Cara Phillips, trainee, CMS Cameron McKenna
13 January 2010
28 January 2013
28 October 2013
12 December 2013
8 August 2013
29 October 2013
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people are a little unsure of where Kiev is.
To be honest, it’s courtesy of Google that I found out that the office where I am spending the second seat of my training contract at CMS Cameron McKenna is in the North East of Ukraine. Before arriving I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. The only thing that I associated with Ukraine was vodka, snow and furry hats and whilst vodka, snow and furry hats have all played a very important role in my Kiev experience, I have also found that Ukraine has a lot more to offer. I was surprised to find on arriving that Kiev is actually a very modern and attractive city full of golden domes and parks. The political environment is also very interesting both historically and currently with the presidential elections being held this month.
I arrived in Kiev at the end of August. The day following my arrival was Independence Day - the day Ukraine gained its independence from Soviet rule 18 years ago. This meant that the office was closed and I had some time to explore. The city was certainly in celebration mode and the main shopping street (Khreshchatyk) and Independence Square were packed with people making the most of the military parade and concert.
What struck me most on my first day and what I still find even now is how ‘foreign’ Kiev seems to an English person. Kiev hasn’t really made it onto the English tourist map quite yet and, unlike some other Eastern European cities hasn’t been invaded by British stag parties. Ukraine also follows the orthodox calendar so has just celebrated Orthodox Christmas and New Year, which fall two weeks after Christian Christmas and New Year. In many ways the ‘foreignness’ of Kiev makes it a very interesting and refreshing place to spend six months. The fact that it is largely undiscovered as a tourist destination means that visitors to Kiev still have the opportunity to discover the real, unspoilt Eastern Europe. However, armed with only a basic understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet and a few words of Russian even simple things like going to the supermarket can be challenging.
I have visited a number of tourist attractions during my time in Kiev including St Sophia Cathedral, St Michaels’ Monastry and Andriyivskyy Uzviz (a little cobbled street with market stalls). The Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves) is probably the most visited tourist spot and is certainly a spooky experience. There are two caves which contain coffins containing relics of Orthodox saints. Women have to cover their heads with scarves and, as most people take candles into the caves to light their way walking around with a highly flammable piece of material on your head in such a confined space can be a disconcerting experience. This is especially so as Orthodox Christians believe the relics have healing qualities and, therefore, dive, candle in hand, from coffin to coffin to kiss the feet and hands of the monks.
While the weather was still warm I also took a trip to the Crimea by overnight train (which was an experience in itself) to go to the annual International Jazz festival on Koktebel beach, which was great. The Crimea is also Ukraine’s wine growing region so I certainly made the most of the opportunity to sample the wine and cognac it is famous for (at least in Ukraine if not internationally!). Next on my list of places to visit is Lviv, a city in the west of Ukraine which I plan to visit in February.
Since my arrival temperatures have plunged. The snow is still piled high at the side of the road from heavy snow fall over the Christmas and New Year period and the ice means it is a struggle to stay upright. Despite the challenging weather conditions the locals just carry on. I have had to invest in a furry ‘Russian hat’ to keep myself warm despite my initial resistance on account of wanting to avoid ‘hat hair’ but as they say when in Rome…
Luckily CMS Cameron McKenna’s office, which is in the centre of Kiev, is only a short 5 minute walk from my flat. The office is smaller than in London with about 40 lawyers. Whilst I am in a banking seat and the majority of my work is banking related, working in a smaller office has meant that I have had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of work including some corporate and commercial work. I have also gained a lot of valuable drafting experience, which is something I would be less likely to get involved with in London.
Overall, living in Kiev has been a fascinating experience if a little harsher and more challenging at times than life in London. I have, however, successfully survived the winter (so far!) and enjoyed the opportunity I have had to explore Ukraine.