There’s a 10-hour difference in time between Southern California and Kyiv, so both times I traveled there I went through some pretty brutal jet lag. That meant that I was up and about – as much as I felt comfortable doing so – very early in the morning with regularity. It was actually a nice time to look around a bit, as there was almost no one around, so I wouldn’t be getting in anyone’s way or otherwise annoy people. It was quiet and almost surreal to watch the sun come up over the old, unique buildings in Kyiv.
One morning, after stumbling through a coffee order at a local java stand, I found myself looking at some of the buildings in hopes of memorizing them for use as landmarks during subsequent trips out. It was just then that I heard a tremendous barking sound around the corner. It wasn’t just a dog, but it was obviously a lot of dogs. My initial reaction was excitement. I have two dogs at home and I really missed them while I was gone.
Hula and Kimo
I walked toward the noise and as I got near a viewpoint, no fewer than 10 really big dogs charged right past me and ran across the street. They decided to skip the underground tunnel – good move.
They continued to run and bark as if they were hunting something. The cacophony of barking seemed to bounce off the concrete, causing a strange urban echo. I noticed that they all looked pretty well fed and they were basically recognizable breeds. I wasn’t sure what was happening.
As I was processing all of this, someone grabbed my arm from behind and spun me around. It startled me to the point where I was surprised I didn’t spill my coffee. It was a little old man who was yelling at me and pointing to my face. I had no idea what he was talking about of course, so once again I resorted to holding my arms out and looking at him with a quizzical expression.
He figured out I had no idea what he was saying, so we moved to the amateur sign language portion of our meeting. He pointed at the direction in which the dogs ran. Then he made a biting motion with his teeth, followed by him pretending to bite his arm and tear away at it. Finally, he pointed back at me and grabbed my arm.
I was a little slow on the uptake at that point, but I finally figured it out. These were not dogs that one should approach. They were actual wild dogs. As I got used to being up early and walking around a bit, I saw more and more of them around town. Instead of moving towards them, I stood still and when they got close to me they really didn’t bother me.
Catching some ZZZs
I saw a couple of them fight once, and it was one of the most barbaric things I had seen in a long time. They were not fooling around. Each went for the other’s throat immediately and one actually succeeded. The defeated dog skulked off bleeding profusely, probably looking for a place to die, while the victor grabbed what looked like a discarded fast food bag and took off.
I read later that there are thousands of stray dogs in Kyiv, and almost 3,000 people per year report being bitten by one in the city. There’s a lot of controversy regarding how they should be handled. Some believe in capturing and spaying/neutering them while others reportedly shoot them or poison them. After that day, I knew I should not approach them, no matter how much I missed my own dogs. This is a city of nearly 3 million people, and wild dogs roam the streets at dawn. This is just another thing I never knew about this mysterious city before I got there.