First Ukrainian to visit all of world’s coun­tries takes 10 years to achieve goal

Kyiv Post - - Lifestyle -

As Kos­tiantyn Sy­mo­nenko stood on a hill­side on Chile's Easter Is­land in late Septem­ber, watch­ing the sun set over the Pa­cific Ocean, he ful­filled a dream of 10 years.

The 44-year-old achieved the goal of be­com­ing the first Ukrainian to visit ev­ery coun­try in the world.

Since 1992, Sy­mo­nenko has vis­ited all 193 United Na­tions mem­ber states. His achieve­ment was rec­og­nized by the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Records of Ukraine on Sept. 18.

While hav­ing started his trav­els just af­ter Ukraine be­came in­de­pen­dent, Sy­mo­nenko says he only made it his goal to visit all of the coun­tries in the world in 2008. And he had al­ways wanted Chile to be the last coun­try he would visit.

"I imag­ined Chile as the last coun­try on my list, and I had a clear pic­ture of me stand­ing on Easter Is­land dur­ing a mag­nif­i­cent sun­set. And that’s how it ac­tu­ally hap­pened," he says.

Early steps

Sy­mo­nenko says he had wanted to travel since early child­hood. How­ever, he could only dream about it, as grow­ing up in the Soviet Union in­ter­na­tional travel was al­most im­pos­si­ble for most peo­ple — the fur­thest afield Soviet cit­i­zens might go was Bul­garia.

“Imag­ine a school­boy from the Soviet Union, who prefers books about trav­el­ing and pi­rates, but re­al­izes that he will never visit all the places de­scribed in his fa­vorite sto­ries, he will never see Columbia or the North Sea,” he said.

But with the sud­den col­lapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the state’s bor­ders opened, and Sy­mo­nenko jumped at the chance: a year later he trav­eled abroad for the first time, vis­it­ing Ja­pan.

Later on, Sy­mo­nenko started ex­plor­ing Eu­ro­pean coun­tries, and he lived in the United States for two years in 2000–2002, trav­el­ing all around the coun­try and its neigh­bor­ing states.

But the idea of vis­it­ing all of the coun­tries in the world came to Sy­mo­nenko only in 2008, af­ter he had al­ready been to nearly 50 coun­tries.

"At some point I re­al­ized that

(trav­el­ing to all of the coun­tries in the world) was fea­si­ble," he says. "I didn't know ex­actly how long it would take, but I de­cided to try, and 10 years ago I be­gan to travel with a pur­pose. I cre­ated a plan and fol­lowed it."

Sy­mo­nenko says he care­fully pre­pared for each trip, tak­ing into ac­count the coun­try’s cli­mate, po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, and many other fac­tors. Prepa­ra­tions for some trips could take up to three or four months, he said.

"It’s easy to go to Eu­ro­pean coun­tries spon­ta­neously, but when trav­el­ing to Africa, or to Ocea­nia, you have to wait for a visa for up to three months, and plan all routes in ad­vance," Sy­mo­nenko said.

How­ever, some as­pects of in­ter­na­tional travel are im­pos­si­ble to pre­pare for.

For in­stance, when Sy­mo­nenko was in Ba­mako, the cap­i­tal of the African coun­try of Mali in Novem­ber 2015, Is­lamic ter­ror­ists seized the ho­tel where he had been stay­ing just a few hours af­ter he had left the city, re­port­edly killing 20 peo­ple.

"It was fright­en­ing, be­cause I knew that I had just missed pos­si­bly be­ing killed," Sy­mo­nenko says.

Af­ter a while, Sy­mo­nenko stopped count­ing the money he spent on trav­el­ing, although he noted that his trips to Africa and New Zealand were the most ex­pen­sive.

De­spite New Zealand be­ing among the most ex­pen­sive coun­tries to get to, Sy­mo­nenko says he en­joyed its na­ture and land­scapes.

“I re­ally like New Zealand — no won­der all those fa­mous fan­tasy movies have been filmed there,” Sy­mo­nenko laughed.

Sy­mo­nenko also com­pared Africa to Mars, say­ing that all of the African coun­tries are com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the rest of the world.

The record

In or­der to prove that he had vis­ited all 193 coun­tries in the world, Sy­mo­nenko had to pro­vide the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Records of Ukraine with ev­i­dence of his jour­neys. So he col­lected to­gether all of his board­ing passes, all of his pass­ports with their visas and stamps, and pic­tures of him­self taken in ev­ery state he has been to.

“I handed the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Records three huge fold­ers that weighed nearly 10 kilo­grams, di­vided into sec­tions for each coun­try,” Sy­mo­nenko said.

The Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Records of Ukraine checked 192 coun­tries, and de­cided to present Sy­mo­nenko with his cer­tifi­cate as a record holder dur­ing his trip to the last coun­try on his list, Chile, on Sept. 18.

Sy­mo­nenko says he had had many op­por­tu­ni­ties to visit Chile be­fore. How­ever, his dream of vis­it­ing Easter Is­land at the end of his global jour­ney had al­ways stopped him from go­ing there.

“Ten years ago, when I de­cided to visit all the coun­tries of the world, I cre­ated a pic­ture in my mind, in or­der to vi­su­al­ize my goal. I needed some­thing to push me to­wards my dream and stop me from giv­ing it up," Sy­mo­nenko said.

Phon­ing home

A fa­ther of two sons, Sy­mo­nenko also co-founded a Kyiv-based law com­pany and man­ages to com­bine fa­ther­hood, his ca­reer, and a pas­sion for trav­el­ing.

Even though Sy­mo­nenko would spend up to three weeks away from home at a time when he was trav­el­ing around the world, he stuck to a strict rule of never miss­ing a chance to com­mu­ni­cate with his fam­ily.

"I have a rule to al­ways call my fam­ily, at least once a day, and I do my best to fol­low it. I al­ways call them and say that I’m fine and there’s noth­ing to worry about," Sy­mo­nenko said.

Now that Sy­mo­nenko has vis­ited all of the coun­tries of the world, he has set an­other goal — one that is closer to home, how­ever: He now wants to ex­plore the var­i­ous re­gions of Ukraine.

"I al­ways laugh at the fact that I had to travel all around the globe to re­al­ize that life in Ukraine is not that bad. There are no tsunamis, ty­phoons, malaria, op­pres­sively hot or rainy sea­sons. In­stead, we have won­der­ful na­ture, fer­tile land, and a kind and cul­tured peo­ple," he said.

"Peo­ple usu­ally com­pare life in Ukraine with that in other Eu­ro­pean coun­tries like Ger­many or Switzer­land, but that’s only a small part of a huge world. In com­par­i­son to other coun­tries, we live well enough.”

Kos­tiantyn Sy­mo­nenko (R) re­ceives a cer­tifi­cate from the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Records of Ukraine for be­ing the first Ukrainian to visit all of the world's coun­tries on Easter Is­land in Chile, on Sept. 18. (Cour­tesy)

A man car­ries a shark to the fish mar­ket in Mo­gadishu, So­ma­lia in April. (Kos­tiantyn Sy­mo­nenko)

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