Living and Working in Ukraine Blog

I live in Kherson Ukraine with my wife Anna and my stepdaughter Sveta. This blog chronicles my life, love and learning with my family, friends and work in the country I now call home. I work with various Ukrainians, foreigners, Ukrainian businesses and foreign businesses to help them succeed in Ukraine.

Caravela Ukraine Services Page

Visit this page to see a listing of our translation, language courses and consulting services.

Refugee Language Classes

Caravela will offer subsidized language classes in English, Polish, and Spanish for Ukrainians living outside Ukraine in a country where one of these languages is spoken.  A price subsidy is available depending on the current situation of the student.  Contact Svetlana Zorina for more information and to register.

Virtido English Group


Virtido is a software development company based in Lviv Ukraine with roots in Switzerland.  We currently do a weekly English group covering topics of interest for the participants that includes leadership, management, business practices, and many other topics that help them to build both their English vocabulary and their understanding of sound business practices.

Tom Laughlin currently leads the group in cooperation with Larysa Voloshchenko from Virtido and Iryna Oliynyk Virtido's inhouse English teacher.

Translators, Interpreters and the Complexities of Communication

The world has become much smaller due to the Internet.  Unfortunately, language translation technologies have not kept up.  When I began talking to people in Ukraine on the Internet, and started to travel here to establish a life, I found myself walking through a verifiable minefield of challenges to understand and be understood.  Here is what I've learned.

Translation and interpretation are slightly different things.  For the purposes of this article I will refer to translation as written translation and interpretation as oral translation because these terms translate better into the Slavic languages spoken here in Ukraine.  Written translation is meant to take a text written in a "source" language and rewrite it into a "target" language using vocabulary and a structure that is as close as possible to the source.  Oral translation is meant to interpret the meaning of something spoken and communicate that meaning as accurately as possible.  A good oral translator might take an entire five minute tirade and reduce it to, "they are really angry about what you said because it's an insult to question someone's authority here in Ukraine."

Computerized translators have improved considerably but still struggle to accurately translate many messages.  There are a couple of ways to minimize misunderstandings.  First, always back-translate a message if possible.  By using the same translator you can take the target translation and translate it back to the source language.  If the meaning is retained it's probably a good translation.  If the meaning of the back-translation is incorrect you can reword the original message and try again.  As I mentioned earlier in this article, we use written and oral translation instead of translation and interpretation because these terms translate better into other languages, especially with computer translators.  Second, when possible write in your native language and let the other person use a translator.  I discovered, the hard way, that if I sent my message in translated form the other person assumed I meant exactly what it said but, if they did the translation themselves they were much more likely to understand that the translation might not be completely accurate.

If you want your message to be clearly understood a human translator is still required.  This has its own  challenges as I discovered when I first started hiring written and oral translators here in Ukraine.  I found that many of the translation agencies I used were simply running the text through computerized translators and then giving the text a cursory look.  In addition, the oral translators I hired, complete with certifications, simply could not keep up with even simple conversations.  

Oral translation is challenging because it requires not only a solid command of both languages but, a familiarity with the subject of the conversation.  This includes both technical terminology and the ability to understand and communicate the context surrounding the conversation.  The makes an understanding of the subject and the situation even more important than the basic languages skills of the translator.

Written translation is challenging because there is typically an expectation that the vocabulary be very accurate and the writing be without grammatical mistakes.  This makes the command of the target language important to the point where most written translations are done by someone who is a native speaker and a skilled writer of the target language.

Unfortunately, finding good written and oral translators here in Ukraine is challenging.  The level of English required for various degrees and certifications is relatively low and students rarely have significant contact with native English speakers.  That said, there are definitely very skills translators here in Ukraine.  One just needs to vet them carefully.

At Caravela we have a team of written and oral translators who are native speakers in Russian and Ukrainian and work with native English speakers on regular basis.  We prepare them for oral translation projects by studying the topic and interviewing participants before the event so as to understand the technical language and context.  Finally, we have native English speakers who edit any translations when English is the target language.

Expats Working in Ukraine

In 2016, when I decided to establish a life here in Ukraine I wanted to continue working.  My career has covered a wide range of different technical disciplines, geographies, and types of organizations.

I have worked in organizations that range from gigantic to tiny.  My undergraduate degree is in food and beverage science where I began my career in operations and general management.  After getting an MBA I went on to work for a large consumer foods company in marketing and brand management. which included international positions.  Later, I returned to school to get an M.A. in Leadership with Post Graduate studies in psychology and started doing Leadership and Organizational Development consulting.

