Maverick Traveler

Location Independence, Geo Arbitrage, Individual Freedom

Ukrainian Culture Is The Complete Antidote Of Western Entitlement, Fakeness, and Feminization Of The Modern Society

Ukrainian culture and mentality are truly special. I’ve lived all over the world and, while a few countries stand apart as very memorable (e.g., Brazil), there was always something that drew me to Eastern Europe, and specifically Ukraine.

Something about the beautiful cities, the rough winters, and the super stoic people.

Now, of course, it can be something deep in my psyche. After all, I grew up here. My relatives are all hardcore Eastern Europeans.

And, so for the longest time, I spent time thinking about what exactly it was that drew me to this part of the world. Why is that, that the longer I live here, the better and stronger I become—both physically, emotionally and mentally?

Why is it that the longer I live here, the calmer and relaxed I become with myself, other people and life in general?

Why is it that every time I visit my family in New York, I can’t wait to catch a flight back after just a couple of weeks?

I spent the summer this year living in 2nd-tier city of Dnipro, Ukraine. It was my first time there, and I finally took an invitation from a good friend who wanted to show me around.

Dnipro is what I call a “hard” Eastern European city. In this respect, it’s a bit rough around the edges.

While people are relatively friendly, it’s a far cry from Kiev where people are mostly courteous and at least greet each other; in Dnipro that doesn’t happen very often.

It was during my time living in Dnipro that I better understood my attraction to this region as a whole.

The first time this happened was when I was walking alone one of the semi-main streets. I walked along this street regularly to buy groceries and work at a cool coffee shop. In front of me was walking rather big and well-built guy. He looked to be rather important.

In front of him, there were walking several women, there were also several people walking behind me.

About 15 mins into my walk, the guy in front of me approached one of my favorite restaurants in the city. It was an Italian restaurant that I used as my first-date spot and enjoyed wine with countless women.

For some reason, the owner of the Italian restaurant decided to block off the entire part of the sidewalk facing the restaurant. They didn’t seem to be fixing anything, they just blocked it off.

As a result, everyone had to take a detour and walk along the road in order to keep walking to the destination.

What’s interesting about this is that not a single person made a fuss about it. Everyone just kept busily walking to the destination as though absolutely nothing had happened.

I found that rather interesting.

My first thought was to imagine what would happen if something like occurred in a big American city like San Francisco or New York.

Imagine the reactions of the people walking, say, along some street in Manhattan when some restaurant decided to block it off—without permits or anything.

People would be upset. They would feel this is unjust. They would alert the media. They would alert the city department. They would want the restaurant to be punished. They would want something to be done.

Not in Ukraine. 

People kept walking because they didn’t care and because, most importantly, they had somewhere else to be.

A few weeks later, the city decided to raze down the sidewalks on both sides of the same street in order to build new ones.

The result: people had no choice but to walk along the road, sharing the road with other cars and hoping they wouldn’t get by passing cars.

I must admit that was definitely poorly planned and executed from the city’s side. No Western city in their right mind would simply raze down the sidewalks and begin construction without at least creating a safe passageway for the city’s inhabitants.

But this isn’t Copenhagen or Oslo; this is Eastern Europe. And, in this region of the world, people do what must be done without being too concerned about the “proper” way of doing it.

This reminds me what happened when I was in Sofia, Bulgaria a few years ago. I was having a late dinner with my Airbnb host when we noticed a German girl sitting alone at one of the tables in front.

She couldn’t understand the menu so my friend volunteered to help her out and translate.

She eventually joined our table, and one of the first things she asked was why there were so many stray dogs roaming around Sofia. She wanted to know why aren’t there various shelters that would take in the dogs and offer them for adoption.

“Because this is Bulgaria and we have much greater problems than helping stray dogs,” instantly answered my Bulgarian host.

Most importantly though, this came from a German girl; Bulgarians don’t really care about stray dogs. None of them (except for maybe a few hipsters who are studying in Western schools) are making a fuss and demanding a revolution because dogs aren’t being treated better or because a city decided to raze down the asphalt on a busy street.

This is Eastern European mentality. 

And I absolutely love it.

People don’t concern themselves with petty matters. People don’t get offended easily. People don’t get triggered. People only care about things that directly affect them or their loved ones.

This mindset influences everything – from how people deal with all kinds of issues, to how they deal with each other, including the people they know and don’t know.

There’s one rule that I learned while living here: Eastern Europeans would typically never start shit with someone they don’t already know. 

Of course, exceptions do apply and people have been known to be beaten up in the middle of the night, but those are mostly exceptions to the rule. You’re much more likely to get in a fight with a random person on an F train in Brooklyn than in some Soviet-looking neighborhood in Kiev or Moscow.

It’s breathtakingly refreshing that people just keep to themselves and worry about their own problems than trying to change the world through Western-sponsored revolutions that nobody needs.

In fact, that’s one enormous benefit of living in a foreign country: the country where you used to live gradually becomes foreign. As a result of living in Ukraine for about 3-4 years, seeing all of these feminists, white knights, and other righteous assholes loaded to the brim with entitlement behave the way they do seem puzzling and confusing.

Returning to America and seeing people make a fuss over something mundane that has even less to do with their actual livelihood defies any kind of common sense and purpose.

It’s almost like every person is fighting something else for some confusing belief and everyone else is caught in the crossfire. 

When one of my articles went viral a few days ago (it happens often), a barrage of people left me angry comments both on the article and my Facebook page.

At the peak, there were over 350 people viewing the content at the same time. 

Understandably, almost all of the comments were from women upset over something I had written (when I’ve never written anything remotely sexist in my life).

Naturally, most of these visitors hailed from Western countries such as the USA, Canada, UK, and Scandinavia.

Can you guess how many angry women were from Moldova, Ukraine, Russia or Belarus?

Zero.

None. 

I know and understand these women. They’re too busy worrying about things that concern them personally: work, finding a great husband and starting a suitable family—not what some random guy wrote on the Internet.

When I lived in the USA, I was used to people leaving angry comments on some of the things I’ve written.

But, now that I’ve fully disconnected myself from the Western culture, seeing people leave such comments is a complete joke. And the joke is on them because it’s not their own beliefs that are responsible for their behavior; it’s someone else’s beliefs that hijacked what they truly believe in and directed them against people like me.

They have no idea what kind of fools they’re making of themselves.

The whole thing lasted about two days and the entire army of angry people has now vanished (as predicted), probably having moved to a new target.

Now, you may be thinking that the fact that I like Eastern European culture means that’s just my opinion and that every culture comes with its pros and cons.

And, while, that’s certainly a valid point, there are plenty of things that are broken here in Eastern Europe, but the fact that people don’t get caught up in random ideologies—at least normal, everyday people—I would argue is actually a pretty awesome thing.

Why should another man attack me for my political beliefs (or lack of them)?

Why should a woman attack me for something that I’ve written even though nothing I’ve ever written has ever been even remotely sexist?

This is why I like Eastern Europe so much. Talking to people is so refreshing because what they express are, for the most part, their own beliefs—not a mouthpiece for another greater agenda that’s working hard on dividing people instead of uniting them.

And this is why I find it so refreshing watching people walk straight to the destination ahead instead of being distracted with the things happening around them. The rest of the world can learn quite a bit from the Ukrainian culture and mentality.

11 Pros And Cons Of Eastern Europe vs. Latin America

Dateline: Kiev, Ukraine

I’ve now spent a combined 10 years living in both Latin America and Eastern Europe. I initially spent about five years living all over Latin America in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina. Then, I arrived in Eastern Europe, where I lived for about six years now on and off. I started out in Lithuania, where I spent about two years, followed by Ukraine where I have spent the last four.

Eastern Europe is one of my favorite regions of the world. Obviously, I’m a bit biased because I’m an Eastern European myself, born in the beautiful Odessa, Ukraine.

But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Latin America. I miss the region a lot. I miss its variety of music, its colorful food, the warm and super friendly people and even its great year-round weather.

Just the other day, in one of the big parks here in Kiev, Ukraine, they had a Latin night where people were dancing and enjoying Latin music such as salsa, bachata, merengue, and cumbia.

What both regions have in common is that they’re firmly outside the West. That makes them not only more affordable but much more enjoyable as well.

Nevertheless, there are crucial differences as well that you must take into account before making your decision.

The Pros of Eastern Europe 

Eastern Europe is much safer

Latin America varies from being rather dangerous and unpredictable (Rio de Janeiro) to relatively safe and predictable (Medellin, Bogota). Rio de Janeiro is one of those cities where anything and everything can happen to you in an instant.

When I lived there, many of my friends were robbed in broad daylight while they were just minding their business and going about their day.

Even the relatively normal cities like Mexico City and Buenos Aires aren’t entirely safe. Mexico City isn’t as dangerous as Rio de Janeiro, but it’s nowhere near a completely safe city. Buenos Aires, on the other hand, has gotten much more dangerous over the last several years.

In Eastern Europe, you never experience this sort of unpredictability. Cities like Kiev, Moscow, Minsk, and Vilnius, just to name a few, are completely safe to walk around them during the day and night—provided you use common sense and stick to well-lit streets in good neighborhoods.

Eastern Europe is cheaper

When I initially moved to Latin America, I thought I had it good. I remember my $10 lunches and my $15 dinners in Rio de Janeiro. I also remember renting a decent apartment for $750/mo in the famous Copacabana neighborhood a few blocks away from the famous beach of the same name.

That sure was a hell of a lot cheaper than my overpriced life in San Francisco, which I had just escaped a few months before.

Little did I know that Latin America was still relatively expensive and that a much cheaper lifestyle awaited me years down the road.

When I moved to Lithuania, I rented a decent apartment in the capital of Vilnius for only $350/mo. Correspondingly, my expenses were also half of what they were in Latin America.

Here in Kiev, I rent a great apartment for a bit more than that, but still enjoy amazing $3-4 lunches and $8 dinners. 

Of course, comparing Eastern European cities to a city like Rio de Janeiro, which is a relatively expensive city, isn’t exactly fair, but even when I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, my expenses were still higher there than what I’m currently spending here in Eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe is a little more organized

This is probably close, but Eastern Europe is still Europe, so it’s slightly easier to get things done when it comes to dealing with businesses and government. Things like residencies and various permits are easier and more straightforward than in places like Argentina and Brazil.

Brazil is a bureaucratic nightmare. There’s always a “jeito” or a specific way of getting things done and it’s never by the book or law. Other Latin American countries—Chile being the notable exception—work the same way. 

Of course, Eastern Europe is far from having the efficiency of Denmark or Norway, but it’s still more organized than Latin America.

Eastern Europe is culturally and historically richer

Eastern Europe is home to such talented writers like Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov just to name a few. This region also endured several wars and close to a century of communism. Walking around central Kiev, Moscow or St. Petersburg and being surrounded by beautiful architecture, you can’t deny that you’re somewhere very special. There are tons of cultural stuff that one can do: visit world-class theaters, watch plays, enjoy a magnificent opera or ballet.

Of course, Latin America has its own history and the beauty of, say, Mexico City’s downtown gives any other city a run for its cultural money. Still, it’s hard to deny that cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg are “grander” than pretty much any Latin American city. They just can’t compare. (If you haven’t been to St. Petersburg, you haven’t been to Europe. That city makes all the other capitals seem like provincial villages).

The pros of Latin America

Latin America has better food

This is a big one. Eastern Europe—and I’m speaking for the entire region composed of many different countries—has very bland food. It’s all the same. There’s meat, potatoes, various soups consisting of meat and potatoes and a bunch of other meals consisting of meat and potatoes. Every country has its own combination of the above that it calls its “native cuisine.”

On the other hand, Latin America has an entire array of different and exotic foods. From Mexico to Colombia, from Argentina to Brazil, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to exciting every single one of your taste buds.

From Mexico’s tacos to Brazilian “churrascaria” to Buenos Aires’ amazing steaks, there’s bound to be a meal that will please just about anyone, even the pickiest eaters.

Latin America’s languages are easier to learn

Latin America’s two main languages are Spanish and Portuguese, not only are these languages closely related to each other, but they’re also one of the easiest languages to learn out there. 

Eastern European languages, by contrast, are much harder. For example, Russian, according to many experts, is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. So are Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian. 

If you’re not gifted with languages or just want an easier language to pick up, you’re much better off going to Latin America.

Latin America has much better weather

When it comes to weather, Latin America simply rocks. You decide what kind of weather you want. Do you want hot tropical weather? Do you want eternal spring weather? Or do you want a mix of the two?

The only thing you can’t have is snow. Which, if you ask me, is perfectly fine.

When I lived in Medellin, I enjoyed spring weather year round, every single goddamn day. It was unreal to never have to worry about wearing the right clothes because it was always 25 degrees.

On the other hand, if you’re thinking about moving to Eastern Europe, you better enjoy the snow. You’re going to be seeing lots of it. While southern coastal cities don’t have unbearable freezing temperatures, once you go up to Kiev and above, things get very cold quick. Moreover, the winter days become super short and cloudy which explains why northern countries such as Lithuania lead the world in suicides. (I lived there for two years, and I still don’t know how I managed to get through the winters unscathed).

Latin America has much better beaches

I suppose this is a corollary to the previous point, but if you love to relax, there are no beaches like Brazil’s Atlantic Ocean shores or even better—the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Venezuela (and even the Caribbean islands), which I consider to be one of the best beaches in the world.

Geographically, Eastern Europe doesn’t really have many great beaches except those by the Black Sea, including the beautiful Odessa, Ukraine, as well as other beach destinations in Romania and Bulgaria.

Most Eastern Europeans choose to fly to places like Turkey and Egypt instead (plus, of course, Southern Europe). 

Latin Americans are much friendlier

When I lived in Rio de Janeiro, I always had a feeling that I can pretty much stop anyone and begin a conversation with them. That was how friendly the culture was.

Obviously, Rio de Janeiro is definitely friendlier than other Latin American cities, but, as a whole, Latin America, is much friendlier than Eastern Europe.

There’s no city in Eastern Europe where you could be walking on the street and readily strike a conversation with anyone else. Never. That’s just not going to happen. People will think you’re weird and strange. They might even take it the wrong way.

Generally, it’s much harder to connect with people and befriend them in Eastern Europe than in Latin America.

Latin American women are more sensual

I suppose this is up for debate, but I believe that Latin American women are more sensual than their Eastern European counterparts. Of course, this is nothing to take away from EE women, which are stunningly beautiful. 

Latin American women are also friendlier and more open than their EE counterparts.

Latin America is closer to the USA 

I know most of my readers hail from the great USA, and obviously living in a place like Medellin, Colombia with its several-hour-flight from Texas is ideal for someone with family or friends back home. Not to mention there’s not much of a time zone difference between the entire continent and USA/Canada.

Since I have family in New York City, I dread every time I have to fly back and endure a 10-hour flight from Ukraine. Moreover, there’s also an insidious pain of adjusting to the new time zone (it’s more difficult flying to Ukraine, though).

