As most of the real drunk stories we shared with you are just crazy memories from the past, this one is definitely not. To paint the picture: I’m sitting in bed with my laptop exactly where the name says it should be, as my left leg is enveloped with Ukranian cast. Only yesterday I finally escaped from a situation that reminds most of a scenario from the Locked up Abroad series. As a last drunk night in Kiev led to a stay in a Ukranian public hospital with a broken ankle, robbed from passport and wallet, without a working phone and nobody around who spoke anything but Ukranian or Russian. A pretty hopeless situation that would have been endless is if it wasn’t for the immense determination of some people I’m happy to call my friends. Making a horror scenario abroad into one of the best experiences in my life. Watch out, this is a long read.
Let’s go a few months back. As my friends and me are watching the draw for the Champions League, a tournament our favorite club Feyenoord Rotterdam hasn’t performed in for 18 years. Like many other Feyenoord-fans I took a day off from work to see the draw live, so I could book my flights right away. The group is amazing from a real football fan perspective: Manchester City, Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk. Or as most fans saw it: one away game in Brittain, cradle of football support and crazy drunken bullshit, one trip to the Italian city with probably the most fanatic fans and one journey to the walhalla of cheap alcohol and hookers. As many guys in our friends group have always had a passion for countries from behind the former Iron Curtain, our favorite destination was set from the start: Ukraine. Though the match is played in the city of Kharkiv I book my tickets to Kiev and back. From Saturday to Saturday I’ll have more than a week to see so much more than just 90 minutes of football.
The trip has everything we hoped for. Kiev and Kharkiv are beautiful cities, we take an impressive trip to the radioactive zone around Chernobyl and the drunken nights with the Feyenoord lads are exactly how we pictured them. Feyenoord loses the game to Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1, but that was kind of expected, as the Ukranian side has a squad full of Brazilian superstars and our side… Well, let’s say our squad does not. The Thursday morning after the game my friends all return to Holland with a flight directly from Kharkiv. Me, I still have till Saturday 6 p.m. before my flight from Kiev Borispol airport leaves for Holland. After a tiring 9 hour bus ride between the 2 major cities of Ukraine I check into Hotel Ukraïna, right where so many people got shot during the Ukranian Revolution of 2014. Clearly not a place of great fortune as I would find out a little later.
Thursday night I decide to stay in and enjoy the kingsize bed. The next day I’m just stumbling through the streets of Kiev and pass the time in the computerlab downstairs. Since my phone has not been working since day 1 of the trip, this is the first time I have access to internet and can chat a bit with friends back home and around the world. However, more and more I feel that this is not how I should end this amazing trip. No way in hell I’m gonna end my time in Ukraine with a quiet night alone in my hotel room, it’s time for one last adventure. So I head to the Irish pub O’Brians not too far away and start off with a pint of Kilkenny. Although I love this Irish ale, I’m in Kiev and when in Rome… So, a little bit later I’m facing half a liter of cheap vodka and a pint of very decent Lvivske beer. Now I recall having several more pints, as I bravely battled the raw taste of pure cheap vodka, but after that my memories get kinda foggy. A look at my bank records shows a transaction of 32 Euros, which suggests at least a second bottle of vodka was involved, as they cost around 10 bucks in this place.
Now the rest of the night is kinda blurry too, until the final scene in front of my hotel. Fact is that I remember there was a threat or at least a nasty atmosphere at some point between O’Brians Pub and my hotel. Fact is that at some point I hurt my left ankle and my right hand. Since I usually punch with the right and kick with the left, it could well have been that I fought off a first attempt to mug a lonely drunk tourist. I also remember someone giving me a ride in his car (probably a black taxi), how I felt like this might not be the best idea ever, but given the fact that my painful ankle immobilized me and the threat in the streets I took the chance. I recall the driver being very kind and to my relief actually bringing me close to my hotel and then offered to help me walk towards it. As he brought me right in front of Hotel Ukraïna, I thought it was safe to take out my wallet and tip the guy big for his services. But the moment I did, he punched me straight in the nose and ran off with my wallet, which didn’t contain a lot of money, but did have my bankcard. Feeling kinda violated I stumbled towards my hotel room on the 8th floor. To make it a little less heroic, I did use the elevator, but it was still a 200 meter walk including some stairs in this huge hotel, which shows how far a man can go on alcohol and adrenaline.
