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Kiev or Kyiv Ukraine for Digital Nomads, Expats and Long Term Travel

Out of all of the amazing places I've been, Kyiv, or as you may know it, Kiev was the first that I seriously considered keeping a secret and not writing a travel guide about. It's not that I'm selfish, as the city is big enough to handle thousands more people. But it's because half of the enjoyment here is the difficulties of finding things, getting around, and the lack of information. Out of the fifty or so countries I've been to and the dozens I've lived in, Ukraine is still the most wild west in a lot of ways. It's one of the few places left to be explored as a digital nomad and there is so much to find and offer. Kiev makes you feel like Lewis and Clark. It's like being on an expedition to find places to eat, sleep, workout, and cafes to work from. It's also still exciting being a tourist here as you'll be surprised how many locals, even in the capital city have still never traveled or even met an native English speaker before. I won't lie, it's a cool feeling when someone is awestruck by the fact that you're from California and they geninely want to know everything about what it's like where you're from.

The other thing that makes Ukraine special is because it's currently so difficult to visit, it weeds out a lot of beginner travelers that need their hands held. The people here are tough, and so are the people who choose to visit this country. There are very few to no package tourists, selfie sticks, or first time travelers here. The lack of information, soviet past, reputation for danger, and the language barrier keep most people away, but the few people who power through it all regardless get to experience an amazing place in the making. It's like coming to Thailand back in the 1970's. It was an adventure, and getting off the beaten track was easy as it was the entire country. Kiev today in 2019 is on the cusp of becoming a popular tourist or even digital nomad destination, and in this post i'm going to reluctantly share with you some tips before you come, and places to go when you arrive.







First Trip to Kiev



Three years ago, I came  to Ukraine solely because it sounded like an adventure, and it was. During our yearly summer adventure which in the past has included walking across Ireland, driving from Barcelona down the coast all the way to Portugal, and visiting the Baltics, our adventure for the year was to travel through Eastern Europe by land. We started in Sofia, Bulgaria and traveled by bus, train and bla bla cars through Romania, Transylvania, Moldova, and eventually ended up in Odessa and Kiev after a few weeks on the road. That was 2016 and even though it was just a few years ago, things have changed drastically, some for the better and some things for the worst.

As bad as the English levels are today, three years ago it was 100x worst. I don't remember ever seeing a single menu in English or being able to communicate with a taxi driver, restaurant staff, or really many people at all. It was even difficult to get cash out of ATMs as many limited you to just $20 maximum withdrawal while still charging a $5 fee. I saw almost zero tourists from the US, Western Europe or Asia, and the only people crazy enough to come here were the Turkish guys.

It really felt like the wild west just three years ago, most people I had met here had never been aboard, and there was a huge divide between the millionaires and models I met through Sam's network of friends and everyone else I'd meet locally. Here is a short video of what I did and what things were like here in Ukraine back in 2016. I wish I would have kept or filmed more as it's only a glimpse of what it was like, but it was amazing.







Kiev Today in 2019



Now in 2019, things are different, really different. I'm currently sitting in a cafe with $7 avocado toast on a menu written in English with a group of digital nomads that I first met in Thailand years prior. There are laptops everywhere and even local Ukrainians are using iPhones and eating at these overpriced trendy hipster cafes. The country has since opened up allowing their citizens to travel to Europe freely without visas as of June 2017. It's now common that locals you'll meet here have been aboard and love to show it off. 

On the outside it looks simple, life is better for Ukrainians, they seem to have more money, freedom to travel, and nicer restaurants and cafes. Similar to why I love Chiang Mai, Thailand as much as I have for the past 10 years, Kiev is at a perfect balance now of still retaining its culture, local eateries, and low costs of living, while slowly adding more expensive alternatives like fancy barber shops, coffee shops, and cafes. The only problem is that with the influx of people, and even locals who are now willing to pay 500 uah ($20) for a haircut at a trendy hipster barber that serves you a glass of whisky while you wait, they've now squeezed out all of the cheap local shops who used to charge 50 uah ($2) for a no frills service. Sure these places still exist outside of the city center on the outskirts of town, but I remember getting a $2 haircut on the main street of Khreshchatyk blvd, and those places are gone and will never return.

