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In honor of World Vegan Day, I wanted to write a post about my experience being vegan in Ukraine. Prior to leaving to teach English in Ukraine, I successfully remained vegan everywhere I traveled including my recent trip to Italy. What allowed me to stay vegan on my previous trips were the following:
- Bringing snacks
- Shopping at a local grocery store upon arrival
- Doing research on local vegan restaurants
I left for Europe on June 17th, determined that this trip would be no different: I would stay vegan no matter what. In order to prepare for what I would experience in Ukraine, I spoke to a friend who did the program a few years prior. He told me that meals were eaten in family style and provided at the camp and I would likely be eating a lot of buckwheat (he was right lol). I was nervous, but figured it would be fine….until my first night. I arrived at the camp and sat down for my first meal. I tried to explain that I was vegan, but due to the language barrier, I was unable to communicate effectively (next time, I am going to learn some basic phrases in advance). This resulted in me having a plate of chicken, sour cream, and buckwheat. I ate the buckwheat and thought, “This is going to be a lot harder than I anticipated”.
Unfortunately, since I was going to be away for six weeks and only brought a carry-on suitcase, I couldn’t bring enough snacks to last for the duration of the program. I texted my brother, who hadn’t left for Ukraine yet, to bring me a large jar of peanut butter. The next day, I explored Lviv (about 20 minutes from where I was teaching) and made it a priority to find nuts, dates, and bananas to hold me over throughout the program.
I’m thankful I found these staples because a typical meal for me consisted of the following:
- Breakfast: cauliflower or cucumbers & tomatoes with bread (occasionally I also got cereal with hot water instead of milk)
- Lunch: vegetable soup, grains or pasta, potatoes, and vegetables with bread
- Dinner: grains, potatoes, and vegetables with bread
While I was very grateful that the camp was accommodating, despite lacking protein and being very minimal, eating out was a whole different battle. There were three or four vegan restaurants in Lviv which were SO good, but none in the village where I was teaching. Aside from that, even when I was in Lviv, most of the other teachers did not want vegan food (understandable) so I would often end up either eating at a vegan place beforehand or ordering something like this.
A typical meal out (not at a vegan restaurant) consisted of:
- Marinated or grilled vegetables
As you can imagine, there wasn’t much protein in these options so I found myself having to eat a large quantity of vegetables to feel full. Due to this, I was constantly tempted to give up and eat vegetarian. However, I stayed strong! Here’s a picture with some friends eating out in the mountains on one of our last days. I’m eating potatoes and grilled veggies…surprise, surprise!
So is it possible to be vegan in Ukraine? The short answer is yes. However, in order to stay healthy, I would pack a ton of high protein snacks including protein powder and nuts, book your accommodation near a grocery store (although options will be limited), and do research on local vegan restaurants. It is important to note, that there will be times that you think something is vegan or are told it is vegan, when in reality, it isn’t. This happened to me a few times: I ate a veggie sandwich with mayo, ate potatoes with butter, and loads of bread with milk and or butter. Keep an open mind and just do your best!
In the future when I go back to Ukraine (hint, hint), I will bring the following to make being vegan easier and healthier:
- Powdered almond milk (for my coffee and cereal)
- Trail mix
- Protein powder
- Almond butter
- Chia seeds
- Nutritional yeast
- Energy bars
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