Ukraine FAQ

StarrUkraineHatUPDATE! As of 2013, we’re back in the USA. I had a fantastic year in 2012 while living with my husband Alex in Ukraine, and was glad for the opportunity to complete my doctorate while there. Alex’s employer, Quickoffice, was bought by Google in June 2012, and we’ve finished our transition back to the states. We’re currently living in New York, NY. 



Wait, where did you move?

Kharkov, Ukraine (Cold-War-era globe)

We’re living in Kharkov, Ukraine (this is the common, Russian spelling–it’s also sometimes spelled Kharkiv, which is the Ukrainian spelling). For more about the move itself, read this blog post.

  • time difference: 8 hours ahead
  • climate: summer = highs in the 70s/80s F (can get into 90s), lows in 60s/70s F, long daylight hours (never completely dark); winter = highs in the 20s F at best; lows can be negative 30 F or lower (dark in early afternoon, lots of snow)
  • population:
  • Ukraine = 45,134,707
  • Kharkov = 1.5 million (second-largest city)
  • Kiev = 2.8 million (capital, largest city)

You can also find Kharkov on this handy map I made (click to enbiggen!):

Europe According to Starr

So… is Ukraine part of Russia? Is it “The Ukraine” or just “Ukraine?” Do Ukrainians speak Russian or Ukranian? Do you speak Russian?

  • No, Ukraine is independent from (and south of) Russia. They are very definitely two different countries (Ukraine asserted its independence from the USSR in 1991). Never, never confuse Russia with Ukraine in front of a Ukrainian. Just think of how Texans react to Northerners who call Taco Bell “Mexican food.” Yeah. It’s a rivalry to top Yankees vs. Red Sox.
  • It’s simply Ukraine. “The Ukraine” is apparently an old habit from back in the good ol’ Cold War USSR days.
  • Both languages are used throughout the country. Eastern Ukraine (where we’ll be) primarily speaks Russian, and western Ukraine is primarily Ukrainian (which is not only a completely different language, but uses a slightly different alphabet… SERIOUSLY). There’s a big push to use Ukrainian more throughout the country, so while most people in Kharkov speak Russian, signs are often in Ukrainian. The primary goal behind this is to stump confused Westerners like myself (well, that’s how it feels).
  • Alex speaks a bit of Russian, I don’t (yet). We’ve got Rosetta Stone and will also be getting a Russian tutor to learn the language.

When are you moving? How long will you be there? Where will you live?

  • I left UNT at the end of October. We moved in mid-November.
  • We’ll be there about two to three years.
  • We moved into our apartment in February. Prior to that, we were living in the Aurora Hotel where Alex lived for much of the past three years.  The apartment has an office and a guest bedroom (apartment shopping in Ukraine wasn’t easy, let me tell you!). It’s got lots of WINDOWS, so we can enjoy those spring/summer daylight hours while we’ve got them.

What will you be doing in Ukraine? Are you giving up your career? Is this a secret plot to get pregnant?

  • So the plan is to focus on completing my dissertation. I’m excited to have time to devote completely to research, reading, analysis, and writing, instead of trying madly to cram it in after a long day at work! This process will likely take me one to two years.
  • We hope to travel in Europe and Asia as much as possible, since weekend jaunts to many places will suddenly become possible and relatively cheap. And I plan to blog about the experience: expat life, Ukrainian culture, travels, dissertation-ing, and the perils of living in true winter. Stay posted.
  • I am in no way giving up my long-term career. I’ll be continuing my other professional activities: writing articles, presenting, attending a few conferences, etc.–I won’t be invisible professionally by any means. I may also be doing some part-time information consulting, and/or writing on that pesky novel I’ve been working on for a few years.
  • No, it’s not a secret plot to get pregnant. Nor a public one. Not that it’s anyone’s beeswax, but just to put that rumor to rest! 😉   (And yes, if we do have a kid someday, I promise to update you all at that point. Really.)
  • …seriously, any other crazy theories I can debunk?  😉

Isn’t a little anti-feminist to give up your career and follow your husband for his job?

