Interview with a US Expat in Ukraine

interview with Michael living in Ukraine

Today’s interview with Michael from New York City, living in Ukraine. Shortly after getting married in the United States, Michael and Yulia moved to Ukraine. They wanted to settle in Ukraine for a number of reasons. They wanted to keep the Ukrainian tradition of homesteading and farming alive (and wanted to encourage other young people to join them). Being healthy is very important to this couple, and they believe that growing their own ecologically clean food is one very good way to do this. They also moved there because that is where their family roots are. They love Ukrainian culture and want to be there to create positive change in the country.


Where are you originally from?
Michael is from the US, and Yulia is from Ukraine.


In which country and city are you living now?
We are living in a village near Lviv, Ukraine.


How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We have been living in Ukraine since 2011, and we plan to stay our whole lives. We moved into our house at the village in July 2013, and that is where our blog begins.


Why did you move and what do you do?
We moved for many reasons. We wanted to keep the tradition of homesteading in Ukraine alive. We use permaculture methods and think this is the best way for us and our land to be as healthy as possible.
We also want to give our future children the best start we can conceive of. That not only encompasses being healthy, but being born in their homeland.

While Yulia grew up in Ukraine, Michael is from the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States. His grandparents were forced to leave their homes during World War Two. We think that what we are doing is a way to help keep our lovely country and culture strong and vibrant.

In short, we are doing this for ourselves, for our children, and for our ancestors. We realize that is a tall order. In order to fully explain ourselves, we have started a blog to document who we are and what we are doing. For a comprehensive answer to this question, please see our delightful blog.


Did you bring family with you?
Surely! We brought each other!


How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
It was both very easy and very difficult. For Yulia it meant coming back to Ukraine after an 11 year hiatus in America. She knows the language perfectly, so she fits right in. All of her childhood memories happened in Ukraine, so it is like returning home. The most difficult part for her has been that Ukrainians now call her an American. It is disorienting because in America everyone referred to her as a Ukrainian. It makes her feel in limbo sometimes, but, luckily, she is strong enough to know who she is.

For Michael Ukraine was familiar immediately upon arrival. It did not feel like a foreign country. He grew up with Ukrainian language and culture all around him in America, so Ukraine was not so foreign. But as he spent some time in the country, he became confused by certain aspects of the country. There are many Ukrainians who do not think Ukraine should even be a country, for example. There are others who refuse to speak the Ukrainian language itself. Living a normal life is made near impossible due to corruption and a disorganized bureaucracy. The leadership itself seems anti-Ukrainian at times. It seems cruel that Ukrainians would do this to each other, especially after hearing how much his grandparents suffered for their country. It has been confusing at best and heartbreaking at its worst.


Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
We have found many other young couples and families like ourselves who want to live and homestead in the countryside. So it has been very easy to make friends.

We do not socialize much with other expats, but we do have a friend from America who lives in another city in Ukraine.


What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
See downtown Lviv. It is very tourist friendly. What an enchanting place!

What do you enjoy most about living here?
Ukraine is a place that is changing very quickly. Yulia has noticed many changes since she was a child. She says it changes much quicker than in the US. It is wonderful to watch the changes that have been happening. For the most part it has been for the better. We just hope it stays that way.


How does the cost of living compare to home?
It is much less than in the US.


What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Little social idiosyncrasies get under our skin. We do not appreciate it when a public bus driver lights up a cigarette or when cars park on the sidewalks. Sometimes people can show a complete disregard for those around them. But not everyone is like that by any means.


If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Find something you like about the place (for Michael it was the bazaar). Do what you can to make that aspect of Ukraine a bigger part of your life.


What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
It took two years for us to find a house to buy. It was difficult at times, but we stuck with it and are now blessed with a lovely home that is all our own!


What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?

  1. Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.
  2. Don’t allow yourself to be swept up into the usual way of thinking about Ukraine–not quite Western, but not quite Russian. Ukraine is always compared to the countries and cultures around it. However, it is its own place and deserves to be treated that way.
  3. Get used to driving on bad roads.
  4. Take advantage of all the good food here. Don’t rely on processed foods all the time. Be comfortable with all the wonderful produce there is to offer.
  5. Read blogs about Ukraine.


Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Our blog is about our life at our new house. We started it when we moved in (July 2013). We try and keep everything related to our life here. We write our blog to explain why we came here, what we are doing, and to encourage people to join us. We would like to have some neighbors who have similar feelings about Ukraine, the environment, and life in general.


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