TRIP TO UKRAINE
DAY 2 -
Monday, September 20
As we landed, I looked at the airport in shock. Grass was growing in the broken pavement, there were seemingly abandoned vehicles scattered about, ours was the only plane on the runway, and there were few others at the gates. It would have been quaint and charming, but the runway was in such poor shape that I was worried. Still, an unexpected wave of emotion swept over me as we touched down, and I realized suddenly that I was about to set foot on the land of my ancestors. We taxied quickly to our gate, and exited the plane.
Boryspil International Airport
Though I was expecting major obstacles, I passed through Customs with no delay or difficulty. My two large pieces of luggage had left San Francisco three days earlier, on a plane I had almost made it onto - bumped by a pilot who needed to connect with his next flight out of someplace on the East Coast - so I had nothing to be searched but myself and the satchel I was carrying, and before I knew it I was in the main hall of the airport, breathless and eager to see Dad's familiar face. He was supposed to meet me there (according to the travel agent, with whom I had spoken the night before my departure - "Don't worry, they will meet you at the airport, everything's OK.") I looked around eagerly, ready to be greeted enthusiatically.
The hall was surprisingly crowded, considering how few planes I had seen on the tarmac. There was no place to sit, so I stood awkwardly, feeling out of place and conspicuous. I had my camera stowed away, afraid to display anything of value, sure there were pickpockets and thieves all around me. No Dad. There were people holding up signs with names on them, and I checked all of those several times. Most were lettered in Cyrillic, but I know enough of that to recognize my name. Still no luck.
I speak only a few words of Ukrainian - Please, thank you, yes, no, I love you, eye, nose, mouth, chin. Not the most useful words at such a moment. I was hungry and thirsty, but had no local currency, and was afraid to eat or drink, having been warned to avoid anything not carefully cooked or bottled. I wandered around, curious, but wanting to stay where I was visible. Still no Dad.
After 30 minutes I was both worried and frightened, alone in a very strange and foreign place. The trip to this point had been such a mess, and the travel agent had seemed ill informed and confused. Obviously Dad did not know I was due in. I tried using a phone, but the operator spoke only Ukrainian. I couldn't find a Traveler's Aid stand, nor indeed anyone who spoke English. What to do?
Half the people in the airport's main hall seemed to be taxi drivers. I was approached by one every thirty seconds - "Taxi?" "Kyiv?" "Taxi?" That I understod, at least.
I pored over my travel documents, and at last found the name and address of the hotel where our group was staying. If I could communicate that much to a cab driver, I could get to the hotel, and find Dad. I picked the least disreputable-looking of the men offering a ride. It took some effort, but at last I was fairly sure he understood where I needed to go. He wanted $30 (U.S. currency is accepted - indeed preferred - almost everywhere in Ukraine) for the ride into Kyiv. It sounded outrageous, but I had no choice. (I found out later the rate I paid was standard.) I was sure I would be driven to a quiet place, then robbed and beaten. But what choice did I have?
Clutching my few belongings tightly, I entered my cabbie's dilapidated auto. The driver turned out to be a nice guy, and tried pointing out sights on the way into town - it was thirty miles, mostly through open countryside - but of course I didn't understand a word he said. The road was in terrible condition, and we saw few other vehicles on our way. The car's radar-detector (he called it "anti-polizei" - that I understood) went off every mile or two. I got out my camera again, and started snapping.
Some other opinions about Kyiv's airport
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Created -- 03/22/2007 Revised -- 03/22/2007