Short Escape to Ukraine. Day 1.1: Kiev for the Night

Modern airport, middle aged bloke with a hip Klitschko beanie hat, uninterestingly shaking hands with someone he’s introduced to in the currency exchange queue at the airport. Lots of neatly presented young women on their phones. Fat, grumpy, older women serving behind counters. Language may be a bit of an issue here, this isn’t like the rest of Europe where you can rely on the fact that everyone speaks a modicum of English. They don’t. I locate confirmation from Ukraine International Airlines that there will be no flight into Simferopol until April. So putting aside any forthcoming admin nonsense for a potential refund on that part of the flight and my hire car, am heading into Kiev. But I change up the £30 I had left in my wallet and move outside to locate the 322 into town.

18h46, 21.03.2014: Am on the bus. Clean straight road heading into central Kiev, about 45 minutes away. To all intents, just another prosperous eastern European city. Going to go straight to the railway station in the hope that I might be able to catch a sleeper south this evening or suss out what options there are. And surely someone there would know whether I’d be allowed into Crimea (‘Crim’ they pronounce it).

At the railway station I’m immediately accosted by various hawkers with alcoholic breath, I play hide and seek with them for a bit then queue at a ticket window after seeing that there’s a train that leaves tonight bound for Simferopol. After 20 minutes queueing I’m told by another fat grumpy lady that it’s sold out so I go down to the platform to see if I can just get on anyway. I once, maybe 1997, got a train all the way from Mumbai to Calcutta for free this way but no luck here. Every entrance to the train has a guard wearing a really large hat, indicating that they mean business so I retreat back upstairs for a ham and cheese roll (bonus: coriander), beer and a Bounty then queue for another twenty minutes for another fat and grumpy lady to see if I can get a ticket for tomorrow. With a bit of help from a kind woman who clocks the communication breakdown, I walk away a little later, ticket in hand. Looks like I’m going to Crimea after all. And this on the day that the BBC has as its headline: Putin Signs Crimea Annexation.

I haggle for a 40 hryvnia taxi (started at 100, thank you) to the Chillout Hostel not far away. Settle into a dorm, head to a 24 hour coffee shop for a couple of hours so find myself up until 03h20. The guy in the bunk below has obviously been placed there to test me.

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