Welcome to the New Ukraine – Myths, legends and Truths to Rethink


Thinking of relocating to Ukraine? Curious what it’s all about? Let EXPATUA school you on the most common misconceptions about the largest country in Europe.
Ukraine has long been known throughout history as a nation buffeted by
the political winds of empires and the mass migrations which have passed through or settled down. Along the way, many myths and stereotypes have arisen about the region, and while some of them are true, many are just that… myths. So let’s take a look at the arch of national myth-building…

14th century icon from Western Ukraine, artist unkown.

Going back before recorded history, the territory of prehistoric Ukraine was an important nexus of Eurasian cultural contacts, the path of the Indo-European expansion that occurred alongside
the domestication of the horse. In antiquity the territory was part of Scythia, around the time when the early Slavic settlers came and started calling it home, bringing their love of borscht, salo, and vodka to the European plains.

After 948, when the good folks of the Steppe under a guy named Kazak chased out the Khazars from the area around Kuban, they set up a state called Kazakia in Ukraine which was famous for its skilled horsemen called Cossacks, who had funny haircuts and mustaches, and prospered thanks to Ukraine’s incredibly rich fertile soil where everything seemed to grow lushly with little effort needed, which was a good thing because they were so busy dancing all the time. This image is what was the most commonly known about the territory for a very long time. I could go into detail, but this cartoon should give you a good idea of what they were about…

The establishment of the medieval kingdom of the Kievan Rus during the Middle Ages meant the Slavic die was cast forever in this region, and its collapse in the 12th century saw the neighboring superpowers begin battling for control of the famously rich territory. A centuries long struggle between their neighbors to the west, the Kingdom of Poland, the Moskovy to the East, and the Ottomans to the South, took place on this land and left their cultural imprints, but have never erased completely the generous nature of the resilient peoples of Ukraine.
Long under the yoke of the Russian Empire, and later the Soviet Empire, most people today associate Ukraine with its neighbor to the East. Having told my friends that I was moving to Odesa, some would ask me “Ukraine? Why would you want to live in Russia?” And to be honest, long before moving here, my association too was that Ukraine was Russia, even though it seemed that most of the Ukrainians I met were somehow nicer than those of their eastern neighbors. And this mistake is easy to understand, considering our Cold War historical perspectives.
But it wasn’t always so… Almost 1000 years ago “Oukraina” was mentioned as a territory of the Pereyaslav Principality in the Hypatian Codex of 1187. But as a political country independent of its covetous neighbors, it is a relatively young country, having become independent only with
the breakup of the USSR on 24 August 1991 (not counting the period after the overthrow of the Russian Tsar in 1918, a short-lived independence that was cut down by the force of the ruthless Bolsheviks).
The popular memory of Ukraine that history has instilled in many foreigner’s minds is that it is the “Breadbasket of Europe”, a major corn and wheat producer, rich with natural resources, such as timber, iron, and coal. These perceptions come thanks in large part to Soviet propaganda spread as they themselves exploited the region in the furtherance of totalitarian Communism, which took a dark turn with the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, an event that many say was the indirect cause of the break up of the USSR.

The post-Soviet-Collapse period not long after that opened up Ukraine to the west, but new stereotypes began popping up; that Ukraine was a country of a very poor and often drunken people ruled over by a corrupt mafia state and blessed with beautiful women and very low prices on goods and services. And it’s not surprising that a number of these myths and misconceptions about Ukraine have persisted to this day, thanks in no small part by mendacious Kremlin propaganda.

Long under colonization by its giant neighbor, Ukrainians overcame genocide (the Holodomor), WWII taking place upon their lands, Soviet occupation and post-Maiden revolution betrayal by Moscow to
maintain a unique identity, rich in traditions and with a fiercely independent spirit.
After the 2012 UEFA European Football Championships, the world began to see Ukraine in a new light, as the stereotypes of the past began to be shed and a new modern reality emerged. But it really wasn’t until after the Revolution of Dignity that a really new Ukraine arose on this fertile soil.
Still, there are many misapprehensions about Ukraine that persist, (and due to the recent blitz of Kremlin propaganda some new ones that have popped up), so forget what you know, this is 2020, and it’s not your father’s Ukraine. Here, EXPATUA sets the record straight about the reality of this dynamic nation in the 21st century with a look at the five most common stereotypes.

