First impressions of Ukraine

Staying in a perfect flow part II. Coming to Ukraine. Last week I left you with the picture of me at an empty train station, kind of lost and not knowing where to go or what to do next. This moment was a perfect example of how crucial attitude can be. Especially in moments like this.

BlablaCar Incident

I could have gotten really mad at the driver of Blablacar who didn´t seem to care at all to leave a young woman at the train station in the middle of the night. However, the feeling of anger soon faded as I told myself I couldn´t change the situation anyways. Why would I stay upset when I would, in the end, only harm myself? So, I got up, threw my heavy backpack on my back and started my way towards the train station. Taking a closer look, it was still open, only the waiting room was closed. The trains where still going, tickets could still be bought.

I sat down on the floor of the train station next to a charger as my phone was almost out of battery and I still needed to look for a different Blablacar. But no matter how quick I texted the drivers, it seemed to be too late. At 2 o´clock at night nobody wanted to take on another passenger spontaneously. I didn´t get a single reply, so I finally figured I had to take a different means of transportation. As I was already at the train station, the train was the obvious choice. I bought a ticket which was cheaper than I had thought and went back wait for my train which was only leaving in the early morning. I still had the whole night ahead of me. Luckily the train station was equipped with a cafeteria which was open the whole night. Outside it was getting really cold. And I didn´t want to spend the whole night on the floor of the station. I sat down there, drinking lots of tea and coffee to prevent myself from falling asleep. As my train was leaving that early, I couldn´t afford falling asleep and missing it. I hadn´t slept much in two days now and was super exhausted, my head almost bumped onto the table several times. I still had a loooong time of waiting ahead of myself.

The journey is starting

Finally, the clock reached 7. My train was about to leave. I left the cafeteria quickly and was almost insanely happy when I could finally sit down in the train and relax. Now I wouldn´t need to pay attention for a few hours at least. I set my alarm and tried to sleep. Which proofed to be more difficult than expected. I fell asleep and woke up suddenly soon after, fearing to having overslept my alarm. So, no sleep again. Right before the Ukrainian border the train stopped and I had to transfer to another one. I got down and had to wait a few hours again. That time I was travelling with my ukulele and as I had nothing but time and not much to do I quickly unpacked it and started to play sitting on the floor of the train station – again. I played away my tiredness a little with the sun shining on my face and I was super content just sitting there enjoying a beautiful day. A few hours later the train already arrived and I was finally driving into Ukraine.

Again, I tried to sleep but couldn’t as I had to track myself on google maps to know when I was supposed to get off. Now I was entering Ukraine, a country I had never been before. When I got off the train and walked through the first Ukrainian train station, I was just looking around and absorbing everything. The station seemed quite old built out of dark wood. Light was barely coming through the very few windows. It was only then when I realized that I would not be able to read anything here as everything was written in Cyrillic – which I had never learned and wasn´t able to read. So, I wandered around a bit lost and tried to find a place to book the train to my final destination. That was more complicated than I initially thought as I was sent from person to person by the people behind the different counters. When I found a person, who could help me they didn´t really understand where I wanted to go as the place was quite remote in the deep countryside.

Unexpected help

However, I somehow managed to get the last spot on the last train this day and had a little time before it was leaving to quickly buy a simcard. I wanted to be able to track my way while being on the train and didn´t really trust my sense of orientation. Hopping on the train afterwards – which was very different from the ones I had been on before – I realized that it wasn´t working. I tried to keep calm and instead looked around the old soviet train and the old railway we were passing over. It had definitely its charm to know that there was so much history hidden behind everything I was seeing.

After a while, a man sat down next to me and started to talk to me

“What´s that thing?” he asked pointing to my ukulele.

“It´s a ukulele”, I replied and when he looked at me blankly I added “A musical instrument.”

“Ahh”, he mused. “You don´t speak Russian? You from America?”

I got this question a lot later on as well. If you didn´t speak Russian then you just had to be from America. I told him I was from Austria, a country not so far from his. We started to engage in a conversation and I told him about the Ecstatic Dance Festival I was about to go to. He had never heard about ecstatic dance nor the place I was supposed to go to. I explained him that the concept of Ecstatic Dance was to just dance and have fun without alcohol or drugs or any kinds of substances. It was simply just the music that gets you high. Now there was a festival going on right in the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains which I wanted to go to.