If you don’t need to be in the US often, then this is generally not a problem.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it. While Latin America wins on points, both of these regions are so different from each other that deciding where to go depends on what’s more important to you and your lifestyle.

How To Negotiate An Airbnb Discount

I vividly remember when I had just moved to Brazil and spent the first week or so walking around different buildings and asking the doormen in my broken Portuguese whether there were any vacancies.

Ah, the good old days.

Airbnb fixed that annoying problem for the most part. I’ve used it exclusively for booking short-term stays as well as long-term stays ranging anywhere from a weekend to several months all over the world.

One problem with Airbnb is that since it’s so widely accessible, the prices of the listings are typically higher than one can get by going straight to the owner or by booking through local sites. Plus, there’s the hefty Airbnb commission on top of that’s usually passed over to you.

The flip side is that because the prices on Airbnb are so inflated, that means there’s a lot of room discounts, especially for longer stays.

Here’s how you negotiate an even bigger Airbnb discount.

Contact the owner

Don’t book the accommodation from the get-go. First, contact the owner and ask them if the accommodation is available for a week on your desired dates.

If the owner responds to the affirmative, follow up by asking if they’re willing to give you a discount for a week’s stay.

Mention that you have an impeccable profile with excellent reviews and that there was never a problem with any of your previous stays (your profile should have great reviews from other hosts).

At this point, the owner can send you something that’s called a “Special offer.” This will include a special price for the specific dates you asked for. Once he sends you the special offer, the dates you selected become unavailable to others and you have 24 hours to accept this offer before the apartment goes back on the market.

Ask for an even bigger discount

It doesn’t really matter what kind of discount you received. But if the owner is comfortable offering you a small (10-15%) discount for a week-long stay, he or she should be able to offer you a higher discount for a longer stay.

Wait until the next day before replying and then send them another message. Tell them that circumstances have changed and that you’ll be able to stay up to a month (or longer). See if you’re willing to give you an even better discount for a month stay.

A month may not be a long time, but in Airbnb world, it’s indeed a very long time. You should typically expect to receive a minimum of 25% discount for a month-long stay.

Again, stress that you have an impeccable record and that there’s not going to be any problems in the apartment.

Strategy B

There are several issues with the strategy outlined above. First of all, you need to make sure you like the apartment in order to stay there an entire month. Sometimes it’s hard to book an apartment for an entire month sight unseen.

In that case, what I typically do is reserve for a week using normal rates (or with a slight discount). After I had a chance to live in the apartment for a week or so, I then ask for a special discount for an entire month.

At this point, the owner knows me, they know that I’m legit, and they know that I’m not going to trash the apartment. Thus, they’re going to be more open to giving me a discount.

Paying in cash

Airbnb charges a hefty fee for its service (12%). However, as soon as you book the apartment, you can access the owner directly and, if you’d like, negotiate rent in cash for future bookings.

First, doing this is against Airbnb’s terms. Moreover, I wouldn’t generally recommend doing it because once the apartment owner receives your money, they can do whatever they want, including evicting you from the apartment, especially in countries where the laws aren’t exactly strong like in Eastern Europe or even parts in Latin America.

Even with the discount, I would still pay through the Airbnb system for the peace of mind of knowing that at least you have some recourse if things don’t go according to plans.

Booking for longer than one month

If the owner isn’t flexible in giving you a discount, there’s the option of booking for stays longer than a month. That could be anywhere from 1.5 months (6 weeks) to 2 months or so.

Of course, this is provided that you’ve seen the apartment first and you’re comfortable staying there for a longer period of time.

However, if that’s not an option, only book for longer stays sight unseen if the apartment has many reviews and all of them are positive.

Examples of discounts I’ve received

In Ukraine, I inquired about a nice apartment that was listed for $25 per day. That comes out to roughly $750 per month for the apartment. I asked for a special rate for the month and the owner immediately quoted me a rate of $20/day ($600/month). I eventually talked him down to $500/mo.

In Odessa, during the high season, I was able to negotiate an apartment that was listed for $700/mo down to $550/mo by mentioned that I’m ready to book it for an entire month. The owner knew they would get all the money upfront so they readily agreed.

When I spent a week in Bangkok last year, I was able to negotiate a daily rate of $35 down to $25, giving me a savings of $70. Not much, but every buck adds up.

Basically, I always try to negotiate everywhere I stay.

Final thoughts

Airbnb is certainly far from the cheapest way to book long-term accommodation. But because it’s so widespread pretty much around the world, you’d foolish to ignore it completely.

If there’s one point that I want to drive home, is the fact that you should always ask for a discount when booking on Airbnb. Even if you feel the price being offered is already justifiable. It’s in the owner’s best interest to rent out the whole thing for a month to a great tenant with great reviews because that means they’ll get money upfront and don’t need to check-in, clean up and then check-out many tenants over the period of the month.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to haggle a bit for a lower discount if you feel the discount (special offer) you received isn’t exactly fair for the period of time you’re proposing.

Ukraine: The Ultimate Guide For Tourists, Expats And Digital Nomads

If you’d asked me five years ago, if I would move to some ex-Soviet Union country after living in some incredible and exotic countries (e.g., Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, just to name a few), I would’ve laughed in your face.

But, yet, here I am, writing this from Kiev, Ukraine, one of my favorite cities on the planet in a country that I’ve gradually made my home over the past several years.

Of course, I may be a bit biased because I was born here and speak Russian fluently. But I don’t think that’s the defining factor in my decision: I doubt I would live in a country like Lithuania, Moldova or Kazakhstan even if I was born in those countries and spoke their respective language. There’s something special about this country that goes beyond even that.

My return to the country was gradual, kind of like dipping toes in a pool before diving in. In 2011, I crossed the border from Poland into Ukraine for the first time after spending more than twenty years living abroad. I spent about three weeks in Kiev and Odessa before flying back to America.

Then, an interesting pattern emerged: I returned again in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and have spent most of this year, 2018, living and traveling around this country.

At this point, Ukraine is easily the country where I’ve spent the most amount of time out of more than 85 countries that I visited in the last 15 years.

Today, I want to talk about what makes Ukraine special and whether it’s a place you should put on your radar as well.

Introduction

When most people think about Ukraine, they think of crumbling architecture, unshaven Eastern European men wearing Adidas pants and drinking vodka, corrupt politicians and freezing winters. 

There’s some truth to all of that (especially the part of about freezing winters), but the reality is that over the past several years, Ukraine has become a very livable country, so much so that I prefer it over any other in Europe and elsewhere.

Flying in

If you’re flying in from abroad, chances are your first point of contact will be Kiev’s Boryspil International Airport. This is the main international airport and is located roughly 45 mins from the city center.

In order to get to the city center, you have two options. The first option is an airport bus ($2) that goes to either a metro station or the main train station or a taxi ($12-15) which goes straight to your destination.

If you are short on cash but still prefer the convenience of a taxi, a good option is to take the airport bus to the main train station and then take the taxi to your final destination.

Kiev has another airport: Zhulyani. It’s much closer to the city center; only about 20-25 mins by car. It’s also smaller and mostly serves domestic routes as well as select international routes.

Mobile SIM Cards

The first order of business after landing and going through passport control is buying a local SIM card. For that, you need an unlocked phone.

If you bought your phone outright from the manufacturer (without the carrier subsidy), chances are that it’s already unlocked. But to make sure, you should check with your carrier.

Having a Ukrainian SIM card will grant you a Ukrainian number, for easy communication with others throughout the country. Most importantly, however, you will have a cheap data plan everywhere you go.

There are three main providers in Ukraine: Kievstar, Vodaphone and Lifecell.

Kievstar 

This is the largest provider and covers the majority of the country. It’s also the most expensive provider.

Vodaphone

The next popular mobile company. Before the whole Russian/Ukrainian conflict, it was called MTS.

Lifecell

Finally, there’s Lifecell (formerly called “life;)”), a mobile company wholly owned by Turkcell, a Turkish mobile operator.

4G/LTE coverage

In the summer of 2018, Ukraine’s mobile providers finally unveiled the 4G/LTE network. This made it possible to get speeds up to 50-70Mbps in the major cities.

As of this writing, my current plan costs me 90 UAH ($3.25)/month, and I get unlimited 3G/4G connectivity.

My mobile plan

When I first began living in Ukraine, I signed up with Kievstar since it was the biggest operator with the best coverage in the country.

Several years later, I switched over to Vodaphone mainly because it’s slightly cheaper than Kievstar and provides enough coverage for my needs. (I mostly live in big cities and don’t need coverage in smaller towns and villages.)

Budget in Ukraine

Here’s a rough outline of how much certain things cost in Ukraine. Prices are based on an exchange rate of $1 to 28 UAH. (To get the prices in dollars, divide the prices below by 28.)

The following prices are for Kiev. They will be slightly lower in other cities and even lower in smaller towns and villages.

Accommodation

Decent Apartment not in the center: 10,000-13,000 UAH

Decent Apartment in the center: 15,000-16,000 UAH

Really nice apartment in the center: 17,000-20,000 UAH

Gym

Regular gym / daily pass: 100 UAH

Regular gym / monthly pass: 600 UAH

Nice gym / daily pass: 250 UAH

Nice gym / monthly pass: 1400 UAH

Food

Lunch (Business; 2-3 courses): 80-150 UAH

Lunch (regular): 120-180 UAH

Fancy lunch: 250 UAH

Dinner (self-service restaurant): 80-150 UAH

Dinner (regular): 150-250 UAH

Dinner in a nice restaurant: 350-450 UAH

Drinks

One glass of wine (150 ml): 60-80 UAH

Beer (0.3 L): 50 UAH

Beer (0.5 L): 75 UAH

Transportation

Metro: 8 UAH

Bus: 8 UAH

Taxi (15 min): 80-100 UAH

Taxi (30 min): 200-250 UAH

Where to go

Ukraine is a huge country—the second largest in Europe by size (after Russia)—and is roughly divided into four parts: Central (including the capital, Kiev), Eastern Ukraine, Western Ukraine, and Southern Ukraine.

Each region is fairly different from the other. The people talk differently, they act differently and they even look different. The cities themselves are also fairly different ranging from Central European-inspired Lviv in the West to the more Soviet-style Dnipro and Donetsk in the East.

Below, I will cover each part in greater detail.

Central Ukraine / Kiev

Kiev is Ukraine’s capital and the biggest city. In my opinion, it’s also the best city in Ukraine to live and visit. It’s friendlier, has more culture and is more aesthetically pleasing than pretty much any other city in the country.

There are lots of things to do in Kiev. There’s a huge array of restaurants, coffee shops, supermarkets, gyms and whatever else you may need. There are also tons of cultural things to do such as theaters, opera houses replete with great performances to attend.

Eastern Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine includes the area of the country east of the Dnepr river. This includes the major cities such as Lugansk, Donetsk, Dnipro, and Zaporozhye.

After the Russian/Ukrainian conflict, both Lugansk and Donetsk (including part of their respective provinces) came under the rebel control and are, thus, difficult to access from Ukraine. At this point, travel it is not advised.

Recently, I spent two months living in Dnipro, Ukraine’s third largest city. Dnipro is a much more “raw” city than Kiev. While it has its share of restaurants and coffee shops, it lacks the “cultural touch” and sophistication of Kiev.

Just to the south of Dnipro, there’s Zaporozhye, an industrial city with reportedly one of the longest streets in Europe. It’s called “Lenin’s Street” and it basically runs across the entire city and then some. While it’s a nice landmark (sort of), one wide and long street decidedly gives the city an “uncozy” feeling that mostly characterizes the Eastern region.

Southern Ukraine

Southern Ukraine is all about sun and sand, at least in the summer. That’s where you’ll find the only city you need to know: Odessa, the premier summer destination not only in Ukraine but across most of Eastern Europe.

Odessa isn’t only my hometown, but it’s also a fairly picturesque and beautiful city worthy of any postcard. There’s the famous opera theater, the cute downtown with cobblestone streets and great beaches.

Western Ukraine

The West of the country comprises of cities such as Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Chernivtsi.

In many ways, western Ukraine feels more similar to countries like Poland, Hungary, and Austria. Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk look like they belong in neighboring Poland or Slovakia instead of Ukraine. Part of that is because, before WWII, this region was part of the neighboring Austria-Hungary empire.

The largest city in the region, Lviv, is especially a great place to visit in the winter. It’s cozy, has great restaurants, cool coffee shops, and is much cheaper than other large Ukrainian cities.

When to go

Although Ukraine, like the rest of Europe, has four normal seasons, I like to think it’s mainly two seasons: hot summer and freezing winters.

Ukraine’s spring starts around the beginning of May. It’s not uncommon for it to get very hot in just a couple of weeks.

Summer lasts from the beginning of June to around the beginning of September. In the first or second week of September, temperatures start to gradually drop. By October, it’s already fairly cold. November may witness the first snowfall.

Since this is Eastern Europe, winters can get uncomfortably cold. It’s also not uncommon to have temperatures drop to as low as -25 C (-13 F) in January or February, the latter being the coldest month of the year.

It’s also very possible to see lots of snow even as late as in March.

In my opinion, the best time to visit Ukraine is either in the spring or fall. This is when the weather is the most comfortable and it’s not too hot or cold. Another option is to visit in the summer, which does get hot but not uncomfortably so.

Summers are a great time to visit the coastal city of Odessa, with its beaches and beach clubs.

Unless, for some strange reason, you like cold weather and want to walk around in the snow, avoid visiting the region from November to March. 

Moreover, winters can be especially brutal because not only you have cloudy days and snow, but you’re also surrounded by crumbling Soviet architecture, making the whole experience super depressing.

How to rent accommodation

Depending on how long you’re visiting Ukraine, there are several ways of renting accommodation. In this section, I will cover the best ways to rent a pad depending on your needs.

Short term

If you’re a tourist who’s coming to Ukraine for a short visit (a week or so), the best way to rent accommodation is via Airbnb. Although the prices there are generally more expensive than sites tailored specifically to locals, the ease of use and reputation features of the site is worth it. I’ve used Airbnb many times to book accommodation in Ukraine and abroad.

Another way to rent short-term rentals is via local sites. This requires knowing Russian or Ukrainian and being able to trust the pictures displayed to be a true representation of the apartment. I would only advice this method if you have a local friend who can help you. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get burned when the apartment you reserve is the difference from the actual apartment.

Long term

For long-term bookings (a month or more), Airbnb is still a great option because many hosts offer steep discounts if you book for at least a month.

An even better way is to go directly to the source and rent an apartment from an owner instead. One of the biggest sites for doing just that is olx.ua, which is sort of a Ukrainian craigslist, where people buy/sell/rent anything from used jeans to luxury apartments.

Rental scams

Like I already mentioned, be careful with listings that show amazing pictures but have a relatively low price. These listings can be copied from other apartment rental sites around the web and are used to lure people to send a “deposit” to secure an apartment. Once the money is sent, it’s never seen again.

