Thursday, April 8, 2010

From Experience

This post is for others coming to Kiev as part of the adoption process. While it is fresh, I wanted to jot down a few quick tips based on what we have experienced. This is very stream of consciousness, but hopefully it will be of help to some of you :)!

Each family will have a unique experience, but some of these things will be the same for everyone...

Have a contact person and phone number in case your flight plans change for some reason! Ask for one if it is not offered to you!

Don't be surprised if your accommodations here are not exactly what you were hoping for :). If you are really concerned about where you stay and have to have lush accommodations, you could always book a room at the Hyatt is $550 a night!! Our apartment is not upscale at all, but the bed is comfy, the view is gorgeous and the location is good. It provides exactly what we need--a place to stay while we are here!

Toilet paper is not always available in restrooms, and when it is, it often feels like a paper towel. Just sayin'. Bring some if you need soft tp. Bring a couple of travel-sized rolls regardless for emergencies.

Tap water is not for drinking. Or for brushing your teeth. There is no ice (but most of the apartments have a small freezer, so pack an ice tray to fill with bottled water if you feel you must have ice). Many drinks are served warm and bottled water is often carbonated (if you are ordering in a restaurant, especially).

This city never sleeps. Everyone smokes. Everyone. (Okay, maybe not small children, but most everyone else.)

Kiev is BIG--around 3 or 4 million people! It is a little intimidating. It is also very beautiful and there is lots to do! We have found it to be relatively safe. Speak English quietly though, and behave conservatively. In other words, don't draw attention to yourself and shout "I'm not from here?!" Most people will know that anyway...there aren't a lot of foreign visitors...and apparently we stand out :), but it is wise not to be obvious in ways you can control.

Don't carry all your money with you and do not get into your money pouch in view of others. Carry a few hundred grivna with you at a time in your pocket or bag. Any other money or essential identification should be concealed.

For those wondering what to pack: The women here carry ornate or embellished bags and wear jackets with lots of detail. Their clothes and accessories are not plain or simple and are generally very fitted and feminine. People here like to dress up.

The women are wearing boots and trench coats or leather jackets--no flip flops or sandals or white sneakers (fashionable, European style sneakers, flats or comfy shoes are being worn but they are always dark and subtle). Bring at least one pair of comfortable will be walking quite a bit...on uneven surfaces, etc. All of the women wear nylons or black tights with dresses, skirts or shorts and boots or very high heels. If you plan on having bare legs, bring nylons or tights. Black pencil skirts and black slacks are very common. A pop of color (yellow, purple, red, fuchsia) in a coat, bag or shoes seems to be in fashion. As is dyed hair...platinum blonde, dark black, red-red. If you are trying to fit in, I wouldn't suggest capri pants or jogging suits. **This changes as the seasons change! In the summer, women wear all kinds of clothing and shoes. Nylons are part of the dress code in the office, but nylons are not worn all the time in warm weather.

Men wear very similar clothing to what men in the States wear. They look more European, though...not a lot of running/gym shoes or sweatshirts, but rather stylish jeans, sweaters, button down shirts...that type of thing. We have seen zero shorts. On anyone. We have seen tight leather pants on many and women...but that is another story altogether ;).

People seem to care about their appearance, but wear the same clothes over and over. When you look around, everyone appears to have worked at getting dressed. People are not sloppy. For sure.

You should be prepared to "pack light" but don't skimp on your essentials (like medicines and items absolutely necessary for comfort--a particular pillow or pair of shoes for example).

While you can purchase many things here, it might be tough to locate a store in which to purchase the item, and it is tough to read boxes/communicate with people. The facilitators could help you in a pinch, but do try to bring plenty of whatever you always use! I tried to pack travel sizes of some things and I should have known which things I did not want to run out of.

Consider cutting down your clothing items rather than other essentials. If you are packing gifts, pack small items.

Carry on a small bag that you can store under the seat in front of you with essentials, including Aleve, Advil, Tylenol, whatever works for aches and pains. Pack eye drops (it is dry in the plane), lip balm and gum or mints (your mouth will feel nasty, trust me!) in your carry on. Pack important papers, a pen, contact info. and passport in your carry on.

Make sure you buy a bottled water once you get past security and put it in your carry on as a few heavy duty snacks (like Clif bars), because it is easy to miss meals and you don't want to be hungry or thirsty. An eye mask and iPod or something with headphones is awesome for the long trip (the lights come on/people come over the P.A. and keep you awake otherwise).

carry-on essentials:
Travel toilet paper
Melatonin (or another sleep aide)
Tylenol, Motrin, Alleve or Excedrin Migraine
Eye drops (with redness relief and without)
Concealer...Lots of it ;)
Gum, mints, Colgate wisp disposable brushes
Downy Wrinkle release
Hand sanitizer
List of important contacts
Sleep mask/travel pillow
adaptors (and an audio/video cable for an iPod)

Wear comfortable clothes for traveling! You will be in them for 24 hours! If there is space, bring an extra outfit in your carry on bags (yoga pants and cotton dresses are good choices for women--they roll well and take up little space).

