Ukraine Life Thoughts Travel

Trip to Ukraine. Why and How

I had no memories of Ukraine because I’ve never been there before. I had images of Ukraine and ideas of what Ukraine meant by following the news, reading the history of the country, interacting with Ukrainians, following closely the developments on the frontline (watching trench footage and drone footage), and donating to different causes (lethal aid). I had constructed memories, of the places I saw so many times in pictures that looked so familiar, but I didn’t see them in real life before. As I just come back yesterday from Ukraine, today I wrote this post – Trip to Ukraine. Why and How. Prepare for a long post, as I will share pictures and also stories of how my trip went. In the next few weeks I will share many more posts from both Ukraine and Poland, which was the transit country and where we spent 2 nights on the way back from Ukraine. I will talk about museums, share pictures from walks in the city – Lviv, Kyiv, Krakow, and, of course, food.

Trip to Ukraine. Why

There were two reasons for me to go to Ukraine.

Holodomor museum

First reason was to better understand Holodomor, its memory and impact on the people because my dissertation is driven by this, while the focus is on lying western media. I felt the need to meet the people that triggered my research. So, my visit to Holodomor museum was very important for this reason. Holodomor is not only remembered in the museum, but also in the pins one can buy from the gift shop or silver or gold jewellery in posh shops or in the decorations restaurants have or among the tributes they leave to their fallen. Wheat is everywhere in Ukraine.


Second reason was to volunteer. From the almost 7 days we spent in Ukraine, we went to weave camouflage netting 3 times. Practically each day that was possible for us to go, as the centre we went to in Lviv was not weaving on Sundays. I asked a Ukrainian before going where is the best place to go to volunteer as there are multiple centres and she recommended a big one, which makes 3 nets at the same time. They made so far thousands of nets, according to specifications by defenders. Weaving is not as simple as it seems, so having someone there who has  experience to teach and speaks fluent English was a must. This also means the centre we went to is popular with volunteers from around the world, including UK and Canada, and we were told that 2 people from Romania are volunteering at centre, but not when we went there. The centre is open 10 hours a day and we volunteered for 2-3 hours sessions.


This is how much we’ve done in the last session, just before leaving Ukraine.

Trip to Ukraine. How

First of all, Ukraine is fighting the russian aggression and while some parts of the country are much safer because of the distance from the frontline, there is no 100% place which is safe. I knew and I was willing to take the risks. My husband knew and he was willing to take the risks. We had an air alert app (I had help from a Ukrainian friend with details on various things before I went there, including which app to download). The app doesn’t use GPS, but it transmits alerts depending on the city or region which is set up for. This meant that the app started when we were at home in Liverpool, having a nice meal, the day before we left for Ukraine. It was a heart wrenching moment, as we were safe and it meant that other people were in danger. I was expecting the alarm to go on while in Ukraine, but hearing it in UK was very difficult.

how we got to Ukraine

How we got to Ukraine: we flew to Kraków, took a train from the airport to Krakow main train station, took another train to Przemyśl. From Przemyśl there were a few options, train or bus which were direct to Lviv. But the bus was fully booked and the train was a few hours away. There is limited service between the two. So, instead of waiting, from Przemyśl we took a bus to Medyka, on the border. We crossed the border of foot to Shegyni, Ukraine. From there we took the bus to Lviv.


While I was walking with my backpack and being a bit tired, considering that our flight was in the morning and I only had a few hours of sleep, I remembered the clip with the boy crossing the border on foot, alone and crying. It was the same border point, so I recognised it without knowing. This is the clip:

The boy was not alone, but with his family. The 4-year old Walerij was given sweets by the border officers in Medyka. I can’t remember if I knew at that time that the boy was not alone, but I remembered the crying child so vividly and it played in my mind while I was crossing the border. There was a child, aged 11, who got to Slovakia alone as his mother had to stay in Ukraine to help her disabled mother. That boy had his passport, a bag, and a phone number written on his hand.


From Lviv we went to Kyiv with one of the overnight trains. It is a 7 hours train ride, some a bit faster, some a bit slower. While 7 hours seems like a long time, I would have rather had a slower 9 hours train ride. We had a 1st class ticket on the way to Kyiv and a 2nd class ticket from Kyiv as the 1st class were sold out.


We had 3 air alarms while we were in Kyiv, but we didn’t go to the shelter, mainly because we were in central Kyiv and we knew that it was unlikely that we would need to take cover. Unfortunately, on the 17th, we heard the air alarm and it stopped quite quickly. Chernihiv was bombed. Chernihiv is in Kyiv Oblast, 90 miles from Kyiv. It had a pre-war population of over 250,000 and it’s an ancient city. One I would have liked to visit, but it was too dangerous. The result was that 17 people died and many more were injured, see here. This is the reason the flag is at half-mast.

