Ukraine is a country for people who are not afraid of a little bit of ‘do-it-yourself,’ and a little bit of adventure
Ukraine Travel Guide from Kadie Ward who traveled throughout Ukraine dozens of times during the last few years
Hello and welcome to this week’s program of Ukraine Calling. I’m Marta Dyczok from Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. As always, we are bringing you a feature interview followed by some music. We’re going to take a little break from politics this week and look at the interesting things Ukraine has to offer for travelers and tourists.
FEATURE INTERVIEW: CONSULTANT KADIE WARD SHARES TRAVEL TIPS FOR UKRAINE WITH MARTA DYCZOK
Dyczok: It’s summer. Lots of people like to travel in the summer. More and more people are traveling to Ukraine. So, this week we’ll be talking about travel in Ukraine. I’m Marta Dyczok for Hromadske Radio’s Ukraine Calling and I have a special guest today, Kadie Ward. She travels throughout Ukraine a lot, and she’ll be telling us what it’s like. Kadie has live in Ukraine for almost three years. She’s working on this very interesting project called, Build Strong Cities. I want to ask you about your project, but first let’s start with this. For someone who has not traveled to Ukraine, and is thinking about doing that, how is traveling in Ukraine different from traveling in another country?
Ward: Great question. Thanks for having me on to talk about this. I’ve been living in Ukraine for three years, but prior to that I was traveling to and from Ukraine for work, so I had the opportunity to travel the country as a consultant. But then as a tourist I would just stay and explore the city and the country. What’s different? Ukraine is a country for people who want authentic experiences, who are not afraid of a little bit of ‘do-it-yourself,’ and a little bit of adventure.
There are some countries where people travel, like France, Italy, Germany, it’s very safe in terms of you know exactly what you’re going to get, and it’s predictable. And predictable is a double-edged sword, because it can be great and comfortable, but it also can be a little bit boring. You see the same things, you know exactly what’s going to happen. And that’s not to say that in Ukraine it’s unpredictable. But here there’s so much happening in terms of events, cultural expeditions, that there’s a lot of room for serendipity when you travel here. And for me, that’s the magic when you travel. When you show up somewhere, and you have an itinerary…
Dyczok: And suddenly you see something else!
Ward: Exactly! And it’s like that every time you arrive in Kyiv. Kyiv is so alive, in terms of festivals, events, concerts. Almost every weekend in my neighbourhood there’s something going on. And even as a citizen there I don’t know, because it’s promoted on sites I don’t see. So, you need to be open to going with the flow, because you will always find something unexpected.
Dyczok: And how do you find information? That’s a key question for travelers, how do you find out about these interesting things, events?
Ward: That’s a good question, because Ukraine is transitioning into a tourist destination. I think they’re realizing their strengths, so they’re starting to create these websites and portals where you can find information. For me it’s Facebook. Facebook is really big in Ukraine. Everybody promotes everything on Facebook. So, I would go in and look for events near me this weekend. Or look for events in the city that I’m visiting. And I found that very effective. Concerts. If you googled concerts in Ukraine, sites will pop up.
Dyczok: So, information is actually easily available, in English as well.
Ward: Information is easily available in English in most places, if not, google translate is fine. But it’s good that you raise the question of language. Because over the past three years I’ve noticed that English has become a lot more prominent. Whereas the Metro stations [subway, underground] used to just be in the Ukrainian language. And if you’re not used to the Cyrillic alphabet
Dyczok: You can’t read where you’re going!
Ward: Yes, and that’s a little intimidating. But what I’ve noticed is that now all the Metro stations in Kyiv, and other cities, have Ukrainian and the English equivalent. Which makes it a lot easier to move around. And a city like Kyiv, L’viv, Vinnytsia, Zaporizhzhia in the east.
Ward: Odesa. They’re all big cities. They’re used to tourists. So, English is everywhere. Even English speakers. You know, I’m learning Ukrainian, so when I go to restaurants they know that I’m a native English speaker and they reply to me in English. And I say no! I want to practice my Ukrainian. Language is not a barrier in the bigger cities. It gets harder when you go to smaller villages. But even then, people are so welcoming here, that they try and break down that language barrier.
