We were on the highway going from Kharkiv to Kyiv to pick up a large load of hospital supplies destined for Odessa, just outside the city of Poltava, when the van died on us. No response from the accelerator, and a huge, thick plume of white smoke trailing us. We immediately pulled over, and when we opened the doors to get out, smoke immediately filled the cab of the van.
Our initial thought was that the engine was on fire, but when we looked under the van, the smoke was coming out of the muffler in the center of the van.
Within 30 seconds a car pulled in behind us, and two guys got out carrying water in case there was a fire. We explained our situation to them, and they immediately went to work trying to troubleshoot the problem. With no luck finding an easy fix, they called us a tow truck, and by good luck they knew a mechanic right in Poltava, only 15 minutes away. And as a bonus, the mechanic spoke English!
Turns out that Roman, the mechanic, lived in England for 6 years before moving back to Ukraine. He immediately got his guys working on it, and soon found out that the turbo unit for the diesel had gone bad. He wasn't going to be able to get one for a few days, and since we needed to stay on schedule for the Odessa delivery, he got us on a train to Kyiv, where in the meantime we found a temporary replacement van through some contacts there. While he had the van, not only did he replace the turbo unit, but he did a complete brake job and replaced the front bearings - all for a ridiculously low price.
This has been a common experience for us in Ukraine; as soon as people find out what you're doing there, they can't do enough to help you out. Turns out, the assistance goes both ways in Ukraine!