Hiking Hoverla, Ukraine’s Highest Mountain
We hiked this beautiful mountain as part of our 10-day adventure in Ukraine. You can read about the entire trip, including our adventures in Chernobyl and Transnistria, here.
60% of Ukrainians live below the poverty line. So why don’t you see any homeless people or people begging for money?
I posed this question to our driver during this three day adventure into the Carpathian Mountain region of Ukraine. This was the hardest part of the trip to plan–no reliable buses or trains with good schedules to this part of the country. I probably spent 20 hours looking at different options until my search paid off and I found Roman, a nerdy (pot, kettle I know) 31-year-old who just started his taxi business.
Today we left Vorokhta at 6am and arrived at Hoverla Mountain Park at 7:30. The trip should take 35 minutes but the roads are indescribably bad. Worse than Costa Rica. Like third world in some ways.
When we got to the park, we had to get go inside this large, gruff man’s Park Ranger office. It was cold and dark. No lights on. Like they can’t afford it or something. He sat at a spartan little desk and wrote our names in a log book like they would have done in America in the 1950’s. It’s just hard to believe and you feel like you’re in a Twilight Zone episode.
It then took another hour of literally crawling up heavily rutted gravel roads for five miles to the start of the hike. This was harder than the actual hike!
So let’s start putting the pieces together. Although this is a very poor country, there are no real homeless because there’s always a place to stay, like an abandoned home or one that was never finished (common). Or you’re taken in by family or friends. (It is an affront to your mother to live on your own unless you are married. Besides why pay the extra rent?).
You don’t beg because you’re a Ukrainian and that’s beneath you. You may scavenge for food, but you’d never impose or ask someone. Plus food isn’t the issue. It’s quite amazing to see that just about everyone grows their own food, even if it’s a tiny patch of land. This is their heritage, they’ve got the rich black soil, and they remember Stalin’s famine. Never again.
And here’s what hit me. Casey asked Roman why Ukrainians don’t complain to their government about the roads. “We are a patient people. We are accustomed to suffering.” Bingo.
“At least I’m not starving to death.” This seems to be the philosophy in a sense. It could be worse and we’ve never known better. These are people who suffered under the Soviets and whose freedom is new and just beginning to take hold.
They are just learning how to build a democracy and become entrepreneurial. You can see that in how they move and treat customers. Still a ways to go.
And still in other small ways as well. It made us angry that there was trash all along the trail today. Broken glass even. Bottles and styrofoam containers. Not everywhere like in Kosovo, but it’s pretty bad. If you tried leaving even a tiny wrapper on a mountain in Germany or Switzerland, you’d be collectively shamed. I think it points to a lack of hope and self-respect in a sense. Especially when that was taken from you for generations.
At dinner tonight, Roman told us about his father. He’d always had a job under the communists. But after the system broke down, he was out of work. He became depressed. He started to drink. And never stopped. That’s endemic in the older population and not dissimilar to depressed Americans turning to opioids.
So Roman is trying to break that generational pattern and be the first in his family to thrive under capitalism. Okay maybe not thrive. More than survive. But it will likely be his future child or grandchild who really has the skills and mindset and initiative to break out.
He lives in a nice city and says rent is $125 a month. So as an American you think, I could kill it here! But the jobs and earning potential just aren’t there. So many people go to Poland or even Hungary.
Ironically, the most dangerous part of the day was actually after we got home from hiking. Casey and I decided to explore the village this afternoon when a vicious lightning storm caught us in the open. We had been looking at this cool, ancient wooden church unique to this region when thunder and lightning hit hard.
We climbed up a hill because we were hungry and walked along the train tracks to a restaurant. But the storm had washed part of our sidewalk down the hill. They just don’t have the basics covered. It’s sad because it’s a physically beautiful country, but too difficult for most tourists to navigate comfortably.
I’m glad we ventured down here. The hike alone was worth it, not to mention fantastic food for next to nothing. Love to all!