Around noon the next day I woke up angry, remembering the betrayal of my driver, the punch in the nose and my stolen wallet. All I wanted was to pack my stuff and get the hell back to Holland. It was then when I realized I was also missing my passport. I realized that as the thief was supporting me on the way to the hotel, he must have picked it from my left pocket. A second nasty surprise was that I really couldn’t stand on my left leg. Still hoping for a miracle I used my right leg to hop into the massive corridor till I found a cleaning lady that warned someone from the reception. Unfortunately no passport was found and my final plan of traveling back in a wheelchair, before checking into a Dutch hospital was off the table. Sadly I agreed to let the hotel reception call me an ambulance. After a bumpy ride over the rocky roads of Kiev we got to a public hospital with the inspiring name Hospital Number 12, a very basic building from the Soviet days, that looked even more dodgy as it was under construction.
X-ray foto’s showed a small crack in the bone of my ankle. Now, this was the first time I ever broke anything in my life, which is at itself pretty amazing considering the many crazy adventures I got myself into. This meant no more bragging I was “unbreakable like Bruce Willis“. But it also meant I probably wasn’t leaving this place any time soon. As the friendly ambulace brother Andrej said goodbye he said: “Good luck here. I hope you’ll find someone in this hospital who speaks English.” Boy, was he right. After the nurses wrapped cast around my left lower leg, I was brought into a very basic room with 4 other beds, of which one was occupied by an older Ukranian man, named Serheï. Just like the older nurses and the doctors he didn’t speak any English. So far a mix of my limited vocabulary of Polish and Bulgarian words got me quite far in this country, but here’s where I hit the wall.
Later that evening the police, a typical beefed Eastern European guy and a pretty attractive young woman, came to record my story, mostly through a translation app on their mobile phones. Again our different languages were quite a barrier. Although the girl did say I was a “very cool boy”, when she heard about my alcohol intake the night before. Now in Holland this would definitely an example of the typical ironic attitude of a police officer, but here I really couldn’t tell. They also gave me the number of the Dutch consulate, but I was told that it was only open on weekdays. In other words: I couldn’t do anything till Monday. As I was trying to make my peace with the situation the hopeful sound of plates banging together came from the hallway, dinner was here. Since I had not eaten anything all day I was starving. But to my dissapointment dinner in a public hospital in Ukraine meant porridge from rice and buckweed, topped off with a small slice of bread. I had 4 spoons of porridge and the slice of bread, before I gave up and tried to get some sleep.
But sleeping is not easy when your head is full of thoughts. What will my housemate think now I didn’t show up on Saturday night as planned? Will he alarm my friends and family? Will they think I’m dead? What will my boss and colleagues think if I don’t show up on Monday? As the questions kept repeating themselves in my head I decided that my first priority the next day should be to show a sign of life, in whatever way possible. I had no working phone, but I knew the home phone numbers of both my parents and the mobile number of my brother by heart. And this was a hospital, they had to have a computer with working internet somewhere right?! If I could just send a single e-mail that would make all the difference in the world.
The next day I tried my Polish-Bulgarian mix on one of the older nurses. “Ma computer? Ma Internet? Moj charger nie e dobre, nie robota. Moj telefon nie robota.” Which was basically supposed to mean that my charger wasn’t good and my phone wouldn’t charge and therefor didn’t work. She actually understood that the wall socket didn’t fit my charger, which unfortunately was also true, and took my phone and charger to a room where it would fit. Impatiently I waited for her to come back as she too realized that no wall socket in the world could fix this problem. About an hour later a young nurse Viktoriya came back with my charger. This was the best possible scenario, since she was the only one who knew a few English words so far and actually owned a smart phone herself. “Your phone no charge. My phone yes charge.” I asked her if she brought her charger, but unfortunately our phones weren’t a match. I then asked her if I could put my sim card in her phone and call my family, but unfortunately switching sim cards was impossible with her type of phone.