5 most common stereotypes

1) Let’s start with the obvious one, from the western male’s point of view: Ukrainian women are the most beautiful in the world.
One visit to Ukraine and the average western lad will quickly attest that this is no myth, and cultural polls around the world consistently show Ukraine ranking in the top ten countries in the world in terms of feminine beauty. Its enough to watch any video on youtube about Ukraine to learn that the women here have been blessed with alluring genetics, but it is more than that… The women are proud of being women, and self-care and fashion is how they express it. But the beauty of Ukrainian women is about much more than how they look, it is a mindset; they expect their men to be real about who they are, and to strive to be better than they might actually be,
and thesis what makes very really attractive to most ego-driven men.
On the dark side of this perception, many visiting men fail because they assume that their wealth or passport status will be all that is needed to win the heart of the “poor Ukrainian lass” looking to be rescued, and if they act the fool they will be treated as one. Most Ukrainian women
have a strong family network and live within their means (like most women of Europe), and seek a man who is a real man, honest, competent and strong. And contrary to popular belief, most women here aren’t eager to leave their country and families behind, no matter what the dating
sites try to sell you.


2) ..which leads to the stereotype, that Ukrainian women are meek.
This is the stereotype that seems to draw lots of men to Ukraine, that Ukrainian women just want to be housewives, in some kind of “Leave it to Beaver” 1950s American fantasy role. This stereotype is a leftover from Soviet days and is hardly the case anymore. Younger women no longer seek to be stay-home moms and housewives, especially those who have grown up in an independent Ukraine. While the post-Soviet era found many women whose only goal in life was to marry a rich man, with increasingly higher educational and career opportunities, fewer Ukrainian women are content to assume traditional roles or are waiting for a foreign prince to “save them” from their “harsh life”. But thanks to the numerous dating and “Ukrainian bride” websites, this stereotype persists, setting up many men to be scammed. And as for meekness, ask any expat who has married a Ukrainian, and they will quickly put that lie to rest for you…
Ukrainian women are as smart and proud as they are beautiful, and don’t tolerate fools easily. Those of us that have been around long enough to have witnessed other Eastern European nations emerge from the Soviet grasp know that with countries like Czech Republic now showing on average higher per capita income among women than men, we know female independence is coming to Ukraine.
You have been warned!

3) Corruption is rife throughout all aspects of life.
While this was certainly true in many post-communist countries, in the past five years there has been a serious effort to root out systemic corruption, and following the local news, you will see many reports of arrests of high-profile officials who have been caught in the act. And while many of the president’s defenders in the American impeachment trial have claimed that Ukraine is the “most corrupt country in the world” or “the third most corrupt country in the world” the truth is that Ukraine is the 120th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries according to Transparency International, and has steadily improved since the Revolution of Dignity.
https://tradingeconomics.com/ukraine/corruption-rank. An improving economic situation has lessened the need for bribes, and a general attitude shift has taken place making it less routine.
Don’t be mistaken, it still has some way to go. But it is no longer the only way to get things done, and offering a bribe nowadays can land you in trouble than its worth.


4) Ukrainian and Russian speakers hate each other.
This is a stereotype I see most often promoted by Russian propaganda. Reading Russian news about Odesa, where I live, you often hear reports of “Russian speaker beaten for speaking Russian” in any news reports about street fights, and for a hysterical example, check out this blog .

The truth is, since its independence, Ukraine has been a peaceful country home to speakers of many languages, with Ukrainian most commonly spoken and Russian widely used, and most Ukrainians can get by in both languages, often using a mix called “surzhik”. The myth that they
hate each other is nothing more than the result of a campaign of Kremlin lies as a result of Ukrainian becoming the “official language” of the nation of Ukraine, go figure! Moscow promotes the idea that anyone speaking Russian is a Russian, but this is as nonsensical as saying that a Mexican is a Spaniard for speaking Spanish or an American is British for speaking English. Actually, its not that uncommon for two sides of a conversation to speak their preferred tongue without batting an eye.


5) Ukrainians are drunk most of the time.

The World Health Organization ranks alcohol consumption in Ukraine on par with Italy, at 22nd place. And while cheap alcohol has caused problems with alcoholism here, it is far worse in neighboring Moldova, which has the highest levels of alcohol consumption in the world! And contrary to popular perceptions, many Ukrainians do not drink vodka at all, which is why the most popular drink nowadays is beer. (Vodka is called “gorilka” here by the way). And while in Europe, where having a beer or wine (or two) during meals is the norm, Ukrainians usually don’t drink alcohol at every meal. But because drinking to excess is seen as a sign of masculinity in
Ukrainian culture, there are binge drinking issues, which has caused the impression that alcoholism is common, when in reality, it is not, as generational changes have shown. If you’re looking to learn more about Ukraine as it is today, this is a good start, and in the weeks
ahead, tune in again for more info on this rapidly growing nation as it heads on its rightful western trajectory as a nation of Europe.

