Ukraine 2007, Part 1
Thursday morning we flew to Kiev, Ukraine with a brief layover in Riga, Latvia. The Kiev airport was markedly different from anything we had yet experienced, and was something of a portent of things to come. There are very few organized lines, instead folks just congeal into large masses and fight their way to the front. Ann met us just outside passport control, and took us to the taxi that she had waiting. We had a pleasant catching-up in the taxi, which was a nice distraction from the terror induced by driving in Kiev.
There are traffic laws in Ukraine, but they aren't meaningfully enforced. As such, they aren't generally followed. The police often pull over motorists for no specific reason, and detain them until they can trump up a charge or until the driver gets frustrated with the delay. Either way, both situations are usually resolved with a bribe. After the exchange of money, the motorist is permitted to go on their way. Since anyone can get pulled over at almost any time, there's no real incentive to obeying what rules might exist. Ann commented to us that it's quite common for cars to drive on the sidewalks, and then honk at the pedestrians to get out of their way. We were incredulous at first, but it didn't take too long before we witnessed several examples of exactly this.
The taxi dropped us off at the apartment at which we were staying, where we unloaded our luggage and had a quick celebratory toast of Jameson Irish Whiskey. This was to be the first of innumerable toasts and shots of alcohol. We walked with Ann back to her apartment, where we met my dad, my son Kyle, and my aunt Mary Ellen. Shortly thereafter we were joined by Dick and Madeline, and then a man named Serge who was to be our guide to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. More toasts were made, and drinks consumed, and there was a lot of laughter. Finally Igor came home from work, and we got to meet the groom-to-be. He was a very warm, friendly person and we all looked forward to getting to know him better in the days to come.
It was a nice start to a terrific weekend, and an overall wonderful visit filled with family.