Beware of any third party services that promise you to “find” an apartment in exchange for money upfront. I’ve heard stories of people taking such money and never returning it.

Where to buy stuff

Gone are the days of dark and confusing Soviet Union-era “magazinchiki” (магазиньчики). Today, shopping in Ukraine is no different than shopping in any other Western country.

Ukraine is now graced with modern supermarkets that may easily rival your Western country.

I would categorize shopping to three levels of shopping stores in the country.

The street stores/kiosks

These are small shops that are located on the actual street. They typically sell things like water, cigarettes, various snacks, and even sometimes things like bread and cheese.

ATB, Furshet, Varus, Billa

At the next level of supermarkets, we have chains like ATB, Furshet, and Varus (popular in Eastern Ukraine). 

These are mostly located in more “working class” neighborhoods and are cheaper than other stores.

These would be similar to stores such as Stop & Shop in New York City.

Silpo

One of my first experience shopping in Ukraine was “Silpo” (written as Сильпо). It’s one of the biggest chains in Ukraine and is located across the country.

Silpo is a bit more expensive than the previous stores, but it carries higher quality goods, more selection and attracts a more upscale crowd.

It’s similar to something like Safeway in California.

Le Silpo

Last but not least, there’s “Le Silpo,” Silpo’s luxury brand. There are only four Le Silpo’s around the country in the following cities: Kiev, Dnepr, Odessa, and Kharkov. Each city has only one Le Silpo, typically located in an upscale area of the city.

Not trying to sound like some snob, but there’s definitely a noticeable difference in the service that’s offered in “Le Silpo” vs regular Silpo, and the other stores.

Le Silpo can be compared to Whole Foods Market in America.

Ukrainian culture

If this is your first time visiting Ukraine (or Eastern Europe), then get ready to experience a mild form of culture shock. Although Ukraine has changed drastically over the years (for better), Ukraine is still quintessentially Eastern Europe.

For starters, that means don’t expect much of hand-holding. That includes things like customer service in stores or restaurants. Don’t expect random smiles from people you may not know (e.g., in stores, restaurants, coffee shops).

For more information and examples, check out my article about living in Russia several years ago. I would characterize Ukrainian mentality very similar to Russian mentality described in that article.

I will admit, however, that Ukraine has come a long way over the years. In the eight years that I’ve been visiting and living in the country, customer service and general ambiance have gradually improved. I’ve noticed this mostly in Kiev, but other cities have picked up too.

Language in Ukraine

Ukraine has only one official language: Ukrainian. The reality, however, is a bit complicated. Most of the country actually speaks Russian. While Ukrainian is the official language everywhere (government offices, police, etc), Russian is the main language of communication in every city south and east of Kiev (including Kiev): Poltava, Dnipro, Odessa, Zaporozhye, Mariupol, Luhansk and Donetsk.

In the capital of Kiev, I hear Russian on the street about 80% of the time compared to 20% of Ukrainian. Almost all shop owners, restaurant waitresses and other service workers speak Russian. People who are originally from Kiev speak natively Russian; Ukrainian is mostly spoken in smaller towns/villages outside of Kiev.

Ukrainian is the dominant language of Western Ukraine. It’s spoken in Lviv, Ivano-Frankovisk, Chernitvski and the surrounding cities and towns.

Everyone in Ukraine understands both Russian and Ukrainian, so knowing one language would be sufficient. If you’re going to be predominately living/visiting Western Ukraine, then Ukrainian is the language to speak and understand. Otherwise, if you’re going to be spending time in Kiev and East / South of the capital—especially in the main cities—then the language to learn is Russian.

Since I’m a native of Odessa, my native language is Russian. I have no problem communicating in Kiev, but had to switch to Ukrainian when I went to Lviv last year.

Safety and precautions

All in all, Ukraine is a relatively safe country. It’s safer than North America, South America and even Western Europe.

Unlike places like Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil in general) which is fairly unpredictable or American cities like New York (where you can also get easily robbed), you generally won’t be robbed at knife- or gun-point in broad daylight or even at night if you stick to well-lit streets in good areas of the city.

Nevertheless, Ukraine is no Japan. It’s still a poor Eastern European country with its share of crime. However, this crime is more subtle. About a year ago, I had someone break into my apartment and steal my suitcase full of stuff. This was at an Airbnb which I rented in a nice neighborhood, so it seems like someone had copies of the keys and entered the apartment when I wasn’t there. They stole my entire suitcase and nothing else.

The best way to stay safe in Ukraine is to relax, but keep your eyes open for any strange and suspicious things. Street smarts go a long way.

For digital nomads

If you’re a location-independent professional, Ukraine can be a solid choice. Big cities like Kiev are replete with work-friendly coffee shops and tons of co-working places. Internet speeds have improved dramatically over the years as well. Plus, with the introduction of 4G/LTE in the summer of 2018—with speeds up to 50-70Mbps—you don’t even need to rely much on fast WiFi anymore.

Over the last couple of years, Ukraine with its cosmopolitan capital, Kiev, is witnessing a resurgence in various startups and other online businesses. There’s a nascent startup culture here, which is easily evident when you spend time in some of the bigger co-working spaces. 

Visas and overstays

Most citizens of industrialized countries (e.g., USA, UK, and EU countries) get the automatic 90-day visa on arrival. After your 90 days is up, you must leave the country. 

After leaving the country after your visa expires, you can’t immediately return to Ukraine; you must wait 90 days before coming back. That’s what the whole 90/180 days visa means. It means you can only stay for 90 days within any 180 day period. 

Thus, it’s not possible to stay 90 days, leave the country and then come right back.

If you overstay, the fine ranges anywhere from 510 UAH ($20) to 850 UAH ($30). (There have been reports of it being as high as $200-300 for really severe overstays). There also have been reports of being banned from the country for three years.

Final thoughts

After living in some very exotic countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, as well as Bali, Indonesia and Thailand, it seems strange that I would more or less settle in an ex-Soviet Union country where people are so stoic to the point of indifference and where the winters can get unbearably freezing.

While I wrote a lot of nice things about the country, it’s important to understand that Ukraine is not USA or Thailand; it doesn’t have the “civility” of USA and it doesn’t have Thailand’s hospitality. It’s an Eastern European country through and through. For many years, trying to make sense of all that was the source of my frustrations in this country, something that I described in great deal here.

I eventually made peace with the fact that the only livable city (at least for me) in Ukraine is Kiev. The other cities are great for random trips, but making them home will be a challenge.

Nevertheless, even knowing that I can throw a dart and live anywhere in the world, something about the country lures me back in, and every time I open a map and think of a new place to live, picking any other country than Ukraine is becoming more and more difficult.

Odessa, Ukraine: A Local’s Guide To Eastern Europe’s Best Beach Destination

Dateline: Southern Ukraine

Ah Odessa, out of all the countries and cities I’ve visited and written about, I can’t believe I still haven’t written about my own hometown.

Actually, the reason I haven’t written much about Odessa is that I left my hometown in my early teens for a new life in New York. But just because you leave Odessa, doesn’t mean Odessa leaves you.

In the past seven years, I have returned to my former hometown no less than five times.

Here’s a local’s unique perspective to one of the most special and picturesque cities in the world.

Introduction

Odessa is Ukraine’s 4th largest city by population, behind Kiev, Kharkov, and Dnipro with a population of around 1M inhabitants.

While Ukraine has a fairly large coastline of the Black Sea, Odessa is the premier city for getting sun and tan. That has become more so after Crimean peninsula switched over to the Russian side.

That event made Odessa as one of the only viable options for escaping the country’s oppressive summer’s heat. (There’s also Mariupol on Azov Sea to the east, but it’s yet another mediocre Ukrainian 3rd-tier city and can’t compare to Odessa.)

The locals

The entire former Soviet Union not only knows where Odessa is located, but they also have heard stories about the locals, Odessits (Одесситы). Not to mention Odessa has the hottest girls in all of Ukraine.

Depending on who you ask in Ukraine (or other ex-Soviet Union countries), that person will have something to say about the locals, whether it’s positive or negative.

Generally speaking, Odessits share a particular humor, have their own colorful way of speaking Russian and even have a very specific accent that only exists in Odessa (I don’t have it, but my mom definitely does.)

Like most ex-Soviet Union cities, Odessa has greatly changed over the years. Many people immigrated to Odessa from nearby towns and cities and from other countries. So, it’s definitely not the same city as it once was.

Where to stay

Odessa is a relatively big city (over 1M), but, as a tourist, there are really two places to base yourself in the summer months. The first option is the beautiful center. The second option is closer to the action near the beach.

Out of all the Ukrainian cities, Odessa’s center is definitely the most picturesque and memorable. Kiev with its charming old town comes close, but there’s something that makes Odessa’s center truly special that visitors and locals alike can’t really put their finger and describe.

The second option is right near the beach and, thus, closer to the action. Although Odessa has several beaches along its generous coastline, most of the action takes place near two nightclubs Ithaca and Ibiza, located near a beach called Arcadia.

Back when I was a young kid growing up in the Soviet Union, Arcadia was a quiet area that was frequented mostly by families; there weren’t many fancy shops or noisy nightclubs.

That’s a far cry from today as the main strip leading from the city to the beach is filled with restaurants, stores, and coffee shops. There’s even a small amusement park for your enjoyment.

Both options are viable so it really depends on what you’re looking for.

How to rent accommodation

Odessa is a seasonal city so it’s pretty easy to rent apartments in the offseason, but that can be very challenging during the peak summer months.

There are several ways of renting apartments. The first is through Airbnb.com. Because Airbnb is typically targeted to foreigners instead of locals, the prices are typically higher than similar apartments that are rented to locals.

It’s not uncommon to find a decent apartment in the center for something like $1,000/mo, while the same type of apartment may be offered for like $600-700 on a rental site targeted at locals.

Nevertheless, negotiating on Airbnb is always an option. If you’re staying for at least a month, ask for a discount. It’s not uncommon to get anywhere from 10-30% off simply by asking.

Another good site for apartment rentals is doba.ua. This site lists apartment that is rented out by night and is aimed mostly at locals.

Most of the people advertising apartments don’t speak English, so it’s a good idea to have a local friend help you make reservations. This is the site I mostly use for booking accommodation.

Finally, there’s the king of all sites: OLX.com. This is sort of a Ukrainian craigslist where you can buy/rent/sell pretty much anything from used kitchenware to luxury apartments. This is the main site that Ukrainians use for pretty much anything. It’s a site where I found my last three Kiev apartments.

While you probably wouldn’t be using the site to find a long-term accommodation in Odessa (you could do that), the site also lists apartments that can be rented for short term, which is typically anywhere from 1-3 months. That’s super ideal for spending an entire summer in Odessa.

Although all three are solid options for finding an apartment in the city, if you’re not on a true shoestring budget, Airbnb is a great choice for securing a great pad in a great location. Assuming, of course, you book well in advance, especially if you’re looking for longer periods of at least a month.

How to get around

There are two ways to get around in Odessa: public transportation and taxis. Fortunately, with the arrival of Uber in 2016, it has gotten much easier to efficiently get from one place to another.

When I spent the summer in Odessa last year, I stayed in the center but enjoyed the sun and sand on one of the less populated beaches at the southern end of the city.

I generally took the public transportation (marshrutka, $0.25) which took about 25 minutes to get from downtown to the beach. I also took Uber a couple of times; the ride was about 7-10 minutes and cost around $3-4.

The best beaches

Odessa is graced with a generous coastline stretching from the northern area all the way to the south where it meets another city, Chernomorsk (Черноморск, formerly called Ильячевск).

Just as you’ve probably guessed, not all beaches are the same. There are three types of beaches in Odessa: public beaches, paid beaches (where you pay a fee for a beach chair or a tent, you can even order food and drinks which they’ll bring right to where you’re seated), and, finally, private beaches that are only accessible to the owners of the private land (and their friends).

When it comes to paid beaches, they vary from those without frills mostly frequented by families all the way to party beaches that rival to party destinations such as Ibiza or Miami.

The closest beach to the city is Langeron (Ланжерон). It’s a beach that everyone knows and, thus, one of the most popular beaches in the city. All you have to do is walk towards the sea from the center and you’ll end up on this beach.

The problem with this beach is that it gets overly crowded in the summer months (even worse on weekends) when the entire city descends on it. The result is that people end up being packed like sardines—lying right next to each other. That’s probably not an idea of a vacation that you had in mind.

A much better idea is to go to one of the paid beaches. It’s something that I resisted when I first visited—why do I have to pay to access a free resource?—but after trying it once, I became a convert and now exclusively go to paid beaches.

Paid beaches range from expensive to completely affordable. The more expensive paid “beach clubs” attract the typical “seen and be seen” clientele, while there are also plenty of “chill” beaches where, for a small fee, you can have a true piece of mind.

The great thing about paid beaches is that you rent a beach chair, an umbrella or even a huge tent for two or more people. You can also order all kinds of food and drinks which are brought directly to you. There are also restrooms and showers.

Thus, you can spend the entire an entire day at the beach instead of breaking up your day when you get hungry or thirsty.

One of my favorite beach clubs was called “Agarti.” It was a chill beach that’s more reminiscent of Goa, India than Ukraine. It was super affordable, had a chill music, and attracted a chill crowd. It was about a 25-minute bus ride from the center, so it was never packed. Thinking back, spending time at that beach club was probably the best part of my vacation.

In the famed Arcadia beach, you have two popular nightclubs that everyone in Odessa knows: Ithaca and Ibiza. These are party nightclubs that are frequented by the “seen and be seen” crowd.

The best time to come

Odessa’s summer season begins around the end of June when the water temperature gradually starts to rise; the water becomes truly warm by the end of July. This lasts up until around the middle of September. Towards the end of September and beginning of October, temperatures drop substantially and it becomes chilly so you need a jacket or sweater.

This is unlike coastal cities on the Mediterranean like Barcelona or Rome which are still very warm and pleasant that time of the year.

Actually, the best time to come to Odessa isn’t in July or August, but in the first half of September. By that time, most tourists have left (because it’s cold), few families are on the beaches (school season started), and prices for accommodation drop back down to normal levels after being in the stratosphere in the three months previously.

Visiting in the offseason

For such a beautiful city in the summer, Odessa is a completely different city in the offseason. Once the summer finally ends in the second or third week in September, temperatures drop quickly and the gorgeous blue sunny skies give way to rain and clouds (although the sun does make frequent appearances from time to time).

In the winter, while the city’s proximity to the sea guarantees that it doesn’t experience super cold -25 C (-5 F) temperatures like the rest of Ukraine, Odessa still gets its fair share of snow. Coupled with short days and not a particularly “cozy” center due to the city’s sizable blocks and few pedestrians, and what you get isn’t the most pleasant to spend the winter in.

In the last few years, I spent a couple of winters in Odessa (even celebrated the New Year there), and it’s definitely not my first choice of a city to spend the winter. Cities like Lviv with their cozy squares and narrow streets are much more suitable for cold, Ukrainian winters.

