Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you “how to discover Ukraine the great way”, also known as “Summertime Madness: Test Your UAdrenaline” by AEGEE-Kyiv. Imagine a rollercoaster with space for thirty people, a vertiginous two-week ride through the best spots of this young country, driven by locals dedicated to enhance this experience in every possible way without a single minute of boredom. If you can picture that, then you may start to understand how exciting this Summer University was…
Arrival in Lviv
Before securing belts and turning the roller coaster on, the participants got introduced to each other and to Ukraine in one of its most beautiful cities: Lviv.
Already during ice-breaking games and teambuilding activities, friendships began to forge. For instance, participants expressed their expectations from the SU in the form of very artistic posters, which included diverse topics such as typical gastronomy, sport experiences, cultural visits, parties and love in all its forms and postures. The organisers gave a crash course in Ukrainian language, after which participants had to show their skills by improvising a theatre scene, as well as singing the traditional Ukrainian song “Pidmanula Pidvela” on the stage. It did not only reveal the talents, but also totally broke the ice between everyone.
Lviv is a charming city, lively but not too crowded, full of picturesque details and distinctive architecture. There are many unique restaurants and pubs, but I would highlight the “Coffee Manufacture”, where you can get your coffee literally set on fire by a blowtorch, creating a crusty layer of caramel on the top; the “House of Legends”, a restaurant which has countless decorations throughout its six floors and a vintage car on the roof; and the “Masoch Cafe”, where you can order not only drinks but also physical punishments (whiplash marks on some participants can confirm that!).
After an amazing nerd party in “Metro” –one of the best clubs in Lviv– the most active participants joined the morning jogging session through the city center, followed by more games, swimming pool and an intense session of paintball. On the way back, all of the participants and organisers (around forty-five people) got in (or should I say “overcrowded”?) one “marshrutka” –the typical Ukrainian minibus–, singing and playing some latin songs through the loudspeaker and improvising one of the most singular bus-parties ever.
Early in the morning, after the first aid workshop with the Red Cross, everybody was ready for the next location: The Carpathian Mountains.
The Carpathian Mountains
At this stage the roller coaster began to accelerate in the form of a train to Yaremche, a long journey that passed quickly between drinks, games and live music provided by the beautiful voice and guitar of Nina Polishchuk, future member of AEGEE-Kyïv. An amazing house in the middle of the greenest nature was awaiting the group, and everybody had a relaxed night gazing at the stars, going to sleep early before the next day’s activity: hiking!
The weather was perfect, and after reaching the top of the mountain, some participants played frisbee, the organisers prepared borsch on fire, others made a wood-cutting competition… Then, and after getting a bit lost on the way down, the group returned to the cottage for another intense activity which is well-known for every AEGEEan: the mighty European Night! Most of the typical ingredients of this celebration were found, eaten and drunk: Jägermeister, Greek salad, Vanna Tallin, Hungarian Pálinka, Spanish sangría and jamón, stroopwafels, a thousand types of vodka… and some special food from China brought by Antonis Triantafyllakis, AEGEE-Heraklio, a.k.a. “Mr. Voice”.
No hurries for the next day, after a long drinking night there was nothing better than chilling by the river, learning to handcraft Motanky –the traditional Ukrainian dolls–, going to sauna and enjoying a massage workshop from the hand(s) of Mr. Voice, a.k.a. Mr. Massage.
Rain decided to show up in the most inconvenient moment, the day of climbing and camping. Organisers reacted fast, and instead of climbing a natural rock they arranged an artificial inflatable wall. Then, still wet, the group took the bus to the camp and mounted their tents. It was so cold and humid, but who cares when you have a sauna in the middle of the mountains? That night it was planned to sit around the cozy fire and play the guitar, but even though rain made fire impossible, it could not stop the music: it turned out that there were a few guitarists and singers in the group, as a good example Jirka Pytela, AEGEE-Praha, and Sara Weerheijm, AEGEE-Nijmegen, played some nice songs. Besides, this writer played upon special request his motivation letter song “Hello Kyïv” and some more (special thanks to Mr. Massage, a.k.a. Mr. Capo). The next morning the weather was not any better, and despite the heavy rain, most of the participants and organizers did not want to miss rafting into the amazing landscapes of the Carpathians.
Half of the SU had already passed when the group said goodbye to the mountains and took the night-train to Kiev. Some partied during the journey and some slept to recover energies for the next episode in the big city, where the roller coaster reached its highest peak.
The Big Kiev & The Big Jump
The day in the Ukrainian capital started with the city tour, in which participants could view numerous golden domes –which are characteristic of the city–, take pictures with pigeons, see the Motherland Monument and learn about the recent Ukrainian history in Maidan Square.
Later in the evening, the participants were divided into groups and distributed in the houses of some organisers to prepare homemade varenyky, one of the most typical Ukrainian dishes. The resulting meals were really tasty, and afterwards the party continued in the “Coyote Ugly”. What really stands out in this club is the long bar on which only women are allowed to go up and dance, so some AEGEEan girls joined to show their sensual dancing skills. Speaking about dancing, the next day two professional dancers gave a salsa workshop, after which everyone could put what they learned in practice in a Latin bar named “Buena Vista”, where a band was playing Cuban songs.
