Rattling our teeth along the roads in Ukraine

So – how many tires does a van have? Four.  Good answer.  So what do you do when you blow three in the middle of the night in the middle of no place?  That was the question of the hour – well of the hours – as Pastor Victor and I traveled through the night Ken, Carol, Vanessa & Kendi Dyck late in July.

The four had been here on a short term ministry trip and had served at our English Camp at Grace Camp.  A day after camp finished, we

1207 Zaporozia oak tree_11

The famous Zaporoziah oak tree

headed south for Zaporoziah, a city in southern Ukraine where both Ken & I have our roots.  Well, we actually left at 3 a.m. because it was so hot (+ 38 C and higher) and the van didn’t have ac.  On the road south I drove till around 6 a.m., and then Victor took the wheel.  We pulled into Zaporoziah around 10:30 after a fairly grueling and bone jarring final 2 hours.  We met up with a fellow who gave us the Mennonite tour of Zaporoziah and area for the day. Ken found a portion of his past in a former flour mill, and I found a possible portion of mine in a grave yard.  It was quite the fascinating time.

We were also able to see a couple different ministries in the area that are reaching out to young people who are graduating out of the orphanage system, one a dairy farmer from southern Manitoba who has set up a dairy farm in a village (giving the teens a place to work and learn) and another which is located in the city itself.

So we wrapped up the day, and around 8 p.m. began our trek northwest towards Kiev.  This was where things began to happen…….  Sometime after 10 p.m. on one stretch as we were coming up to the edge of a small city, Victor missed seeing a pothole on the narrow road since he was concentrating on the semi that was bearing down on us.  The right front wheel got hammered, and immediately we hear the “whup, whup, whup” of what sounded like a flat tire.  He pulled over, and on further investigation we found that the tire wasn’t flat – it was just that the inside of the rim had been bent in and was rubbing up against one of the rods which was part of the front wheel/steering assembly.  So we pulled into a nearby parking lot, and I began to get the spare tire out from the back.  In the meantime, Victor & Ken jacked up the van and pulled the front wheel.  Once we saw the inside of the rim, we could see that it wasn’t too badly bent, as the tire kept its air pressure.  So one of the two came up with the idea of bending the rim back.  Since we didn’t have a hammer, we used the tire iron, and after a few minutes of pounding, it was basically back in a circle.  So the tire went back on, the spare went into the back of the van and away we go.

A bit after midnight out in the middle of no place, the rear left tire exploded.  I guess it hit a hole just right and there was a weak spot which gave way….that tire was a goner.  Praise God, we have a spare.  So out comes the spare, on it goes and away we go with only a bit of lost time – since we were changing the tire in the dark on a narrow highway with traffic going by to add to the excitement.  Soon after I began to drive and everyone else fell asleep.   Around 2 a.m., as I was going along a long lonely stretch, the same thing happened.  That being a large vehicle is bearing down on me on the narrow highway and the headlights make things a bit difficult to see.  All I remember seeing is that there was a patch that was a bit darker than the surrounding pavement.  The bone jarring impact and resulting explosion of sound woke everyone up in a hurry.  We got out to survey the damage, and the right front tire was flat, and the right rear tire was slowing losing air.  As we stood there in the dark surveying our predicament, we could the lights of a village about 5 km in the distance. Hmm.   This doesn’t look good.  Well, we pull off the front tire to inspect the damage.  Well, it could have been worse.  The rubber was ok, it was the rim that was bent really bad – kind of like 3/4 of a wanna be circle. Hmm.  Now I thought, we are going to be sitting here till daylight for sure.  Not so Victor & Ken.  We found a foot pump in the van (part of the necessary travel kit for every vehicle in Ukraine) and so they got the bright idea, lets try it again.  So the three of us took turns for 45 minutes or so pounding with the tire iron.  Eventually the rim was pretty close to being a circle, and then we began to pump.  That also took awhile but eventually we got it full, and it held the pressure.  Wow – praise the Lord!  So we put that tire back on, and then looked at the right rear tire.  It didn’t look too bad, so we just pumped it back up.  Back on the road we go, and every 20-30 minutes I would stop and we would put more air into the front tire.   Eventually we found a gas station that had a pump, and we put in the proper pressure, and it held!  Praise the Lord!  Back on the road to Kiev.

Eventually, 4 hours later than planned we arrived on the south side of Kiev.  Then our new dilemma – how do we get to the east side of Kiev?  It should have been simple – we could see the expressway that we needed to get onto, but after four attempts we were actually going west and not east.  I said to Victor (who was driving at this point), “we need to be going on this road in the opposite direction”. “Really?”  “Yes, this is the road, I’m sure of it, just the other way.”  Well, it is 5 a.m., there is basically no traffic, so Victor did what anyone would do after driving all night, having 3 flat tires and a few other minor inconveniences along the way and our destination within our reach.  He did a u-turn.  Finally, on the right road.  But wait, less than a minute after the u-turn a highway cop passes us, jumps out and flags us down.  This just makes for the perfect ending – now we get a ticket.  But after 3 minutes of Victor pleading innocence and frustration the cops let us go with a dismissive wave.  I guess they felt mercy for us woebegone travelers.

Eventually we made it to the apartment of our teammates in Kiev, had a few hours of sleep and then Victor & I were back on the road.  We spent a few hours getting new tires, finding a garage that would bend the rims back to their former shape and got it all repaired.  Then back to Sumy, arriving at home early that evening.  It was quite the 40 hr adventure.



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One thought on “Rattling our teeth along the roads in Ukraine

  1. Wow, John! What an adventure! I enjoyed reading about it and still have a smile on my face. I can just see you standing on the side of the road, trying to keep safe.