Dyczok: You mentioned restaurants. When you’re traveling you need to eat. Tell us a bit about the restaurant scene in the country. Again, if you’re planning to travel to Ukraine, what can you expect in terms of the kinds of restaurants, the service? Are the menus multi-lingual?
Ward: The culinary scene here is probably top five bar none. I travel a lot. I travel to countries like France, Italy, Switzerland. The food is incredible! And in a big city like Kyiv you find diversity in terms of different ethnic foods. But different, if you’re coming from North America. Here you’ll get a lot of Georgian, Turkish…
Dyczok: Crimean Tatar.
Ward: Crimean Tatar food, which you wouldn’t get in other places. Of course, there’s sushi and pizza and pasta and all those things. But the Ukrainian cuisine, I think a lot of North Americans are familiar with it, the perogies or varenyky, holubtsi, which are cabbage rolls, borshch. But there’s so much more, in terms of the fresh vegetables, the way they prepare salads.
Dyczok: What’s your favourite Ukrainian dish?
Ward: Oh, my God, I love Ukrainian food. When I go home now to Canada, I can’t wait to get back to Ukraine! I need a good bowl of borshch and some salted vegetables. I love the salted vegetables, I think you should have them with every meal, they’re incredible. I love I love the salted vegetables, I think you should have them with every meal, they’re incredible. I love –
Dyczok: Describe them for someone who hasn’t had them.
Ward: Yes, so you know Ukraine is the bread basket of Europe, so fruits and vegetables in general taste better here, fresh. And because they’re so plentiful, people actually conserve food here. In North America we use a lot of vinegar to conserve food, and here it’s more salt – it’s like in a brine. So, you would take vegetables and you would brine them essentially.
Dyczok: So, they’re like pickled?
Ward: They’re pickled –
Dyczok: Pickled tomatoes…
Ward: Pickled tomatoes, pickled carrots, pickled cucumbers, onions, garlic, everything. And it’s really good, it’s very healthy, and it’s eaten here a lot with a food called salo which we don’t have in North America, but I love.
Dyczok: Salo, let’s talk about salo.
Ward: So, salo – I love it –
Dyczok: What is it? Describe it for someone who doesn’t know.
Ward: Well you know when I tell them their first reaction is not impressed. It’s salted fat, essentially.
Dyczok: It’s like bacon, sort of.
Ward: Yes, it’s like, imagine bacon, except they don’t fry it, they salt it, and they cure it, so it’s a cured meat. And so if you about, you know, Italians eat prosciutto, also a cured meat, the Spanish eat jamon, a cured meat. So it’s cured fat, so there’s usually more fat than meat. But it’s really good, and if you mix it with the salted vegetables, or bread, or fresh vegetables, and it’s rich and really filling. I love it. Most North Americans come over and they try it and you know they have mixed reactions, most of them, to the texture, it’s hard to describe, it’s kind of like cold butter.
Dyczok: That doesn’t sound appealing, so I will recommend to our listeners, when you come to Ukraine, try it, and then we’ll see what your taste is like because it is actually a very unique flavour. Some people love it, and some people don’t, but it’s something worth trying.
Ward: It is absolutely worth trying. I think anywhere you go you need to try the cuisine. But I’ll add on to the cuisine, that it’s really regional across the country, you’re going to get different dishes. In the Western Ukraine they have banosh, which is like a corn porridge but they mix it with bryndza cheese, which you can only get in the West, and then like bacon. It’s just absolutely incredible. And there’s different versions of varenyky which are like perogies. And across the country they vary in how they prepare it, so you can have different culinary experiences across the country, but all very high quality.
Dyczok: You set up this project that you travel with, Build Strong Cities. Can you tell us a little bit about that, because I think that’s what takes you around the country these days.
Ward: Yes, well I was doing consulting with Build Strong Cities, a company I started. I’ve worked now in 12 countries in 60 different cities. And right now I’m full time in Ukraine, with actually a project that’s funded by the Canadian government, and I work with 16 cities.
Dyczok: What are the cities? Actually, start with the Oblasts (regions).
Ward: I’ll start with the Oblasts. Zaporizhzhia, Poltava, Vynnitsia, and Ivano-Frankivsk.