What language to speak

For a city located in Ukraine, Odessa is a predominantly Russian-speaking. It’s probably one of the more Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine.

My native language is Russian. Everyone in my family uses Russian as their native language. In fact, an easy way to tell that a person is not from Odessa is if they have a Ukrainian accent when speaking Russian.

While everyone understands and speaks Ukrainian, the only language you need to know in Odessa is Russian.

Safety and security

While Odessa, just like Ukraine, is fairly safe and secure, you still should watch out for petty scams. In Ukraine, Odessa has always been known as the city of swindlers (аферисты). While there’s a low chance you’ll experience any kind of serious harm, you should still keep your eyes open for minor stuff.

These include pickpocketing in tourist areas, short-changing you by taxi drivers and restaurant waiters. Some of the more serious issues that tourists have experienced were when apartment owners didn’t return the deposit back (partially or all of it).

Final thoughts

Ever since returning to Ukraine back in 2011, I spent many summers in Odessa. Most of them were quick trips from Kiev, lasting around a week or two. Gradually, my sojourns in Odessa became longer; a year ago, I spent several months in Odessa.

Odessa has always been a special city in Ukraine (and the entire former Soviet Union). It was always a great summer destination for having fun and enjoying the sun.

Ever since Crimea became under Russian control, Odessa became the prime destination for summer tourists for the entire country. This resulted in extreme crowds, jacked up prices from restaurants to accommodation, and, generally, lots of hassle that comes with all of that. I solved this problem by visiting Odessa in September when the majority of the crowds are gone.

Still, have no illusions about it: Black Sea beaches aren’t exactly the Mediterranean, and definitely aren’t the Caribbean beaches I’m used when I was living in America and Latin America. The sand isn’t silky white and often times the Black Sea isn’t exactly clear enough to swim in.

Nevertheless, while there are plenty of cities around the world with better weather, beaches, food and even people, there’s only one Odessa.

Dnipro, Ukraine: What’s It Like Living In A Ukrainian 2nd Tier City

Dateline: Southern Ukraine

Introduction

Dnipro (or Dnepr/Днепр/Днипро/Днепропетровск) is a 2nd tier city in Southeastern Ukraine. Having traveled around Ukraine and decided that Kiev is the best city in Ukraine, I would’ve never visited this city had it not been for my friend’s constant nagging to visit him and check it out.

Finally, another friend of mine who had lived here before couldn’t stop praising this city and asked me to meet her there on the weekend that she would be there. I figured this would be a great opportunity to get to know a new city with a someone who’d lived there before. I accepted her offer and bought a ticket on a fast express train from Kiev.

For the first week, I rented an apartment in a very commercial (and expensive) part of the city that was supposed to be the center of everything (Мост Сити, “Bridge City”). Indeed, it was in the center of everything; there was a huge shopping center right in the same complex complete with a huge supermarket and  Western brands such as Zara, Diesel and Massimo Dutti.

Beyond the expensive department stores, everything about this “commercial center” screamed cheap and underdeveloped. There was nothing “exclusive” or “luxurious” about it, and it was a far cry from anything like Kiev’s “Maidan” (Independence Square) or even some of the more charming squares in other Eastern European cities. Its lack of tasteful architecture was also rather hard on my eyes. The only thing I noticed was lots of concrete.

Thinking that this “commercial center” was all there was to this city, I immediately regretted making this trip and started planning my return back to the capital.

Fortunately, the situation improved dramatically when I switched apartments and moved to a different area. Not only was the apartment itself newly remodeled and one of the most spacious I’ve ever stayed in Ukraine, but the neighborhood was awesome; it was very green and bohemian with plenty of great restaurants and a few cool bars. I enjoyed the area so much that instead of spending only a week, as I originally planned, I ended spending almost the entire summer here.

Awesome restaurants and coffee shops

For an Eastern European 2nd-tier city, there are surprisingly great food choices when it comes to restaurants and coffee shops. There are at least a dozen restaurants that I would easily call “world class” where I wouldn’t hesitate to invite a good friend or even my lovely Mom—my trusted litmus test for a place’s excellence—should she happened to visit me.

As a burger lover, I’ve had one of the best burgers and meat as long as I can remember. I’ve also had excellent Italian food and even pretty decent Mexican enchiladas.

While there are plenty of great restaurants, the coffee shop scene (mainly for getting lots of work done) isn’t terrible but could definitely be improved. After living here for a few months, I still didn’t have my “ideal” coffee shop, one that would be my default choice when I was tired of working at home and needed a change of scenery.

On the other hand, this is where a city like Kiev shines. I can easily name five coffee shops that I can go to and get some serious work done. As a location-independent entrepreneur, this is important.

Compact center

The center: where all the action happens

One of my favorite things about Dnipro is the fact that the center is very compact. One can cover this part of the city in about ten to fifteen minutes. Since the center is where all the desirable attractions are, this makes it super easy to have dinner with a friend (who also happens to live in the center) without being stuck in traffic while taking a taxi or public transportation.

It’s not some tiny center either. There are plenty of great restaurants, coffee shops and bars bunched all pretty next to each other. There are also lots of great clothing stores, whether it’s from a local designer or from some famous Western brand.

I cannot overemphasize how convenient this is. Even in Kiev, which isn’t a huge city by any means, everything is so spread out and there isn’t a “true” center. That means meeting a friend in the “center” easily means either a 30-45-minute walk or a 15-30-minute ride by car (assuming both of you live at least close to center). Here, no such issues exist because you simply leave your apartment and ten minutes later you are outside your friend’s apartment or inside the restaurant.

Just to give you an idea, imagine New York City with only the Prince St. in Greenwich village or LA with a small chunk of Melrose Ave. That’s a hell of a lot more convenient than making the trek from South Brooklyn or Bushwick in NYC.

Western Conveniences

For a seemingly sleepy Eastern European city in the middle of nowhere, there are plenty of Western-style conveniences. There are tons of Western-style supermarkets where you can buy all kinds of products that your heart desires. There are the familiar Western clothing brands such as Diesel, Nike and Levi’s. There’s also Uber for easy trips within the city or even to some nearby destination.

One may argue that these Western-style companies and influences are making Eastern European cities such as this one more “Westernized,” but I’m all for it if it makes the city more convenient and pleasant to be in.

“A city in the valley”

Unlike Odessa, Ukraine, Dnipro doesn’t have access to beautiful beaches of the Black Sea, but it mostly makes up for it with access to a beautiful river, Dnipro, which runs along the middle of the country. The city’s main attraction is the wide riverfront area called набережная. In the summer, that’s where you’ll find all kinds of people walking, sitting and overall enjoying life. There are also tons of great restaurants overlooking the beautiful river.

In some strange way, Dnipro—unlike Kiev and other Ukrainian cities—even has an eery Latin American feel. My neighborhood reminds me of Mexico City’s Condesa or Colombia’s Cali. The fact that it has a Latin American feel was definitely one of the main things that drew me to this city and got me to stay longer.

But unlike Latin America, with its crime and unpredictability, Dnipro, like the rest of Eastern Europe, is fairly safe and predictable.

Dnipro is a “hard” city

It didn’t take me long to realize that it’s a rather “hard” city. When I say, “hard,” I’m referring to the people and their behavior. Unlike Kiev or St. Petersburg, two cities infused with great culture and friendly people, in Dnipro, people almost never say “Hello” when greeting you—unless you say it first—everyone is mostly just going about their business.

I’ve had plenty of situations where I interacted with someone and then shook my head in response to their behavior. Things like opening and holding doors for random strangers were rarely (or never) met with a “thank you.” Ask for something in a supermarket, and the person behind the register would simply ask, “What do you want” point blank without greeting you of any kind.

Generally speaking, Eastern Europe as a region is fairly “hard.” It’s not a region where people typically go out of their way to make sure you’re satisfied with anything. This is something I experienced first hand when I spent a few months living in Russia several years ago.

Nevertheless, over the past few years, the region has been undergoing great gentrification that cities like Kiev are actually becoming more or less pleasant cities to spent lots of time in, even for picky foreigners who’re used to Western handholding.

Dnipro is a bit behind in this regard. It’s quintessentially Eastern European in a sense that nobody really cares about whether you enjoyed the pasta dish in a restaurant or the fact that you don’t understand something in a supermarket. Customer service simply doesn’t exist.

Meeting people is surprisingly difficult here because, unlike in Kiev, where people are more cosmopolitan and are at least somewhat curious of people from other cities or countries, people here are more reserved and guarded.

Of course, it wasn’t like this with every person I met, there are plenty of friendly people who at least went out of their way to help you (mostly in department stores), but for the most part this city was decidedly unfriendlier than other Eastern European cities such as Kiev, St. Petersburg or even Bucharest.

Livable city?

The entire time I lived in the city, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether it’s a city I can make peace with and learn to love. And, indeed, if someone put a gun to my head and told me to live here or else, I would certainly find ways to adjust. It’s a city that has everything one would need for a comfortable life. There are great restaurants and coffee shops allowing you to have a great lifestyle for a fraction of the price elsewhere.

But, yet, even as I was writing the above paragraph, and even if I had a great job and a nice apartment, this city still would never be my first choice.

As someone who was born in Ukraine and speaks the language, I’ve had my share of challenges in the city but for the most part, I’m used to the Eastern European mindset and life, so the lack of “humanity” didn’t affect me all that much; it’s something I fully expect. However, I would never recommend this city to a foreigner. I can already see them complaining about how no one “gives a fuck” about their concerns.

Even the fact that this city is “hard,” can also be flipped on its head and become an advantage. I know many people who actually prefer Dnipro over the more cosmopolitan Kiev. It’s smaller, more navigable and the “hardness” of the city can be an advantage because people always keep their word and don’t flake on you in the last moment like they do in bigger cities.

Speaking of Latin America, here’s what I wrote about Medellin back in 2011:

In many ways, it’s a city without a soul, a city without charm.  A city where everything works but nothing is special that motivates you to return or convince others to come and visit.

As I wrote recently, 2nd and 3rd tier cities are generally boring and nondescript and don’t have the excitement or the cachet of their 1st-tier counterparts.

Ultimately, I realized that regardless of what I thought and how much positive spin I can create around this city, I was still in a 2nd -tier city in Eastern Europe. And, in Eastern Europe, as my experience has proven again and again, the only livable places are really the 1st tier cities; everything else is too broken (both literally and metaphorically) to provide a decent quality of life.

Why live in a 2nd-tier city when I could just as easily be living in Kiev—a truly awesome city—where people and the architecture are much more friendlier and welcoming?

Thus, it seems that no matter where in Ukraine I travel to and live, all roads always lead back to Kiev.

5 Problems With American Culture

There’s nothing I enjoy more than comparing different countries and cultures. I live for it. And there’s nothing more interesting than comparing other countries to one of the most polarizing countries in the world: America.

After all, a person in Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen or Bangkok may not care (or know) what’s happening in Kenya, Cambodia or Bolivia, but even if they haven’t met Americans, you can still be sure he or she has formed a certain opinion about the country as a whole. They know American movie stars. They follow American presidential elections.

While the rest of the world is vastly different, one thing the rest of the world has in common is how similar they’re to each other—when compared to America.

Here’s what makes America special:

1. Inauthentic human communication

On my first week in Brazil, I met a beautiful girl at a checkout line in a local supermarket. Later that evening, about thirty minutes into our date, she smiled and told me that she likes me and that she’s enjoying my company. I was flattered—and shocked. Her words hit me like a tractor trailer at full speed. I couldn’t remember the last time someone was so open and honest. In fact, her honesty and openness made me feel downright uncomfortable.

This brutal honesty wasn’t limited to just Brazil. It also wasn’t limited to romantic relationships. In Eastern Europe, where I’ve been living for the past several years, human relationships are less about talking random words and more about “feeling out” each other. Not in a literal sense, but via non-verbal communication. For instance, one of the first things that I noticed about Eastern Europeans was how they would just shut up during a conversion while pondering a thought or a response to a question. Initially, these silences made me uncomfortable. But then I realized that these silences are an import part of communication, sometimes even more important than what comes before or after.

Human communication in America is woefully indirect and confusing. After all, we’re talking about a place where men have no choice but to pay $5,000 to some “guru” for a weekend workshop where they can learn how to talk to women. This may sound crazy, but, in the rest of the world, a man can just approach and talk to a woman directly.

Since people can’t communicate honestly and authentically, a common way of projecting this indirectness is sarcasm. Sarcasm is used to diffuse and deflect a question or statement. If you’re asked a personal question that makes you uncomfortable, you can ignore it or respond with a sarcastic remark. In this way, any attempt at authentic communication is immediately rejected and deflected.

Sarcasm has its purpose. It lightens up the mood and even demonstrates that you’re not threatened by an overly inquisitive person. But, like with anything, the problem with sarcasm is when it’s employed extensively instead of sparingly. That’s when it loses its potency and coats all conversations with a thick layer of inauthenticity and insincerity. The end result is superficiality.

The overuse of sarcasm is a mark of weakness. Communication is authentic when you’re putting yourself on the line in the face of possible rejection. It means being vulnerable. Not the type of vulnerability where you spill your guts to someone like an offended puppy, but as a way of saying that you don’t really care about the outcome and just want to say what’s on your mind.

It takes guts to tell another person that you enjoy spending time with them, find them interesting and want to develop a quality relationship. Conversely, it’s a lot harder to put yourself on the line and be honest with that person and risk possible rejection; it’s a lot easier to respond with some “witty” sarcastic remark that presents your point while simultaneously absolving yourself of taking responsibility for being open in the first place.

Before I extensively lived abroad, I used to think constant sarcasm and ball-busting was normal and even viewed it as a sign of strength, but after living abroad for many years, I now find endless sarcasm and ball-busting tiresome and immature.

2. The constant “us vs. them” mentality

I was once sitting in a coffee shop in some small town in New Jersey. I looked to my right and noticed a small and unassuming girl. I assumed she was super shy and probably doesn’t have a strong opinion on anything except the font she was using to design the website.

I was wrong. Soon, the conversation among us at the table shifted into politics and some upcoming election. As soon as someone mentioned that some democratic candidate might win, she got up and told everyone how much she hated Republicans. As she said it, she was filled with such zeal and hate that her face turned beet red.

Her abrupt reaction shocked me. I would’ve never in my life expected such a petite girl to react so vehemently. But that wasn’t even it. The real reason I was taken aback was because I had just witnessed a person react so strongly to something that wasn’t affecting her in any direct, personal way. She had a stronger reaction to some political candidate in an ivory tower than if some ghetto kid ran through the coffee shop and stole her expensive MacBook Pro laptop.

It’s been very amusing to return to the US after spending most of the year in Eastern Europe and then discuss the pros and cons of the current Ukrainian government with a random 50-something guy who happened to join my table at a packed Starbucks. He hated Ukrainian government with a passion. He also hated Putin and loved Merkel. The most interesting thing is that he’s never even been abroad.