“You sure this address is right?”

Yes, I was. It was a place off the beaten track but the address was still right. He nodded.

“Not working?”, he asked pointing to my phone.

When I told him my simcard wasn´t working, he explained I still had to activate it – which I didn´t even know – and offered me to get off the train with him. That way he could fix my simcard and show me the bus I had to take to get to where I wanted to go. The man was a lifeguard and also told me about his work and his experiences. I was sheer surprised by his kindness and also the way he offered to help me. He just offered his help in a way as if it would be only natural to help. Which it is not – at least not where I come from. Another funny thing I remarked in this interaction is that he seemed rather cold from his way of talking – short answers, lost of questions. But I felt his intentions where only good ones. I felt that this was a person I could trust so I got off the train with him.

As soon as we left the train he looked for an automat to activate my simcard, which I could have never done by myself as it was all in Cyrillic which I had no chance to understand. In a few minutes he activated the card, then went on to look for a bus in the direction I needed to go. He insisted on doing so as he said the people at the counter would for sure not speak English. I also wasn´t sure about that so I was grateful for him to ask around. He then found me a ticket for the last spot on the last bus of the day – a black minibus not bigger than a van. He also made sure to tell the driver where I needed to go as the bus driver also didn´t speak that much English and gave me his phone number in case I still needed anything. I was incredibly grateful for how smooth his help made my journey. Now I just had to sit in the bus and wait for my stop – or so I thought.   

The journey goes on

In the bus people were looking at me curiously – as everybody already could see I was not from there. Still, for the most part no one talked to me which I was actually happy about as I was completely done from being awake for almost 72 hours at that point. I fell asleep and woke up countless times in the bus. The first part of our journey the streets where flat and good, but then it got worse. The streets where covered in holes and we were jumping on and off our seats for the rest of the journey.

I then was supposed to call the people from the festival I was going to, but couldn´t reach them. There was a thunderstorm going on in the mountains that night, so they where out of service as I learned later. Anyways, now there I was not really knowing where to go again. The bus got emptier and emptier and a young man slid into a seat in front of me and started to talk to me. He excused himself for his bad English but stated he wanted to practise – and indeed we could have kind of a conversation – with hand and feet. I told him that I would stay in a hostel or hotel that night if I wasn´t able to reach the organizers of the festival which he told the bus driver who agreed to bring me to a hotel close by as soon as everybody had gotten off the bus.

An unexpected host

When the bus was completely empty he drove me to a hotel. We check out an expensive looking hotel and I was already worried that this would be far out of my price range. Luckily they didn´t have any rooms left. So, the bus driver got a boy from the hotel to drive with us for a bit to translate between the two of us. He explained me the options I had now. We could look for other hotels or there was also a guesthouse close by. First we drove around but couldn´t find any other hotel. Both of us were already a bit desperate, when the driver decided to bring me to his parents’ house. I agreed and there we went.

When I got out of the bus and into the house I was greeted by his parents with “Guten Abend” – they seriously spoke German! In the deepest Ukrainian countryside, I had reached that one house where the father had lived in Germany for years and was fluent in my mother tongue. I instantly felt at home. The two elderly people showed me my room and the bathroom, then left me alone. I took a shower and then fell into my bed and slept like a stone. I was super exhausted from the long journey and slept for a very long time.

The next day I went outside and was already greeted by the mother who prepared breakfast and delicious coffee for me.  Then we started to think about how I would get to the festival – and the father of the bus driver offered to drive me. Which was a very good idea as I wasn´t even sure if I would have found the place without his help. It was a quite remote bus station from where I had to walk up a hill. After a little driving around and looking for the right spot, we finally found it. I was, again, so grateful for the generosity of the old couple, thanked him and went on my way.

What I´ve learned from this eperience

Until this day I can´t believe how incredibly smooth this trip went. Whenever I needed help it had just occurred, I had been guided to where I needed to be. I didn´t even had to look for it – the opportunities and people just came to me. And they exactly appeared when I was completely inline with myself and my surroundings which showed me how important this inner balance – and also trust actually is. A positive attitude is crucial as well and can turn around a lot of situations into a hopeful rather than a fearful or an angry state.

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