So, when I looked at what I could do while living in Ukraine there were two immediate options.  Work remotely and travel back to the U.S. to work with clients there and teach English in Ukraine.  Those are the two most common options I see for expats here in Ukraine.  I know many expats who work remotely as IT consultants and contractors.  I also know some who work remotely as dispatchers for transpiration companies in English speaking countries.  In addition, there is always a demand for native speakers to teach English.

There are two primary complications with working in Ukraine as an expat.  Very few expats speak Russian or Ukrainian fluently and they are very difficult languages to learn quickly.  This makes the options for working in Ukraine very limited.  In addition, the pay scales for work here are considerably lower than the U.S. and Western Europe.

I have been able to work with some English schools in Ukraine, not only to teach English but help them with business development and management.  I have also been able to teach seminars and do business consulting which has helped me enormously to learn about both the culture and business environment here in Ukraine.  I eventually established my own English school and translation agency with a staff of interpreters, translators and language instructors.  This has allowed me to do consulting projects and contract work for expats and foreign organizations in Ukraine.

Our primary focus now is remote work for western clients, consulting and contract work for expats and foreign companies in Ukraine, and English proficiency exam preparation for IELTS and other exams.

Ukrainian Farmers Market

Back in the U.S. we have to make a special trip to a farmers market and most were only one day per week.  Here in Kherson, and many other places in Ukraine, the home, village, dacha, and farm products come to us.  Here is a video of my egg guy, Misha, who sells home eggs.  Not exactly free range eggs but much closer than cage farmed eggs.

Why live in Ukraine

I am from the United States and I have lived in two foreign countries, Mexico and Ukraine.  I lived in Mexico because I was on a foreign assignment for a U.S. company.  I came to Ukraine to start a new life outside the U.S.  I am now married to a Ukrainian woman and live in Kherson full time.

I have found Ukraine to be a wonderful place to live with manageable challenges.  We recently rented a sauna with some friends to spend an afternoon hanging out.  Relaxing is as important to the daily routine here as working is in the U.S.  You can see a quick tour of the spa in the video.

The Challenges of Language in Ukraine

As in many places, language is a significant political and social issue in Ukraine.  Some counties have more than one predominant language, in Canada it's English and French, while other countries have only one, like English in the United States.  Ukraine has two predominant languages, Ukrainian and Russian.  It's a complex issue with strong feelings all around.  Russian was the language of the Soviet Union, and prior to that, the Russian Empire.  Some people see Russian as the language of the oppressor or enemy while others see it as a part of their identity and ethnic traditions.  In this article I want to focus on the challenges this presents for foreigners as well as the challenge of learning one of the languages spoken in Ukraine.

One question is what language to study.  I live in Kherson which is predominately Russian speaking.  I am married to a Ukrainian woman and our Ukrainian family speaks Russian.  Even though they speak Ukrainian they prefer to speak Russian.  I have chosen to study Russian for that reason.  Also, Russian is more widely spoken than Ukrainian outside of Ukraine.  This choice has caused tension in some situations when people question this choice.  I certainly plan to learn both but I have chosen to begin with Russian and pick up Ukrainian after that.  In addition, I try to use the Ukrainian version of the names of cities and have learned enough Ukrainian to great someone and be polite.  When people ask why I chose Russian I usually just say that it's what my family speaks and that is usually an acceptable reason because most people put family over politics.

There is a significant challenge to learn either language if you didn't grow up speaking a Slavic language.  Slavic languages are very different from the Germanic and Latin languages I speak and are seen as some of the most difficult languages to master in the western world.  The languages are based much more on word conjugations to convey meaning which makes both learning the vocabulary and the grammar incredibly difficult.  

In addition to the challenge of learning either one in its pure form, the two are mixed together here.  Signs in Kherson seem pretty evenly divided between Russian and Ukrainian.  In addition, there are people who prefer to speak Ukrainian even though Russian is prevalent and when you run across people from the surrounding villages they'll speak Surzhyk which varies from village to village.

Viruses and Vaccines

Let me begin with a disclaimer.  Our knowledge of viruses and vaccines is imperfect as is my own understanding of that knowledge.  This is my best understanding of the current science.

I studied food and beverage technology when I was an undergraduate as well as medical microbiology and immunology.  I graduated in 1981 from the University of California at Davis. There has been an explosion of knowledge about viruses and the human immune system which I have followed with great interest.  I thought it might be helpful to share what I've learned.

