On Saturday 6th September 2003 I left England for Ukraine. I had already spent time here during 2002 and early 2003 but this was the real thing. After selling my house and packing up my personal belongings into my Land Rover (plus a small trailer), I boarded a ferry from Hull to Rotterdam. Landing in The Netherlands on Sunday morning 7th September, I drove right across Germany and into Poland (before Poland joined the EU) and stayed the first night in Poznan.
The next day, 8th September I drove to the Poland/Ukraine border. Five hours is the longest I have waited to cross any border and the slow process was due the the Ukraine side. I’m sure the border guards and customs officers still thought it their duty to protect the old Soviet Union. I remember a female customs officer telling me ‘’You must pay.’’ Why? I replied. ‘’Because you have a lot of stuff she replied.’’. I refused to pay any bribe and said I would be happy to turn the car around and go back to the UK. She then asked me ‘’Where are the documents from your government showing that you are allowed to come here.’’ I was delighted to reply ‘’The UK is a free democratic country, I don’t need to ask anyone for permission to come here.’’ A border guard officer then asked to see the visa in my passport, which was a personal visa as opposed to a business visa after which they just waved me through and I was driving into the wild countryside and very bad roads of Ukraine.
It was getting dark so I headed to the small city of Koval to find a hotel. My first experience of driving around a city in the dark where street lights were not working and other drivers just didn’t bother to use headlights. Eventually finding the only hotel in Koval I was happy to discover they had a secure parking area with a security guard. I think the hotel room was UAH 100 per night (about $20 in those days). The room was the worst room I have ever paid for in my life but I was just happy to be able to have a safe place to sleep. I went down to the bar/restaurant to find food and drink. In those days they didn’t get many foreigners so I was obviously someone of interest to locals and staff. During a period of about three hours I consumed what must have been a half bottle or more of what they called cognac or whatever it really was.
I cannot remember what time I went to sleep but I woke at 6am sharp the next day with one of the worst hangovers I have ever had and was happy to find my Land Rover and trailer still in one piece. How I managed to drive I do not know. I found the road to Kyiv and off I went. A strange kind of road made from concrete. I passed through small villages and forest after forest after forest and started to get a little worried that I was not seeing any other vehicles in any direction. Had I made a wrong turn? I was to later discover that I had found the ‘old military road’ instead of the more up to date Lviv to Kyiv road. I didn’t stop for six hours. I used my own jerry cans to refill the petrol tank on the Land Rover.
Eventually the big city of Kyiv came upon me and by lunch time on Tuesday 9th September 2003 I was driving down Khreschatyk Street and I’m still here 10 years later 6th September 2013.