axi Wars in Kiev


June 9 & 15, 2002

Note: We have tried to use the Ukrainian spelling (or rather, transliteration) for the names of people and places in Ukraine. Sometimes, however, as with Kiev, the Russian version has become a kind of standard and so we have used it instead.

Ukrainian Flag

We rarely take taxis when travelling, preferring either shanks's pony (going on foot) or bus. But when we arrive in a city with all of our bags we often have to take a taxi. That was the case in Kiev when we arrived in the mid-afternoon of a June day.

With her language skills, Jan was always the designated seeker after tickets, information, and taxis. We arrived in Kiev at the intercity bus station, which like most such places was in the outer suburbs where land was cheap. The station was not that big, but there was no obvious taxi stand, just a few taxis parked and guys hanging around their cars waiting for someone like Jan.

We had been told that a taxi should cost no more than 15 Griven (the local currency). If we had been locals, we would have walked out of the bus station and hailed a taxi on the street. But no-one had told us that. Jan asked one or two of the taxi drivers how much they wanted to go to Independence Square and they all asked for 30 or 40 Griven. Getting rather desperate, she continued her rounds and was surprised when one man said he would take us for 20 Griven. Getting a bit desperate, I said yes.

She ran to get Gerry and bring back the bags. That's when she noticed that the "taxi" was actually a private car. Uneasy about getting in this man's unmarked car, she asked the driver why he didn't have a real taxi. He said he was a taxi supervisor and it was his day off and he wanted to earn some extra money. Gerry got out his city map and asked the man to take a specific route into the city. When he agreed, we took our chance and got into his car.

This story has a happy ending. The man took us exactly where we wanted to go and even gave us a quick lesson on the sights of Kiev. Jan didn't understand it all, but enough to be able to follow about half of what he said. We paid him exactly what we had agreed exchanged a friendly handshake and said goodbye.

Fast forward a week, and we arrive at the same bus station on our return from Zhytomyr. This time Jan felt a bit more confident, having been through the process once, although she still didn't know she should hail a taxi outside the bus station.

We experienced the same kind of difficulty with offers of 20 dollars, 100 Griven. I was aghast. Then, a little like last time, one man seemed willing to be reasonable and said the cost would be determined by the meter. We told him where we wanted to go and got into the car. But it wasn't him who got into the driver's seat and Jan was concerned when she thought she heard him say,"Take them the long way".

And that is exactly what he did. Gerry was already very familiar with the layout of the city and knew that he was going way out of his way. I tried to tell him that we knew what he was doing, but he was oblivious. We were being met at our new apartment and just hoped that that person would help us with this obviously crooked taxi driver.

As expected, the meter read a figure about five times what the journey should cost. We put the guy off saying that our money was in the apartment and made sure that we got all of our bags out of the car before talking about the fare. We got everything up four flights of stairs (no elevator) and into the apartment where we gave the guy the bad news that we weren't going to pay him his full price. At first, our landlady, a woman of about 35 years of age, was very suspicious of us and didn't seem as though she would be willing to get involved. We kept asking her to call the police and she refused. The driver was starting to make threats saying that we had agreed to pay what was on the meter. I was trying to explain to him and her that he was trying to cheat us. In the end, the woman called a friend of hers in the taxi business who told her what it should cost to come from the bus station. From that moment on, she was more or less on our side and convinced the driver that he was not going to get any more than 20 Griven. He was very unhappy, but he did go away and happily we never saw him or his taxi again.


Updated September 21, 2002