48 Hours in Kiev, Ukraine

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Glittering golden domes and crosses atop St. Michaels Monastery.

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!

Kiev Pechersk Lavra – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Kiev Pechersk Lavra – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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.

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I was literally the only person on Maidan at 7.30AM on a Bank Holiday Monday morning. It’s terrifying to think of what went on here just months previously.

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The Independence Statue, built in 2001. It is 61 metres high. It is backed by the Ukraine Hotel and there’s a luxury shopping mall below

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Kyi, Shchek, Khoryv and Lybid – the legendary brothers & sisters who founded medieval Kiev

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.

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The Friendship of Nations Arch, built in 1982 to commemorate the unity of Russia and Ukraine – not as relevant today as it was back then!

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St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery – a glorious recreation of the original, criminally destroyed by the Soviets in the 1930’s

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Woman praying next to St. Michaels Monastery. It was very “True Detective” – I thought she was going to suddenly appear in front of me with searing red devil eyes.

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St Andrew’s Church (1767), located on the steep Andriyivska Hill – close to St. Michaels. This area in recent times has become known as the Montmarte of Kiev. Art galleries and stalls line the descent down to the river.

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.

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St. Sophia Cathedral and Square – as you can see, the lack of tourists was awesome! PS I may have had enough of churches at this stage 🙂

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Lunchtime – my first real Ukrainian meal. No one spoke English in the bar, and the menu was totally in Ukrainian. So after a number of hand signs I go this amazingly delicious meat soup. The side is pork Salo – raw pork fat that you wash down with vodka….mmmm. Welcome to Ukraine my friends!

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.

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Car free day in Kiev – tranquillity on once smog clogged streets 🙂

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!!!

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One monk still on Kiev Pechersk Lavra has an interesting tale. He was quite promiscious and couldn't resist the women. He went down, dug a hole and buried himself waist deep in the soil. After 17 days of fasting, his lower body (including his "bits") completely separated from him. From then on, he was free from temptation!

One monk still on Kiev Pechersk Lavra has an interesting tale. He was quite promiscuous and couldn’t resist the women. He went down, dug a hole and buried himself waist deep in the soil. After 17 days of fasting, his lower body (including his “bits”) completely separated from him. From then on, he was free from temptation!

KievCavesThe 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!

 

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It’s a little known fact that Kiev has the worlds largest Godzilla Dildo open air museum. Fascinating.

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Left: A Minions army tank (Despicable). Right: The Rodina Mat statue stands tall over the Dniper River – many Ukrainians hope to see the statue demolished someday.

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“Hi Mom, listen….could you pick me up? My car has broken down.”

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Me, making a “Kablamo” sound beside a seized Russian Military Motar truck – taken from close to the Russian border

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!

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Bungee Jump over the River Dniper – where else do you get to something like this for only €8

Maidan Candles

Candles lined up across Maidan, representing each life lost in the Ukrainian conflict so far. A harrowing reminder of the troubles that this lovely country is currently going through

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the photos!

 

 

26 Comments

    • 09/09/2015 / 9:51 PM

      Haha, well it wasn’t quite on my list until I wanted to check out Chernobyl – Kiev was a surprisingly nice stop off on the way! Thanks for the comment!

  1. 09/09/2015 / 2:31 PM

    I have read so much about kiev I hope one day I’ll get there…. beautiful place to explore

    • 09/09/2015 / 9:50 PM

      Thanks Anne, it was quite a refreshing discovery, as from first impressions I really wasn’t expecting much 🙂

    • 11/09/2015 / 2:23 PM

      Thanks for the comment Michelle, it’s extraordinary how life just seems to go on there after all that has happened.

  2. 11/09/2015 / 6:19 AM

    Love the architecture! Looks like a great place to explore 🙂

  3. 11/09/2015 / 7:40 AM

    Nice place to walk around

  4. 12/09/2015 / 8:17 AM

    Nice post! Love the pictures…especially the one with the person dressed as a minion! Made me chuckle. I haven’t read much on the Ukraine so it’s nice to see what’s there! Thanks 😀

    • continentaldrifters
      12/09/2015 / 12:25 PM

      Haha, oh Bettina he was a very happy Minion too, all the kids loved him! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  5. 12/09/2015 / 8:25 AM

    Ukraine sounds so intimidating because of the things I hear in the news. But after reading posts like this, I don’t think that would stop me from actually putting this on my list!

    • continentaldrifters
      12/09/2015 / 12:24 PM

      Thanks Erica! Yes it was great, and I think local people were genuinely happy to see tourists like myself visiting and contributing to the economy. I think I will definitely go back at some time in the future!

  6. Anne | Girl Chasing Sunshine
    13/09/2015 / 3:38 AM

    We were supposed to book a trip from Dubai to Prague with a layover in Kiev but decided otherwise due to the turmoil in the country but now, you make me kinda regret. 🙁

    • continentaldrifters
      14/09/2015 / 8:33 PM

      Always next time Anne. But I guess at the same time it’s always a good idea to stay on the safe side of things 🙂

    • continentaldrifters
      14/09/2015 / 8:33 PM

      Haha, well I will definitely be going again, so you’re more than welcome to tag along 😀 Thanks for commenting!

  7. 13/09/2015 / 10:14 AM

    I’ve been wanting to visit Kiev since last year but the current conflict has prevented me from doing so so far. I hope peace and stability is restored to the lovely country soon.

    • continentaldrifters
      14/09/2015 / 8:34 PM

      Don’t let it stop you, it’s a fantastic place. Kiev and Lviv are both totally peaceful at the moment, you wouldn’t even think that there is a war going on! And people are so welcoming, you’d love it 🙂

    • Garfster
      13/10/2015 / 8:45 AM

      Natasha, Donetsk is 900km away from Kiev… Only 500km separate the UAE from the war in Yemen.

  8. 14/09/2015 / 11:32 AM

    I would have never thought Kiev is such a beautiful city! O have never been to Ukraine but obviously is a must visit!

    • continentaldrifters
      14/09/2015 / 8:35 PM

      I know right! I just thought it would be a grey and concrete. But much nicer than expected, with some of the coolest bars I’ve been too as well. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  9. 14/09/2015 / 2:02 PM

    We visited Lviv last year and loved it, we saw a real different side to the country than was on the news and wanted to go back to see more. Kiev is on the list of places to visit, looks beautiful just like Lviv!

    • continentaldrifters
      14/09/2015 / 8:36 PM

      Ohhh that’s a tough one, I think Lviv wins in terms of beauty! But as a kind of forgotten about city tourist wise, Kiev is definitely a pleasant surprise!

  10. 14/09/2015 / 7:38 PM

    Wow, Lviv looks spectacular!

  11. 15/09/2015 / 1:05 AM

    What a great snapshot of Ukraine! I hope to make it there someday when my kids are a little older:)

    • 15/09/2015 / 4:36 PM

      Thanks Alexis, your kids will love the zipline and bungee jumps along the river when they’re older!

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