Many people don't realize as it's natural to assume that nicer, newer and modern is always better, but what gives a city character and culture is the mix of old and new. That's the reason why I love Chiang Mai so much and what I still like about Kiev, you have old buildings next to renovated ones, local family shops next to new trendy ones, and a mix of Old Soviet and new European. My fear is that as Ukraine leans more towards the west, they may sell their soul to the EU like Lithuania did and turn their backs completely on their soviet past, losing all of their charm and becoming sterile, expensive and giving us no reason to live or travel here when we could just go anywhere else in Europe instead. Luckily, as of 2019, Kiev still has some of it's charms. Here's a video I filmed on one of my last days in Kiev to show you what a day in the life of a digital nomad in Kiev looks like.







Why Come to Kiev



To be honest, it's the transition that is exciting and magical for me and the reason why I think Kiev is so special. I wouldn't have wanted to visit here prior to August 24th, 1991 while Ukraine was still part of the USSR. And as much as I love adventure, I don't know if I would have come prior to 2015 as there wasn't a huge reason to. If you wanted to go to an expensive but beautiful soviet city, you can just go to St. Petersburg, where you can go to a world class restaurant with amazing service, surrounded by beautiful architecture, Russian women, and Soviet history. You'll also be paying close to New York prices eating out at $100 restaurants, and staying in $200 a night hotels if you want to be in the city center in a nice place.

It's a bit rude to say while is why no one usually admits it, but one of the main reasons people come to Kiev is because it's currently really cheap for what you get, and it's only cheap because of their political instability and the war with Russia. Prior to 2015, Kiev wasn't cheap, it was only because their currency fell from a value of 8:1 down to 26:1 that you were able to go to a 4-Star restaurant for 1,000 uah which used to cost you over $125 but now be exactly $100 less leaving you with just a $25 check. I also really do like the culture, food, easy visa policy, and the people, as I wrote about here in this culture post, but if we're going to be completely honest, if the UAH ever went back to 8:1 or if taxi rides started costing $8 instead of $2, nice dinners started costing $40 instead of $15, or coffees started costing $4.50 instead of less than $1.50, there would be very little if any reason to come to Ukraine instead of going to Portugal, Poland, Lithuania, Italy, or anywhere else in Europe.

The reason I come to Ukraine and the reason why many other people come, even if they won't admit it, is because it's currently an amazing value for those who are earning US dollars or Euros. Yes, it's also really exciting and a sense of adventure to explore a culture and meet people who have previously been so cut off from the West. Yes, I really do truly love the food, and culture, and before you ask, yes it is true that Ukrainian women are beautiful. However, I can also sadly say that if Ukraine ever joins the EU, Schengen Visa Zone and Euro, there will be less of an incentive to come here as prices will become the same as the rest of the Euro countries, and we'll lose our ability as Americans to stay 90 days in EU then 90 days in Ukraine. So come now if you want as I see the trend only going towards harder visa rules and higher prices in the future. Here's a video of one of my favorite things in Kiev, an outside gym built entirely with old soviet tank and industry parts. It's located in Hidropark and ins one of my favorite places in the city, but is sadly something that most modern Ukrainians in Kiev look down upon as they move towards modern indoor air conditioned gyms and rooftop beach clubs inside malls and beach side vacations in other countries.







Best Neighborhoods in Kiev



I made the mistake of staying near the touristy street of Khreshchatyk during my month long stay here two years ago. It's technically the center, and has tons of restaurants, shops and cafes, but it's also not real Ukraine. No locals actually live there, and it's really hard to get a sense of what local culture is actually like if you spend all of your time in essentially the Times Square of Kiev. Sure, you'll see Ukrainians there, especially on weekends or because they work nearby, but it's definitely not a place I'd recomend staying for more than a couple of nights.

