Day 48: 06/05/19
Location: Ostrytsya, Ukraine
Miles driven: 80
The dates for our Russian visa looming ever closer, it was time to leave Romania and make our way through Ukraine. If I am honest, my expectations were low. I envisioned lots of grey and not much else. Our borrowed Eastern Europe guidebook didn’t have much to offer us. Slightly outdated (published in 2011), the majority of the places it recommended are currently involved in the civil war.
The border crossing took 1 hour and 23 minutes. The Romanian side was very straightforward, the Ukrainian less so. It took ages of not a single car moving for us to work out what was going on. Here, instead of driving up to the window and handing over your passport. A person came to the car to collect the passports, and then to the other cars until they had a stack of 20 or so passports in their hand. They took the stack into the office and waited until all of the passports had been checked before returning them one by one. Everyone moved forwards about 3 car lengths where exactly the same process happened again (this time for customs) with the added bonus of the officers checking inside of the cars (for the second time) before taking the passports into the office.
Once through, the next obstacle to overcome was getting car insurance from one of the little huts just after the border. I waited in the car whilst Chris dealt with this. After another hour or so, he had established that you could buy car insurance for a minimum of 15 days, that it would cost €10, that they did not take card, and that the two ATMs in the petrol station across the road did not work. We had no cash of any kind except a few Serbian notes that added up to about £1.50. Chris tried to convince the car insurance man that this was worth €10, but he outsmarted Chris with Google. It was getting late into the afternoon so we decided to give up for the day, head to the nearest campsite and hope that there was an ATM between here and there so that we could come back and try again tomorrow.
Instantly Ukraine was like no country either of us had been to before. In Romania, the majority of people we met spoke at least some English, we could make sense of some of the Latin based language, and there was some European familiarity to it all. Just by crossing the border, suddenly nobody knew a single word of English, the writing was all funny, and the cars surrounding us made it look like we had stepped back in time by at least 40 years.
The roads were atrocious. Dirt tracks would be far easier and quicker to navigate. They were so laden with pot holes that it was impossible to miss them. Some of them so deep that pot holes did not do it justice – pot craters seemed more fitting. To avoid them, we drove across the entire road surface, trying to weave in and out of as many as possible. The other drivers were also going slowly, but not as slowly as we were, so we had to be alert for someone overtaking at the same time that we swerved to avoid another pot hole.
We followed Google maps to a campsite fairly near to the border. As we arrived, it was like we had entered a very strange Ukrainian Center Parcs. There were wooden huts, a few buildings still under construction, people cycling, a lake with more wooden huts, and signs for skiing. We continued to follow the road and saw a big cage, like at a zoo. Just as we said “this looks like a zoo”, four lions popped their heads out of a building and stared at us. It was a zoo. Eventually we found the campsite, but were not allowed to drive onto it. It was cold, wet and very windy. Parked up in the campsite car park next to the road, we spent the night wrapped up in our sleeping bags listening to the howling wind and torrential rain.
Day 49: 07/05/19
Location: Babyn, Ukraine
Miles driven: 118
A 45 mile round trip to an ATM, and back to the border meant that we were now legally able to drive in Ukraine. There was a silver lining to our return trip (other than driving legally); today, the same insurance cost from the same man cost only €5. We headed North-East.
Day 50: 08/05/19
Location: Cherepashyntsi, Ukraine
Miles driven: 153
A day of driving, with still no improvement in the condition of the roads. After 7 hours we had done just 150 miles. To make matters worse, Chris had banned me from napping, claiming that the roads are too dangerous for just one set of eyes to be concentrating. Rather selfish of him if you ask me. It was still very cold and very wet, the sky was grey. Surely the weather had to improve soon? Surely we won’t be spending our entire trip following the cold and the rain? Dreaming of the day that we complain because its too hot, we continued driving.