America is a country where people seem to care about everything—with the overwhelming majority of these things not affecting their personal well-being in any way. The fact that everyone thought we were bombing Iraq (or insert another country here) because we wanted to bring them freedom is also amusing. I still don’t know how deposing Syria’s Assad could ever interfere with my ability to put words on the Internet or make YouTube videos.

You can be walking on the street anywhere from a huge city like New York to a smallish village in the middle of Oklahoma, stop a random person, and they’ll readily have an opinion on most things that are happening in the world. They’ll tell why they love (or hate) the Democratic Party, why Vladimir Putin is a great leader (or a vicious dictator), why the government should (or shouldn’t) deal with guns, why abortion should be legal (or illegal) and a ton of other issues.

The rest of the world doesn’t care as much. People rarely even care what’s happening in the neighboring countries. Brazilians might be pissed off that Argentina won more soccer matches than them, but a guy in Rio de Janeiro isn’t going to let his beautiful beach day be ruined by political news from the capital. Ukrainians might be pissed off at Poroshenko, but I’m not going to make any lifelong enemies if I supported him.

In the rest of the world, strong political opinions are mostly a luxury.

That’s a very good thing. It means that people are concerned with things they control instead of projecting their helplessness and frustration at the world via politics, cultural wars or anything else that enables the toxic “us vs. them” mentality. And if that means that that beautiful Colombian girl sitting next to me at a coffee shop won’t suddenly treat me like the lowest of the low because I said something about a local election, I’ll take that too.

3. Everyone has a narrative

On the night of October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers in Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured.

Over the ensuing days and weeks, people stayed glued to the TV sets while the media did their best to explain the reasons behind such a heinous act.

As it turns out, explaining something so complex such as a mass shooting to the public was deceptively simple. The known players resorted to its proven technique that uses to explain anything and everything: a narrative.

The beautiful thing about narratives is that you never have to look hard to find one. Whenever there’s some mass killing in America, the same old pattern repeats. The feminists are eager to tell you the massacre occurred because of “toxic masculinity.” The gun control advocates are eager to tell you the massacre occurred because of lax gun control. If the shooter is white, the left-wing media is eager to label the massacre as “white nationalist.” If the killer is a minority but non-black, the right-wing media will frame the massacre as an immigration issue. If the killer is black, it will be framed as a racial issue. Then there’s the government which is always eager to label the massacre as a  “terrorist act.”

All narratives have a single purpose: they take something very complex and simplify in a way that the public can understand. Narratives help people make sense of the world and their place in it.

However, what absolutely no one discussed at all were the personal motivations of the perpetrator. Maybe he had a bad day. Maybe he broke up with his girlfriend whom he loved. Maybe he was fired from a job. Maybe there was something else that happened completely unrelated to any of the explanations. Maybe he lost his entire life savings after playing in the casino.

(Obviously, if there were strong terrorist links, that would be different, but this was ruled out early on.)

Using simple narratives to explain a complex event is a symptom of a society that no longer views people as individuals with their own unique issues and problems, but as  collective masses that all think and act the same.

Nobody can know for sure what the killer’s motivations were, but it’s easy to sit on your soapbox and rant how what happened is somehow related to the society as a whole. In this way, they’re using the killer’s actions to promote their own agenda.

It’s like riding a Q line in New York City and getting a weird look from another passenger sitting directly across from you. Although you have no way of knowing why that person gave you a weird look (maybe it wasn’t weird after all), different people will interpret it differently. The problem is regardless what they think, they won’t ever know for sure.

In the rest of the world, such things are perceived very differently. If a man goes on a killing rampage in Russia, people would think there’s something wrong with him—not launch into a tirade about gun control. If a gang of kids robbed a beach in Rio de Janeiro, people will think they did it for the money—not launch into a tirade about “toxic masculinity.” If a Chinese guy stabs a bunch of people in Shenzhen, the explanation is mental illness—not the fact that he just happened to be of some “different” ethnicity.

4. Everything is filtered through gender, race, ethnicity, and/or religion

In 1994, a former football player was arrested for killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Even though the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to a guilty verdict, one of his lawyers, Johnny Cochran, successfully convinced the jury to frame the case as a race issue, in terms of “whites vs. blacks.” The defendant was acquitted a year later.

When viewed from this racist perspective, the overwhelmingly black jury ultimately acquitted the black defendant. (It also didn’t help that prosecution completely fumbled the case, although even if their case was airtight, it was still far from certain that they’d win).

When society’s actions are filtered by race, everything that happens can be explained away by race. It’s the classic “us vs. them” construct.

OJ Simpson is arrested on suspicion of killing his white ex-wife and her white lover? It doesn’t matter that there were no other suspects and he probably did it. He was arrested because he was black.

Obama elected as the President of United States of America? It doesn’t matter that he was elected on his own merit. He was obviously elected because he was black.

This affects each one of us in ways far beyond race. It means that whatever you do or say, there will always be people who’ll view your actions and accomplishments through racial and/or ethnical biases. For instance, I’m a white guy. As I recently found out, apparently that means I’m somehow “privileged.” That could be used against me in the form of reverse discrimination.

Or, maybe not. Because I’m also an immigrant from a poor Eastern European country. Fortunately, that gives me points and leverage, something I wasn’t aware of before. That means that a non-white person (ie, who’s not “privileged”) can’t easily accuse me of racism because I can accuse them of some kind of discrimination against poor and pesky Eastern European immigrants.

Unless you were living under a rock for the past few decades or so, you know there’s a gender war in the US. It’s gotten so bad that, now, the mere fact that you’re a man can be used against you and obliterate all your arguments.

This is an extreme example of a logical fallacy known as character assassination. As a man, you could have the most logical argument in the world. You could be absolutely correct that even Einstein, Nelson Mandela, and Jesus Christ would nod their heads in agreement. But the fact that you were born with a penis means that everything that you say can be discounted as nonsense.

Of course, all of this is one enormous clusterfuck. It’s beyond ridiculous. I’m not “privileged” because I happened to be born white. I wasn’t born with a golden spoon in my mouth and have to hustle like the rest of the world. If you tell me that I’m privileged means that you’re admitting to be disfranchised in some way. This leads to a race to the bottom mentality as everyone is busy searching for ways to “out victimize” each other.

Unfortunately, getting rid of this divide and uniting people isn’t easy. There are people who built up their entire careers on making sure this division gets stronger over time. Entire institutions have sprung up who owe their entire existences to these cultural divisions and work hard on entrenching them further.

As you might’ve already guessed, this isn’t really a case overseas. The ridiculous “mansplaining” thing is mostly limited to England and her former colonies. No one in Colombia, Brazil, Russia or 150+ other countries is going to accuse you of something simply because you’re a man who’s trying to explain something to a woman. Or a woman who’s trying to explain something to a man. Or a woman who’s trying to explain something to a woman. Or a man who’s trying to explain something to a man.

5. Always needing to prove yourself to others

Last month, I went out to a nice bar with a good friend. My friend was with his girlfriend who invited one of her female friends. Her friend and I immediately hit it off. She was witty and intelligent, the two qualities I like in women.

Over the following weeks, we saw each other few times. While I enjoyed spending time with her, I immediately sensed something was off. Most of her conversations revolved around work; she loved to talk about her clients, especially those who are richer and more successful than to her. She also liked to talk about her friends or relatives who ran profitable businesses and did very well for themselves.

I found this perplexing. She was a very successful young woman and yet she seemed so insecure that she needed to constantly remind me (albeit, so subtly) that she was surrounded by people who made more money that both of us would probably see in our lifetimes.

One day, it finally hit me: she was trying to impress me by linking herself to people who’re more successful. The fact that she’s connected to so many successful people is her way of elevating her own status in my eyes.

This is also something I noticed mostly specific to America. It’s ingrained in the culture for people to outdo each other by comparing not only their own success but also the success of people they know, whether they’re close relatives, friends or even clients.

To be sure, I have met people like this overseas. This was prevalent in big cities like Moscow and São Paolo where people are slaving away long hours and their lives revolve around work with little time to play. But even in these super capitalistic metropolises, I’ve met people who had a certain zest for life and derived their self-worth internally instead of externally.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I hate America. I don’t. It has its problems just like any other country. Since it’s inhabited by people of such diverse backgrounds, different viewpoints and beliefs are to be expected.

It’s just it’s nice to be able to connect with a stranger, whether in a coffee shop, a bar or while riding the subway. It’s even better to do that by being authentic and be able to say what you think and feel instead of carefully monitoring your words and actions because you fear your mere thoughts may inadvertently turn your newfound friend into a sworn enemy.

My Last Journey Through Ukraine

Ukraine is a poor country, but that’s not obvious if you’re lucky to land in the capital’s brand-spanking-new international terminal. What was once an old and decaying Soviet chunks of plastic and metal, Kiev’s Terminal D had been completely rebuilt from the ground up and now rivals even the most modern Western airports. Once you pass passport control, clear customs, and exit the international arrivals, the scenery immediately changes from new to old.

While you’re adjusting to the new environment, you can’t help but feel that you’re on a set of a cheap Eastern European movie. There are old Ladas circling outside the terminals, shady Eastern European guys smoking and spitting on the ground. Soon, one of them will approach and offer you an overpriced taxi ride to the center.

Kiev is like a delicious cookie with a tasty inner filling that’s surrounded by a hard outer shell. There are several charming neighborhoods with fantastic restaurants and great bars, but in order to get there, you must first go through, what seems like an unending array of grey, soulless and depressing neighborhoods that all look, smell and feel the same. These are the Western equivalent of suburbs, but they hardly resemble the typical American suburb with its neatly trimmed gardens, surrounded by white picket fences, and, of course, neighbors with permanent fake smiles plastered on their faces.

Cross the bridge over the mighty Dnieper river, and you’re now entering the main part of the city. As you approach the center from the east, buildings gradually transform from the ugly ten-story Soviet ones that all look the same to the more aesthetically-pleasing—and more desirable—pre-Soviet ones. This transformation doesn’t happen all at once, but slowly and sporadically; every now and then you see an imposing five-story building that was either built during Stalin’s rule (сталинка) or built before the Russian revolution that transformed the mighty Russian Empire into communist utopia known as the Soviet Union.

***

The first thing you must know about Ukraine is that it’s not a very tourist-friendly country. The unforgiving weather (except for few hot months in the summer), the unending mass of grey Soviet-era buildings, the locals who don’t smile, don’t speak any English and couldn’t give two shits about foreigners, actually, forget about the tourist aspect—it’s not a friendly country period. Nobody goes out of their way to please you. In fact, nobody really cares about you.

Over the years, as Ukraine became one of my main home bases, I’ve written a lot about the region, mostly praising it for the easy lifestyle and low cost of living. But what I neglected to talk about were the nuances of the region, the little things that one begins to deal with once the tourist visa expires and one transforms from a fly-by-night tourist to someone resembling a resident.

Unlike every other country that I’ve visited and lived in, where I was a foreigner and needed to familiarize with the local culture before immersing myself head first, in Ukraine I automatically felt like a local from the very first moment I stepped out of the train right after crossing the border from Poland a few years ago. After all, I was born here and spoke the language fluently. This entitlement was foolish. Not being there during my formative years meant that I was a complete foreigner in the country that I called my own.

When I first arrived and settled in the capital, I made good friends with Maksim, a local guy in his 30s. One of the things I liked about him was the fact that he was the complete opposite of me. He was extremely outgoing, brash, street-smart, and even a little in your face sometimes. Whereas I’ve always considered myself idealistic with a touch of romanticism, Maksim was direct and realistic. He didn’t have time for petty bullshit and always called things out for what they were. Hanging out with him was an eye-opening experience.

Maksim and I spent many evenings hanging out, usually drinking beer at his favorite bar, discussing various countries and their cultures. Part of the reason we connected so well was that, like myself, he was also fairly well-traveled, having lived and worked in places like Germany, US, and Spain. Although he loved the West for the opportunities presented to him, he always felt at home in Ukraine and couldn’t dream of living elsewhere.

One of the stark differences between Ukraine (and most of Eastern Europe) and the West was how human relationships form and develop. Maksim harbored no illusions and viewed all relationships in Ukraine as mostly transactional in nature. “I do this for you and later on you do this for me” he explained, while making his trademark hand gestures in case I was confused. Regardless of the type of relationship, there was always an inherent element of barter.

In the West, people are generally well off, have jobs and can afford nice things. Everyone enjoys an acceptable standard of living, regardless whether you’re working for minimum wage or an investment banker. As a result, friendships and connections with people are more casual. A friend is an interchangeable accessory that you can swap out depending on the function. You have your running buddy, your hiking buddy, your workout buddy, your poker buddy, your tennis buddy, your fuck buddy, your wingman, your colleague from work and an assortment of other people that occupy a very specific role in your life.

But in Ukraine, because the underlying infrastructure is broken and corrupt and a good-paying job that lets you easily afford an iPhone isn’t something you’re automatically entitled to, who you know matters much more than what you know. Although it was relatively easy to make friends, it was difficult to know who your true friends were until you declined to do something they asked. That was the real moment of truth. One of the guys whom I’ve known for several years and considered a good friend once asked me to loan him money (his business was losing money, so he needed some “help”). I refused because I knew I’d never see that money again. From that point on, our relationship steadily deteriorated and today we barely speak to each other. A lady who cleaned my apartment was super nice to me from day one, treating me like her son. I thought that was because I was a nice guy who kept the apartment clean and washed the dishes. But, one day, as I was heading out, she stopped me and asked if I knew anyone who was hiring an accountant. Her granddaughter had just graduated college with top grades but couldn’t find a job. After telling her that I had zero connections with the local accounting industry, I noticed her mood suddenly deflate as though I had disappointed her in some major way. From then on, her attitude became much more businesslike.

Even my own relatives acted as though I was a rich American who was naturally obligated to shower them with money. When I stopped by my aunt’s place for the first time in over 20 years to see how she was doing, she seemed both happy and reserved at the same time. Her mood dramatically improved when I opened my wallet and handed her a crisp $100 bill. Maybe it wasn’t enough because the next time I saw her, she told me that since I was living in America for so long, I’ve become too “Westernized” and lacked generosity. Her granddaughter, who was around my age, was friendly to me, but then one day told me out of the blue that I was cheapskate even though I never asked anything of her. I realized how naive I was for thinking my relationships were unconditional when in fact they were fully conditional on me giving them money.

But, nowhere was this transactional element more evident than in relationships with women.

According to Maksim, Ukrainian women were the world’s experts at getting what they wanted from men. What they truly excelled at is in reading men. Not only did they know how to expertly decipher what men wanted, their motivations and desires, but they also knew how to simultaneously provide them with what they wanted while getting what they wanted in return. In the West, the feminist movement lobbied governments to create laws that favored both sexes equally (sometimes even favoring women at the expense of men). In Eastern Europe, women’s ability to artfully manipulate men to get what they wanted made things like feminism completely superfluous.

