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Dasvidaniya (goodbye): escape from Ukraine

After a trip that lived up to Ukraine’s unofficial motto (“Ukraine is not for the meek”), it came as no surprise that departing from the country wasn’t going to be the exception.

Two days before my departure, my host family called the airport to make sure my flight was still departing from Dneopropetrovsk: the city I was staying in.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” I asked in the naïve manner of a non-Ukrainian.
“Flights get cancelled a lot because the airline is having a dispute with the airport,” my host father explained.

“Wait. What?” I said, desperately trying to rationalize the information I had just been given.

“The airport tries to assert their power by refusing to allow the airline’s planes in,” my host father explained.

“What is the dispute about?,” I asked, trying to make sense of it all.

“Airport officials want more money.”

“Then what happens?”

“Usually, the airline will arrange to have you driven to Kiev.”

“How far is that?,” I asked.

“Six hours.”

Love and vodka book coverSure enough, the next day, we were being driven by a gypsy cab (that lived up to its name in every possible way) sent by the airport to drive us to Kiev. How we got there alive is a major miracle in itself. Little did I know that my adventure had just begun.

While heading toward the check out counter in the crowded airport, the host daughter – Katya – took me tightly by the hand. “Do not let go,” she warned as though I were a child (knowing both me and her country well enough). But while struggling with my suitcase, I did let go momentarily, instantly getting lost in the chaotic shuffle of angry and depressed Ukrainians like a helpless swimmer being taken away by a rip tide.

I tried not to panic, assuming I would quickly re-locate them, but there was just way too many people for me to be able to pluck them out of the crowd. Perhaps things would have been easier if they realized I had been separated from the pack right away. But by the time they figured it out, I was completely out of their view. I tried not to panic, assuming that it was only a matter of time before I would be found. Little did I know how much time. As in over an hour. Fortunately, we had arrived at the airport early enough to make up for lost time. I decided not to drift away too far, but the hordes of travelers made it difficult not to once again drift away like one floating adrift at sea. But unlike the other times I drifted off throughout my Ukrainian travels, I couldn’t blame the vodka this time.

When I finally realized just how far I had drifted from where I first got lost, I turned around, going upstream against traffic, hoping that I would somehow cross paths my host family. But there was no sign of them. Now, I really began to panic, praying that I wouldn’t be kidnapped and sold into slavery. I kept circling around a relatively small area of space. And each time around, the panic deepened.

Suddenly, over the PA system, I heard my name in a very thick accent in the middle of a message spoken in Russian, so I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, other than feeling comforted by the fact that I now know for sure that they knew I was missing. In the meantime, I continued walking around in circles. A few moments later, they repeated the same message – in case I didn’t hear it the first time. My next course of action was simply to sit against a column and pray I would be found.

Minutes later, I looked up and saw my host family running towards me. They hugged me like a puppy that had run away and had been found – which was essentially what I was.

“We thought you were kidnapped!,” Katya exclaimed. “Where were you?”

“I thought I was going to be kidnapped. Where were you?”

“We thought you were behind us. How could you be so irresponsible?”

“You lost me! How am I irresponsible?”

“I’m going to need to get you a leash.”

Her parents approached.

“We’re glad you’re okay,” my host mother said.

“We better get going,” Leonid said, looking at his watch, clearly annoyed by my disappearing act. Once again, the blamed was seemingly pinned solely on me. This time, he grabbed my hand, making it impossible me to lose my grip even if I wanted to.

We quickly headed to the check-in counter, where I was

sternly ordered by the stone-agent with a bad dye job to put my suitcase up on the scale. Somehow, I knew I was about to be screwed with once again. Ukraine wasn’t going to let me go without a fight.

“Too heavy,” the agent said in Russian. Katya translated.

“Twenty dollar,” the agent said in broken in English.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, me serious,” the agent replied.

I removed a twenty from my wallet and handed it to her rather hastily. She examined the bills as though they were laced with anthrax, then had her associate examine it – much in the manner of the custom agents who so thoroughly analyzed my passport upon my arrival. After several moments of intense investigation:

“We cannot accept this.”

“Why not?”

The agent pointed to a small rip in the corner of the bill.

“It is ripped.”

“It’s still good.

“No. It’s ripped.”

“I don’t have any other bills,” I said. “Do you accept credit cards?”

“Not for this. But there is an ATM machine around the corner.”

“I don’t believe this” was I could muster in defense. Katya led me to the ATM. I withdrew $20, plus the $5 service fee and paid my dues.

We then headed to the security line and said our tearful goodbyes.

The rest of the trip was relatively smooth sailing. The flight itself was highlighted by a horrific stench coming from what I assumed was the restroom, close to where I were seated. A flight attendant informed me that it was the smell of sheep testicles that a passenger brought aboard a previous flight for reasons perhaps not even known to God; a fitting end to my Ukrainian adventure.

Excerpt from from “Love & Vodka” by R. J. Fox.
Published by Fish Out of Water Books, Now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
© 2015 by R.J. Fox. All rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without prior written permission from
the publisher.

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