The Kyiv Post asked two Italians in Kyiv what they love about Ukraine and its capital.
Luciano Scambiato Licciardi, three years in Ukraine
Luciano Scambiato Licciardi, a 33-year-old strategic communications adviser who moved from the Sicilian town of Mazzarino to Kyiv three years ago, has an eye for style. He wears Ukrainian-designed clothes every day, and can occasionally be seen wearing vyshyvankas — traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts.
“There are lots of Ukrainian designers in every field, and I think it’s important to support their creativity and innovations,” he says while admiring the cityscape from the terrace bar on the eighth floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kyiv.
Scambiato Licciardi says he fell in love with Ukraine after moving to the country in May 2014, just months after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
“We have to move a lot for our work, and whenever you move from places, you move on fast. But with Ukraine, it was different. I fell in love with everything — apart from the cold,” he laughs.
Winters have been the biggest challenge.
“I now understand why Kyiv has so many underground shopping centers — it’s for warming up,” he smiles knowingly. “For me –20 to –25 degrees is very, very cold.”
Another challenge for Scambiato Licciardi was reading Ukrainian.
For the first few days, he was lost at the sight of Cyrillic letters “But step-by-step you get used to the language, I also did a little course in Russian, so now I can order taxis, food and things like that.”
He says that today 60 percent of his friends are Ukrainian.
“What I find most impressive is that if people don’t speak English, they will take you by hand and lead you to the places you need,” Scambiato Licciardi says. In other big cities, people are “always in a rush.”
He likes learning about Ukrainian culture and exploring different cities.
“The other day I learned that Ukrainian unity was proclaimed from the balcony of a building near where I live. That’s why I like going out with Ukrainians. You learn culture and history from them, and you never get bored.”
He says that lately there have been even more positive changes in Ukraine, with the nation passing its most recent test by hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in May.
Scambiato Licciardi likes Ukrainian food, but when he feels like eating Italian, the city has a lot of good options. He is not planning to leave Ukraine soon but understands that it will happen eventually.
“I’m working in a field that advises (the government) on reforms, so I want to see where the country will go,” he says. “But these things take time.”
Vincenzo Robustelli, two years in Ukraine
When he first came to Kyiv about seven years ago, Vincenzo Robustelli was 22. He also fell in love with the city immediately.
“I play football and I’ve been a big fan of (footballer) Andriy Shevchenko since I was a child. I wore his shirt and had a poster of him by my desk at school, so that’s why living in Kyiv has always been my dream,” he says.
Now 29, Robustelli says he couldn’t stay in Kyiv any longer than 10 days due to his work commitments in Brussels. But then in December 2014 a job offer came from an Italian company in Kyiv, and he agreed without hesitation.
He says Kyiv felt completely different than in 2010. The EuroMaidan Revolution that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014, triggering Russia’s war against Ukraine and the loss of Crimea and parts of the Donbas, have brought tangible changes.
“I think people have changed a lot, and they’ve started to want to do things better. But the problem with the city is that while some people want to grow, others think there’s nothing they can do. This just makes me angry, because it’s not true.”
Robustelli thinks that Ukrainian people are similar to people of his hometown of Catania and Sicily in general.
“For some reason there is a stereotype about Eastern Europeans being cold. I don’t know about other nations, but that is definitely not true for Ukrainians. They are very friendly and share everything with you, especially after they get to know you.”
Robustelli says he does not miss Italian food that much because he thinks Ukrainian cuisine is just as good. But the winters are another matter.
“The winter here is terrible, especially for me as a Sicilian — at home we have summer all year round. I also lived near the sea and it was so easy to go for a swim whenever I was feeling low.”
Now Robustelli speaks Ukrainian quite well and hopes to become a Ukrainian citizen one day. Ukraine has truly become his home, and he has four patriotic Ukrainian tattoos now.