There’s a well-known stereotype that Ukrainian women are after Western guys because they’re a gateway to a new land with hard currency and a nice passport, preferably one that says “USA” on the front cover. Frankly, I’d be outright dishonest if I said that wasn’t true. It is true. After all, from a woman’s point of view, there’s no greater transaction in the world than marrying a man from a higher socioeconomic background.

Indeed, I’ve heard lots of stories where a Ukrainian woman married a Western (or Westernized) man. Unfortunately, many of these marriages rarely lasted beyond the honeymoon. One of my good friends in New York had a colleague who met a girl in Ukraine (his home country) and, after a (mostly) online relationship that lasted few years, married her and brought her to America. My friend even helped her settle in by arranging simple part-time work. It didn’t take long for her to show her true colors. Apparently working was never part of her plans: going shopping for expensive things with her newly made friends was. They were divorced a month later and she went back to Ukraine. Then, a few months later, I received an email from one of my readers who wanted to share a story about his experiences. It was almost the exact same story. He met a young woman in the center of Kiev. They Skyped for a year. After that, they got married and she moved to America. Six weeks later, she left him for a wealthier man.

This dilemma affected me personally. Although marriage wasn’t something I was specifically looking for, after many years of random and pointless dating, I was more than ready for something more serious and stable. After dating women all over the world, I also realized the advantages of having a relationship with a person from one’s own culture. The advice, however, that I’ve gotten was to be very careful. This came from pretty much everyone: family, good friends both in Ukraine and America, my dentist, random taxi drivers of all ages and even the doorman in my Kiev’s apartment had an interesting story or two to share. Marriage is risky as is, but the stakes are much higher when two people come from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Initially, I dismissed everyone’s advice because I figured I was dealing with overly cynical people. I couldn’t imagine being surrounded by people who wanted to take advantage of me in some shape or form. I also took some precautions by hiding my past and never openly telling anyone I had been living in the West since my early teens and had a US passport. Although this made building relationships trickier, it enabled me to find out the person’s true intentions before committing. The absolute last thing I wanted was to commit myself to a girl that I really liked, only to eventually discover that the only reason she was with me because I was her “golden ticket” out of the country and onto a world with unlimited opportunities. And the entire time she was just putting up with me because of a bigger payday down the road.

Being on guard all the time was taxing on my psyche. It also forced me to abandon my idealistic side and become a bit more realistic and understand that people’s motives can easily change when there’s a specific incentive at stake. For better or worse, it made me reevaluate how I structure and manage relationships with others.

***

Whenever I needed a break from the capital, I always packed my bags with swimming trunks and headed to Odessa, a southern coastal city on the Black Sea that also happens to be my hometown.

Odessa is one of the most well-known cities in Eastern Europe. It’s one of Ukraine’s main cities and easily one of the most beautiful cities in the region, with its beautiful opera theater recognized all over the region. Ask anyone from Lithuania to Bulgaria to Belarus to Russia and there’s a good chance that they’d not only heard of it but know something about it (or someone who was from there). All over Ukraine, when people find out I’m from Odessa, their eyes immediately light up and they begin recounting warm memories of their trips to sea.

Since my return to Ukraine six years ago, I’ve made several trips to there. Sadly, each subsequent trip was more disappointing than the last. My first time there, back in 2011, coincided with my first trip to Ukraine (and Eastern Europe), so I really had no clear frame of reference. Sure, it was typical Eastern Europe with the rusty city trains, potholed streets, and smoke-filled restaurants, but because of my limited experience in the region, I couldn’t really form an opinion.

But the more time I spent living in Eastern Europe (with stints in Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania, not to mention lots of time in the capital, Kiev), the more I realized that Odessa was really nothing more than another poor and undeveloped third world city (even more so than the rest).

First, the city is dirty and broken. There’s garbage on the streets and more dog shit on the sidewalks than I’ve seen in most other cities. (Buenos Aires has more). I haven’t seen much dog shit in other Eastern European cities, but in Odessa, you really have to walk carefully to not step into it. Maybe it’s a deterrent so people don’t get drunk in public.

There’s also the non-ending construction. A year ago, they closed off one of the main arteries of the city for reconstruction. The plan was to fix everything in two months, just in time for the summer season. A year later the work seems nowhere close to being finished. When they’re not ripping apart perfectly fine streets, they seem to be drilling in random spots all around the city. One day, I woke up and about five guys were drilling for something just outside my apartment right in the center of the city. Maybe they were looking for gold, I don’t know. After they finished for the day, I was left with a big ditch right outside my front window that blocked half of my view and remained so for the remainder of my stay.

The other main problem with Odessa is the people. Odessa had always had a reputation as a city of extremely friendly people. But, alas, I was wrong again because that wasn’t the case at all. Almost everyone that I met has been either plain inconsiderate, outright rude, or just didn’t give a shit about anything, a far cry from other Eastern European cities and Kiev especially. The service in cafes and restaurants, which I use as a barometer for the city’s general level of friendliness, was a complete joke. By comparison, in Kiev, the service has mostly been excellent. Everyone had always been helpful and understanding, and I genuinely felt welcomed everywhere. In Odessa, however, there was a general sense of apathy from the waiters and waitresses, so much so that you couldn’t help to feel that they’re doing you a favor by taking your order in the first place. To be sure, there were a couple of places where the service was acceptable and bordering on friendly, but these were exceptions to the rule.

On few occasions, I even doubted whether I was really in Europe and not in some place in Africa or India. Earlier this summer, I saw a dead woman laying on a city beach, located a mere fifteen-minute walk from the downtown. She looked to be about 50 or 55. It was the first time in my life that I saw a dead woman lying in the middle of a public beach. I had no idea how’d she got there, whether she drowned an hour ago or it was a corpse that’s been rotting on the beach for a week or more. In fact, no one else seemed to care either. People walked around the dead body without paying much attention at all, as though seeing a dead body laying on the sand was an everyday sight. Several people, realizing a valuable piece of real estate was available right next to her, unfolded their beach blankets and began suntanning. Kids ran around, throwing frisbees over the dead woman’s body.

An intelligent-looking elderly man and a woman who were suntanning next to us must’ve gotten fed up and called the police. An hour or two later two young guys in uniforms showed up, looked around, snapped a couple of pictures and disappeared. I looked over and saw an ambulance parked in the parking a lot. Ten minutes later, the ambulance was gone. About five hours later, as the sun was setting and people were getting ready to go home, five or six policemen showed up and snapped more pictures. Then, two more guys showed up, put the woman on the stretcher and carried her to a newly arrived ambulance.

At this point I realized something important: I was no longer in Europe. I was somewhere else. Although this country is geographically in Europe, and people look European, from a cultural standpoint, the country is easily 20-30 years behind, if not more. I mean, can you imagine seeing a dead woman laying on a beach in Barcelona for an entire day? A beach in France? A beach in Miami? A beach in San Diego? Of course, anything is possible, but I can guarantee you that people at those other cities would probably take notice and do something instead of blindly walking around the body as though nothing was wrong. Police would also show up immediately and remove the body.

I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so embarrassed. I felt sorry for all of those people who spilled their blood during all those revolutions. If the people fighting for a better life in Kiev’s central square (Maidan) knew how degenerate and backward the rest of the country was, they would’ve easily had second thoughts about the whole revolution thing.

To be sure, you do run into interesting and friendly people every now and then. The elderly lady who lived in my building treated me like her own son and offered to sew together my BJJ kimono’s torn sleeve after I asked her for the nearest atelier. I made good friends with one of the taxi drivers and he gave me solid advice about the city and even offered to show me around.

But the biggest problem I had was trying to understand how such a beautiful city by the sea can feel so cheap and low grade. Almost as though the city was built by a certain type of people but was now inhabited by a completely different type of people. It was a serious cognitive dissonance. In almost every city I’ve been, there’s been a connection between the city and its inhabitants. New York projects power and wealth and is inhabited by people like bankers and investors walking through a maze of skyscrapers that project power and wealth. Rio de Janeiro projects sun, beach, and relaxation and is inhabited by tanned, friendly people who embody those qualities. Not Odessa. It’s a beautiful city that projects cultural sophistication but is inhabited by people who wouldn’t know what culture was if it hit them over the head.

Ultimately, what consoled me was the fact that I was in southern Eastern Europe, which was the poorest region of all of Europe (Moldova, a mere few hours away, is Europe’s poorest country). And, while Odessa is certainly nicer than all of the surrounding cities, you’re still dealing with the same corrupt regional government, the same backward small city mindset and the same lack of sophistication and culture as the rest of the region. A good way to describe Odessa is it’s more of an overgrown village than a sophisticated city with a pedigreed culture. It’s too big to be a village but too culturally unsophisticated to be a proper city.

***

Having spent the majority of time in Kiev and Odessa (plus a quick trip to Lviv in the west), I’ve always wondered what the rest of the country was like. After all, Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe by territory (excluding Russia which is both in Europe and Asia). Do other cities feel similar to the capital? Are the people different? More or less friendly? So, I set out to find out. Earlier this year, as the snow was finally melting with the spring rapidly approaching, I packed my bag and grabbed a taxi to the train station. I boarded the train and headed east.

Kharkov is Ukraine’s second largest city. It’s also the country’s former capital and its most easterly city. Being only 30 miles from Russia’s border, it’s an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking city, and during my stay there I didn’t hear a single Ukrainian word even once. The locals even have a slight Russian accent, with vowel intonations more reminiscent of how people talk in St. Petersburg than Kiev. It boasts huge squares and one of the largest parks I’ve seen in this part of the world.

People seek the meaning of life in different places. There are people that go to India, to places like Goa or Varanasi. Other people restart their lives in the tropical Thailand. Some move to South America, where I spent over six years living and traveling. A good friend of mine is obsessed with everything Chinese and is traveling around southern China. Another friend moved to Japan, where he’s been living for more than ten years.

My search for the meaning of life was always associated with Eastern Europe. Sure, being born there had probably something to do with it. But, more than anything, I wanted to find a place with some sort of moral fabric, where family values still existed, where people kept their word and didn’t flake at the last minute, and where people actually spoke to each other instead of endlessly refreshing their Facebook feeds that’s so common in any Western city. Going to a place that had resisted capitalism and the corrosion of humanity that comes along with it so fiercely for so long didn’t seem like a bad idea. In a way, I viewed my trip to Kharkov as a sort of a spiritual crusade.

As I quickly learned, I went too far. While I did see couples and friends actually talking to each other instead of being glued to their smartphones and met people who were so direct that they made my easygoing nature feel like an obvious insecurity (if you were able to get close to them in the first place), the tradeoffs were too much to bear. Everything about the city felt barren, nondescript and, for a lack of a better word, excruciatingly boring. The center had a huge square, but it didn’t feel like I was actually in a vibrant city center and instead in a big open space with no beginning and no end. The service in the restaurants was bordering on arrogant. In fact, the entire city was strange and weird as though everyone hated themselves for being there perhaps because being there was their eternal punishment for not achieving better things in life.

For the first time in the country, I even felt like an outsider. Unlike elsewhere in the country where I’ve always managed to fit right in (and why shouldn’t I?), people somehow knew I was different. A couple of young guys in the supermarket checkout line nervously stared at me. A young girl who was walking her little dog gave me an unfriendly look while I waited outside a cafe. A well-to-do couple in a nice Italian restaurant would periodically look at me while I was flipping through the menu. An old lady, whom I helped cross the street, looked at me with a scorn as though I was the enemy of the state before briskly walking away without thanking me. It was as though everyone was hinting that I didn’t belong and that I should go back where I came from.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that spending time on the eastern edge of European civilization puts everything in perspective like nothing else out there. I’ve been to every single Eastern European country. I’ve been to dozens of Eastern European cities. I used to think that Vilnius or Kiev or Riga or Sofia or Bucharest or some other Eastern European capital had a backward feel to it, but, man, was I wrong.

Actually, this place was a potpourri of stereotypes that showcased everything that, for better or worse, represented authentic Eastern Europe that was frozen in time. It was the real deal, not some sanitized version. The badly shaved guys in their Adidas tracksuits and cheap sneakers driving souped-up Soviet-made cars or older BMWs. The poorly lit столовые (self-service restaurants) in the basements. The grannies who pushed and shoved you in line to buy bread in darkly lit Soviet-era grocery stores. The poor-to-almost-non-existent, “I don’t care what you want, but I’m not helping you” service. The complete absence of smiles or any sign friendliness. The perennial grey weather that only added to the overall gloomy mood of the city.

Whereas Odessa was an insecure city that was desperately trying to be something else, Kharkov was as secure as they come. It had a formidable “take it or leave it” approach. Either you liked it or you didn’t, but it wouldn’t go out of its way to please you. It really didn’t give a fuck about you or anyone else.

Generally speaking, Eastern Europe is pretty beat up. When you live there, you give up a lot of the comforts and conveniences that you take for granted in the super comfortable West in exchange for new experiences. As a result, you’re forced to grow and become a better, more self-aware person. It has certainly impacted me in a million different ways, experiences that I certainly wouldn’t trade for anything. But there’s a limit to how far you can go before the cons begin to overtake the pros. It’s like moving to the middle of Africa and living in a hut without water, electricity, roads, supermarkets and much else. Sure, you can do it. But why would you want to?

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I had to be either crazy or desperate to live in a place like Kharkov. Most people already think I’m crazy for leaving America in the first place and, while there’s some truth to that, I still value a comfortable living. My needs are very modest. I need the basics like a roof over my head, water, electricity and nice supermarkets that sell fresh bread, but I also want a comfortable city where people smile and I feel welcomed. Culture is very important. I’m definitely not crazy enough to live on the edge of civilization where the latter is woefully missing.

The saddest thing was that I really wanted to like this city. I truly did. I came with an open mind expecting to find a city with a rich history that I would enjoy. In the end, I hated it. And I wasn’t just displeased by it as though it was some dish at a restaurant that was poorly seasoned. I hated everything about it. I hated it with a burning passion. I hated the decaying architecture. I hated the poorly maintained roads. But most of all I hated the complete and utter apathy of the people. I thoroughly disliked the narrow-minded provincial mentality that was so prevalent in both cities.

After about a week in this strange and confusing city, I caught the express train back to the capital.

It was a sunny and warm day when I exited Kiev’s main railway station. After an unusually cold winter, spring was finally in the air. Being back in the capital never felt so good. More importantly, I was awash with gratefulness. It was one of the first times in my life that I realized that even though things can be far from ideal, they could be a lot worse: I could be living in Kharkov or some other degenerate shithole.

Ukraine disappointed me in ways I never imagined nor expected. But the capital lured me back in. Returning there had this feeling of comfort as though I was sitting on my parents comfortable couch and eating my mom’s delicious home made food after sleeping in dirty hostels and random apartments all over the world. Most importantly, Kiev was everything the other cities were not. It was the perfect size, not too small that it felt like an oversized village and not too large that it felt an overcrowded megapolis. It felt sufficiently cosmopolitan and cultural that I never felt like I was in some old Soviet-era movie, but yet was also quintessentially Eastern European, providing that perfect cultural dose that made you stronger without outright killing you. The people were much friendlier and open-minded. I also discovered a nice neighborhood that was just perfect.

