Acts Of Kindness
By Karl Homann
As many of you know, despite the dire warnings against any type of travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic, I defied the odds and traveled from Mexico to Kyiv, Ukraine, where I spent a month taking an intensive course in the Russian language. I flew with Lufthansa both ways via Frankfurt and just returned to Mexico yesterday.
At every stage of the trip—checking in, passing security checks, boarding an airplane, deplaning, and entering a hotel—I encountered the same health security measures, namely, measuring my temperature for possible fever, sanitizing my hands, and completing a health form indicating that I had not been in contact with any coronavirus-infected person nor was showing any symptoms of a possible COVID-19 infection. Social distancing was practiced only in deplaning by row number, but on the airplane itself, all seats were occupied.
Besides learning some Russian (if you believe that Spanish is difficult, try Russian), I learned about Ukraine’s long cultural and historical significance, its recent revolutionary history and its uncertain political future, with the war in the eastern region of the country bordering on Russia and its desire to join the European Union.
But what I mostly like to talk about is the kindness of its people, not only by my teacher and her colleagues of the English Department at the Kyiv- Mohyla Academy, one of the older and highly selective universities, but also about strangers.
One day, when I arrived by taxi at my rented apartment with three bags of groceries, the workman who was renovating the entrance to the building ran after me to carry my bags to the door of my apartment and admonished me to take only one bag at a time into my place. He had noticed that I walked with a cane because of an injured leg. I thanked him in Russian with “Спасибо” (Spasibo). Offering him money would have offended him. He did what he did out of sheer kindness.
It happened again with the young waitress in a restaurant. I had left her a generous tip, but she had not yet seen how much it was. Nevertheless, as I stood up to leave, she rushed over to offer me her arm for additional support to navigate my way out of the restaurant across a number of steps that lead up to the entrance.
The taxi driver to the airport for my return flight was not allowed to park in front of the main entrance in order to find someone to help me with my luggage. So he parked his car in the parkade and carried my luggage to a little-used entrance into the airport terminal. In the Boryspil international airport of Kyiv, all security checks are done at the entrances, not later after checking in and proceeding to the gate, an intelligent solution in my opinion.
Unfortunately, the taxi driver was not allowed to pass the checkpoint. The walk to the Lufthansa desks was still a good distance away and there was nobody to take my luggage, until one of the security officials saw me struggle with my baggage and said, “I help you,” although it certainly was not her job. She walked all the way with me to the Lufthansa check-in counters. Again, all that was required of me was a heartfelt “Thank you.”
During my four weeks in Kyiv (that, by the way, is the way Ukrainians would like to see you spell it during the present de-russification effort), I did not see or hear other foreign visitors. That, to me, is a real shame because Ukraine and Kyiv hold many treasures, not the least of it being the kindness of its people.