Dyczok: So that’s regionally nicely representative, so you have East, Central, and South.
Ward: And West.
Dyczok: And West.
Ward: And South and West because Zaporizhzhia is South East, and we are in Berdyansk, which is on the Sea of Azov, which is really nice as a tourist destination. And then in the West we go you know, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kollomyia, Dolyna, and Ivano-Frankivsk, the capital there. So, I get to experience the sea, the mountains, the centre plains, it’s quite good. My project is on economic development with cities. And, actually, in a handful of our cities we’re helping to develop the tourism market.
Dyczok: What are the challenges in developing the tourism market? I mean what are the sorts of things that you’re working with?
Ward: A couple of things. Service sector in general is new here. There wasn’t a lot of people traveling around in the Soviet Union, now the market is opening up, people are coming in. People have expectations, and they’re different. So, we’re working with the service sector in a lot of our cities to make sure that hotels are set up and serviced in the way that most tourists, if they’re coming from Europe or from North America, what services you’re expecting. We’re helping them with promotion, just really identifying what sets them apart, and how to market and communicate that to people. So, we’ve set up for instance in the Yeremche region.
Dyczok: Which is in Western Ukraine.
Ward: It’s in Western Ukraine.
Dyczok: In the mountains, if I’m not mistaken.
Ward: You’re right. It’s near Bukovel, which is a very famous mountain resort area. And we set up an association of hoteliers. Because they first of all had a hard time finding staff, training staff and keeping staff. And to get the tourists there and service in properly you need the customer service. So, we are working with them to set that up. And the hoteliers – hotel owners, are working together to create marketing strategies, package, different tourist destination marketing, so if you go, you know Yeremche in and of itself is small, 7,000 people, small village.
Dyczok: Oh, charming!
Ward: It’s very charming. It’s along the river.
Dyczok: I’ve never been.
Ward: Oh, it’s gorgeous, you’ve got to go. But there’s so many little villages around there. So, they’re now packaging, you know Yeremche in and of itself might not be enough to bring you to the West, unless you maybe just want to be pretty still. But you could go a couple kilometres out and go horseback riding, go a couple kilometres out and have ecotourism in terms of mild mountain climbing, or in-depth really difficult, challenging mountain climbing. Do you want to just lay in a sauna and relax and have (banya) and enjoy, or do you want something really physical, to climb and ride horse and all those things? So, they’re putting together the packages to make it easier, for foreigners especially, to say, “You know, I want to go to the mountains and climb a little, sweat a little in the saunas and eat bryndza,” and then they’ll package it for you.
Dyczok: And how do people find out about this? This sounds fabulous.
Ward: Great question; this is also what we’re working on with them. Because there’s a lot of tour operators actually in the Ivano-Frankivsk region in particular, because they get a lot of foreign tourism, and so we are trying to find a way for these tour operators to come together and promote because we say that a rising tide raises all boats, so of course there is competition amongst them, but they need to come together and create the platform; there’s no one platform. From my experience, Facebook is the best platform in Ukraine. A lot of hotels or restaurants don’t create websites, they create Facebook pages.
Dyczok: So that would be the recommendation for someone who is thinking “I’d like to travel in Ukraine, I want to go to Yaremche and try the bryndzas,” so they would go to Facebook and just type in the name of the city or the food?
Ward: Yes, with the phrase “tour operator.”
Dyczok: Tour operator?
Ward: Yes, you know, with “Yaremche tour operator,” “Ivano-Frankivsk tour operator” or Google it, as well, and that’s where you get the info.
Dyczok: Now, you’ve traveled around a lot and you must have had good experiences and some adventures. What’s the most interesting or bizarre thing that’s happened to you in your travels here?
Ward: In Ukraine or around the world?
Dyczok: In Ukraine. We can do the rest of the world next.
Ward: Interesting or bizarre… For me, I like the unbeaten path. There’s one little village that I discovered. I work in a city called Kolomyia, and outside of Kolomyia, there is a little village, there’s two: Sheshoriy and Kosiv, they’re very close. And I decided, “Okay, I am going to Kolomyia, why not check out the villages? I am going for work, I’ll stay.”