Later on, as I was boarding a flight in the capital’s beautifully remodeled international terminal, I knew there was at least one place in this country I could potentially live long-term without going crazy.

11 Reasons Why Every Red-Blooded Man Must Permanently Leave America

I don’t like America. There, I said it. While I’m very grateful to this great country for accepting me as a piss poor immigrant in the late 1980s while the communist project called Soviet Union was collapsing, something about this country always rubbed me the wrong way.

For a long time, I couldn’t understand what it was. After all, I was living in the richest country on the entire planet, a country that practically everyone in the world would give their right arm and leg for an opportunity to immigrate to. How can anything be wrong? Why would anyone want to escape it? What was wrong with me? This discomfort was like walking around with a little rock permanently lodged deep inside my shoe.

It was only after I began to travel (living two years in Brazil was the turning point), did I begin to understand that something was rotten in the State of The Land of The Free. What I ended up learning is that, contrary to popular belief, America isn’t the “best” country in the world due to its many problems and faults.

After living abroad for more than ten years, here are my main reasons why you should do the same:

1) You’ll enjoy a more comfortable and affordable standard of living

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One thing I realized during my travels is that the rest of the world is not some shit hole everyone claims it to be, but is incredibly developed, and, in many cases, simply easier to live than America. Here in Kiev, Ukraine, buying a prepaid simcard for my iPhone is $3 and that provides me with 1GB per month (compared to a $75 prepaid AT&T card that you can buy in JFK airport).

In Thailand, I hailed taxis that were furnished with extremely fast WiFi connections. China’s Facebook rival WeChat is miles ahead of its American counterpart; you can use the platform for anything from keeping in touch with your friends to playing games to sending and receiving money. Even Uber, the world’s highest-valued technology startup, recently lost its war for the Chinese market to a very capable homegrown competitor. (It ended up selling its Chinese unit).

Don’t get me started on the immense value. In many parts of the world, you can easily live for as little as $1,000/month (often even half that). That includes everything. No, I’m not talking about spartan living such as camping in the woods and eating bananas all day. I’m talking about quality, well-functioning cities with solid infrastructure: Chiang Mai, Thailand; Medellin, Colombia; Vilnius, Lithuania, and many more.

2) You’ll enjoy higher quality, healthier and better-tasting food

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Whether you know this or not, an overwhelming majority of food in America is not “real”: it’s synthetically made. For instance, pretty much all corn that’s consumed in America is synthetic, and its derivative—high fructose corn syrup—is considered by many renowned scientists to be dangerous and even poisonous.

But one doesn’t need to be a scientist to know the difference between “plastic,” tasteless tomatoes and their genuine counterparts; all it takes is a quick trip abroad. I vividly recall that special time when I took a road trip to a small town outside Florence, Italy and tasted a sandwich stacked with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes.

The feeling my taste buds experienced cannot be put into words. Those tomatoes tasted like no tomatoes I’ve previously eaten before. Ever. They felt, well, flavorful. It was like my entire life before that moment was black and white and it suddenly turned vivid color. A year later, I tasted even better tomatoes while living in Vilnius, Lithuania. After that experience, I could no longer look at American tomatoes the same way; as far as I was concerned, they were as good as the plastic ones you see on the tables gracing the showrooms of furniture stores.

The bad news is that American (and other) agribusinesses are quickly colonizing the world. For example, here in Ukraine, a country that at one point fed the entire Soviet Union thanks to its lush farmlands, most of the food is rapidly becoming mass processed. So, if you want to taste real food, you must go abroad. Soon. Like, right now.

3) You’ll speak your mind without being censored by the politically-correct thought police

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The previous two reasons probably aren’t a surprise to many: everyone knows that America isn’t cheap (even if they don’t realize that they can get a better value elsewhere) and when it comes to food, people don’t care enough to change their habits. But there’s something else insidious that many people undoubtedly feel but can’t explain: political correctness.

Political correctness is a cultural construct that aims to reengineer human behavior to censor “offensive” or “might-be-possibly-taken-as-offensive” speech.

Not only does it censor “offensive” or “might-be-taken-as-offensive” speech, it also takes into the account the race and gender of the person who’s saying it, giving preference to people lower on the “racial or gender hierarchy.” For example, it’s much more forgiving for a black woman to say something offensive than for a white man. That’s because a white man is the highest on the racial/gender hierarchy (he’s a man and he’s white) than a black woman (she’s black and she’s a woman).

The problem with political correctness isn’t that it prevents racist or sexist remarks (direct discrimination is bad), but that it goes much, much further: it prioritizes the feelings of those who’re lower in the racial/gender hierarchy at the expense of those who’re above in the racial/gender hierarchy. It directly facilitates culture war.

This along with the inevitable shaming that occurs as punishment means that our society doesn’t really have freedom of speech that’s bestowed by the Constitution. It’s censorship, pure and simple. Where’s the freedom of speech if I can’t say something that may inadvertently be taken as offense by someone else?

Political correctness is a luxury bestowed upon rich countries (mostly Anglo and Scandinavian). In the rest of the world, people can’t be bothered to be offended at minor things; they have far bigger problems, like earning an honest living and providing for their family.

When you leave America, you’ll experience much more authentic and honest human behavior that’ll undoubtedly take you some time getting used to, but will make you a more resilient and honest man, both with yourself and others around you.

4) You’ll no longer be shamed for who you are and your beliefs

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Most societies around the world are structured according national identity. In Ukraine, almost everyone is Ukrainian. In Russia, almost everyone is Russian. In Brazil, almost everyone is Brazilian. In Thailand, almost everyone is Thai. Of course, that’s assuming a homogeneous society: everyone looks similar and speaks the native language.

A Russian woman who lives in Moscow doesn’t need to join some “women’s group” like march for “women’s rights” or a “coding camp for women” because she doesn’t feel that her rights are being infringed by men in any way. Yes, she’s the “weaker” sex, but she’s very comfortable with being the weaker sex—she’s proud of it. There’s little need for gender-based ideologies such as Feminism.

In America, there’s no such thing as a national identity. Every human being is essentially an atom: floating in space and fending for themselves. The result is a society that’s organized around inner-societal shaming. Women are shamed for being the “weaker sex.” They’re also shamed for slutty or feminist behavior. Men are shamed for being weak (beta), while constantly being made insecure by comparison to those who’re stronger (alpha).

Every element of American society is also strongly divided along ideological lines: liberal and conservative. Need proof? Pick a random person on the street—anyone—and there’s a good chance they’ll have very strong views concerning a specific ideology or a politician. That liberal barista in a New York Starbucks might spit in your coffee if she finds out you’ve voted for Donald Trump; that farmer in rural Iowa will chase you down the street with a manure fork if you praise Obamacare (universal healthcare).

While there are many other liberal democracies around the world, this “divide” isn’t so widespread in other countries where national identity is supreme over political or religious ideologies. I first experienced this in Brazil. Later, this was reinforced in Eastern European countries such as Russia and Ukraine. Here in Ukraine, most people don’t have an overwhelmingly strong opinion about politics one way or another.

5) You’ll meet less highly entitled and self-absorbed individuals

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Political correctness breeds the victim mentality, and that directly leads to entitlement: the privilege to feel and behave like a victim and, therefore, be offended at pretty much anything that one can possibly and theoretically find offending. Essentially, it’s the feeling that you’re being oppressed by others by their mere existence, without them having to do anything that adversely affects you.

“I’m a woman and men are bigger and stronger, make more money on average, so therefore I’m the victim and I have every right to get offended at men.”

“I’m a transvestite and conservative white men have enacted laws that prevent me from going to the bathroom of my choice, so therefore I’m the victim and have every right to be offended.”

“I’m a woman who’s had terrible relationships with men all my life. Therefore all men are jerks, and I have every right to be offended at what they do or say.”

Entitlement is a big problem. Instead of feeling humble and open to understanding the world—and perhaps realizing that you’re the one who’s wrong and that every other person isn’t conspiring against you. Entitlement prevents you from realizing that the problem is actually with yourself and not others.

Entitlement breeds selfishness. It gives you carte blanche to believe that you’re special, that your problems are truly unique to you only, that everyone should pay special attention to you, and that, consequently, everyone should sympathize and empathize with you. It makes you think that the world really does revolve around you.

Ultimately, entitlement is a barrier to self improvement and self actualization. Instead of prioritizing yourself to not care about trivial things and instead focusing on the bigger problems, problems that actually matter, problems that will make a real difference in your life, you artificially construct the “us vs. them” mentality in order to feel better about your trivial problems. Instead of digging yourself out of the proverbial rabbit hole, you’re digging yourself even deeper.

A society of entitled individuals is a society that can no longer function cohesively as a single unit. It’s a society that lacks empathy, mutual understanding, and spiritual growth.

While entitlement exists in countries all around the world, I’ve discovered that it’s mostly a factor in wealthy liberal societies that are infused with political-correctness instead of more traditional patriarchal societies.

6) You’ll clear your mind of poisonous advertising and propaganda

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Americans are exposed to ridiculous amount of advertising every waking second of their lives. That means that each one of us is constantly being told what to do. That’s done by manipulating our emotions in creative ways, so much so that we can no longer feel them without something else—without doing something extra: like buying that amazingly-smelling cologne or that super fast BMW. It’s all done on a subconscious level; you’re not even aware of what’s going on.

Our emotions aren’t only manipulated—they’re also subverted. It’s no wonder that in highly developed countries such as America, many people are suffering from consumerism and neurosis. People don’t understand that happiness comes from within; not from maxing out your credit card bill on Black Friday or buying that 55th pair of shoes.

Mass marketing was invented in America and has gotten to a point where human beings aren’t viewed as actual, you know, human beings but as consumers whose only purpose in life is, you know, the consumption of products and services.

I’m always amazed at the sheer number of commercials whenever I return to America. On my last trip, I recall boarding a taxi at New York’s JFK airport, and being immediately pitched over the radio anything from low-rate mortgages to cheap insurance to special pills that “you should ask your doctor about.”

While the rest of the world relies on advertising to sell you stuff, it’s not nearly as penetrated in the developing countries as in the land where it was invented and gradually perfected over the subsequent years.

7) You’ll free yourself from the soul-destroying dog-eat-dog mentality

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America is one of the few countries on the planet that rewards talent and skill above all else. Anyone, irrespective of religion, race, gender and ancestry, can come here and make it—provided they’re willing to work hard. Examples abound: movie stars like Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme came here with nothing but the clothes on their back and became extremely successful.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that American culture is inherently super competitive. Everyone is fending for themselves instead of cooperating. I was born in Ukraine, but there’s a difference between a Ukrainian (or Russian) in America and a Ukrainian in Ukraine (or Russian in Russia). The former are super competitive; the latter are much more down to earth and open to cooperation. My Mexican, Brazilian and Colombian friends who recently moved to America have noticed the same thing.

This super competitive mentality doesn’t exist in many other countries. When I lived in Brazil, I found the people super friendly and approachable. Same thing for people in Thailand, Indonesia and Lithuania. Even here in Ukraine, people treat each other as human beings instead of some competitor with whom one is vying for the same resources.

8) You’ll develop meaningful, deep and rewarding human relationships

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Coming from an Eastern European background, I was used to having a couple of close friends whom I can call anytime and discuss any issues from making money to relationships. There’s even a famous Russian saying that when you’re having trouble with your wife, you show up at your neighbor with a bottle of vodka, and then discuss your problems well into the early morning.

In America, however, I noticed there’s a specialization when it comes to human relationships. Instead of a person having a couple of close friends, you have different people that serve different purposes. There’s a workout partner. There’s a running partner. There’s a business colleague. And then there’s a wingman with whom you go out to meet women.

One reason for such specialization is capitalism and the division of labor. Instead of asking a friend for relationship advice, you go to a therapist. Instead of asking a successful friend who runs a business for business advice, you go to a business consultant. Human connections are replaced by a consultant-client relationships. Advice becomes a service like any other.

I’m fortunate that, while I have plenty of acquaintances, I have about three close friends whom I trust and can solicit advice on all kinds of issues. I cherish their relationships more than anything. They’re all non-American.

9) You’ll stay ahead of the curve in the competitive global marketplaceGet_in_Touch_Shanghai_shanghai city_1620x672.jpg

If there’s anything that the current backlash to globalization has exposed is that there are actually two Americas: the haves and the have nots. The rich are thriving as a result of favorable capital and trade laws, while the poor are getting left behind because their wages are being slashed or their jobs are exported overseas altogether. While the richer are getting richer, the wages for the working class have remained stagnant since about the 1980s.

For the first time in more than 75 years, there are more young people living with their parents than renting their own apartments. That means that living standards are falling.

America is an expensive country. While people have a correspondingly nice salary, allowing them to afford a decent standard of living, in the big cities, the prices for living are so astronomically high that a well-paying professional needs another a roommate (or two) in order to make ends meet.

There’s also the astronomical cost of healthcare, one of the highest in the world, even when compared to other developed countries such as Canada and Australia. Having insurance may not really help: there’s a good chance that your deductible is too high, defeating its purpose in all but the most expensive cases.

While America is still a fantastic place to make money, its place in the world is gradually being eroded. Jobs are moving overseas. Asian tech companies are rivaling (and even overtaking) Silicon Valley firms. Many talented would-be immigrants (e.g., Indians, Chinese, Russians) are choosing to remain in their home countries instead of immigrating to America.

This means that next-generation technology will no longer be developed in America by immigrants, and, instead, this wealth will duly remain in their respective countries. Although this effect on American competitiveness won’t be noticeable immediately, it will gradually compound over the next years and decades.

10) You’ll be surrounded by beautiful feminine women who appreciate unapologetically masculine men

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When I moved to Brazil, I experienced a complete culture shock: super masculine men aggressively approached women without any shame, and super feminine and sexy women actually appreciated and responded to such displays of brazen masculinity.

As someone who grew up in America, that kind of behavior not only made me uncomfortable, but I was pretty sure would also get me arrested in the bars and clubs of New York or San Francisco. Because in America, these things are different to such an extent that they’re confusing. Women are eschewing their feminine traits, and, men, feeling lost and confused, are letting go of their masculine traits. The result is a society that lacks the all important polarity. It’s a society where building and maintaining romantic relationships requires the constant intervention of a family psychologist.

If you’ve never experienced true femininity, then you’re in for a huge be culture shock. Don’t worry, once the shock fades, you’ll wonder how you’ve tolerated unfeminine and entitled women for so long.

11) You’ll regain your long-lost masculinity

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I couldn’t resist

These days, everyone seems to have an opinion of what “true” masculinity is all about. But as far as I’m concerned the definition is easy: it’s when you can be bold, unapologetic, raw and resolutely go for what you want without being shamed for your behavior by others.

Unfortunately, behaving like an unapologetic man is all but impossible in countries with politically-correct ideologies; PC cultures are about conformity, not masculine/feminine polarity. PC cultures are inherently anti-masculine and anti-feminine.