Going back from Ukraine to UK was slightly easier. We took the train from Lviv to Przemyśl, but we had to wait there in the train for an hour before the Polish border guards could check our passports. The Ukrainian border guards were in the train and checked while we were on the way to Poland, which was very efficient. We had to spend the night in Przemyśl because there were no trains to Kraków. The following morning we went to Kraków, which is about 2 and a half hours train ride away. We spent 2 nights in Kraków because our flight was early in the morning. There are just few direct flights from Kraków to Liverpool. If we would have flown to London there would have been many more choices and we could have spent another night in Ukraine. As it was, we had to leave plenty of space in case anything happened and we were delayed.

new story about flights

This news was published on the day we got back from Poland. About 30 minutes after taking off from Kraków we were told to fasten our seatbelts. There was clear sky, so the only explanation was that we were targeted by the russian jamming from Kaliningrad. The pilot said nothing and I imagine few people in the plane had any ideas what was happening. I knew because I follow what is happening in Ukraine and what russia is doing. But, for people on a holiday in Poland, this was something odd. A couple of people didn’t understand and tried to use the toilet. As the sky was clear it was not obvious that we were in danger in any way.

Finally, I am going to share a few things that surprised me in Ukraine. First of all, many of the buses, including old ones, have card payment options (unlike Italy, where I nearly got a fine because I was expecting a card payment method in the bus as there were no ticket machines at the stop). It is actually easier than in Poland (I will talk about that in a post on Kraków). While the metro in Kyiv is limited, especially when compared to London, it comes fast and it accepts card payments too.

tea and coffee

There are more coffee shops and coffee-booths than in Italy, which is surprising considering that most of the coffee we order has an Italian name. What is even more surprising is that they have vegan milk! All of them have vegan milk and syrups, tea including bubble tea. We even saw a type of vegan milk which is not available in UK – banana flavoured soya milk. The flavour comes from real banana, not artificial flavouring.

Ukraine is incredibly clean. People use the bins and they are cleaners on the streets in the morning. There are signs of war everywhere and people are acutely aware that their country is fighting for its survival, but that’s not a reason for them not to clean the streets. Lviv and Kyiv are cleaner than big British cities, such as London and Liverpool.

Another thing that surprised me, despite hearing this from others who went to Ukraine, is that people are smiling. The staff at different venues was, in general, more friendly in Ukraine than in Poland, and people smiled. When we entered a shop or a museum we were greeted. Staff seemed genuinely proud of what they were selling and, even though it was obvious we couldn’t understand, they were talking about this or that item. It was lovely and, funnily enough, sometimes we could understand because of similar sounding words (in either English or Romanian).

What did not surprise me though is the people’s will to win. I saw plenty of people wearing patriotic clothing, like a T-shirt with the tryzub or a pin or having the blue&yellow attached to their backpack or handbag. I also saw many soldiers. Also, I knew that many in Ukraine are religious and the churches were always busy. I was unable to take pictures in a couple of them because it was so busy and I didn’t want to intrude in anyone’s private moments. While russia is claiming to fight for Christianity, Ukrainians are praying and the russian church is led by a former KGB officer (Kirill was a KGB agent, the same as his predecessor). This is something that conservative Americans should be more aware, considering that this kind of russian propaganda works in the US and in other European places too.

8 Comment

  1. First of all, Anca, thank you for doing this — for visiting, for volunteering, and for sharing this experience with us. I will be eager to hear the next installments and learn more about your volunteer work as well as your experiences. This is a fascinating post. I know how committed you are to Ukraine — so many of us are, but YOU are doing something about it. And I value that tremendously. The photos are interesting and your story both a little harrowing and inspiring. Thank you for this.

  2. I saw on Instagram that you had been to Ukraine and I think that you are brilliant! You have tirelessly supported Ukraine throughout the ongoing strife and to travel there and support their economy first hand as well as helping out is amazing and I hope that it really helped your dissertation too. It must have felt really emotional being there.

  3. I was excited for you when I saw your Instagram posts and knew where you were. It must have been an incredible experience! I look forward to all your posts.

    1. It was an incredible experience I agree. Crossing the border on foot and remembering the people who were fleeing the country back in 2022 was an experience hard to put into words.

  4. I saw you’d gone to Ukraine on your Instagram and I hoped you’d write about it. This is a really wonderful post, Anca. I salute you for going, and I think your camouflage netting is wonderful. I’m not in a position to visit Ukraine now due to family but I do try and donate where I can, and I reshare as much as I can on Twitter/X. I’ve read a lot of books on Russia and Ukraine, but it’s good to read a birds eye view from someone I trust as well. Thank you for sharing this. Slava Ukraini,

    1. Heroyam Slava!

      Thank you for your lovely words. It was an emotional journey and one I was in a fortunate position to be able to make. Donating and retweeting, talking about Ukraine, is just as important and what I am doing most of the time. It’s what I am doing as well and everything we do helps.

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