And I went to a little village, and it was a little further out than I thought but that’s okay. I stayed in a little wooden cabin and I ended up meeting the neighbours – I was studying Ukrainian so I wanted to practice so I tried talking – anyway, it ended up being a really beautiful experience of them inviting me into their house and showing me how they live everyday life in the village, they have a cow, the way the woman makes her money, the woman makes sour cream and cheese and she sells it in the market. So, it’s really agrarian life, and for somebody coming from hyper-urbanized Canada, it’s really refreshing to just sit in a village to see people living off the land, participating in this sort-of barter market. The next day, her husband offered to take me to the local market, the Kosiv market.
Dyczok: It’s a very famous market.
Ward: Well I didn’t know that. And now, I think I am Kosiv market’s biggest PR person because I’ve brought bus loads of Canadians there because the authenticity of the products made there: vyshyvanky, rushnyky, wooden –
Dyczok: So these are embroideries and wood work that are sort-of traditional for that region.
Ward: Exactly. And Sheepskins, wool blankets – handmade, and I mean hand-spun wool, so these are amazing and this was not at all what I was expecting. And then he took me for a walk up the mountains and we got to the top of this mountain and in the middle of nowhere there was a little shack, and there’s a little old man there, maybe three or four people there with him.
Dyczok: What were they doing?
Ward: They were making cheese. There’s so much local knowledge that it makes sense to come and explore because I would never have found this – now I can take people there though, and I have since taken people there – anyway, he was making cheese by hand, brines of cheese, and so the way they make it, it is old, old school technology, he was using wooden buckets. So, we just sat and had a really relaxing day at the top of the mountain eating cheese and tomatoes, it’s just those types of unexpected things you come across here all the time. Now the irony was this guy who owns the farm making all this cheese, his brother lives in Winnipeg.
Dyczok: So, he could be exporting this wonderful cheese and marketing it in Winnipeg?
Ward: I had such a laugh because I thought, “I just climbed a really remote mountain in little Sheshoriy, outside of the Kosiv market, and met a guy who lives here, zero technology making cheese, and he’s got family in Canada.”
Dyczok: And you could Skype call him right from Canada probably.
Ward: As much as you go far away, you’re never that far from the familiar.
Dyczok: Technology is part of our lives now, and I was joking about Skyping from the mountain, but how has that changed or facilitated travel in Ukraine? Again, for someone whose coming, tell us a little bit about communications and what they’ll be about to do communication wise.
Ward: In terms of communication, IT, WiFi, 3G, 5G is readily available here. It is fairly inexpensive to buy a sim card and just pop it in and use it for the time you’re here, although you might not need it because WiFi is pretty much everywhere. If you’re taking the unbeaten path route and you go into the mountains, I would suggest a sim card, which you can buy anywhere, just so you have a phone number and can call in case they are any challenges.
Dyczok: So that’s pretty much like travelling in another country.
Ward: Yes, And there’s so many apps now. There’s one – forget the name, but if I give you enough information you can find it – it’s called My Private Tour or My City Tour. And I looked it up here, you would open it, My City Tour, and it geo-recognizes what city you are in. And there’s a list of people you could hire, it’s like Hire a local for a tour. I plugged it in and saw there were 15 or 16 people online. And I could order them, and they have an hourly fee, which is very reasonable in this country. And they would come and give me a personal tour of Kyiv. And that’s brilliant if you don’t know the language or the culture. You just go online, get the app. You’ll have to Google it, I’m sorry.
Ward: I‘ll try to find it. Because it was brilliant… I travel a lot, and I thought, this is cool! And it makes it all that more accessible if language is an issue.
Dyczok: Because if you’re in a foreign country, not knowing the language. The services are there. I’m going to switch the tone a little bit. There’s a war going on in this country. It only affects part of the country. This is something that people wonder about in terms of safety and security. Is this something to worry about when you’re considering travelling to Ukraine? What would you say about that?
