It’s 11 p.m. on a Sunday, and there are crowds of people at the city square. There’s a fire dancer to the right and a piano player just up ahead. A man does a type of interpretive dance to the music and someone else drums along on an empty wooden box.
There are children, young adults, and people old enough to be their grandparents. It’s late, but people’s smiles cut through the darkness.
Not only can you see the energy, but you can feel it too. It’s lively. It’s exciting. It’s Ukraine.
I first visited Ukraine in 2014. I was touring Eastern Europe with my Ukrainian dance group, and I stopped in Ukraine for a few days to visit family. I was there for only a short time, but moments like the one with the piano player on the street in Lviv are what made me fall in love with the country.
And now, after a few years, I’m back, and this time it’s for 10 months.
I’ve been to a few cities and villages so far, but I’ve spent most of my time in Kyiv. It’s a big city, so I’ve only seen parts of it, but what I love about it is that there isn’t just one Kyiv. There’s the sidewalk Kyiv, with cafes, restaurants, and markets. There’s the underground Kyiv, with kiosks, corridors, and metro stations. There’s the back alley Kyiv, with hidden bars, shops, and homes.
It’s different from home where everything feels so defined, so exact — this is the street where stores are and this is the sidewalk to get you there (a sidewalk with only people and no cars, that is — unlike here, which is something I’m still getting used to).
I’m here with six other Canadians and one American to study Ukrainian dance, living in a new city every two months and training with a dance group in each city.
I’ll write for What’s On each month, giving my take as someone who’s new to the country on the Ukrainian lifestyle. I leave Kyiv at the end of October then head to Kropyvnytskyi, the Carpathian Mountains for the holidays, Chernivtsi, Lutsk, and Lviv.
I’m one month into the “official” 10 months, but I’ve been in Ukraine for two. My Ukrainian language skills are not where I’d like them to be, but I’m taking lessons twice per week and practising with locals when I can (even though grammatically, I make next to no sense).
I haven’t been in Ukraine for long, but I’m already adjusting, and I know it will be hard to go back to the Canadian lifestyle — the lifestyle with expensive cell phone contracts and overly processed food.
And who knows, maybe I’ll end up extending my stay. People have “warned” me that their months-long stay in Ukraine turned into years long — and I think I’d be OK with that.