English Teacher Jobs in Ukraine

Although not as much as previous years, the majority of expats living in Ukraine are teaching English in one form or another. Learning English from a native speaker is a valued commodity here. In past years Ukraine wasn’t particularly known for its strong level of English. Currently the most recent data suggests that as of 2017 Ukraine ranks around 50th on the English Proficiency Index out of 100 eligible countries. There’s been marked improvement since 2017 but it’s the most recent data available.

Back in 2012 there was a governmental push for the country to learn English ahead of the Euro 2012 games to be hosted in Kyiv later that year. This operation typified most governmental “anything” at that time. Wasted money and incompetence doomed this effort from the beginning and there was no visible increase in English adoptation among the population. Since 2014’s Revolution of Dignity that ousted the Kremlin backed Yanukovych government we’ve seen the adoption of English increasing at a rapid pace. These days English is taught in elementary and high schools, as a secondary language and of course at the University level.

But just as any non-native English speaking country, there are plenty who wish to learn the language for various reasons outside of academia. There is a market for native English speakers to teach in Ukraine, whether it’s through speaking clubs, language schools, or individual tutoring.

What to Expect 

If you’re reading this now, you might be one of those interested in finding a job in Ukraine for teaching ESL or any other language for that matter. There are a few things that prospective employees should know before embarking on the job search, to steer you in the right direction. 

The Salary

The first and probably the most important thing to understand is the average salary. Keep in mind that although the salary may be low if compared to Western countries but COST OF LIVING IN UKRAINE IS CHEAP. The money you’ll spend on a day to day basis is far lower than other European countries. To give you a better idea, a ride on public transport is 7-8 Ukrainian Hryvnia, which is the equivalent of $0.30 USD as of 2020. This includes metro trains, city buses, and the infamous taxi bus or “marshutka” rides.  

Though the cost of living is cheap in comparison to North America or EU countries, the average salary isn’t that much lower comparatively. Expect a base salary of around $900-$1100 USD per month after taxes. There are some cases in which pay level can be similar to North America, typically these are international schools or embassies that have a larger international budget. These positions typically require applicants to have some higher education such as graduate degrees.

If you’re looking to do private lessons you’ll need to understand that locals need competitive rates in order to obtain clients. For example, a standard general English lesson would cost on average $20 USD (approx. 500 GRN) and this price may be too steep for some. Look to offer group rates so your clients are able to find a friend with whom to split the cost in order to make things more affordable, or offer a discount for bulk lessons purchased.

Some language centers and schools also sponsor your Visa and Temporary Residence Permit (TRP), which are documents needs to officially live and work in Ukraine. They include the cost of this in offers, and if they don’t offer it, the whole process can cost anywhere from $400-$800 out of pocket depending on the lawyer and what kind of permits you want and where you go to get your VISA. 

Taper your expectations about the salary ranges here, but $1000 USD a month in Ukraine can go a long way. 

The Job

Demand for English language teachers and instructors is increasing globally, Ukraine included. Whether you work privately or through a school, native English speakers are more sought out than the local teachers, which gives foreigners a bit of an edge. 

In Ukraine, they have several tests that students take while in their traditional school to gain admission to colleges and universities called the ZNO. It is an External Individual Evaluation that students take for a particular subject they would like to study in higher Education, and English language is one of those subjects. ZNO is mandatory in schools for several subjects, but English is one of the most popular ones because with this, they can be admitted to more international programs. 

IELTS, TOEFL, and Cambridge Exams (FCE, CAE, CPE) are English language certificates that prove your level of English based on the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference). These certifications are also very popular in Ukraine, as some of these can be used in lieu of ZNO exams, and double as an English language certificate for traveling or studying abroad. 

Lots of parents and teenagers are looking for preparation for these examinations, but there are far and few qualified ESL teachers who can help them with these courses. Test preparation isn’t just teaching them how to speak and write in English, but also how to fully communicate at all levels and within a certain criteria. 

There is also a need for both business English and general English courses in Ukraine, mostly for work or travel related English skills. These are more accessible to the average ESL Expat teacher and more common to find. 