Thankfully, there’s still a world out there where men behave like men, women behave like women, and children are scared. It’s a world outside America; a world outside the West. And you’ll realize this the moment you step of the plane.

From temporary to permanent

In the beginning of my expat lifestyle, I’ve always thought that once the novelty of living in some exotic foreign country wears off, I’ll pack up and board the next flight back to New York.

But the more I’ve lived abroad, the more I’ve realized that there’s nothing more permanent than temporary. Repatriating to America seems less and less of a possibility with each passing day. Maybe in a few years, I’ll buy property here in Ukraine and finally settle down. Many of my foreign expat friends here in Kiev are planning to do just that.

Leaving America gives you an opportunity to discover a rapidly evolving world, a world where “the land of the free” is quickly getting eclipsed by other countries in value, stability, sanity and ease of life.

To be sure, America still has tremendous value. It’s the best country in the world to learn how to hustle and make money from nothing. Fortunately, you don’t need to live in America in order to make money hand over fist. Thanks to the Internet, one can live in one place while simultaneously marketing and selling an array of products and services to a group of people in another.

Once you taste the sweet nectar of what the world has to offer, I guarantee you that you’ll be cursing and kicking yourself for not having done it much, much sooner.

Ukraine Is On The Verge Of Total Collapse

As I write this from a typical “Stolovaya” in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, I realize that I’ve developed an addiction to this country. Out of the 85 or so countries that I’ve stepped foot in my life, Ukraine is the only country that I have returned to no less than five times in the past five years. Of course, this isn’t just any country: I was born here. And in 1989, while the Soviet Union was breaking up into 15 different countries, I left my homeland and immigrated to America.

I first returned to Ukraine in the summer of 2011. After spending many years living in America and Latin America, returning to this part of the world was a truly surreal experience. Suddenly, everyone around me was speaking my native language, and I no longer needed to master a new foreign language like countless times before. Language is the gateway to culture, so it’s extremely rewarding to connect with the people in ways that you cannot if you don’t speak the local language.

Although I viewed Ukraine as a developing country, I never considered it to be poor. The word “poor” has always been reserved for places in Africa or Central Asia. Perhaps it’s also a result of living in the “developing” countries in Latin America. Countries like Colombia, Argentina and Brazil aren’t exactly as rich as America or Australia, but they’re very comfortable places to live.

Sure, you may not have some of the nicer amenities that Western countries take for granted like two-day Amazon shipping or on-demand food for your pet, but you’re still blessed with the standard stuff you need to survive: functioning infrastructure, good public roads, reliable public transport, running water (potable in Medellin), gas and electricity.

Still, putting a country like Ukraine in the same league as other “developing” countries like Colombia and Brazil isn’t correct either. The latter just feel richer than the former. In fact, when I lived in US, I knew many Colombian and Brazilian immigrants who repatriated to their respective homelands, but I’ve yet to meet anyone in America or another highly developed country who voluntarily returned to Ukraine or Russia. (Someone like me who’s making dollars and then spending them in the cheap local currency doesn’t count).

When Ukraine was part of the mighty USSR, it was considered “the breadbasket of Soviet Union” because of the sheer amount of wheat it produced. (Yes, the bread is really good here.) But that’s where its fortunes end. Unlike Russia, which is blessed with massive amount of important natural resources (e.g., gas and oil), Ukraine’s only advantage is geographical: it mainly serves as a buffer between its mighty eastern neighbor and Europe.

Another reason I didn’t realize that Ukraine is so poor is because I was mostly a fly-by-tourist, a foreigner—not a local. I arrived, rented a nice (and usually overpriced) apartment smack in the center, took taxis around town to coffee shops and ate at nice restaurants. I almost never viewed things from a local’s perspective.

On the other hand, if you have the misfortune of being a local, things are tough. Ukraine is poor. Really poor. The country hasn’t been stable for the past decade, but things really accelerated after the Maidan revolution in 2014. Not long after the—as some would call undemocratic and unconstitutional—change of power, several crucial things occurred: annexation of Crimea by Russia, a war in the eastern part of the country, and a devaluation of the currency, hryvnia, from a fixed 8 units to the dollar to around 29 (as of this writing).

Economics

Let’s talk economics. As someone who’s making dollars, I’ve found the capital, Kiev, to be one of the cheapest cities I’ve ever been to. I used to think that Latin America was pretty cheap. And, indeed, coming from overpriced places like San Francisco (where I lived for ten years) and New York City (where I also lived for ten years), Latin American cities are very cheap. But Ukraine is on a completely different level of cheapness altogether.

In the capital, Kiev, an Uber taxi ride is about half the price of a NYC subway ride. I can have a packed three-course lunch for the same price as a small sandwich in a Brooklyn bakery. A decent one-bedroom apartment costs a bit more than monthly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu membership in a good Manhattan school (hint: it’s about ten times less expensive than a comparable apartment in San Francisco).

That means that someone like me can enjoy a pretty great world city on a very comfortable budget, but for a typical local who’s earning $150-300 per month (the average salary in the capital, they’re much lower in the smaller cities), their options are severely limited, considering that all of that money would been eaten by rent.

The chief problem has been the collapse of the currency. In dollar terms, the currency has dropped more 3.5 times. Imagine having $3,500 in the bank which overnight turned into $1,000 without you even touching it. To be sure: you’re still paying for stuff in the local currency, so you still have similar purchasing power for locally produced goods, but anything that’s priced in dollars or euros (e.g., vacations to Italy, pair of Levis jeans, BMWs) is suddenly 3.5x more expensive.

Essentially, people are still working the same jobs, working the same hours, doing the same things, but are now getting three and a half times less income in return. That’s nothing less than a destruction of the cost of living.

Politicians are blaming the currency devaluation on “Russia’s aggression” and the ensuing war in the eastern part of the country. And while wars are such crucial events that they can be blamed for any instability in the country, it’s hard to buy this argument because a collapsed standard of living represents many insidious benefits as well. For one, it’s a wet dream of big corporations anywhere. They can hire labor and pay them a lot less money for essentially the same amount of work. That’s just a couple of levels above slavery.

Ukraine For Sale

Ukraine For Sale

European integration

One of the major themes of Ukraine’s post-independence history has been the severing of the country’s relationship with Russia (both economically and culturally) and the closer integration of the country towards the disparate collection of states called European Union.

The “Orange revolution” in 2004 was a peaceful event which signalled the initial power shift from the pro-Russian factions to the pro-European factions. Ten years later, the (more violent) Maidan revolution permanently cemented the pro-European position. Although there’s an opposition party in the parliament (every democratic government has one), there won’t be any kind of close relations with Russia anytime soon.

Politics is always a means to a some economic end. And the name of the game is the integration of Ukraine into Europe. Integration is a nice word, but did anyone bother to look up what this “integration” actually means? I have. And what it really means is that the country will be cut up into small pieces and then auctioned off to the highest bidder. Open borders mean people (i.e., the labor force) will leave the country and migrate to richer countries like Germany or UK, which is something that has happened to the Baltic countries (see how many Lithuanians live in London). The country will also be gutted of its natural resources.

Trade makes a lot of sense when both parties benefit. But the fact of the matter is that Europe doesn’t need much from Ukraine. Everything that Ukraine makes, Europe already knows how to make better and more efficiently. Europe (and America) only want two things from Ukraine: cheap labor and control of the land to serve as a buffer zone between EU and Russia. (The latter is more important than the former).

Many locals told me that Ukraine is being deforested with the wood being sold to Turkey at a steep discount, which then makes furniture and sells the finished product back to Ukraine for a nice premium. This doesn’t benefit Ukraine at all. In fact, it’s the kind of mercantilist relationship that was common between Spain and Portugal and their South American colonies.

Jumping ship

Since I was so insulated from the locals, I didn’t realize that the country is experiencing a mass exodus. It’s one of those things that you don’t know until you start talking to people and asking the right questions. It all comes down to basic economics: getting a well-paying job is extremely difficult if not outright impossible here: unlike a richer place like New York or London, there’s just not enough capital and money to go around.

One option is to quit the measly paying 9-5 and start your own business. When you become your own boss and control your financial destiny, your income possibilities become limitless. The problem is that building a business in Ukraine requires a certain level of toughness and ruthlessness that few people possess. This isn’t America where you have the complete rule of law on your side. Things can be quite “unpredictable” for business owners here.

Thus, your other options are to either continue living on a meager income, live in modest conditions, or pack up and immigrate to a richer country where working in the same profession will afford you a nicer apartment/house in a nice city, a car, and many other amenities that Westerners take completely for granted.

So, why suffer in a country drowning in corruption when you can have a much higher level of living elsewhere?

While men typically don’t need much and can survive in the most rugged and minimalist conditions, women are always trying to see if there’s a way they can do better. Easily half of the women I met here in Kiev are eager to escape to the West—or pretty much anywhere where there are more opportunities—at all costs.

A solid strategy is to marry a Western man with the hope of beginning a new life in the Land of The Free. Another option is to move to a Western country on a tourist visa and then stay there illegally. When I lived in Brooklyn, NY, I’ve met a good share of young Ukrainian women and Russian women working all kinds of odd jobs. I knew for a fact that lots of them were in the country illegally.

It certainly says a lot about the country when its vast female population is desperate to escape anyway it can.

Ukraine is one of the few countries that I’ve been to where I experienced this level of desperation. I didn’t feel this in Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries. I also didn’t feel it in Lithuania, another former Soviet Union republic. I suppose another country with a similarly dire situation is Belarus, a closed off country that’s probably even poorer than Ukraine; Russia is a bit richer with a higher standard of living, so its level of desperation isn’t as high as Ukraine’s.

That businessman who is making good money, but is dealing with mountains of red tape and tough-looking guys in black leather jackets coming over for “protection” is dreaming of moving to Australia and scaling his business there. That talented software engineer who’s making $300/month is dreaming of working for Google and making $10,000/month while living in sunny Silicon Valley. That beautiful girl is cringing at the prospect of having her kids grow up here, and would much rather raise them in EU or America where they’ll have much more opportunities and actually become someone.

Fault

The question I keep asking myself as I walk the wide boulevards of Kiev: whose fault is it? Who is responsible for the country’s current mess? Who can fix these problems?

The first answer is communism. As a country which was entirely isolated from the West for many years, and whose economy was entirely controlled by state planning, its industries never had a chance to develop to the level of their Western counterparts. They either made lots of stuff that nobody needed (and had to be thrown out) or made little of stuff that people did need (food, etc).

When communism collapsed and Ukraine became an independent country, it desperately needed to trade with others; state planning and Soviet trade block were a thing of the past. It suddenly found itself as an island surrounded by stronger trade partners on all sides (EU in the West and Russia in the East). Because its economy was so weak and undeveloped, it didn’t really have strong leverage and couldn’t negotiate a strong trade position. This naturally lead to its being exploited by other stronger countries. It was like a little baby who was abandoned by its parents and needed to survive in the tough streets.

But pointing fingers at the country’s past isn’t fair either; communism collapsed more than 25 years ago, and many countries (e.g., Baltic states) have successfully transformed themselves into prospering Western economies. I spent more than two years living in Lithuania, and I can attest that it’s a fantastic place to live and work. It truly feels “European” in every sense of the term.

The leaders of the country share the blame too. Ukraine is the most corrupt place in Europe. As they say, the fish rots from the head. That means everyone and everything below the president, all government organizations, are complicit in heavy corruption in one way or another.

Politicians must take responsibility for the war. No country needs a war, and a poor country teetering on bankruptcy like Ukraine needs it the least. If the politicians wanted, they could’ve negotiated a peace settlement that ended the war yesterday. They could’ve also avoided starting the war in the first place. The fates of the thousands of soldiers and their families are firmly in their hands. They decide the direction of the country. They decide how many lives are needlessly lost.

But there’s also a third party to blame as well: people. With communism long gone, and Ukraine being a democratic country, it’s ultimately the people who decide the country’s future. They vote for the president and members of the parliament. And, failing that, they can always take to the streets and demand reforms or a new government altogether as they did in 2004 and 2014. Corruption can only be so widespread at all levels of government and society if the people themselves believe that “it’s how the world works” and that corruption greases the wheels of the government.

Many locals have told me that it will take a generation or two before the country develops a new mentality, one that will force the government to become more transparent and less corrupt.

Streets of despair

As I walk around the snowy streets of Kiev, I can’t help but have an eery feeling. It’s as though the country is coming apart at the seams. There’s a worry and uncertainty in the air. The liveliness and vitality that was present during my earlier visits is notably absent.

Many questions cannot be easily answered. Will the currency continue to drop more and more? Will the war escalate? Will the financing from the Western countries in the form of debt dry up?

All of this shows a lot of uncertainty. The currency devaluation, the crisis and a lot of this other mess is far from some accident. It isn’t far-fetched to think that the currency devaluation was masterfully timed with the war. It’s classic capitalism: a small number of rich people is getting filthy rich at the expense of the rest 99% of the population.

If this was a random country in Africa, I wouldn’t really care. And who knows, there are probably many countries in Africa that are suffering from an unimaginable level of poverty. But this isn’t Africa. This is Europe. Even though I haven’t really lived here for many years, it’s the only country out of the 85 or so I’ve visited where things just click. It could be because I’m a local who speaks the language. It also could be something special about the people and culture as attested by countless foreign expats who have been living here for many years.

Bright spots

There are also bright spots on the horizon. The war seems to have subsided somewhat. Experts are saying that the currency has bottomed out, especially with the expected infusion of cash from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a sort of an international bank that lends money to troubled economies.

Most importantly, I’m noticing a younger generation resembling the Westerners in their creativity, productivity, and, most importantly, mindset. This means that in 10 or 20 years, this will be a very difficult country that it is today, a country that will have nothing in common with its communist past nor (hopefully) corrupt present. After all, Ukraine has one of the highly educated populations in the former Soviet Union. There are lots of scientists, engineers and technicians with advanced degrees. It’s my hope they’ll put their talents to work in this country and not somewhere else.

As a location-independent nomad, I should be bouncing around the world. It’s what I do. One friend suggested I hit up Bosnia. Another told me to visit Cuba before it gets polluted by American weekend tourists and McDonalds on every block. There’s also Burma which is gradually growing as an up-and-coming destination but without being developed as its next door neighbor Thailand. And then there’s Brazil, a magical country where I lived for two years, that’s whispering sweet somethings in my ears.

But as strange as it sounds, I’m here in cloudy and snowy Kiev, and I have very little reason to be elsewhere—even when it’s -30C degrees outside, and every day I’m fighting hard to avoid a stepping into a three foot pile of snow, while being surrounded by old, crumbling and decaying Soviet-era buildings. The other 84 countries seem like a world away.

As I sit in this Soviet-era “stolovaya” and eat my delicious “borsch,” I’m eagerly following developments and seeing how everything unfolds. Because from where I’m currently standing, it certainly can’t get any worse.

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