My Thanksgiving List

This post first appeared on Assist News Service in November 2015.

My husband, four young sons, and I live in Ukraine. Just over five months ago, we decided to move from the small city that our kids had always called home to Kyiv, the capital of the country with a population of roughly 4 million. When we made the announcement, our kids didn’t seem to mind, but several days later, my eldest son confided in me that he wished we didn’t have to move, because he was sad about leaving his friends.

I had my own reservations about living in Kyiv. I was familiar with the city, having lived there for four years before our children were born, and my memories were overwhelmingly negative. But I didn’t voice any of this to the children. On the contrary, my husband and I did everything we could to play up the move for the kids. We talked about all the new friends they would make in the church we were going to pastor. We told them about the fun things we could do in Kyiv that weren’t possible in our little city. We described the mighty Dnipro River running through the middle of Kyiv and the bridges spanning it. We reminded them of how much they loved to ride the Kyiv subway.

As we continued to highlight the positive aspects of life in Kyiv, my husband and I found ourselves actually becoming excited! Neither of us had ever wanted to live in Kyiv again, but now that God was clearly calling us back, and we were embracing His will, our outlook on life in the capital was changing.

It’s now been almost four months since we moved, and we are continually discovering additional benefits to life here. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I thought it appropriate to share a list of things I am thankful for about Kyiv. I hope it will be a window for you into another place and culture and perhaps inspire your own Thanksgiving reflections.

1. Our house – For years my husband has dreamed of living in a house, rather than an apartment. Most city dwellers in Ukraine either rent or own their own apartments. Our last apartment was extremely spacious and comfortable and actually felt like a house inside, but it still had some of the drawbacks of apartment living, the main one being that we couldn’t let all our kids play outside unsupervised. Amazingly, God provided us with a house to rent here in Kyiv! Not only is it comfortable and spacious, but it has a yard, and our kids spend hours outside when the weather permits.

2. Internet stores that deliver to your doorstep – E-commerce has caught on in Ukraine. In a country where once you could find little beyond the local staples and basic goods and services, now you can find just about anything for sale on the internet. Many of these internet sales companies are actually based in Kyiv and offer convenient same-day courier service for Kyivans!

3. Trees – Years ago, someone told me that Kyiv was the most wooded city in all of Europe. There were more trees per capita here than in any other city on the continent. With Kyiv’s population growth in recent years, I don’t know if that statistic still holds true, but I wouldn’t be surprised. There are entire forests within the city limits, extensive wooded parks, and trees lining most of the streets and boulevards. If you have to live in a big city but don’t want to get too far away from nature, Kyiv is an excellent choice.

4. Romantic walks by the river – I am grateful to be living in a city on a river. Some of my favorite cities in the world are situated on rivers, and I love the river scenery, the bridges, and walking along the riverbank. Now that we’re back in Kyiv, I’m looking forward to date nights that include romantic evening strolls along the Dnipro!

5. Summer activities on the Dnipro River – Now in late November, it’s too cold to do many things outside, but we’re all looking forward to exploring what the river has to offer once the warm weather returns. We’ve already promised the kids to take them paddle-boating, and I foresee lazy summer afternoons with picnics on the riverbank while the kids play in the mud and hunt for frogs.

6. Zoos, Aquarium, Dolphinaria – Kyiv has zoos, an aquarium, and an indoor dolphin arena with daily performances. So far, we have taken the kids to one of the zoos, and we look forward to family outings to the other places over the coming months and years, or however long God chooses to keep us in Kyiv.

7. Circus – I think all kids love the circus, and there’s a special excitement when it comes to town. Kyiv is the only place I’ve ever lived that has a permanent circus. It’s a domed building downtown that hosts local and visiting troupes year-round. The current act is a group of French motorcycle stunt artists, and I’ve been seeing ads for a group of female lion tamers coming next. There is always something happening at the National Circus of Ukraine, because between visiting acts, Kyiv’s own acrobat troupe is always on hand to wow audiences.

8. International cuisine – I am a foodie, and I thrive in places of ethnic diversity. Combine the two, and it’s no wonder that I find myself compelled to try foods that are unique or unusual. I had escargot in Paris, jellyfish at a Chinese restaurant in Japan, and dog from a Korean restaurant in Kyrgyzstan. But what I love most about international cuisine are the exciting new flavor combinations. I salivate just thinking about Moroccan tagine, with its blend of saffron, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon; Persian dishes flavored with black lemons; and African groundnut stew, with its unexpected pairing of meat and veggies with peanut butter. The city where we used to live here in Ukraine had many wonderful, affordable cafes and restaurants, but its international offerings didn’t extend past Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern fast food, and burgers. Kyiv has these options plus French, German, American, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Ethiopian, Georgian, Moroccan, Lebanese, and Mexican cuisine, and we keep discovering more! There is even a lady who cooks authentic Indian food at home and will deliver it to your door. So far, we’ve only had a chance to sample a few of these restaurants, but the hummus, falafel, sushi, and miso soup were all delicious!

9. Famous visiting musicians – Being the biggest city in the country has distinct advantages, one of them being that if touring international celebrities make a stop in your country, you are guaranteed a visit. Paul McCartney, Sting, and Jeremy Camp have all played concerts in Kyiv, and this month Joshua Bell, one of the world’s foremost violinists, performed at the Kyiv Philharmonic. The concert sold out before we could get tickets, but it was extremely affordable—less than $3 for the cheapest seats! Now that we know to keep an eye on the city’s performing arts calendars, we won’t miss another chance to experience world-class performances for a fraction of the price you would expect to pay in the United States.

10. Historical architecture – Any American who has traveled outside the United States knows that when it comes to beautiful old buildings, our country has little to offer. With the exception of the cliff dwellings of the Puebloan peoples of the Southwest, by the standards of the rest of the world, our oldest historical monuments would be considered yesterday’s architecture. I first understood the weight of history present in many European buildings while attending a classical concert in a 10th-century church. Midway through the first piece, I realized that the building in which I was sitting had already been standing for hundreds of years before the music to which I was listening had even been composed! The city of Kyiv has a rich 1500-year history, and the older sections of town are full of beautiful historical buildings and stunning churches. Even without knowing all the details of past events, you quickly get a sense of the generations of lives preceding you when you walk though these areas. I love this sense of being connected with history, feeling the unbroken storyline running from the past, through the present, and on into the future, knowing that I am one of the characters and can leave my own mark.

So this Thanksgiving, I find myself living my dream life right in the middle of what used to be my least favorite city! Some people think that when the Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart,” it means something akin to divine wish fulfillment: if we do our part, God is obligated to give us everything we ever wanted. But this verse means something much more profound. As we pursue God—until having Him is our one desire and pleasing Him our overwhelming goal—we are changed, and living where He has placed us, doing what He has called us to do, becomes more fulfilling and joyous than any life we could have imagined for ourselves.

Photo credits: Dnipro River, Tony Wan Kenobi / CC BY-SA,; Kyiv National Circus, Віктор Полянко / CC BY-SA,

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