The Clientele 

Through experience and through word-of-mouth, finding an ESL Expat English teaching job can be tedious and unexpectedly frustrating. There are a few ways you can teach: private lessons, full-time at a language center or school, or freelance/part-time, or even online via video lessons. 

Language centers and schools can usually offer a full package – a steady monthly salary with a sponsor for your VISA and TRP, or at least a tax number to officially get paid. Language centers find your students for you and you don’t have to arrange the lessons yourself, but you are constrained by the times the school has lessons usually. 

Teaching private lessons, freelancing, and part-time positions are a bit more tricky, as they don’t provide you a TRP or valid for a working VISA. To legally find work here and live here, you would have to do some mental gymnastics or hire a lawyer to help your cause. Also, be aware of Ukraine’s travel VISA laws and how many days yours is valid. It can cause quite a headache overstaying. 

Networking

Finding a teaching job in Ukraine is a bit complicated at first, but knowing what to look for and what to expect can help you navigate these waters. Networking and using your resources can help you as well, there are plenty of expatriates with experience and references that can lead you to a job.

Talk to other English teachers and expats, they can help guide you toward your goals.

Check local forums such as this one for teaching jobs.

Obtaining a Ukrainian Driver’s license as a foreigner – 2020

She expects you to have a license.

Getting a driver’s license or exchanging a foreign driver’s license in Ukraine

This is one of the most common questions we receive to the inbox at ExpatUA. So, here is the most current information according to the law as it is now in the year 2020.

If you have a driver’s license from outside Ukraine, some nationalities are required to exchange it for a Ukrainian version. The rules around driving in Ukraine can be complicated, especially when it comes to licensing, with different agreements in place for different countries.

In this article, We will explain how driving licences works as an expat in Ukraine.

Driving license as non-resident in Ukraine

In accordance with the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, your driving license may be valid to drive or rent a car within Ukraine as a tourist for no more than 60 days if your country is in the following list:

Austria, Azerbaijan, Albania, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Belarus, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Venezuela, Vietnam, Armenia, Guyana, Ghana, Greece, Denmark, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Estonia, Zimbabwe, Israel, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Spain Italy, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Liberia, Luxemburg, Morocco, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Nigeria, Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Unit Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, Poland, Portugal, Cape Verde, South Korea, Moldova, Russia, Romania, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, U.K, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Hungary, Uzbekistan, Uruguay, Philippines, Finland, France, Croatia, Central African Republic, Czech Republic, Chile, Montenegro, Switzerland and Sweden.

Driving licenses as resident in Ukraine.

You should know that in Ukraine at the moment there are 2 types of driving permits: national and international. According to the regulations, foreigners have the right to drive vehicles on the territory of Ukraine using an international driving license but after legal registration as a resident they must obtain a Ukrainian driver’s license, if you already have a driving license you can exchange it for a Ukrainian one within 60 days after registration and for this you need to get the certificate 083 (Medical Examination) and pass the examinations in the ДАІ (without passing the training in a driving school).

If you are a foreigner registered and resident in the territory of Ukraine but do not have a driver’s license, you also can obtain it by the same procedure as Ukrainian citizen

How to get a driver’s license for the first time (step by step guide)

In 2020 this requires four mandatory steps. The first step is to enroll in a driving school and passing a theoretical and practical exam. It is important to know that starting from 2020, preparation for driving licenses is allowed individually. Drivers can obtain another category license through individual training.

Step 1. Study in a driving school
The quality of theoretical knowledge and practical driving skills will depend on the choice of driving school, in Kyiv there are schools wherein some teachers are speaking English. Make sure you have a МОН license and a МВС accreditation certificate.

The terms and cost of driving courses depend on the vehicle category you have selected. To enroll in a driving school you must submit the following documents:

Statement indicating the place of residence and the category of your vehicle,
passport (presented in person) + copy of resident permit,
4 photos 3.5×4.5 size, medical certification.

After completing the course you’ll be tested (test can be taken in English). With a passing score you’ll receive a certificate of completion is valid for 2 years from the date of finishing the training.