Instead, if you're here for a week or less, I'd recomend staying in the district of Podil. It's the most walkable area of Kiev and is a charming neighborhood with a beautiful riverside, closed off streets that allow restaurants and cafes to have outside tables, and some really cool bars and restaurants such as the Podil East India company, and my favorite place to grab and drink and hangout in the evenings, especially during the summer when the weather is good Naprosecco Oyster & Co, a place where you can have bottles of wine for $6 or champagne for $8.60 along side $1.50 oysters and $2 burgers in a social atmosphere. Another great outdoor bar to hang out with friends or take a date is Pink Freud which has interesting cocktails and is overall a beautiful place to sit.  Also in Podil is the giant ferris wheel, really nice architecture, and a city gondola known as the Kiev Funicular.





The Giant Ferris Wheel of Podil


My Favorite Neighborhood



If you're staying for 2 weeks or longer, I'd highly recomend staying in a less touristy area of the city center. Podil is a great place to walk around and visit on weekends, but since it's a really small area, you'll get bored living there and it's a bit out of the way to get to other parts of the city. Khreshchatyk is too touristy and busy. The Golden Gate area is also a bit too busy for my liking, and while technically most of the places on the left side of this map would still be considered the city center, if you look at the green pins on my map for my favorite restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops, most of them are located in the center part with just a few exceptions. Also as much as I like working out at Hidropark, it's somewhere I'd rather go on a weekend than have to live on that side, called the left bank, even though on a bank it's the right hand side, as it's not convenient there to do anything else. 

That being said, my favorite neighborhood in Kiev is the area between Platz Sportu which is by Gulliver Mall, and Olympiska metro stations on or just off of Velyka Vasylkivska street. There you have a ton of restaurants all up and down that street ranging from Puzata Hata and Market Plaza (cheap local Ukrainian food), Rooster Grill (grilled chicken), Mama Manana and Georgia House (Georgian food), Melrose, Life of Wonderful People, Spelaya Kanareyka, Nam Modern Vietnamese (all nicer restaurants) and good cheap places like Noodle Doodle and Menya Musashi. 

There is also a decent gym called Interfit which is where I trained for around $30 for a month pass. The only thing that was missing was a good coffee shop to work out of around there so I'd mostly go to Aroma Kava or Happy Cake (data tethering only) if I wanted a cafe to work from near the gym. However in the next section you'll see the other options of places to work from nearby including the coworking space Lift 99. I lived at Velyka Vasylkivska St, 45 which was exactly in the middle of the street and was awesome as it was in a quiet courtyard but still just seconds from everything. 


My favorite neighborhood in Kiev
My favorite neighborhood in Kiev


Where to Cowork



Even last year when I spent a month in Kiev, I had a really hard to finding a decent coworking space. Many where in dark basements, overpriced office buildings, or were otherwise not what most entrepreneurs were consider a place they'd choose to work from. See my blog post on designing the perfect coworking space for details. Luckily, in Kiev there are now a few great options of where to work from as a digital nomad. As for my favorites, it would definitely be Lift 99 which is actually an Estonian company that started a branch here. It's the only space that really feels like a coworking space in terms of meeting other location independent entrepreneurs as well as remote workers. Plus they have a helicopter in the middle of their lobby as a meeting room which is pretty cool.  

As for cafes and coffee shops, there are a ton in Kiev but they often open and shut down so keep an eye out for changes as well as suggest new ones in the comments below. On this trip, with the help of Valery Pitiakova and her Coworking Days Kiev facebook group, I've discovered a lot of cool cafes to work from. Some include One Love Coffee above Pinchuk Art Center, The Journalist, Blur CoffeeCity-Zen, and ZigZag. But just join the group and meetup with them every Wednesday to explore new places or find places on your own and suggest them in the group. 

But my favorite place to work from lately has been at Anti-Cafes which is a cool blend of a coworking space and a coffee shop. Most of them are decently comfortable, are relatively quiet, have power outlets, low to no music, good internet, and are secure which means you can leave your laptop there while you go to the bathroom, out to get some fresh air or even to lunch. My favorite is the first floor of Chasopys as it feels most like a coworking space and has the best coffee, but also work working from is Biblio-tech which is the one featured in this video tour I made below.






