The taxi app pinged, telling me the driver had arrived. Snow was falling lightly as I stood on the footpath outside my accommodation in Kyiv, looking down the street for the ‘Volkswagen Passat, Black‘. No car matching that description was anywhere to be seen. I left my pile of bags, fuel jerries and protective equipment and ducked around the corner, just in case the Passat was there. It wasn’t, and the app pinged again asking me to come out as the car was waiting. The driver’s number was provided, so I called, and in English told the driver I was outside and couldn’t see him. He replied in Ukrainian, presumably that he was at the address and couldn’t see me either. We stuttered at one another for a while and then gave up.
It was cold and I started swearing. Knowing where you are in Ukrainian cities can be challenging; sometimes the street names are in Latin alphabet and sometimes in Cyrillic, the numbering system is mysterious, and the popular phone map app often only gets you to the general vicinity of your destination. The taxi app had automatically selected my location and it seemed to be right, so I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. I used the app to order another car: ‘Silver Volvo, 2 minutes‘.
I paced back and forth in the snow. The app pinged – the driver had ‘arrived’ but there was no silver Volvo in sight. I was already late to pick up my hire car, and it was bloody cold standing out on the pavement. I walked up and down the street as much as I dared, with all my kit sitting there in the open. My phone rang; it was the driver. More English v Ukrainian, with me only picking up ‘Wolwo‘. I struggled through the pronunciation of the street name, then said ‘4…2’ in my best Ukrainian. The driver repeated the number and then hung up. I paced some more. Then to my relief a silver Wolwo appeared and pulled up at the kerb.
The driver helped me load my kit, and said ’41’ in English. I tried to explain that the app had selected my location, and that I didn’t know why it had determined that I was at ’41’ and not ’42’. Despite being consecutive numbers, the two addresses turned out to be nowhere near each other.
After about 15 minutes in the Kyiv morning traffic we reached the car rental office. I thanked the driver, paid my fare, shoved the changed into my wallet and jumped out. All’s well that ends well.
Later that day I had stopped for some lunch on my way south from the city. The phone rang, and I noticed it was an unknown Ukrainian number. I figured it may have been the car rental agent, so I answered. A woman’s voice began speaking English with a heavy Ukrainian accent. I struggled to follow her, and had to ask her to repeat herself several times. She was saying something about me having been given the wrong change, and did I have a visor – which I assumed was a Visa – so the money could be paid back. It sounded like a scam. I told the caller I couldn’t understand her and hung up. I thought back through my recent transactions…accommodation, hire car, groceries…nope, I’d paid for all of them by card. I rarely use cash here in Ukraine, and when I do it’s only for small purchases.
I stopped again a little while later and noticed a text message had come through. I opened it up.
‘Hi! Sorry for troubling you. Today you used a taxi service (volvo) and a driver gave you the wrong change. He owes you 100 hryvnias. How can he return money to you? Unfortunately he doesn’t speak English. My name is Inna, I’m a friend of him.’
Ahhhhh! It was the cab fare!
After having taxi drivers all over the world attempt, sometimes successfully, to rip me off, this was the first time I had ever had a driver that a) give me the wrong change unintentionally, and b) tried to straighten the ledger afterwards.
I messaged Inna back, and asked her to thank her friend for his honesty, and to tell him to keep the 100 hryvnia. (To give you an idea, 100 hryvnia will buy you three small loaves of bread. So not a huge sum, which made it even more impressive that the driver still wanted to make the effort to reimburse me). She replied:
‘Ok I’ll tell him. He felt uncomfortable because of his mistake.’
Needless to say, times are tough here in Ukraine. Apart from the risk of personal injury and lack/unreliability of basic services, many people have lost their jobs, and those that make money from tourism are really struggling. Considering the currrent situation, you could understand someone in the scenario described above just pocketing the 100 hryvnia. But instead, this bloke decided to chase up a foreigner, someone he would never run into again, who he had mistakenly short-changed.
It certainly shows strength of character; something there is plenty of here in Ukraine as the Russian war drags into its tenth month.
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