Despite the recent trouble in the west of Ukraine, life goes on in the bustling metropolis of Kiev. It is perfect for a quick stopover for a couple of days, with quirky bars, superb food and a vivid yet troubled history. The Ukrainian Orthodox church has flourished since the fall of Communism, and this is reflected on the city’s skyline – at sunset, shimmering golden domes jostle for space with skyscrapers and Soviet-era tower blocks.
Couldn’t get enough of….
The golden domes of the Pechersk Lavra
Jumping off a bridge over the Kiev River
Quirky jam jar vodka cocktails in Banka Bar
Splashing the cash…
0.5L Bottle of Lvivske: 20UAH (€0.70)
Local meal for two with drinks: 280UAH (€10)
Twin Room in Hotel Barbaris 450UAH (€17)
Single Metro Ticket: 4UAH (€0.14) – CRAZY!
Starting off in the hear of Kiev, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), has been the focal point for dozens of protests in Ukraine. The long drawn out EuroMaidan protests that began in late 2013 garnered the attention of the world. They tragically led to the deaths of over 100 protesters and Policemen (Some independent reports say the number of deaths reached a shocking 700).
One year later, it is almost impossible to imagine the carnage that took place, normality appears to have returned to Maidan. Poignant memorials and photo-displays are located next to the Independence Statue and the Founders of Ukraine Statue. I took a long, and quiet emotional break to reflect on the deaths of so many innocent people simply looking to improve the lives of their fellow citizens. To me it was incomprehensible that something like could happen in modern day Europe. I was here on May Day weekend, so there was a large security presence, albeit relaxed, on Maidan and in the surrounding streets.
To the east of Maidan, large wooded parklands lurch over the Dnieper River. This makes for a great escape from the clogged roads of downtown. Grab an ice cream and meander along quiet paths, past the Puppet Theatre and Dynamo Kyiv football stadium. Walk north and you’ll come out at the huge Friendship of Nations Arch, which celebrates the unification of Ukraine and Russia. It was built in 1982 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the USSR. While the nations are far from friendly at the moment, the impressive structure still stands and the surrounding area is used as for concerts and as a fairground.
Back towards the city, beautiful St. Michaels Monastery stands tall with it’s golden domes shimmering in the summer sun. The original monastery, built in the 18th century, was destroyed by the Soviets in the 1930’s. Only one local historian spoke out again the demolition – it was no surprise to read that he later died in a Soviet prison camp. After Independence in 1991, plans were put forward to rebuild the Monastery. Leading architects and conservationists joined up and a gloriously beautiful replica of Monastery was opened to the public in 1999.
Opposite St. Michaels, across a large square is St. Sophia’s Cathedral. Originally built in 1037, by the 17th century it fell into disrepair, however it was rebuilt by Orthodox Moldovans. Unlike St. Michaels, it somehow managed not to be destroyed by the Soviets. Come Independence, there were many arguments over who laid claim to the Cathedral. After nationwide shock at riot police storming an unauthorised burial in the Cathedral grounds, the government decided in 1994 to create a secular Christian Museum – today it welcomes visitors of all faiths.
Back towards Maidan, Khreshchatyk Street is Kiev’s premier boulevard. It is lined with all sorts of restaurants, cafes and shops. On Sundays and Bank Holidays, it is completely closed off to traffic, providing a unique atmosphere that should really be adopted by more cities around the world. Kids come out to play, buskers try to make you play with their monkeys (yep!) and artists stand in the middle of the road painting – brilliant.
The sobering Ukrainian Genocide (Holodomor) memorial can be found the way to the Monastery Caves. An estimated 7 million Ukrainian peasants perished between 1932 – 33 when Stalin decided to “teach them a lesson” for not agreeing to collective farming. It was a massive blow to the Ukrainian push for independence. As an Irishman, This tragedy really struck a chord with me, as of course Ireland suffered from a similarly devastating famine (some say genocide) in the 19th century.
The highlight of any visit to Kiev is the stunning Kiev Pechersk Lavra – known as the Monastery of Caves. Founded by a cave dwelling monk in 1051, he attracted disciples from across the land, who also dug their own caves where they fasted to absolve their sins. Today, the vast complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and certain underground sections are open to the public.
Rumours that the caves stretched hundreds of miles to Moscow and St. Petersburg attracted inquisitive visitors and pilgrims from all around Europe. Inside the caves, hundreds of mummified monks lay in open coffins – still on display today. It is believed that if their souls were fully clean, the bodies would not decompose – and therefore today these revered monks are preserved in the narrow, claustrophobic caves.
Tours are available – but the tour guides are veryyyyy religious, and you’re expected to bless each monk. It’s very, very awkward!!!
The controversial Rodina Mat (Motherland) statue, is just south of the Lavra and is visible from across Kiev. It was built in 1981 to represent the Motherland (aka USSR), the Soviet emblem is still embedded on the statues shield today. In the other hand, a huge sword can be seen (It was actually bigger but lighting struck half of it off a few years ago!). Unfortunately, due to Victory Day celebrations I was unable to get close up the statue.
Around the Rodina Mat is a park and the Great Patriotic War Museum (which was also closed to the public). Due to the Victory Day celebrations, there was a lot of intimidating soldiers and riot police – however I quickly realised it was just a giant playground for them, as they messed around on tanks and military vehicles.
An arts festival was also going on, with cool artwork by local artists and an super BBQ’s and beer…yeah!
Towards the end of the day, I was strolling to the train station with my couchsurfing host to board my train to Lviv. Crossing the Dniper River, we came across a quite unsafe looking mini bungee jump. I’d never done anything like this, and I have a bit of a fear of heights. Nonetheless, peer pressure (and the bargain price of €8) got the better of me and I was “roped” into doing it.
The guy actually had to push me, I just couldn’t jump! But the moment I did I felt the adrenaline kick in, and I loved it! I was buzzing afterwards, and it was the perfect end to my stay in Kiev!
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the photos!