In my green, sequined tracksuit, I sit at a café with friends, gossiping and catching up about the day before. We’re done our food and drinks, but the server hasn’t brought us our cheque, since we haven’t asked, and servers often only come when you call them.
Maybe we’re discussing our latest wild market finds, or maybe we’re talking about last night at the bar, staying until it closed then taking it to the streets with new friends, watching the sunrise with a drink in hand.
In between stories, we interrupt each other with random phrases we see on people’s t-shirts, the less sense they make the better. “Fashion ghr the in lovely”, “U can get this hardsoda quality only”, and so on. We also take note of everyone’s fashion – fur on sandals, patterned everything, and varying styles of men’s and women’s jean shorts. It’s little moments like this, taking in the Ukrainian lifestyle, that I’m going to miss most.
I’ve been living in Ukraine for 10 months, studying Ukrainian dance, culture, and language. I leave for Canada on 29 June, and I’m already thinking of ways I can come back as quickly as possible.
I’ve been to Ukraine once before, so I knew a bit of what to expect: I knew the entire Ukrainian population doesn’t walk around in traditional costume every day and that groceries and medication are easy enough to come by. But I didn’t know how much Ukrainian cities vary – big and bright Kyiv; touristy and beautiful Lviv; quaint and walkable Chernivtsi; quirky and modern Lutsk; and Poltava, a city so different from the rest that I can’t put into words why.
I also didn’t know what it’s like to live as a local and not a tourist. The Russian language is much more widespread than I thought. It was hard to get used to at first, and the popularity of Russian turned me off certain cities, but by the end, though I still think people should speak the official language – Ukrainian, I am more understanding of why people speak Russian. It’s not necessarily because people aren’t being patriotic to their country, it’s just how they were raised, especially if they or their parents were brought up during Soviet times.
The life I lived in Ukraine isn’t that of a true local. Though I did see how people live in both villages and cities I was here to study and explore. I didn’t have to work multiple jobs to support myself. I had plenty of free time and some spending money to enjoy on days and nights out with friends. But I never took my lifestyle for granted.
I wish for a Ukraine where everyone is as happy and comfortable as I was during my time here. To Ukrainians who question why I want to live in their country, I hope you too can take in and appreciate your culture, spend time with loved ones to make lasting memories, and enjoy the beauty, spirit, and soul of this intriguing country.