Driving schools that provide lessons in English (Kyiv):

“Intensive” – Hr 900 for two hours 4A Krymskoho St., Mon. – Sun. 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., +380 67 5642 334
“Virtuoz” – Hr 1,200-1,450 for 90 minutes 23 Bandery Av., Mon. – Fr. 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., +380 67 4424 804
“Indycar” – Hr 4,900 for a standard course (includes theoretical and practical lessons) 52A Artema St., Mon. – Sun. 8 a.m. – 10 p.m., Indycar@ukr.net

Step 2. Passing a medical examination

The medical examination includes: general examination by medical specialists and a laboratory (blood test and urine analysis, blood sugar test (WTF?) and eye exam. A medical certificate issued stating the illness in accordance with the “List of diseases and defects for which a person cannot be admitted to drive a vehicle” Failing this is hypothetically grounds for license refusal.

Step 3. Passing exams at the Ministry of Internal Affairs Service Center

THE TEST CAN BE IN ENGLISH!!

The service center of the Interior Ministry now publishes a list of the questions asked in the written part of the driver’s exam and have been translated into English. It’s available in booklet form at the Ministry. This driving theory section of the test covers road rules and regulations – there is also a practical test. Both tests have been offered in English since March 2017.

The exam unit for obtaining a driver’s license consists of two parts: a theoretical (20 minute computer test on 20 questions) and a practical part of the exam (driving test). If you have not met the test time or made more than two errors, the exam you’ve failed. The written exam can be taken an unlimited number of times but the driving portion has a limit of 3 attempts.

The rules for registering to take the exam are the same for Ukrainian citizens and foreigners. One has to provide:
ID (passport) (translation and notarium sign) + Resident Permit;
a copy of one’s tax reference number;
a 086/o health certificate;
a completion certificate from a driving school;
a fee of 227 UAH.

Step 4. Obtain a driver’s license

The license is issued within 5 working days after after passing exams. The certificate is issued personally to the driver, subject to presentation of your passport or ID.

In reality, we all know those guys that have lived here for 5, 10 or 15 years and driving with a British, US or Irish license with no problems but times are changing. Ukraine is becoming much more European in nature and along with this comes regulations.

It’s a fairly simple process and (like most things in Ukraine) inexpensive compared to basically any country outside Africa. Get legal and be done with it.

Likely the investment of the decade – Ukrainian Real Estate

A perfect storm appears to be developing in the Ukrainian economy and from the angle of foreign investors, specifically the Ukrainian property market. Last week’s inflation numbers are showing that the Central Bank has finally put the nail in that coffin and economists are predicting that the upcoming January 30th interest rate decision will be radical cuts of around 300bps. Yes, these numbers are huge and the implications for the overall economy are as well but this is merely one of the positives coinciding in what could be a perfect storm developing in the Ukrainian property market.

Lack of Bank Credit (about to change)

In 2014, Consumer credit largely collapsed in the fallout of the revolution that ousted Kremlin-backed quasi dictator Yanukovych and the subsequent Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine. Still today only around 5% of property purchases are done utilizing bank credit. These are cash deals. Lets imagine that the percentage of buyers accessing newly available credit eventually returns to market averages we’ve seen in other emerging Eastern European countries or even back to the 2007 Ukrainian average of 70%. The Zelensky government is currently implementing programs to do exactly this in both business and consumer credit. With rental yields (10%-15%) already on par with mortgage rates, a further drop in cost should find ready customers.

Vanishing inventory

In the capital city of Kyiv, inventory for sale on the secondary market has been cut from the low 2 years ago at 22,000 to the current 10,300. The rate of evaporation has been accelerating of late with the past year coming in at -37%. Here’s an inventory chart from last week’s article .

December 2019 Property Inventory (secondary market)

The +16% price gains we saw in 2019 will likely be dwarved by what we see in 2020 and likely 2021 as all these factors coincide. We’ll know more on January 30th as NBU meets.

Kyiv Property Market Inventory continues to Vanish

December 2019 was another month of vanishing inventory and rising prices in the Kyiv secondary market. Denominated in US Dollars, the city’s average square meter came in at $1430 with city center meters at $2120. Overall 2019 saw a gain of +16%. With city center annual rental yields averaging 10%-18%, the Kyiv property market is proving itself to be one of the top performers of the year globally in terms of net returns.

But the real story continues to be evaporating inventory now sitting at 10,300 units and showing a year-over-year draw down of -37%. This is a far cry from the 22,000 we saw only 2 years ago. A continuation of this trend should have a more pronounced positive impact on price into 2020. The special city center properties (penthouses, park views etc) we saw in 2017 going for -50% of their 2007 highs are mostly gone and those who were lucky enough to pick them up will likely be rewarded with spectacular gains.

Last month’s Kyiv property market update (November 2018 data)