The Covid pandemic has caused hardship and conflict far beyond the actual medical manifestations of the virus itself.  For that reason, I am writing this post to talk about the basic scientific concepts related to viruses and vaccines.  I will not address the social and political phenomena beyond saying that this is not the first time there has been conflict about the measures necessary to slow an epidemic.  For those who are interested you can read the Wikipedia article about the 1771 Moscow plague riots here. 

It is important to understand that viruses have evolved side by side with complex organisms for millions of years.  One should not misinterpret their simple structure as a lack of sophisticated and complex mechanisms.  Viruses are essentially genetic material wrapped in a delivery system so the level of complexity is limited only by the potential of their genetic material which is almost unlimited.

Viruses are different from bacteria in that they are not capable of reproducing on their own.  Since viruses are nothing more than a package of genetic material they require a host cell to provide the mechanisms to reproduce.  There are also many different kinds of viruses.  A retrovirus like HIV (which causes AIDS) and HTLV (which causes lymphoma) actually reprograms host cells while influenza viruses and coronaviruses hijack the cell mechanisms to reproduce themselves.  We won't go into retroviruses, which are extremely difficult to treat, and focus on common RNA viruses.  Notable human diseases caused by RNA viruses include the common cold, influenza, SARS, MERS, COVID-19, Dengue Virus, hepatitis C, hepatitis E, West Nile fever, Ebola virus disease, rabies, polio and measles.  These are the viruses most commonly and effectively treated with vaccines.

Here are some basic FAQs about these viruses and the vaccines to treat and prevent them.

1) What is a novel virus like the Spanish Flu of the early 1900's or Covid-19 and why are they so dangerous?  Viruses mutate very quickly but once you have had a virus you will likely have some immunity to mutations.  Seasonal flus are variations of flu viruses that have infected humans before.  They tend not to kill as many people or make them as sick because our immune systems have seen something like them before.  A novel virus is a virus that the human population has never seen before.  It has jumped from another species.  The Spanish Flu of the early 1900's was a swine flu that is still present in the human population but its subsequent mutations are less harmful now as we discussed earlier.  The Covid-19 virus is originally thought to come from bats and is new to the human population.

2) What are swine and avian flus and why are they important?  Swine flus come from pigs and avian flus come from birds.  Each of them presents a different danger and challenge.  The swine, avian and human flu strains are not exactly the same but similar so they sometimes jump between species.  Birds are a problem because they travel vast distances and are the perfect mechanism for spreading viruses.  Pigs are less mobile than birds but exist in very close proximity to humans.

3) Are all viruses airborne and what about masks and hand washing?  No, some viruses require physical contact while others can be passed by breathing the same air.  In addition, many viruses can be spread both ways so you can get them from either breathing the same air or touching a surface with virus on it.  It's very difficult to protect yourself from airborne viruses and masks offer limited protection to the wearer even if worn properly.  What a mask does do very effectively is reduce the ability of an infected person to spread the virus.  Hand washing is important because some viruses can survive on surfaces for hours or even days.  Hand washing is critical to avoid infecting yourself with viruses present on common surfaces.  Soap and water works best because the outer shell of viruses is lipid (fat) and protein. Soap is very effective at dissolving the outer layer of a virus and killing it.  Alcohol and chemical based disinfectants are not always as effective as soap.

4) How do vaccines work and are they completely safe?  There are many different types of vaccines but the basic mechanism is the same for all of them.  Vaccines introduce components found on the outer coating of viruses which our immune systems recognize as foreign and cause us to develop an immune response to fight the actual virus later.  The first vaccines were made by killing the actual virus and injecting the dead virus.  Vaccines today have very different mechanisms to introduce those components but the basic immunological response is the same.  Vaccines are never 100% safe.  One of the reasons for testing a vaccine it to check to see how safe and effective it is.  If its effectiveness is high and side effects are limited then it is deemed worth the risk.  Basically it has to save a lot more people than it harms.

5) What do quarantines and lockdowns do and what is herd immunity?  Quarantines and lockdowns slow the spread of viruses.  Since viruses have a limited ability to survive outside of a living organism reduced contact and increased distance between people will reduce the spread of a virus.  Herd immunity is a condition reached when enough people are immune to the virus either from previous infection or immunization so that the people who remain cannot spread the virus to each other very easily.  One question that policy makers face is whether to allow a virus to spread unchecked so herd immunity will be reached more quickly and the economic impact of quarantines and lockdowns are eliminated.  Sweden used this strategy.  The problem is that more people might potentially die because the healthcare systems could get overwhelmed and more people will be infected before a vaccine is developed.

