View from the Great Bell Tower Pechersk-Lavra

A nudge further east: Kyiv in December

People in Ukraine were surprised that I hadn’t yet visited Kyiv. It’s true that Western Ukraine has drawn me ever since I set foot there, one reason being that it’s where my father’s family and descendants are from.

But I was asked to travel to London to pick up a dog, and I decided I’d make the journey more interesting and go from Devon to London via Kyiv.

Illogical? Not exactly; I had a hunch that going further east would help me understand the west. You get a different perspective on something by seeing what it isn’t. I’d also been assured that members of my late father’s former in-laws, who lived in the city, would be happy to meet me.

The taxi from the airport made me homesick for the local bus from L’viv airport that weaves past the trams and ancient Ladas. Ludmila, sitting next to me on the plane, had warned me about Kyiv’s dangers, which I tried to take with a pinch of salt, but her story about an ex-neighbour found dead in the forest had set me on edge.

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Rustling of family ghosts: the bus to Starunya

“It’s like you’re going to the moon! A place with only a one way ticket.”

I was in the tourist office in Ivano-Frankivsk, trying to find the return bus times to Starunya, the village where my father was born in 1914. I already had the details of the three daily buses out, but no return buses were listed anywhere. The young woman was stumped too.

“I’m not sure if I can risk going,” I said. “It’s too far to walk back.”

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