Another interesting workshop took place in the streets of Kiev, this time a modern sport: Parkour. Even if it was something new for most of the people, everybody got addicted to climbing walls, jumping and rolling again and again. However, most of the participants and organisers were already thinking about the following day, the day of the most extreme activity: the solo parachute jump, undoubtedly the highlight of this SU!
It took the whole day to fill the forms, get to know the rules, see the planes, learn to control the fall, train the landing and collect the “macaroni” (strings) of the parachute. Then, the moment came, the moment when the roller coaster began to descend from the high sky. The adrenaline peak of the SU –and probably of our lives– was the sound of the horn announcing the opening of the plane door, contemplating the height of 800 meters during ten never-ending seconds… until the jump! The scenario was marvellous: the silhouettes of thirty-six AEGEEan parachutists over the background of an orange sunset.
Some people forgot to “deblock” so the second parachute opened, five of us failed to land properly resulting in sprained ankles… but it was definitely worth it, and in case someone is doubting, everybody survived! By the time we arrived in Kiev it was already too late to prepare the pirate costumes, but it was not too late to join the amazing boat party. Many members from AEGEE-Kyïv joined the group and got on the boat that navigated through river Dnipro, dancing in the open air while viewing the nocturnal Kiev.
Before leaving to Odessa, one of the most interesting trips took place, this time to Chernobyl. This area is famous for a sad reason we all know, but it is important to keep in mind what happened there to prevent further accidents. Still, it is an interesting place to visit, as it seems that time has not passed in thirty years.
The rain created the appropriate mood for this trip. It was gray and sad just as at the day of the catastrophe. We had the opportunity to walk those desolate streets and see dead houses, forests, radio station and the power station itself. There were radioactivity signs everywhere which always held the feeling of danger and made the heart beat faster and faster. To exit the exclusion zone, each visitor had to pass several checkpoints; the difference of these checkpoints from many others is that they check if you are irradiated, and if you are authorised to go back to the city. It is a secret, but one of the participants became a bit radioactive, and now he is spreading the radiation somewhere in Europe… so take care on your next AEGEE events; he can be somewhere nearby!
Hello Odessa, goodbye Ukraine!
As the last chapter of this story, the roller coaster slowed down in Odessa. It was perfect to spend a couple of relaxing days in the city of humour: going to the beach and swimming in the Black Sea, visiting the Wax Museum, climbing the famous Potemkin’s stairs, riding a bike during an evening tour –which was surprisingly escorted by the local police– and learning to paint “pysanka”, a traditional Ukrainian decorated egg.
A very special night ended this flawless event, the farewell night. The group spirit had already reached its top by then, moreover, it was not a group anymore but a big family. The suit-up party began having dinner in an elegant restaurant. Then, the secret friends, participants that were assigned at the beginning of the SU to ‘be a friend’, e.g. give gifts or be extra attentive, to you, were revealed. Here comes a special mention to Anna Bortoletto, AEGEE-Udine, who after amusing everybody during the whole event by writing anonymous sexy poems to his secret friend Simon Schnake, AEGEE-Hamburg, revealed the surprise in the most hilarious way with the collaboration of Domitille Simon, AEGEE-Manchester. Anna wrote on Domi’s body “Hello from the threesome side, it was Anna all the time”, so when Simon already believed Domitille was his secret friend, she took her shirt off showing the message and causing an explosion of laughter among all of us.
Later, awards were given; everyone got a different one. Participants nominated organisers and vice versa, resulting in very original titles such as “The best washing machine” for Iuliia Chopenko, AEGEE-Kyïv; “The craziest Eurotripper” for the always active Esther Pérez Palao, AEGEE-Alicante; “The best fake organiser” for Batuhan Çarıkçı, AEGEE-Izmir; “The most damaged popstar” for Ander Fernández, AEGEE-Bilbao (my ankle still hurts while I write this article), and the well deserved “Best and most lovable organiser” for the always smiling Hanna Polishchuk, AEGEE-Kyïv.
After having some drinks in a very fancy club, organisers took participants to the beach, where they had prepared one more surprise: fire balloons. It was a very romantic moment when, in couples, and after making a wish, all these balloons were launched painting the sky orange for a few magical minutes. Then the party continued, and some people stayed even until sunrise, going to the beach to stare at the red sky sharing the horizon with the Black Sea. It was the perfect end for the SU, it was the time to get off the roller coaster…
Although the SU was officially finished, some of the participants took one more train to Kiev. One does not go to Ukraine every day, so enjoying a couple of extra days in the capital was a good idea. Another special mention to the main organiser Hanna Polishchuk, who instead of going home to rest after the hard and successful work before and during SU, decided to host 10 participants at her house. She also arranged an extra program to visit the few spots we had missed in Kiev: the ex-residence of the ex-president (a.k.a. The Museum of Corruption), the Museum of Miniature and the open air gym at the Gidropark area, with a professional workout workshop from Pasha Nykytiuk (AEGEE-Kyïv) and his friends.
Isn’t it amazing how many things can be done in two weeks? How many places visited? How many experiences lived? What else could you expect? If life was a videogame, this Summer University would definitely be the level where you unlock all the powers, characters and abilities. Thank you AEGEE-Kyïv!
Written by Ander Fernández, AEGEE-Bilbao