Environment Health and Safety professional at LGM International, one of co-founders of MultiNations Kyiv, John Jones shares his impressions about life in the Ukrainian capital with Destinations’ readers.
John, you are the co-founder of MultiNations Kyiv. Tell us about this community, please.
I have been the ambassador of InterNations in Kyiv for several years. During that time our organization grew from about 30 regular attendees to near 200 at each event. I had two great partners who brought in new ideas and energy. Frydays Afterwork took these ideas and created their own brand.
Emmanuel Lowe and John Jones
Since my partner and I left InterNations, our Kyiv community still wanted to meet and remain connected to each other. So I was asked to create a new community. Together with Emmanuel Lowe we started MultiNations.
This not-profit organization serves as a second family for expats. We currently have about 2000 active members in Kyiv. Our goal is to connect locals and expats to make life in Kyiv more interesting. We plan and organize number of events each month to give our community time together in a cozy environment. This aids in making new friends and deeping friendships.
Normally we try to have two networking events and one dinner each month. We also add something special for the changing seasons such as a boat cruise or a picnic. MultiNations cooperates with other groups to increase the opportunities for people to meet and mix. Our events are free to enter.
What other communities (except those, mentioned above) for expats do you know in Kyiv and what are the differences?
There are many other communities operating in Kyiv:
British Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce
Cocktails and Connections
and many more…
My favorite is BUCC as they are serious about business and our community and their membership fees are very low. Party entry is free.
Do you think that Ukraine is friendly with expats and foreigners nowadays and how was it about 5 years ago?
Kyiv is a very friendly city. Locals are welcoming and helpful. Maybe it has become friendlier since Maidan. Ukraine is famous for great hospitality. After Maidan started and Crimea was taken by Russia, many expats and foreigners left Ukraine due to security risks and poor business climate. So, I would say that the country is friendlier than any time I have seen with possibly the exception of the EuroCup in 2012.
Do you see any progress in terms of comfort for a foreigner in Kyiv today? What would you like to change for better?
Life in Kyiv for expats is pretty comfortable. Almost everything is available these days. Not like 10 or 15 years ago. Most expats do not have to live on a local salary so prices are reasonable for us.
I would like to see the metro system expanded to cover the city better. Also there should be improvements in the roads and traffic patterns. This could also relate to parking....
I would also like to see the rule of law evenly enforced. There seems to be lots of special people who do not abide by the rules and laws. I would like to see more of the city parks improved; more green grassy areas, more playground equipment, old benches repaired or replaced.
What are your preferable destinations in Ukraine except Kyiv and why?
I used to love to spend time in Crimea. I like to be near the sea and I like mountains. Both are here. I enjoy the Trans Carpathian mountains also and all the areas around Uzhgorod and Ivano-Frankivsk. Lviv is also great.
Close to Kyiv, I like the Cherkassy oblast. There are beautiful farmlands.
I have not spent much time in the east, only in Donetsk and Kharkiv. I enjoyed both. Of course, Odessa is a special place. Feels a bit like the Wild Wild West. Anything can happen.
Stuart McKenzie and John Jones
Do you think is it easy for a foreigner to get used to Ukrainian traditions and mentality?
Western expats and foreigners have many of the same or similar traditions to Ukrainians, so the adjustment is pretty easy. There is a period of culture shock around the 3rd or 4th month in country, but the transition is easier than, say, in Asia or Africa.
Ukrainians mentality vary by generation and locations. You can still find a bit of the Soviet Union over here, but Ukraine is becoming more Western/European each day.
People in Ukraine want to enjoy their life, so it is easy to join picnics and events. There is always an invitation to some concert or wedding or birthday. Life in Ukraine is never boring. And there is a lot of good food!
Was there anything really surprising or strange for you in Ukrainian culture?
I have been in Kyiv for about 17 years and in Russia before that, and in the USSR before that… I guess there is not much that surprises me anymore.
Maybe the over-protectiveness of the Babuski… (old women)…. Such as wear a hat or put on a coat or don’t sit there or you need to eat this....
What do you think about Ukraine in terms of European integration in the nearest future? Do you believe in Ukraine as a country with big potential?
Ukraine is becoming more a part of Europe as a whole with each passing day. It is a natural part of Europe and it can provide many of the things Europe needs. Ukraine could probably be self-sufficient if it wanted but integration of Ukrainian economy with Europe is only natural and beneficial for both Ukraine and Europe. International business and trade creates opportunities for national wealth and new jobs. Ukraine has big potential in so many areas like natural resources, farming, manufacturing, heavy industries, higher education, shipping.... All is in Ukraine. I think this country has the best possible combination for investment and development for business.
What would you advise to a foreigner who wants to visit Ukraine for the first time?
I would recommend the first time visitor to do a home-stay/cultural exchange with a host family. There are many local customs and family life that a foreigner will never see if staying in a hotel or rented apartment. By staying with a family for the first visit a person will capture much more of what it means to be Ukrainian and will develop more empathy than if staying in a hotel. Also I would encourage traveling to at least 3 cities for minimum of 3 days each. Every city has its own flavor. Spend some time in nature - mountains and sea and forests. Take a river cruise in each city if possible. Visit the open markets and look at the fish, fruits, and vegetables on sale. Walk as much as possible. Take an overnight train. Try to live as close to Ukrainian level as possible. Discover Ukraine from inside-out, you will not regret!
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak