I have been recently writing about the ins and outs of overnight trains in Ukraine on HubPages, and I was reminded of one specific ride from Kiev to Odessa. See, in the article “Overnight Trains in Ukraine“, I explain the feelings that go along with choosing this form of transport in the former Soviet country; feelings of coldness and also feelings of respect, comfort and caring. To me, taking an overnight train provides an opportunity to learn about the culture, or in my case, confirm the cultural teachings I had been taught thus far.
This one particular train ride was memorable because I was able to share the experience with my flatmate, Tanya. We were heading out for a girls only weekend in Odessa with two other teachers, but they made plans much later and could not get a cabin with us. So, Tanya and I had to share with two Ukrainians – one male, and one female later to arrive.
When we arrived in our 4-berth cabin, a man was sitting on the bottom bed. He stood up as soon as we entered to make way for our belongings. I put my stuff on the bottom right bed, while Tanya reached for the upper left bunk. The man heard us speaking English and quickly joined in with impressive dialogue.
“No, no. I will take the top bed. You are a woman, so I will let you have the bottom.”
We both thought that was cool because the bottom bed was so much more convenient. As the train moved out of the station, the man continued to talk to us. He was very curious about us, and he was very happy to get to practice his English.
Tanya and I got out our bag of snacks and quickly offered the man (I believe his name was Yuri) some, too. He, in return got out a bag of apples and said we were free to have some as well. This type of sharing amongst strangers was not uncommon.
Yuri decided to get all three of us some tea from the carriage attendant to wash down our snacks. As he stepped out to place the order, Tanya and I started guessing his age.
“Hmm, I’m going to say he’s 32,” said Tanya.
“Yeah, 30-ish is probably right,” I agreed.
As we drank our hot, sugary and lemony tea, we decided to ask Yuri some questions – how old he was, why he was going to Odessa, etc. To our shock, Yuri was only 25 years old with the face of someone 7 years his senior. I laughed on the inside and knew that Tanya was, too. We had been having trouble guessing anyone’s age our entire time in Ukraine because they just tend to age differently.
Yuri was on his way to Odessa for work for a couple of days. It was his first real job, and he still lived at home with his parents. This is where it got a bit weird.
“Yes, I live at home with my mother and father. I like it. I might move out someday, but not soon,” Yuri stated.
“Maybe when I have a wife, I will move out,” he continued.
“My mother gave me these apples to take on the train today. She said that if I am somewhere where I can’t brush my teeth, I should eat an apple.”
The devotion to his mother and his home life was, even though admirable, a little off-putting for us from a guy his age. It is just a different culture, and a different mindset.
“Whenever you girls want to dress for bed, tell me. I will stand outside until you are done,” stated Yuri.
And, stand outside he did. It is this part of the Ukrainian culture that got us. Men were so respectful of other women and their mothers, but it was tied up with a mama’s boy attitude or just dressed up in groomed eyebrows and REALLY tight jeans. I feel almost as though even the toughest, seediest and most corrupt of the Ukrainian men have a soft spot, so don’t let them fool you!
Yuri stepped back into the cabin. Tanya and I were in our cozy little train beds. We asked if he needed to do anything or if we could turn out the lights.
“Let me just eat an apple,” Yuri said. “You know what my mother says.”