I decided to go all-in for a few minutes behind the computer. With some hand gestures and in a weird mix of Slavic languages I said something like “Nie ma computer? Nie ma internet? Ma familija nie zna ja sam tuch. Mikhail smert. Chashu samo ped minuti internet.” Which basically meant my family didn’t know I was here and they could think I was dead, so I wanted just 5 minutes on internet. Apparently a computer was out of the question, but to my delight Viktoriya gave me her phone that had internet too. I quickly realized that the best way to let most people know where I was, was Facebook. Unfortunately logging in lasted forever, because of the built in safety system. I already had this problem with my Hotmail account before in Ukraine, for which I needed a confirmation code that was texted to my cell phone. Kinda hard when you’re cell phone is dead. Luckily I could read enough cyrillic to understand Facebook offered me the option to put the right names to photos of friends to prove it was really me logging in. After a list of facebook friends that seemed endless, I got in.
I started typing a long story about what had happened to me and how I couldn’t make it to work when Facebook dropped out and I could start over again. The same thing happened a second time and I realized my only option was to write short sentences and bit by bit explain what had happened to me, as I started off with the catchy header “Friday night robbed in Kiev”, In the comments below I started explaining “Wallet and passport stolen”, “now with broken ankle in hospital”, “(Tagged brother) will you inform our parents?”, “(tagged boss) I won’t be coming to work any time soon” and “for more information please call the Dutch consulate”. As the first Is this for real-comment came in, I wrote that it absolutely was. I was doing fine, but wanted to come back to Holland as soon as possible. To top things off I included a photo of my leg in cast with my beautiful hospital room in the background. After that Viktoriya came back, but it was fine. I had said the most important, people knew I was alive and would know where to find me as soon as the consulate would open the next day.
Meanwhile I had kinda made my peace with the life in the hospital. Even though we could hardly communicate I got along quite well with the nurses and my roommate Serheï. The meals were almost exclusively the same porridge, but from Sunday morning they started to get quite tasty. It’s amazing how fast you lower your standards when you’re really hungry. Also Sergheï, who seemed to have a secret stash of products somewhere in the hospital, brightened my meals up. With a wedge of lemon in my tea or a slice of sausage or a few spoons of adzhyka sauce to add some flavour to my food. It reminded me of those survival shows where the host often says in survival situations you should hang on to these small things to keep the moral up. And indeed it worked. I really got into my role as the leading character of my own Discovery Chanel show. I hung on to that other golden rule of survival, that you should improve your situation a bit every day. Small milestones like hopping to the bathroom for the first time, instead of peeing in a jar felt like an improvement. And now I made contact to the outside world. Soon it would be Monday and I could ask the doctor to call my consulate.
The next morning started off with great news. At 10 a.m. a translator would come my way. Finally someone in this hospital would be able to tell me how long I had to stay here in my own stink. My last real shower had been Friday afternoon and splashing myself with a bit of cold water (still another milestone) that morning hardly helped anything. The translator turned out to be the head doctor. Dressed in a white coat and surrounded by 6 or 7 other obediently nodding doctors he made his round through the hospital. In proper English he told me my trauma wasn’t serious and I could leave the next day. One of the doctors would contact the consulate. This was music to my ears, but I decided not to wait a day longer. The sooner I got out the better, yet there were several problems. I was quite immobile with my broken ankle, had a large bag to carry, still no passport and a hospital bill to cover. I needed help from outside and already I made up a plan to blackmail the Dutch state into rescuing me by media attention. I had 100 Euros in cash in my bag. Surely I could ask Viktoriya to get me a phone and a Ukranian sim card, plus a picture of myself and the right to send 1 e-mail to a friend who works in media for half of that money?
