|Actually by this time Bob has made three trips to Ukraine. I helped him in all of his trips. The testimonial on this page was written after his first trip in 2002.
An open letter to men planning a trip to Ukraine
For those of you who are not independently wealthy or do not speak Russian fluently, Ive written this letter in the hope that you might benefit from my experiences. In August 2002 I traveled to Ukraine to meet two ladies with whom I had been corresponding. When I arrived at Odessa Airport I was approached by several men who said "Taxi?”. I had asked one of my correspondents to rent a car in Kherson and meet me in Odessa. She met me, but she hadnt rented a car - its almost impossible, because most car rental companies in Ukraine have been driven out of business by theft. She spoke to all the men and found the lowest price for the three-hour drive back to Kherson was $130. For that money you could rent a car for three days in North America!
My lady friend and I traveled around Kherson on public transit. It was very economical - only a few pennies per fare - but not very comfortable. If you remember M*A*S*H, you can picture the buses that operate in Ukrainian cities, with seat pads and suspension that have probably not been replaced since the Korean War. The fact that I know only a few Russian words didnt really matter while I was in Kherson. My lady friend could read and write English well enough. However, as I discovered days later, speaking English in public can be costly. One evening in a restaurant I noticed that the bill presented to the people at the next table was only a fraction of the bill presented to me. My lady friend passed a note to me: "Because you Westerner”. In restaurants and hotels, tourists from English-speaking countries are charged about five times as much as the local residents. Forty dollars seems reasonable for a hotel room, until you learn that a person who speaks Russian pays only six or seven dollars for the same room.
Preparing for my trip to Ukraine included making arrangements for traveling cross-country from Kherson to Sukhodolsk, where my other correspondent lives. Sukhodolsk is a small mining town with no hotel, so I booked a hotel 50 km away in Luhansk . I decided against rail-travel when I learned that it was not very comfortable and not entirely safe. Ukrainian Airlines was the only local airline I could find on the Internet, and Luhansk was not among their destinations. They fly into Donetsk, which is 3 hours by car from Lugansk. The Lugansk agency through which I met my correspondent wanted $250 for the trip from Donetsk to Lugansk ($125 for a driver and $125 for an interpreter), another $250 for the return trip, and $50 per day for transportation between Luhansk and Sukhodolsk. Add that to the airfare from Kherson to Donetsk, and youll see why I looked for an affordable alternative. I happened upon the Brama website and found the ad of an English-speaking driver with car offering his services in Crimea. I thought it unlikely that he would travel far from home to meet me in Kherson, but his rates were so low that I figured it was worth a try. After a few emails it was all arranged. Igor agreed to meet me in Kherson, drive me to Lugansk, act as my driver and interpreter for the next three days, and drive me to the airport in Donetsk. For all this Igor wanted only $600 plus fuel costs - very reasonable, especially in comparison to the alternative!
Igor met me at the appointed place and time. Consider that I had not sent him any payment in advance, and you will begin to appreciate the mans character. He is a man of his word, a man who is worthy of trust and willing to trust others. He is also a man who takes his responsibilities seriously and does everthing possible to fulfill them. Igor provided his services whenever needed, from 9 am to 11 pm, and his assistance was invaluable. When the hotel room arranged by the Lugansk agency lost its supply of running water, he found another hotel for me - at a much better price. When we traveled in and out of Sukhodolsk, he was undeterred by the miserably poor roads. While I was enjoying my final afternoon with my lady friend, he went off to purchase a bouquet of roses for me to give her as a parting gift. Just before we said goodbye at Donetsk Airport, he told me the best way to attract a Ukrainian woman is to send a gift for her child - and he was right!
If Igor had not been with me for the second half of my stay in Ukraine, my inability to speak Russian would have been an insurmountable obstacle. My lady friends English was as limited as my Russian. A waiter in a restaurant was the only English-speaking person I encountered. Without Igor to translate for me, I would not have been able to get information from or discuss various matters with hotel staff. I could not have enlisted the help of some residents of Sukhodolsk to locate my lady friends apartment. When I wrote a list of things I wanted to say to her, Igor taught me how to say them in Russian so that she would be impressed by my willingness to learn her language.
It was disheartening to learn that the letters I had received from her had been largely fabricated by the Luhansk agency. However, I was so impressed by Igors efforts to help me establish a real connection with her that I now use his translation service whenever I need a letter translated. I expect to return to Ukraine in August 2003. Before then I will tap into Igors knowledge of local airlines in order to spare myself needless lengthy stop-overs and midnight drives. I also hope to hire him as driver, guide and interpreter for the duration of my visit. I wholeheartedly recommend him to anyone planning a trip to Ukraine.
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