Sorry for the absence; I’ve been in Ukraine to get a new Russian visa. I stayed in Kiev for a week, then hitchhiked down to the Crimea to soak in some sun and see some nature.
Overall, Ukraine seemed like a mini-Russia: Everything looked the same, only the cities are smaller, the distances are shorter and the people are nicer. No stereotypes shattered here; there really is a little of the podunk “Khokhlandia” about which Russians like to joke (“Khokhlandia” means “Land of the ‘Khokhols,’” “Khokhol” being a slightly derisive word for “Ukrainian” that carries connations of country-bumpkinness; the word comes from name for the single tuft of hair Cossacks traditionally wore).
You can stop along the highway to buy milk — milk that somehow tastes earthier, farmier — from a farmer who squeezed it that morning, or strawberries from a babushka. Or listen to the country folk speak Russian with an accent of exaggerated vowel sounds. Or listen to them speak Ukrainian, which, to the Russian-speaking ear, sounds like a deaf person reciting tongue twisters.
But the ups outnumber the downs — Ukrainians are kind and friendly folk. And it is a land of adventure for those who know how to find it, from the sea cliffs of Ai-Petri in the Crimea to the abandoned farmhouses of the middle country to the “industrial alpinism” (rappeling off abandoned factories) of the Soviet cities.