Christmas in Kiev

26 Dec

A guest blog by Patrick


We stepped off the plane into a foreign land, not knowing where we were, where we were going, or what time it was. Sammi had taunted us with the extra boarding passes she had been carrying since we checked in, so despite reading signs that welcomed us to Kiev, Ukraine, our final destination was still a mystery. We walked up to the fork in the road: go left through security for connecting flights or go right through immigration and enter Ukraine. After a dramatic pause, Sammi ripped up our connecting tickets and handed us our passports: WE WERE STAYING IN UKRAINE!!!

We rocked our Mystery Trip hats as we passed through immigration and customs to find a slew of non-smiling Ukrainians waiting at the airport exit. I noticed something strange in the crowd; I was almost positive one women had slightly raised the corner of her lip. Did she just smile at us? Only seconds later the same women surfaced through the throngs of people, excitedly rushing to hug Sammi. It was Mystery Trip Surprise #2: a WELCOME PARTY!!!



Iryna ‘Nothing but Positive Things to Say About Ukraine’ Kolotylo


We met our new friend/best friend Iryna and she immediately started fueling our excitement for our grand adventure.


Iryna: “Welcome to Ukraine. This is the worst time of the year to visit. The weather is awful and everything is dark and gray.”

Patrick & Colleen: “Oh. I’m sure it will be amazing anyway – we like snowy weather.”

Iryna: “Did you know that there’s a war going on here? It’s pretty awful.”

Patrick & Colleen: “Merry Christmas?”


We found the car rental counter and Sammi went to work sorting out our new low rider. Sammi came over to ask who wanted to be the second driver.


Iryna: “Ukraine has the worst roads in Europe. I know how to drive but I never drive here because it’s so horrible.”


Her positivity was absolutely palpable.


We made our way to Iryna’s flat to discover that our Welcome Party had grown to three! Iryna has sisters!!! Marta and Yanina welcomed us with a DELICIOUS home-cooked Christmas Eve dinner – shout out to the local white mushrooms from Western Ukraine and cheese dipped in honey (Sammi, write that down!). We were informed that Christmas is traditionally celebrated on January 6th in Ukraine, but this year was the first year that December 25th was a national holiday. Let the ETERNAL CHRISTMAS begin…


♭I’m dreaming of a white Christmas (tree).♭


We woke up the next day to the excitement of a Christmas gift exchange. Ira, Marta, and Yana collect ornaments from friends around the world, and just like that one of our puzzling instructions made sense. We gifted our hosts an ornament from each of our states (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Colorado) and they quickly found a new home on the tree.


I’ll bet you can’t guess which one Sammi brought!


Then it was time to exchange gifts, which was incredibly fun! Highlights included chocolate from Ukraine’s very own Willy Wonka President (, amazing magnets from a famous Ukrainian painter (, and Pittsburgh Penguins socks. #Pittsfurgh

Following breakfast we were informed to get ready for a day exploring Kiev. We boarded a cute yellow bus, paid 10 whatstheukrainiancurrencycalledagain for the ride, and headed to the subway station.



Whatever you do, do not smile.



The official ‘Ukrainian on Public Transport’ face.


After crowding onto our first subway car, we started to notice some themes. Namely, it quickly became abundantly clear that no one was smiling. We looked around at hundreds of faces, all looking serious. In fact, when we finally spotted a smile we had to take a picture of it…it was on an advertisement.



This guys is THRILLED to be carrying a bag of rubber duckies.


We took the fastest escalators ever out of the subway station and set off to explore the town. We perused a beautiful market, ate Georgian bread, saw a musical performance at a Roshen candy store, ate some healthy candy purely for the nutritional value, drank cherry liqueur with monkeys, wandered through the Gapchinska art gallery, frolicked in a trippy Alice in Wonderland-themed playground, marveled at some murals, ate chicken KIEV, ordered coffee way too late into the evening to think that Sammi was going to sleep, reproduced an epic pedestrian bridge jump photo because we thought it looked cool, drank mulled wine at the Christmas market, danced while a symphony played the Christmas Classic ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, visited a monastery, failed to stick coins against a fountain and therefore were granted no wishes, drank at a hipster bar, posed with the cutest hedgehog statue in the world, visited the ‘oldest cafe’ in Kiev (we checked, it’s 50 years old), and laughed all day long.



Um, why does the fruit smell like caviar?



Ukrainian church.



Amazing street mural.



Sammi stopped listening at “This candy is the healthiest…” and immediately bought several. #healthychoices



Alice in Wonder…Kiev.



What do you mean I get to count the money?!?



So pedestrian.



Q: How do you choose which Ukrainian Christmas market to go to? A: Learn that the other one wasn’t finished in time.


The cutest hedgehog statue in the whole world!



Was that guy taking a photo of that manhole cover?



Iryna continued to delight us with her enthusiasm and national pride. Her positivity was endless.


Iryna: “This is the Office of Foreign Affairs. When I came to Kiev it was my dream to work there.”

Patrick: “Oh, that’s awesome! Did you get to work there?”

Iryna: “Yeah. It was the worst place ever to work.”


Iryna: “Welcome to the shortest main street in Europe.”


Iryna: “This is the stupidest statue in Kiev. It’s supposed to be of a Cossack warrior, but the horse is small and looks like a dog and the warrior’s feet are pushing on imaginary stirrups.”




Finally, on a serious note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share the most powerful part of the experience. In 2014, Ukrainian citizens staged a three month long protest after their then president abandoned plans to join the European Union in favor of a trade agreement with Russia. People took to the main square, Maidan, and created a living community in protest. The government responded with violence, and many people died in the name of democracy and freedom. After several months of unrest, the president eventually resigned and fled the country, setting the stage for a new election and government.


We would HIGHLY recommend that everyone watch the documentary Winter On Fire ( It is skillfully made and incredibly moving. It serves as a powerful reminder that there are people all over this world who are willing to stand up for what they believe in and what is right for their country. It’s inspiring.


After watching Winter On Fire, we had the chance to visit a memorial to the people who died during the revolution. We heard their stories and listened to Iryna’s description of what it was like inside the protests – she volunteered to serve food to those involved. Walking the streets where such a powerful display of courage had occurred, we couldn’t help but feel grateful for everything that we take for granted.



Maidan: The site of the revolution.



We arrived home overflowing with new knowledge, delicious food, and Christmas merriment. What a wonderful Christmas in Kiev! But, in true Mystery Trip fashion, the adventure was only beginning. Sammi told us to have our bags packed and be ready to go at 8:00am sharp – we were heading off on a road trip the next day…



Merry Christmas from Kiev!

One Response to “Christmas in Kiev”

  1. deekerson January 24, 2018 at 6:07 pm #

    Aaah, yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!! 😂

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