A few other important tidbits: You will be given an "immigration card" on the plane on the way into Kiev (pronounced "KEEV' here). This is for customs. They have more at the airport if you need one for any reason, or if you don't get one on the plane. Don't stress about is easy and quick. The card you fill out is very basic. We did not fill in the line about Visas (they ask what type and for how long), but I don't think that applies to people who are adopting. It seemed to be fine. We put our facilitators address as our location in country. (We had no idea where we were staying!) They did not count our money or check our bags in the airport here. (Neither was checked at home, either...other than the usual security screening.)

Once you get your bags at the airport, you will exit through another set of doors toward ground transportation. That is where the driver will be waiting for you. (The customs and baggage claim areas are restricted.)

Have your driver write down the address of the hotel or apartment you are staying in. That way, if you should get lost or tired of walking, you can take a cab back!

If you go to restaurants, ask for an English menu right when you walk in. We have found that many places have these.

A few good links to have:

currency converter


wood fired pizza--Pizzeria Napule on Mechnikova Street (yummy, a nice experience, also has a menu in English...and no mayo on the pizza! Very reasonable prices in a nice setting).

It is important to try to learn a few basic words and phrases in Russian. Even if your pronunciation is incorrect, people will appreciate your effort...and even a few basic words will greatly help your interactions here.

Words you should know (for sure...there are others to know, but these are a must):
One - "ah DEEN"
Two - "dvah"
Three - "tree"
This - "eh-tah"
That - "eh-tah"
Hi - PREEV-yet
Thank You - "spa-SEE-bah"
Please/You're Welcome - "pah-ZHAL-uh-sta"
Yes - "da"
No - "nyet"
How much? SKOL-ko"?
Coffee - KO-fee-ay
Water - VO-da
Goodbye - DAS-vee-dan-ya
Excuse me - iz-vee-nee-tee
Kiev - "KEEV"

A note about the markets...they are everywhere and most have a place to change money for you. You will only buy a few things at a time because you need to be able to easily carry your items to your apartment or hotel. If you see this item:buy it!! Our driver talked me into buying one and I wish I'd bought 12. It tastes like strawbery cheesecake, but is a frozen treat. YUM. If you like chocolate, you will love the selection here in the markets and elsewhere. If you drink Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, look for Coke Light or Pepsi Light. There are plenty of beers and spirits in all the markets--way more than any other beverage by far :). Cheeses, pastries, and smoked or cured meats are all particularly good.

When you first go to the market, be sure to get a couple of large bottles of non-carbonated water. You will need it for drinking, making tea or coffee, and for brushing your teeth. Plan on purchasing at least:

-Milk ("moloko")
-Items for sandwiches (lunchmeats, cheese, some type of bread)
-Toilet paper--a few rolls
-A few snack items (chips and crackers are easy to find & cheap)

It is time for bed! I hope that helps...and I will add to this post when I think of other things!


Be careful on the streets and sidewalks! Watch where you are walking. It is easy to focus on looking around. You will get hit if you do this in the street or on the sidewalk. Trust me. Cars fly by and everyone walks pretty fast. The sidewalks and stairways are uneven and there are potholes and cracks all over the place. And people park (and drive!) on the sidewalks.

Other Packing Essentials (I will add to this as we go):

Beyond whatever clothes, toiletries and medicines you plan to bring, you should consider also bringing:

-At least one pair of very comfortable shoes
-For women--a season-appropriate scarf (to cover head if planning to visit churches, and to use as a scarf or wrap if needed)
-A large Ziploc bag with smaller baggies, a few rubber bands and paperclips
-Tape, scissors, gift bags, tissue paper, ribbon, pen, note cards and other wrapping items for small gifts
-Small food items that you may really appreciate having while you are away from home: Tea bags, oatmeal packets, soup packets, microwave popcorn, peanut butter, breakfast/protein bars, packets for water (Propel, Chrystal Light). We did not bring peanut butter, but many people do. I don't think you can get it here. I do wish we had brought microwave popcorn!


  1. LIsa, I am just catching up with your news-Your meeting her!!!! I am in tears! The fact that you are a few days away from meeting Alina, your newest addition! I can't imagine what your emotions must be like right now! I am thinking of you and your entire family. xoxo Andrea

  2. Wow! Very helpful and so "Lisa-like".:) Not sure if you're getting my e-mails so you may have missed my HUGE THANK YOU e-mail. You know what for. You're very sweet and generous!

    I have Skype now and was able to Skype with Adeye earlier today. Let me know if you have a moment we could Skype Chat as well! :)


  3. Neat to see Kiev through your eyes! Your positive attitude, your willingness to try new things, your ability to bounce back from setbacks, your sense of humour are inspiring. I'm sure your travel tips will be a big help to others. xo's

  4. You are very observant! Enjoying reading.

  5. This is am amazing post!! So helpful. If we ever get the chance to go on this journey, what a resource you are!


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