Luckily it never came that far. As it turned out my friends back home in Holland had started their offense. With great determination they had started putting pressure on the consulate. When I wanted to pass on my personal data through the phone of the doctor to the woman of the consulate, she assured me they had everything already from my friend Simon. Hearing that name gave me more courage. I now knew my friends were on the case and I repeated my wish to leave this place today. As my doctor and the Dutch consulate were negotiating what would be the next step I found the pleasant company of nurse Anna, who didn’t leave my side for the rest of the day. I finally had someone who spoke proper English and she loved practicing her skills in a foreign language. As the doctor seemed to get more and more annoyed by the whole situation, finally the consulate sent 2 people to come pick me up by car, help me buy crutches, have my photo taken and get me to the consulate. Soon I would have my emergency passport.
At the Dutch consulate I had the opportunity to use facebook and a phone to contact my friends. What they showed me there was overwelming. My telegraph-style Facebook message had led to tons of reactions from friends, colleagues and family. My mates from Feyenoord seemed to have taken care of everything, as they called my work to say I was sick, called my health insurance for the hospital bill and contacted my family members and other friends to say they were on the case. Many people had offered to help out with money or transportation from whatever airport in or close to Holland I would land. The employees at the consulate were clearly impressed as well and kept repeating how they were breaking protocol. Turns out nobody needs pressure through media attention when you have friends like mine.
After I got my emergency passport for almost half the budget I had left, we had to take the next step. One friend wired 150 Euros through Western Union money transfer, as another would book a flight the next day. Since people were leaving the consulate as well, I had to find an internet café to share valid information like what flight they booked me and who would pick me up. After 45 minutes to an hour of circling with an amazingly friendly and patient taxi driver named Slava we realized that the concept of an internet café had died in Ukraine with the rise of free wifi and smart phones. Slava let me use his phone to tell the guys I was heading to the airport Kiev Borispol and they should just book me the earliest flight possible. Now here’s where the resolution of my mates back home kinda stopped, also because of our poor possibilities to communicate. Without boring you with too many details no flight was booked as I was moving around the airport with crutches and a large sportsbag on my back.
Just when I started losing hope that I would ever leave Ukraine a 19-year old Ukranian girl named Yarisha saved the day. She had about 16 hours to kill in the airport of Kiev between her trip to Budapest and Tbilisi. On top of that she had a smart phone I could use as much as I want and a huge powerbank in case the battery was running low. All of a sudden there was time for negotiating which flight would be best for me and Simon booked me one to Cologne, a German city not too far from the Dutch border. My mother offered to pick me up and around 10 p.m. local time we seemed to have a solid plan. Sure, my flight wasn’t leaving till 11.25 a.m. but Yarisha had the same situation and turned out to be great company. After I even squeezed in an hour of sleep on the airport chairs Cologne was still nowhere to be seen on the plates. We then realized my flight was leaving from the small Zhuliany airport in the city. Unbelievable, I had been waiting for 13 hours on the wrong airport and now I had just 2 hours to catch my flight.
Luckily I had a very determined taxi driver who broke practically every traffic rule to get me to the airport in time. Highlight of the trip is when he passed a huge traffic jam before a stopping light on the wrong side of the road, before cutting off the first car in line to be the first one to take the turn left. Clearly Ukraine missed out on a promising Formula 1 driver there. With only 35 minutes till take off I checked in and an employee of the airport raced me in a wheelchair to my plane, which I could enter through a mobile elevator and a VIP-exit on the side. The smile I had on my face when I sat down lasted the whole trip. Perhaps weird for a guy who came back three days too late from a trip where he broke his leg and lost loads of money on extra expences, but what an adventure this was. What a great feeling to know you made friends in a pretty hopeless situation. And best of all: knowing that you have friends who have your back no matter what, and to them I say thanks!
Oh almost forgot, does this over 3600 word story have a moral? How about: don’t ever drink alone or you end up robbed and broken in a public hospital in Kiev. Drinking alone is for alcoholics, so better enjoy your drinks in the company of nice people, cause there are plenty out there. Cheers kids!