Before I left Turkey to Ukrainian friends gave me very different directions on how I should greet their country for them when I landed in Kiev to transfer planes on my way back to the US this week. One directed me to five the country a warm embrace and the other requested that I flip it the bird. That’s more or less what I did.
Kiev Borispol Airport and I have an uncertain relationship. We’ve seen each other twice and neither of us knows what to expect from the other. I believe it has something to do with the fact that everyone who sees me there assumes I must speak Russian, and I assume KBP to be a functioning international transit hub. Neither of these assumptions are true.
The first time I transferred planes at Kiev Borispol it was – pardon the expression, but there is really n o other way to describe it – a giant cluster-fuck. The whole airport is roughly the size of an urban supermarket, and in order to make a transfer, one has to wind one’s way through a series of stairwells and makeshift checkpoints constructed from old bedsheets and broken-down office furniture. With only little over an hour to make my transfer and surrounded elbow to elbow by other transfer passengers, the scenario turned into a game of Marco Polo, but with very heavy baggage.
This time into Kiev I came mentally prepared. I knew I only had 90 minutes and I knew I was going to have to move fast and wield my joints in order not to get caught in the same block of people as the last time around.
Except this time there were no people. Still the same makeshift corridors and lady with an indecipherable check-in list scratched out on a piece of paper (talk about high tech security) but no hoards of people.
After a European-style shower in duty free (Aqua di Gio is going to be my new summer scent.) I turned to face gate 5B, which was basically an even-smaller corner of the already too-small airport, fenced off by plastic wrap. I had barely deposited my hand luggage on the belt when a surly, well-manicured x-ray tech barked something at me in Russian which sounded strangely like “chicken-Mercury-feet”. I spread my legs, thinking I was going to get some funky poultry pat down before I’d even attempted the body scanner (I later noticed this was in place but not plugged in…) but that, apparently, wasn’t what she was after.
“Take off your shoes,” she spat, obviously upset by my lack of both understanding and bright pink nail polish.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, with only a hint of sarcasm. “I don’t speak Russian.” To which she answered with a shrug, as if to say, “You’re problem, not mine.”
As I passed through the non-functioning body scanner and gathered my shoes I thanked the Ukraine in my mind for its lack of travelers on this particular day, and flicked it the bird for the surly, though well-groomed, employee.