Given my role as MLJ’s Financial Resources Coordinator, money was probably our top concern as we headed to Ukraine. Regarding how much to bring, follow the travel guide; we found it to be very accurate with no surprises. What a blessing! Also, don’t be shy about asking other families about their experience regarding expenses. We greatly appreciated the effort our in-country attorney takes to keep costs down for our living expenses while we are here. Ukrainian currency is “hryvnia” (pronounced GREEV-na). The exchange rate this month fluctuates between 25-26 hryvnia per $1.00 US. You will find banks and exchange booths all over town. Your attorney will assist you in the exchange process upon first arriving in Kiev. When you purchase items or exchange money, the proper conduct is to lay money down; it is not common to “hand money” to someone. Not a big deal, but it is an interesting cultural difference.
The most common expense for us has been transportation: taxis, hiring drivers, or the train. From our current location in Zaporizhzhya, it costs approximately 47 Hryvnia to go to the Ashan City Mall, where we buy groceries and eat dinner occasionally. We can call the taxi using our OTaxi app, and usually give the taxi driver 50 hryvnia which is about $2.00 total (see my previous blog to read about OTaxi.) Be careful what you say while in the taxi; a few times the driver revealed he knew English as we arrived at our destination! And speaking of shopping, you will pay for bags. The bags are handy to save and reuse to wrap items you might have purchased to take home. Or take an empty backpack with you so you don’t need to purchase sacks. Remember, you will have to transport all your purchases, so you will probably purchase fewer items but shop more often.
Google Translate will be your best friend, next to your attorney, of course. We have found it to be very helpful in communicating. When you translate a sentence, and the person laughs, you can guess it was a bad translation! Laugh with them and try again. We learned that Google Translate is excellent for Russian but inaccurate for Ukrainian. I also purchased the Lonely Planet Guide to Ukraine; it is fun to read about the cities ahead of time and catch a glimpse of their history or read as you go from region to region, and get ideas for stimulating conversations.
Don’t worry too much about items you might forget to bring with you, or need once you arrive. Everything is easily accessible; pharmacies are on every corner with a flashing Red Cross symbol. Do not over-pack simple toiletries that you can purchase here. Make your packing easy and light.
Your attorney will be your fearless leader! Allow him to do his job, and leave your expectations and preconceived notions at home. You entered this adoption journey through faith, and through the same faith you will maneuver through this beautiful and hospitable country. Be fluid; leave room for detours and changes should they be necessary. Rely on the experts who have guided many children to their forever, loving families. And be brave to experience a new culture in every sense. Your life will be greatly enriched, and you will have precious memories to share with your new child about his or her country of heritage. See you at home in the United States!
My second fear was the cold weather. I was picturing those old Russian movies where everyone freezes! What energy we waste worrying needlessly. The buildings are quite warm. You will spend a lot of time walking, especially in Kiev. Wear layers, scarves, gloves, and warm, comfortable boots. You will be fine!