Ward: It’s hard to say, because I don’t want to belittle the war or play down what’s happening there, because there’s still action, live action. But I would say that it’s very isolated. It’s very isolated to the region. I work in Melitopol and Berdyansk, very close to the two occupied cities. Even there you don’t really feel it. You feel it more because you see soldiers or trucks driving into the front. But otherwise you don’t feel it. It’s very, very isolated. If there’s any crime in Ukraine, I don’t know the stats, but it’s low. And I would say it’s very related to a specific thing. I don’t see a lot of random violence or random crime. A few pickpockets here or there, but you’re not going to see that. And the same with the war, you don’t feel it, and if there’s any targeted aggression, it’s exactly that, it’s targeted.
Dyczok: And it’s not targeted at foreign tourists.
Ward: It is not targeted at foreign tourists. Not in any way.
Dyczok: If you were going to give me your wish list – I have two weeks to travel in Ukraine – what would you put on your wish list?
Ward: Oh my goodness. Kyiv, obviously. And you would probably need at least, minimum three days here, because there’s so many incredible sights to see around the city. And then I would say Poltava. It’s a really remarkable city. The architecture there is stunning. You could do it in a day, two days. You could take a train in, and a train out the next day.
Ivano-Frankivsk. It’s super-charming, very dense city, with a lot of social-cultural activists, so that the down-town is very dense, very creative and remarkable history as well. So then if you’re in the west, I would say you need to go check out these little villages. My favourites are Sheshory and Kosiv, because I go there every year now at least once, maybe twice.
Dyczok: There’s a festival in Sheshory. Is that still happening? Some sort of folk festival, music festival?
Ward: I’m not sure about that one. The next place, I’d say if you’re already in the west, go further into Yaremche and Bukovel region, deeper into the mountains. Ivano-Frankivsk is Pre-Karpattia, just before the Carpathian mountains. I would say go into the Carpathian mountains, so you can really experience that landscape. It’s magic.
And then of course, L’viv. And on your way out – go up into the mountains, come back down, go into L’viv. L’viv is a gorgeous city, it was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then the Polish Empire, so the architecture there is interesting. And what’s also remarkable…Unfortunately during the Soviet Union, a lot of the older cities were destroyed –
Ward: Sovietised, right. They took down the old –
Dyczok: Architectural changes?
Ward: Architectural changes. Maybe it was too far out, or was too difficult to try to change L’viv, because it’s maintained this
Ward: But even more remarkable, it’s maintained this Gothic downtown. In Gothic cities everything is like a spider’s web. There’s a centre, and then everything goes out in circles. So, it’s really fun and easy to get lost in those old Gothic streets. It’s OK, you always end up. There’s lot of landmarks, so you just get a landmark and you know where you need to go. But it’s really cool to see what an old, old Gothic city would have looked like and how it would have been designed.
Dyczok: When you say Gothic, it sounds scary.
Ward: No, I just mean from that time period. Just the way that we used to construct cities in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.
Dyczok: So, lots of interesting places to visit, and it’s changing, and it’s getting more dynamic. And Kadie, you are contributing to that by the sounds of it.
Ward: Well thank you!
Dyczok: Thank you very much for joining us! We’ve been speaking with Kadie Ward, who knows a lot about travel in Ukraine. And we’ll post a link to her project website and all those interesting suggestions that she’s mentioned during the show. I’m Marta Dyczok for Hromadske Radio, thanks so much for listening!
Saltykov Band is a bard rock group that started playing together in Kyiv last November. They made a little video of their first studio recording and shared it on YouTube. In case you want to see them, we’ll post a link to it on our website. The song they recorded was “Ми більше не будемо,” which means something like, “We’re not going to any more.” Some of the lyrics of the song are ‘Existing is not living,’ ‘We’re getting up off our knees,’ and “We can’t keep quiet any longer.’ Here’s the song. Enjoy!
Join us again next week when we’ll bring you a topical in-depth interview and some music. So, tune in. And we would be happy to receive any feedback from you. Follow us on twitter, our handle is @CallingUkraine. Or write to us at: [email protected] This is Marta Dyczok in Kyiv. Thanks for listening.
Interview transcribed by Marta Dyczok, Nykole King, Caitilin O’Hare and Oksana Smerechuk. Music by Marta Dyczok. Sound engineer Andriy Izdryk. E-mail distribution Ilona Sviezhentseva. Web support by Andrew Kobalia.