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.
November is Ukraine’s most melancholic month. The temperature falls below freezing, and the orange and yellow leaves that make October so picturesque fall on to the street and are trodden into dirty puddles (the Ukrainian word for November, Listopad, means “fall of leaves”). The plain, snowless clouds feel low enough to touch. People discard their colourful autumn clothes and clamber into black and dark grey coats. A cold wind blows stern looks onto our faces – autumn forgotten, the country settles in for an attritional winter.