If November is Ukraine’s most melancholy month, January is its toughest. With the lawyers I work for coming back from their winter breaks with all the enthusiasm of “dvoiki” schoolboys returning to class on the first day of term, and European investors waiting for the results of Ukraine’s presidential elections before calling upon the lawyers, I have all the time in the world to indulge in my hobbies. It is an opportunity to start the year creatively and productively, but the month goes to waste. Determined to develop my writing I search on Kyiv’s newsstands, in its online ‘papers and on the lips of its people for a story to turn into an article – and find that there is only one: the arrival of a bitterly cold spell of weather that puts paid to all but the most mundane activities.
No Ukrainian apartment is complete without an eccentricity or two. The clean, stylish place on vulytsya Fedorova in Lviv, which Ana and I had rented for two days in January, was no exception. It played its first couple of tricks on us even before we had unpacked our suitcases.
There was no hot water when we arrived after a night spent in a stuffy train carriage, so I freshened up in the en suite shower pod by pouring water from a long-since-boiled kettle over my head from a tin saucepan. As I dried myself I realised that the pan had only been half-clean: I had stepped into the bathroom smelling of tea and blankets and emerged reeking of mackerel.
The new people, places and situations that we encounter during our lives shape our view of the world. In 2008, on an overnight train between Hungary and Ukraine during a vacation from my job in Kyiv, I experienced all three at the same time. The revelations of the journey home will stay with me for longer than memories of the holiday itself.