Viruses will be with us and challenging us for the foreseeable future.  We never know when we will have more epidemics but we are sure to have them.

Dogs on the Loose in Ukraine

I remember getting my vaccinations at the travel clinic before my first visit to Ukraine about five years ago.  In addition to significant presence of tuberculosis, there were cases of polio and lots of stray dogs that could be carrying rabies.  I immediately thought of the 1957 film Old Yeller about a boy who adopts a stray dog that, at the end of the movie, he must kill because the dog contracts rabies.  Rabies is almost unheard of in the U.S. today.  If you go to the CDC website and look at the notifications for Ukraine you will find the following.  "Rabid dogs are commonly found in Ukraine. If you are bitten or scratched by a dog or other mammal while in Ukraine, there may be limited or no rabies treatment available." Yikes!

So, when I arrived in Kherson Ukraine the first thing I noticed was stray dogs, lots of them.  I have been around dogs all my life so I was not particularly afraid, just careful.  Many of the stray dogs were very friendly and came up to me but I resisted the temptation to pet them.  After living in Kherson for about four years now I have seen the rather interesting and complex situation with dogs here.  

There are three different kinds of dogs roaming around unsupervised.  There are the neighborhood dogs.  They are the dogs that live in the yards or common areas around apartments and other buildings.  They have a territory and people feed them regularly.  In fact, many of them are quite overweight.  They can be very aggressive if they do not recognize you.  Then there are the pack dogs.  The video in this post is of a pack that had decided to follow a couple of girls in my neighborhood.  They don't tend to stay in a particular area and may or may not be aggressive depending on the pack.  They are somewhat of a danger to people but considerably more dangerous for the other stray dogs and cats which can present a good meal, especially in the winter months. Finally, there are the unsupervised pets, rarely leashed and often aggressive if they are protecting their masters. I have found them to be the most aggressive of all the dogs and just as likely not to be vaccinated as any of the stray dogs.

I carry a can of pepper spray just in case I get cornered but I've never had to use it.  I used to carry a small collapsible baton but, as I talked about in an earlier post, it got me into trouble with the police here.  In general, I find that if I leave the dogs alone they return the favor.

Neighborhood Shop Kherson Ukraine

This is a shop we frequent in the Tavrichesky district of Kherson Ukraine. 

Healthcare for Expats in Ukraine


When I first came to Ukraine in early 2016 I bought travel medical insurance which included evacuation in case of a serious medical issue.  I continued to buy travel medical insurance until I began flying round trip from Ukraine to the U.S. instead of from the U.S. to Ukraine.  A quick side note, a round trip ticket from the U.S. to Ukraine and back is almost double what it costs for the exact same airline and flights if the ticket is from Ukraine to the U.S. and back.  To solve that mystery you'd have to understand the airline pricing systems which use mysterious algorithms to set ticket prices to maximize profits.

When I could no longer buy travel insurance and I had my temporary residence permit I decided to go ahead and get minor medical care done here in Ukraine and maintain an insurance policy with a high deductible in the U.S. for any major medical issues.  So far, that has worked out well, especially in the last year when medical care is actually somewhat more accessible here than it is in some cities in the U.S. that are overwhelmed with Covid.

My experience so far with medical care here in Ukraine has been positive.  My wife is Ukrainian and I have a very good friend who is my doctor here in Ukraine which really helps.  Having someone who can help you figure out where the good care happens and help you to navigate the hospital and clinic visits is a must.  

My first medical issue was a raging case of the flu that turned into a serious sinus infection.  We went to the doctor my father-in-law liked and quickly received a chest x-ray to make sure I didn't have pneumonia.  The chest x-ray cost 60 hryvna.  The x-ray machine looked like it was from the 1960's but it worked and I didn't have pneumonia.  The doctor was professional, competent and very polite.  She gave me a prescription for antibiotics which resolved my sinus infection within a few days.  All in all, a very positive experience.

My second medical issue was an attempt I made to cut off my thumb while cutting a watermelon.  Luckily the cut was not serious but did require stiches.  The first place we went turned out to be the orthopedic hospital.  They bandaged my thumb and we paid them 100 hryvna which seems to be the customary "gift" for non specialty care.  Then we went to another hospital and the first receptionist asked if I was registered to receive medial care.  I was not so he told us we had to leave.  My wife, who fights like a gladiator asked the other receptionist to help us, which she did.  A few minutes later I was in an examination room with a nurse and a surgeon.  About 15 minutes after that I walked out with stiches and a prescription for antibiotics.  My wife tipped the doctor 200 hryvna for this visit.  Again, a very positive experience, except for the first receptionist.  The cut healed perfectly and I removed the stiches myself after about a week.