  • It seemed that way three years ago, before I was juggling a management position, dissertation, and house maintenance without the benefit of having my life partner around. Somehow my perspective has changed since then–three years away from your best friend will do that–Alex is my husband, my family, my pal, and my life partner–I want to share a life with him.
  • Spending a couple years focusing on my dissertation and other research fulltime sounds like the very opposite of giving up my career. Plus, I could only say no to moving to Europe for so long! I knew that a decade from now I’d look back and think, “I could have been living a few countries away from Italy? Why didn’t I jump at that chance?”
  • And the final part of that answer is: marriage is all about compromise. Did we heavily weigh the benefits of each of our careers, where we could live together, etc.? Yes, we exhausted all potential possible lifestyles before making our decision. It was not a foregone conclusion for me to quit my job and move. And it hasn’t been easy for Alex to live so isolated for three years. This was the best decision for the both of us, for a variety of reasons.

What about your house and all your stuff? 

  • I spent a lot of time selling, giving away, and recycling as much as I could, and trashed what I had to. We’ve stored a small amount in a climate-controlled space the states, a few essentials are in Dallas at Alex’s parents’ house, and we brought a small amount with us–primarily clothes, books for my dissertation, and our scuba diving equipment. When you’re storing things for 2-3 years, it suddenly becomes apparent that you don’t need them, won’t use them for awhile, and it’s cheaper to buy stuff over there than move it all with us.
  • Yes, this includes furniture. We kept our bedroom suite (in Alex’s parents’ guest room) and the Fat Couch.
  • Our house is being rented out. It’s a waste to sit empty and we lost my income, so it had to either sell or rent. We got the lease signed literally the day before we left the country!

What’s next? What happens after 2-3 years? What will you do when you finish your dissertation?

  • Are you kidding? We had no idea I’d be moving to Ukraine even six months before the move. We’ll figure that adventure out when we come to it!
  • My main focus is simply finishing my PhD. I’d like to adjunct-teach some distance courses, as well. I’m not sure if I’ll be returning to a library job, try for a faculty position, go purely for research, etc.–there’s plenty of time to figure that out once I’m Dr. Hoffman.
  • Yes, we could possibly move back to DFW/Texas. Yes, we could possibly move elsewhere in the states, or really, who knows? We won’t really know what we want until we’ve lived this new life for awhile. We’re just excited about the wide range of possibilities in our future!

So, is your husband really an international spy, or what?

  • That’s one theory, and I have to admit it does seem increasingly plausible. He’d be smart to keep me in the dark, in any case, because I can’t help but blab something that awesome to everyone in my immediate vicinity. But no, to the best of my knowledge he’s Developer of Engineering for Quickoffice, a software development company based in Plano, TX, and he runs the Kharkov, Ukraine office of that company (at the time of this writing, there are nearly 70 people just in the Kharkov office). I’ve visited him at this office, and if he is a spy, I have to say he’s come up with an incredibly elaborate ruse.

Will you even remember your pals back home?

  • Oh my gosh, YES. I’m actually afraid that I’ll become incredibly annoying my pestering various of you with pings on Twitter, Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, etc.  I’ll be heavily relying on social networking to keep me close to all of you! I’m so sad to lose face-to-face connection with you all for awhile, but I’m incredibly grateful for the internet and all these nifty applications that can keep me involved in your lives. Feel like having a text, voice, or video chat? Just look for me online or send me an email, I’ll be incredibly happy to hear from you!

Can we come visit?

  • Erm, do I know you personally? (Just checking.) If that’s the case, then: yes, PLEASE!! We would love to have company! If you’re coming to Ukraine, after January we hope to be settled in an apartment with a guest bedroom, so there’s a place for you to crash. If you just want an excuse to come to Europe and travel around with someone you know, let us know where and when, and we’ll try to meet up if at all possible. My dissertation-ing full-time should allow for a more flexible schedule, and I’m looking forward to traveling more with friends.

What’s your mailing address?

  • We’re living on Kultury Street; please email/tweet me if you’d like our full mailing address. If you do mail something, be forewarned that any valuable items might “disappear” in customs. We’re hoping to test the mail service soon and see how banged-up the packages are when they get here.

What’s the food like?

  • To be honest, there are a lot of restaurants in Kharkov that are similar to here: Italian, sushi, French, sandwich-and-coffee cafes, and of course the ubiquitous McDonald’s. The traditional Ukrainian fare I’ve had tends to be of the belly-warming stick-to-your-ribs sort of thing, borsch (beet soup/stew, see below) and dumplings (vereniki) and lots of meat and various cooked veggies. There’s an interesting drink that’s a sort of smoked fruit juice. Thus far, my favorite Ukrainian delicacy is cerniki, small pancakes made with cottage cheese in the batter–very tasty. There are also TONS of pastries and sweet things, it’s a chocolate-lover’s dream.
  • For more on food, check Flickr and the blog.