The Mongol Rally: Europe and Ukraine
The Mongol Rally started on July 24 at the Goodwood Motor Circuit near London. Spirits were high as 350 cars formed a procession and drove a lap around the circuit before setting off on the long road for Mongolia.
From the start we planned to drive across Europe as quickly as possible, knowing the poor roads, the intense heat and the vast distances in Central Asia would be the most testing part of the trip.
By day four of the rally, we had reached the western border of Ukraine. Along the way via Bruges, Nurnberg, Prague and Krakow the small fields and rolling hills of Western Europe had given way to a blaze of sunflower fields yawning towards the horizon under a big, bright blue sky — the inspiration behind the Ukrainian national flag.
In Ukraine, our rally experience shifted gear. We now had to contend with all signs in Cyrillic script and a formidable language barrier since nobody in our team spoke a word of Russian. The road quality deteriorated sharply. Ukraine has no major highways and as we progressed east the potholes became so large and frequent that it was hard to average more than 20 mph at times.
This did, however, give us the chance to explore the country roads and towns. We discovered provincial towns such as Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk were in severe disrepair with creaking Soviet-era infrastructure and housing.
Closed factories, abandoned rail lines and exhausted quarries sprinkled the outskirts of these regional hubs and there were few signs of commercial vibrancy despite the buzz of economic activity elsewhere in the country.
However the charming tiled cottages of the villages, abundant fresh produce and the warmth of the people we met on the way made for a memorable few days in Ukraine.