feelings about being in Ukraine now. On one hand I am enjoying my life here, and on the other hand it hurts being here. I love gorgeous landscapes, availability of fresh organic food, hospitality of the people, our long history and rich culture. I love my family and friends! But at the same time I can’t stand the fact that the government and its people conscientiously degrade our culture and the quality of life. I see drunks on every corner. Vodka brands are sponsoring many daily entertainment shows on TV. People sell horilka (samogon in Russian, moonshine in English) and cigarettes to teenagers. You can’t walk 2 meters and enjoy the fresh air without running into a smoker. Liquor and cigarettes are cheap and available on almost every street and corner. This kind of reality is very sad to me because I want to see my country healthy and prosperous! But it is the way life is here. Very controversial.
So we are on the bus, and it is about fifty more minutes of travel time before we reach our final destination. In the States it would take about 20 minutes, but due to really bad roads it takes eternity to get to the places here.
I notice big watermelons on the right side of the road- 2,50 UAH per kilo; it’s like a quarter dollar for about 2 pounds. The vendor has about 20 big, beautiful melons right there on the grass; very cheap and convenient. No need to go to the market when it’s all there. We are so spoiled by the ease of grocery shopping. It is very common for Ukrainians to sell fruits and vegetables pretty much anywhere you want to.
I look around, and the area that we are passing by reminds me a little enchanted forest with beautiful trees on both sides. I always take time to notice the beauty of this place, and Ukrainian landscape in general. Fall makes it even more captivating. Yellow, green and burgundy leaves are covering trees and bushes, looking like a precisely crafted carpet. It is about 80ºF and the sun is gently kissing my face. What a beautiful time of the year!
I know that I am leaving soon to go back to the States. I love America. I love almost everything about it, but I know that I will miss Ukraine once I leave it. So now, I’m enjoying my ride on this old, dusty bus, jumping up and down every time we hit a road bump. And I’m feeling so happy to be able to experience Ukraine to the fullest, not limiting myself to comfy taxi rides, nice upscale places, and certain circles of people. I enjoy it all! I enjoy my lovely country, so complicated and so simple at the same time!