My late father-in-law, had a number of surgeries before he passed away and they all seemed to go well.  He had a hearth valve repair and had part of his colon removed.  He ultimately died of colon cancer but died with significantly less suffering than my father in the U.S. where they kept him alive for about a year with surgeries and chemotherapy.

Although I have looked at medical insurance here it doesn't seems to make much sense.  Insurance companies here are not very well regulated and medical care is not expensive by western standards.  The medical care also seems to be much more available if you have the money to pay for it when compared to place like Canada where there is socialized medicine but long waiting periods for care.

There are many horror stories about the medical care here in Ukraine so I think one has to be careful to make sure  the doctors have good reputations.  That requires some local contacts and a little patience to do some research.  That said, good medical care is available in Ukraine at reasonable prices.

Antique Style Art

My sister-in-law makes antique style art from images and photos on wood and she made a piece with the Caravela logo for me for Christmas.  Thanks Tonya!  If you'd like to see more or order a piece you can do so at her Instagram store

Traditional Ukrainian Images on Fish Part 2

We spoke of  our work with Oksana Osnach and Andrey Lopushinsky in an earlier post.  They have resurrected a traditional Chumak artform, images on fish.  Here is a video from a local television station in Kherson who covered their activities in a news report.  For those who do not speak Russian/Ukrainian you can click on the Closed Caption icon at the bottom of the video and then click on the Setting Icon (gear), click on Subtitles, Automatic Translation, and then select the language you would like to see.  It is not a prefect translation but it will give you a general idea of who Oksana and Andrey are and how they decided to do this traditional art.  Contact Oksana Osnach by private message on Facebook @oks.osn for more information or to place an order. Pieces can be shipped anywhere in Ukraine.

Window on America

Every Sunday Tom Laughlin and Sveta Zorina from Caravela host the Window on America meeting at the Gonchara library in Kherson Ukraine for cultural exchange between the United States and Ukraine.  Window on America sites are funded by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.  You can see Tom on the far left and Sveta on the far right of the picture.

Business Club Kherson Ukraine

 Every Friday Caravela has a business club meeting led by Tom Laughlin.  The purpose of the meeting is to give business owners the opportunity to talk about their opportunities and challenges as well as get ideas and support for their business activities.  From left to right we have Oksana Osnach who is an artist and runs an art school, Tom Laughlin who has a training and consulting business, Sveta Zorina who has a English school and translation business, Oksana Voronina who has a custom embroidery and apparel business, and Aloyna Yashuk who is a yoga instructor.

Traditional Ukrainian Images on Fish

We are delighted to work with Oksana Osnach and Andrey Lopushinsky who have resurrected a traditional Chumak artform, images on fish.  The Chumaks were salt traders in traditional Ukrainian society who hauled salt and other goods in ox drawn wagons.  They painted religious icons on dried fish to protect them on their journeys.  Contact Oksana Osnach by private message on Facebook @oks.osn for more information or to place an order. Pieces can be shipped anywhere in Ukraine.

Financial Planning Class Kherson Ukraine

We were asked to give a financial planning class by Oksana Osnach who runs a art school in Kherson Ukraine.  Oksana organizes various events for her students that she feels might interest them.  Since Tom Laughlin has both an MBA and an MA in Human Development she felt he had the background to teach such a class.  Sveta Zorina is an interpreter so the class was present in both English and Russian.  Here is a video of our introduction to the class and a candid photo provided by Oksana with Tom sitting in a similar pose to the painting behind him while contemplating a question from the class.  Oksana has asked us to do a follow-up class on how to discuss finances with other family members.

English Proficiency Exam Preparation

Presentation at Window on America in Kherson.  How to prepare for the IELTS, TOEFL and other English proficiency exams.  English with Russian translation.

Custom Mask for Local Artist

Designs by Voronina did a custom mask for our office mate, Світлана Юр'єва (Svetlana Yurieva), a local artist in Kherson.  You can see examples of her work at

Bags for Kherson Chamber of Commerce and Industry

In cooperation with local artist Світлана Юр'єва (Svetlana Yurieva), Designs by Voronina embroidered special bags for the Kherson Chamber of Commerce and Industry with their logo and a sturgeon which is native to the Dnieper river that runs through Kherson.