Soon after landing at the Kyiv International Airport, I found the immigration officials looking at me with suspicion and asking again and again, “First time in Kyiv?” They called my hosts in Kyiv to verify my status. This not-so-friendly immigration process puzzled me. Yet, in no more than 30 minutes, I was with the friendly cab driver waiting for me at the airport.
The immigration was the only unpleasant experience I had in my one-week-long tour of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
As the cab crossed the expansive Dnipro River, the giant statue with a sword in his hand received us – as if defending Kyiv against foreign invaders. The statue, ‘The Motherland’, was put up to commemorate World War II. Today, it serves as a reminder of the Soviet Union era.
Kyiv is one of the oldest towns of Europe. The city was once a commercial hub on the ancient trade route between Scandinavia and Constantinople. It is spread over rolling mountains, dotted with thick jungles, which makes it one of the greenest cities of Eastern Europe.
The historic Kyiv is known as Podil, which is a neighbourhood of old churches, bars, restaurants and cobbled streets with the central focal point being Maidan or Independence Square. This is where hundreds of young people protested to oust the government during the Dignity Revolution in February 2014. These days, youngsters collect here to sing and dance. It overlooks the towering statue of an ancient Slavic deity Brehynia, who appears to be giving her blessings to Ukrainians. Just behind the Maidan on the hill is the battleground of the 2014 revolution and you can pray for the departed souls at one of the many graves and monuments on the Institute Street.
The place to be in Kyiv is the Old District or Podil, where the 11th century St Sofia Cathedral, with its 13 golden domes and a huge square, is situated. The cathedral is a Unesco heritage site and boasts some amazing murals and paintings from the 11th century, surrounded by a large complex of a refectory, academy and student quarters. Just down the hill from St Sofia is the reconstructed ‘Golden Gate’, the 11th century entrance to the ancient fort city. Just 200 metres away from St Sofia is the St Michael’s monastery, with shiny golden domes and a huge square. St Michael’s was reconstructed in early 1990s as it was demolished by the Soviets in 1930s.
A cobbled road from St Michael’s leads to Andrew’s Descent and St Andrew’s Church. The church has turquoise green exterior and provides a panoramic view of Kyiv and Dnipro River. Descent is the term used for the 13 roads winding down from Kyiv.
Kanapa restaurant and bar on Andrew’s Descent offers authentic Ukrainian food and is a must visit.
So how can you not go to the river in a city by the river? An interesting way to go down to the river is by the funicular. Unlike the one in Salzburg that takes you to the top to the fort, in Kyiv it takes you down to Dnipro River through a thick jungle. Once down at the river, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the promenade or just sit and watch boats pass by, sip coffee or dine on one of the boats. This is one of the happening places in Kyiv but less happening then the historic Maidan.
A visit to Kyiv is not complete without the tour of catacombs of Lavra – unless, of course, you are claustrophobic. Lavra is the 11th century old monastery where monks from all over the world come to pray. It is a huge and impressive complex of churches, refectories and catacombs many metres down the ground where monks once prayed in isolation for days at a stretch. The candle lit tour is surreal and you pass through various praying rooms and burial chambers of orthodox monks.
Like all ancient trading cities, Kyiv offers a variety of food, ranging from Ukrainian to Georgian to Polish to Asian. I tried Chicken Kyiv and steaks but carp fish… yum, my favourite! Carp fish is a centuries-old delicacy of the region, especially of Poland. Apparently, in the weeks before Christmas, buses in Poland smell of fish as women carry them live in polythene bags to their homes where they release them into water tubs till Christmas eve when they cook them for the family. The fish is presented as a whole, is delicious but full of small needle bones and needs careful handling.
When in Kyiv how can you miss the deepest Arsenalna Metro Station, almost 100 metres into the ground, and the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex which recently hosted the Champions Football League.
The street scene in Kyiv is vibrant. Latest sports cars alongside the Soviet era vehicles whoosh up and down the streets. The city is known for its restaurants, bars and cafes concentrated around Khreshchatyk and Arena City… The rest you must explore yourself because explaining any further may lead to this article getting censored.
Kyiv is a beautiful city with beautiful people. There is a famous saying, “don’t mess with mother nature, mothers-in-law and Ukrainians” but I found Ukrainians to be very friendly and caring people. Go visit Kyiv.
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