Winter on Fire



A must watch to really understand the recent history of Ukraine and their fight for independence is the Netflix documentary, Winter on Fire. It takes place entirely in the city center, near Maidan, also called independence square, and is something really magical to see in person after knowing the history.

Without watching it first, you'll think it's just a nice monument and square, but if you know what has happened there, just 5 years ago in 2014, it'll really give you a sense of the culture and people of Ukraine. It's a really powerful and emotional feeling of seeing what people have just recently been through, then stepping foot in the same square.






Chernobyl 



If you've watched the HBO Mini-Series, Chernobyl, you can also make a 1 or 2 day trip there. I went a few years ago and enjoyed it, but would have liked it even more if I had watched the series first as to have known more of the history. The good thing was, it was less popular back then, so things are more expensive now and busier. But it's still worth going to if the series sparked you interest.

Prices are going up for day tours there since it's become more popular, but can still be had for around $120 for a day trip if as long as you book more than 48 hours in advance. If you book the day before, expect to pay $50 more. You can check out photos and more info from my blog post during my trip.

If you're looking for a good company to go through, I'd recomend SoloEast which is the company I went with, you can also search on Viator for all tours in Chernobyl and compare prices. Either way, be sure to book at least a few days in advance. Make sure you watch the HBO series and even listen to the Chernobyl podcast before you come. It'll make the experience that much better.







Things to do in Kiev



Kiev is a unique city where on one hand, there is technically plenty to do around here. But on the other, it's not quite as exciting as other digital nomad hotspots where you can go surfing, scuba diving, exploring waterfalls, mountains or jungles on the weekend. But still there is enough to do here where as long as you plan ahead, there's no reason to be bored here. The first thing I'd do is go on one or more of the free walking tours as it's a great way to meet other travelers, get to know a bit of the history of the city and get some local tips.

All of the tours are free, just tip your guide at the end based on how good the tour was and how many people were there.  But usually 100-200 uah ($4-8) per person is considered a decent tip, but you can always give more if it's a small group or they were extremely good. Get more info at Kiev Walking ToursFree Tours Kiev, or see a big list of new and alternative tours at FreeTour.com/Kiev. I've been on a few of them, and have enjoyed them all, so it's up to you if you'd rather go with a smaller group to get a more private tour, or one of the bigger companies.

A must see while you're in Kiev is the Mezhyhirya Residence which is Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian President's mansion, now open to the public and called the museum of greed and corruption. You'll need 3-4 hours just to see all of the outside spaces including his zoo. If you want to go inside the house, make sure you call ahead and book a tour as it's the only way to get inside. If tanks and soviet weapons are your thing, either sign up for a shooting range if you want to fire some AK-47's, or visit the Motherland Monument and the Museum of the Great Patriotic War next door.

On the other extreme, you can visit an authentic Ballet or Opera in Kiev for about a 10th of the cost as it would be in New York, with prices ranging from $3-$8 per show.  I also really enjoyed the Jellyfish Museum, which is like an aquarium with different types of jellyfish from around the world. There's obviously great nightlife at bars and clubs such as Caribbean Club, Chi, Closer, Indigo, UBK or Hangover, but it's no longer my style to go out late so I prefered nice dinners, live music, and going out during the day instead.


At the Jellyfish Museum


Live music on Khreshchatyk street.


Networking, Dating, and Meeting People



The hardest thing to do in Ukraine besides finding a place to live, is meeting people. There isn't a big digital nomad or expat community here, and unless you speak Russian or Ukrainian and get introduced through friends to locals, it's hard to meet anyone. Thankfully as of 2019, there is a growing digital nomad community in Kiev and even a weekly coworking days meetup every wednesday put on by Valery from No Office Anymore. As of right now, most people are only in town for a few weeks or a months maximum, but Kiev is definitely becoming more popular by the year with digital nomads, freelancers and expats. 

