As Ukraine crisis deepens, a tour company’s call to action: Travel Weekly

Arnie Weissmann

Arnie Weissmann

I suspect that Russian intelligence about the restaurant OB, positioned beneath Independence Sq. in Kyiv, in no way manufactured it to Vladimir Putin’s desk.

OB serves, completely, Ukrainian dishes and spirits, and its walls are protected with revolutionary paraphernalia. To get into the cafe, a single demands a password, a Ukrainian phrase indicating, “You fight, and you will win.” (The transliteration: Boree’teesa ee-poboreteh.)

It has morphed from a secret password to a message of resistance that seems to be resonating considerably and wide all over Ukraine.

Accompanying me to OB when I dined there in 2016 had been Julia Kulyk and Aleksandr Skrypka, the youthful pair who owns JC Travel, aka Get pleasure from Ukraine, a receptive tour operator.

They had built preparations for my pay a visit to to Ukraine that 12 months, and we turned quick good friends. We ziplined throughout the Dnieper River, viewed a skilled soccer match and explored Kyiv’s parks and cathedrals.

When they came to New York with their younger daughter, Polina, the subsequent calendar year, we got jointly for supper. A 12 months afterwards, when my household was changing planes in Kyiv, they arrived to the airport to join us for a meal.


As Russian troops massed at the border in February, we exchanged e-mails. In scenario of an invasion, Julia informed me then, their prepare was to come to the U.S.

But as war broke out, they stayed in Ukraine, at first remaining in Kyiv but soon shifting south to continue to be with friends in Vinnytsya.

When I had frequented in 2016, Crimea experienced previously been annexed by Russia, and Ukrainian forces have been battling their potent neighbor in the Donbass location. But the couple’s upbeat outlook and cheery professionalism appeared a reflection of the hopeful strength I found everywhere I went in Ukraine.

I wrote at the time, “Even with worries the place is struggling with and the looming presence of Russia, these youthful business people see a way to marshal the country’s id and appreciable cultural assets and means to increase equally tourism and countrywide self-esteem.”

The scenario has, of study course, altered significantly. I was capable to discuss to Julia last Monday through WhatsApp, and she gave me a sober update.

“I am Okay, so considerably,” she experienced mentioned. There was an airbase a handful of kilometers from wherever she was keeping in Vinnytsya, she reported, near sufficient to mail the relatives into bomb shelters when it would occur less than attack. But they had been safe.

And they had a prepare: She and Polina would cross the border around Moldova and Romania, and they would make their way to the Netherlands. Alex would escort her to the border but remain at the rear of males beneath 60 aren’t allowed to depart the state.

“Of program, I will not actually want to depart Ukraine, both,” she stated. “I would continue to be here and guard my region if I didn’t have a kid. But I have a daughter, so her basic safety is the precedence for me. And for Alex, as well. Proper now, I am not certain what will come about in an hour or tomorrow.”


On Tuesday morning, she sent me a textual content that they were being approaching the border, and Wednesday early morning she sent a further a single confirming that they had crossed more than and had been driving to the Netherlands.

On her Facebook webpage that day, she posted that leaving Ukraine “was the most tough determination in our life.” Driving as a result of Moldova toward Romania, she wrote, “I cried and considered how a great deal I want to go dwelling to Kyiv … I was driving, crying, imagining that I have to get started a new existence once again, for the third time. But this time is the hardest. It is diverse. It will be significantly from residence. Wherever you are no person. Where by you are a refugee.

“Refugee. Even in my worst nightmare, I could not visualize this would occur to me and my household. That I would have to operate absent from my place to conserve my boy or girl. To give her a distinct long run, at minimum briefly. Certainly, temporary because I want to go residence as before long as possible, when it really is protected.

“I felt guilty leaving my husband, my liked kinds, my nation … I have to relaxed down, pull myself together, be potent and go forward.”


I was not the only human being Julia experienced satisfied in her expert capability who experienced reached out to her given that the disaster designed. “I have gotten hundreds of messages to WhatsApp, Fb, Instagram,” she explained to me when we spoke previous Monday. “Everybody’s worried. Men and women have prepared from Canada, the U.S., Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, countries all above the earth, giving assist. Accommodations. Economical support.”

But she responds to all provides with a redirection to a website to donate to the Ukrainian armed forces.


The recent crisis arrived immediately after what experienced been a hard few of pandemic several years for the couple’s business. “In 2020, we experienced two visitors appear, toward the finish of the yr: one particular courageous American girl and one particular courageous guy from Pakistan,” Julia had advised me when we spoke a week in the past.

“Business commenced to return previous year towards the close of May possibly solo tourists, partners, extremely little groups, some who had rescheduled their visits just after Covid,” she ongoing. “Tourism was truly recovering a lot quicker than I had predicted. By December, we had various reservations for the 2022 year. It was like the breath of lifetime. But in January, issue about what was likely on among Russia and Ukraine increased. We started getting cancellations, or people today would say, Ok, probably we are going to arrive in autumn. But, of system, just after the invasion started out, no one will appear.”

Julia does not feel the condition will resolve immediately, and even if the battling ended up to end quickly, there is previously much destruction to the country’s infrastructure. 

“It will choose lots of years to rebuild,” she experienced told me. “If I have the prospect to return to tourism, yes, I will do that due to the fact this is what I adore. I like my place. I genuinely get pleasure from my career. I appreciate conference people from all around the world. I am happy to be Ukrainian. I am proud to present my country, our society.”


Just after the invasion had begun, I obtained an e-mail that Julia despatched to her extended record of nicely-wishers. Towards the close, she wrote:

“Go to rallies and protests, distribute information and facts about what is seriously taking place in Ukraine. Persons of the total environment should really know the reality, and only all jointly can the planet defeat this scum Putin. Ukraine is bravely and heroically defending not only itself but the entire of Europe.”

From a get in touch with to arms to a wry restaurant password, and now once again a connect with to arms: You fight, and you will get.

But for people of us abroad, Julia signed off from her e mail with not a connect with to arms, but a get in touch with to conscience:

“Do not be indifferent,” she wrote. 

Abide by Julia’s journey on Facebook.  

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