‘Look!’ Iryna said pointing out of the car window at a Stork standing proudly on top of a huge nest.
‘Oh, yeah’ I said, ‘they bring babies, right?’ I said, knowing full well that this was a common fable across eastern Europe.
‘Yes’ she said, ‘or you can find them inside a cabbage‘
‘a cabbage?!’ I laughed as Iryna explained a few other well known sources of Ukrainian babies such as inside bread.
We were on our way to a small airfield about 50km outside of Kyiv so Iryna could fly a plane, and to be honest I was a little bit nervous.
My impression of flying in Ukraine has been largely influenced by the numerous crashes and disasters that plagued the late Soviet Union and continue to plague modern day Russia. Flying in this part of the world, my instinct tells me, should be avoided.
Iryna, however, is clearly much braver than me and seemed to harbour no fear whatsoever about buzzing around the sky in a Ukrainian made flying machine. As it turns out, I’m happy to say she was correct.
On the outskirts of Kyiv we got slightly lost in one of those scrawling suburban estates that line the edges of many eastern European cities which are made up of a strange mix of slapdash cottages and ‘new money’ villas. The kind of estate you get when everyone is tending to their own patch and nobody gives a shit about the surrounding infrastructure that links it together. Where village kids and stray dogs play under the wheels of their neighbours expensive SUVs and where ‘urban planning’ stops before the word ‘planning’ begins.
Anyway, once we found the road again, we were well on our way and the weather was amazing even by Ukrainian standards. As we cut through a number of small villages, we were treated to an amazing show of springtime blossom and sunny countryside scenery.
After about an hour, we arrived at the airfield in Nalyvaikivka.
The airfield is a small place which consists of a barn/hangar, a runway, a house which doubles as an air-traffic control tower/bar, and lots of tiny colourful planes and helicopters. Its basically a playground for people with money who like to fly.
Iryna had been inspired to take a flight by the husband of her friend who lives in Turkey. She found the place online, arranged for us to catch a lift from Kyiv and as a result we were standing in a field in the baking hot sunshine waiting for her little yellow plane to be ready.
I’ll let the pictures and videos talk you through the experience…
Airfield Health & Safety
As you would imagine, safety is a priority at the airfield and it is quite important not to get killed in (or by) a plane. Certain rules exist to help you stay alive such as ‘not standing at the end of the runway when a plane is landing in case it crashes or lands on you’.
In England I guess this rule would be explained before you can go on to the runway, or perhaps there would be a security barrier. In Ukraine, they don’t tell you about the rule, but if you break it – they chase you away by landing a helicopter on your head!!
Back home in Podil
We caught a lift home with a 22 year-old Ukrainian guy who was learning to fly. He introduced himself as Ian (pronounced ‘eye-anne’) and then looked a little bit embarrassed as I shook his hand and introduced myself as Ian (pronounced ‘Ian’).
He was training for his private pilots licence, he had studied English for most of his life and had a deep affection for the UK. Having spent some time at Uni in Liverpool, he was understandably proud of his excellent (and quite posh) English accent and had an ambition to be a fighter pilot in the RAF.
As a result, he was currently contemplating the quite considerable problem of obtaining UK citizenship and had some difficulty squaring the fact that he would be an immigrant with the fact that he didn’t like immigrants.
Apart from this mild Jingoism, he was a nice guy and refreshingly ambitious and he dropped us off on the outskirts of Kyiv close to the metro station at which we started our trip.
On the Metro, Iryna struck-up a conversation with an old lady (babushka) that sat down next to her. Actually, its probably more accurate to say the old woman struck-up a conversation with Iryna (as old people do), and as I sat there looking at two chav-esque guys wearing flat caps they chatted away until we reached the city centre.
The old woman was 72 and her husband had been a ‘good man’ but an alcoholic who regularly beat her until his death. Before dying he told her that she would only live for 10 years without him, and so for 10 years the old lady lived in increasing fear of death.
Not surprisingly, she didn’t die and now seems happily resigned to the fact that she’ll go on living. She certainly looked well for a 72 year-old and she was on her way to go dancing on Kyiv’s Hydropark. Old people regularly meet there and Waltz together in the sunshine – its quite a sight.
Sadly, not everything is well with the old lady as her grandson moved in with his wife who occasionally kicks her (they’re waiting for her to die so they can take the apartment) and she doesn’t trust the old men (dedushkas) at the dance club because according to her most of them also want to inherit her apartment. But, she seems happy, she is enjoying what she can in life and clearly enjoys talking.
Back in Podil the old women are less friendly.
“What are you taking a picture of?” the an old lady snapped when she saw my camera.
“The building” Iryna replied politely.
“Why?” the old lady asked.
“because its interesting” Iryna explained, referring to the five Olympic-style rings that decorated the top of the entrance.
“go and take pictures of your own apartment” the old woman mumbled as she shuffled towards the door.
“…people coming here, taking pictures…grumble…grumble…” she continued, looking at me with suspicion as I laughed and continued to take pictures.
We had walked off the main street into an old Podil courtyard and, as if often the case, we discovered a hidden world of curios entrances, brightly painted plant pots, wooden play areas for children and rusty staircases.
If you’re ever walking in Kiev, this is the only way to see the city. Get off the main streets and into the courtyards – its amazing what you can find there, even if the old babushkas don’t like it.
Gallery: Flying fun at the end of April