 As for meeting locals who speak English, you can try going to events listed on Meetup, Couchsurfing, or by searching on Facebook Events.

Dating apps such as Tinder and Badoo work with mixed results and are often filled with a lot of spam. Just be careful and look at reviews of restaurants or bars before you go anywhere a local suggests as even though it's not as common in Kiev as in Odessa, it's not unheard of to go somewhere to end up with a $600 check for dinner or drinks as your date as actually getting a hefty commission for bringing you there. 

In general, 99% of Ukrainians are kind hearted, honest people, and it's overall a very safe country, but it's still the wild west there so use common sense and don't get too drunk to protect yourself and your wallet. Meeting locals isn't easy here, and usually takes a few weeks at minimum to get to know people, and to get to have a decent dating life. Read my blog post on my thoughts on Ukraine's culture, economy and dating for more info. But to sum it up, you can make some amazing friendships and relationships in Ukraine, but only if you're staying for a few months or longer and especially if you learn to speak either Russian or Ukrainian. 


New and old friends at my birthday dinner
Coworking Wednesdays by NoOfficeAnymore

Overall Thoughts on Kiev



I have a love, hate relationship with Kiev and the rest of Ukraine in general. On one hand, I truly connect with their people and culture on a deep personal level. When I watched Winter on Fire, I had to pause it three times as I would find myself in tears of distress and sorrow for them and what they went through. They are a country of beautiful people, both literally, but also emotionally and I want to see them succeed, be free and happy. I also see them the same way as I would my little sister who wanted to move to the EU and start a new life, with both it's ups and downs. 

On one hand, Ukraine right now is perfect for outsiders as the laws are laxed, the visas are easy, as we automatically get 90 days for entering, and overstaying is just a slap on the wrist and an 895uah ($35) fine. Things are super cheap for us earning US dollars or Euros and life is overall really good if you have money and a US passport. However, that is quickly changing. Immigration is getting stricter with overstaying visas, inflation is over 8% a year which means things are getting more and more expensive, and even locals, especially those working in IT are earning more money which means things like a 500 uah ($20) haircut are becoming the norm, at least in the city center where most of us will live and hang out. Also for us who have been studying Russian Language, it's becoming less and less useful in Kiev as menus, websites, and signs are quickly converting to Ukrainian.

It's good news for Ukrainians, and I geninely wish them the best as it'll probably be good for their economy. But at the same time, the more Ukraine becomes like the EU, the less incentive we'll have to go there over places like Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Georgia, or Portugal. It's both a great time to go to Kiev as well as somewhere difficult to travel to and live in. It's not recommended for novice travelers, but if you're the type who's already seasoned, are very independent, and you are willing to learn or already speak Russian or Ukrainian, then it's a fantastic place to go. However, it's not a country I'd wait to visit or put on your future bucket list. Either go now, as in right now, while it's still good. Just compared to 2 years ago, things are already 30% more expensive, visa overstays are far more strict, and the sense of wild west (or east) freedom is diminishing. I hope it doesn't change, but if I was going to bet on it, things will be even more expensive by next summer and nothing will be any easier. So go now while you can, or look for the next Ukraine, I don't know if it'll be Albania, Cyprus, Slovenia, Montenegro, Armenia, Serbia, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, or maybe even a country none of us has heard about, but I guarantee there's a hidden gem there that is in it's golden wild ages. Lets help each other find it. 

Read Next:


Blog post on all of Ukraine

Odessa for Digital Nomads

Kharkiv for Digital Nomads




With Love from Kiev,


Johnny FD


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Post a Comment

  1. Have you been to Ukraine? Where's the most wild west or east you've been so far?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great report man. I wanted to go to Ukraine this summer but I'm sticking with Serbia and Bulgaria for now. Go to head back to China for work. I want to become location independent before I leave the Guo. All the best!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice! How was Serbia? It's a place I've been meaning to check out. Bulgaria is great as well, but you'll never catch me living in Mainland China no matter how much they pay me!

      Delete
  3. Love the post Johnny. Hope to see you there next year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed the write up! See you next summer!

      Delete

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