#CapitalCities: NYE-vent by AEGEE-Moskva and AEGEE-Kyïv #NoPoliticsJustFriendship

From the 29th of December to the 8th of January, AEGEE-Kyïv and AEGEE-Moskva organized the best New Year Event (NYE) in 2014, at least for the participant. For the first time in AEGEE’s history, these two locals collaborated to prepare an awesome and hipster event for 16 participants. Among them, there were people from Spain, The Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Slovakia and Romania.

After mentally preparing for a lot of difficulties to get the Russian visa – which actually turned out to be quite easy, fast and cheap (free) – the participants got on their planes and arrived in the freezing cold, but beautiful capital of Russia on the 29th of December. The welcome ceremony was followed by warm up games, where the participants started to get to know each other and the first night began. Very typical Russian food and beverages were provided by the lovely organisers, and from there the evening just got better and better. On our way to Papa’s Place (very recommended) we passed through the Red Square. Amazing first night!

So was the next morning. After the organizers woke the participants up, a great home-made breakfast was served – like every day during the event. The organisers explained the program and the participants began their real Russian adventure with an approximate 10 km long city tour on a windy -20ºC weather. Viewing the Moscow Kremlin in first person was a great experience, but also a very short one, since everybody’s hands were freezing. It was the coldest day of the event, but also one of the best thanks to Artem’s city tour.

The next day was already New Years’ Eve day! First we went to the huge Tretyakov art gallery. This wasn’t just a visit to a museum – no. We were divided in teams and we had to find different images in more than 60 rooms, based on the hints that we had, such as “Best SU 2014” written on a post-it, or a chocolate bar called “Alenka”. They were the best two and a half hours spent in a museum ever. Afterwards, it was time to celebrate the New Year. At what time did you celebrate it? In Moscow we started at 14:00! Because Russia has ten different time zones, we started celebrating when it was the 1st of January of 2015 in the far east of the country. Every 60 minutes after that, we had another time zone to celebrate for. Of course, the organizers had also prepared some beverages for each celebration. An hour after our time zone’s year was started by listening to Putin’s words, it was time to celebrate the new year in Kyïv. Afterwards, our long lasting fancy private party started! The rest of 2015 spent in Moscow was filled with ice skating in the biggest ice skating rink in Europe and a metro tour, and then on the 2nd of January it was already time to say bye to Russia and to go to the west to explore Ukraine.

The train ride was quite an adventure. European participants had basically no idea what to do after entering the train. It was the cheapest way to get to Kyiv and it is called “platzcart“- there were beds, which were too high and had to be repositioned, there was no place for the luggage (until Ukrainian and Russian organisers came to save the troop, showing us where we could store them). Adding all the people passing around with almost no space, this was quite a new experience for everyone.

Drinking “coffee” in Starbucks cups and “Coca-Cola” as a prize for winning the Museum quest, and finishing with beers at the restaurant wagon, we spent a hell of a night. We also had to go through 2 сustoms and we were a bit worried and nervous because of the situation between the countries, but it seems that it’s all rumors – both times we were checked fast by smiling officers, who actually loved looking at Spanish passports.

We were in Kyïv! It was 9:00 and some girls from the local antenna came to welcome the whole group, dressed with traditional costumes, bread and salt, which is a traditional way of welcoming people in Ukraine.

After seeing our hostel, and the opening ceremony of Kyïv’s part of the event, we went on an amazing city tour guided by Anna Smailikova. We had the chance to see many places of Kyïv, but something outstanding was for sure Maidan, touching moment for many participants. The day finished with a great typical dinner and a visit to the Christmas market.

After a “very easy” waking up, we went to The National Museum of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, which touched the group deeply. We realized how much war hurts, no matter where or when it happens, and how much Ukraine has suffered in the last years. We changed the mood ending the day with a Hipster and Ukrainian workshop, singing Pidmanula, Pidvela and learning some very useful phrases. The next day consisted of a city quest, where participants had to do very crazy tasks, taking selfies of everything as proof #HipsterEvent and a pub crawl, to discover more of the nightlife of Kyïv.

Two days before ending this dream event, we visited the Chernobyl museum and we saw how it affected the whole country. Then we went to our private house for one night. Amazing wooden house in the middle of nowhere, -15ºC outside and quite warm inside. Why? Because we had a sauna for ourselves! Master Ksenia Lupanova (AEGEE-Moskva) was there to show us “how to sauna” and give us a special massage with a bunch of oak leaves. But the sauna didn’t get all the attention of the day, since we had a great and huge traditional Ukrainian dinner, prepared by chef Olha Denesiuk and AEGEE-Kyïv. They explained how to eat everything, how to do it and what to say before eating. It was a very special moment. The last day finished with a great European Night, certificates and presents.

The organizers did such a great job, that the participants gave them a little surprise during the closing ceremony. Two flower crowns, decorated with the colours of the countries, Russia and Ukraine were signed on the ribbons by all the participants, and given to both antennae. Best organizers Anna and Ksenia came on stage to take the presents for their antennae. This was, in my opinion, the most memorable and the best AEGEE moment of the whole event. The second I gave the Ukrainian colors crown to Anna, and the Russian one to Ksenia, they exchanged them without hesitating, and put them on. This small detail explains the whole AEGEE spirit and the spirit of the event #NoPoliticsJustFriendship and how well bonded AEGEE-Kyïv and AEGEE-Moskva are.

I believe that this event was very important for AEGEE to show the network and our friends, that these two countries are not dangerous, that stereotypes are just generalized prejudices, that Russians and Ukrainians work together quite well and that friendship has no barriers, even when politicians and the media get in the middle of it. These days were very special for me, because I got to meet amazing people, learned some of their traditions and shared unique moments with them. Seeing them organise activities together so well as they did was quite inspiring, and I really hope that I will see these two and other Ukrainian and Russian antennae cooperating together soon.

Written by Jorge Sánchez Hernández, AEGEE-Dresden