Kiev is a fantastic city to explore and is the heart and soul of Ukraine. Despite recent troubles in the country with the Russian invasion, Ukraine is still a safe country to explore and forget about what the media are talking about. It’s all rubbish. It is unsafe (as of 2017) to visit Eastern Ukraine and difficult to get into Crimea (the land which Russia took away from Ukraine), but in the capital and the west, it is very safe and to be honest we had a blast. With locals being friendly, great food and plenty to see, Ukraine has much to offer. This post is about what to do in the capital for a day (really good if visitors are on a 12 hour layover on connecting flights) or on a long weekend. If anyone else is interested to see what it is like in west of the country, read Danik’s post on his experience (February 2014 – here and July 2014 – here).
The best place to start is outside the centre where the Motherland statue is located. The 68 meter high statue (which stands on a 40 meter pedestal) looks out eastwards and overlooking the nearby Dnipro river. This enormous stainless steel statue of a female warrior holds a 12-tonne sword in her right hand and a shield in the left. Underneath the statue is a museum dedicating Ukraine’s involvement in the Second World War and in the grounds there are Soviet style statues of soldiers, families, workmen as well as tanks and other fun army equipment.
To the north of the statue and heading back to the centre is another big park with monuments dedicated to the family and more great viewpoints over the river but eventually the next place to check out is the Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra. This is a monastery which is similar to the Vatican City and has the nickname, ‘the Rome of Orthodox Christianity’ which attracts many pilgrims from all around the world. In the huge grounds there are churches, towers and a few museums to check out but the main sight which we hit up was the underground cave system, where monks worshipped, lived and eventually buried down there.
In the caves visitors can actually see where the monks are buried and the bodies are almost perfectly preserved to this day as the coldness of the caves allows the bodies to mummify naturally. To enter the caves, remember to take a candle as it is dark down there, remember to be respectful as there is a lot of praying going on and if you are female to wear scarves (which are provided).
Following the road northwards from the Lavra and overlooking the river (passing all the parks and Dinamo Kiev’s football stadium) is the Mariyinsky Palace which is a beautiful light-blue painted palace which is the official residence of the president of the country. With its Baroque style, the palace is one of the most beautiful built in Eastern Europe.
Passing the beautiful place and heading north (again) through another park, overlooking the river there is a steel rainbow which is called the Friendship of Nations Arch, which was put up in 1983 to commemorate the unification of Ukraine and Russia way back in 1653 and is supposed to be a reminder of the friendship and mutual respect between the two countries. At night, the arch lights up to give a colourful display.
Walking westwards from the arch, the main place to check out in the heart of the city is Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) which has been a crazy place to be in over the last fifteen years. There has been political marches, sleep-ins, on the square which eventually died down, then in 2013, the rallies came back when the Ukrainian parliament decided to stop European Union integration and decided to go with Russian-backing politics. This eventually lead to the violent events which happened in February 2014, where the main square almost burnt down, over 100 people killed and many more wounded when riot police decided to open fire on unarmed protesters. Since then, the country has fell apart (mainly thanks to stupid Ukrainian politics and Russia invading the lands to help ‘it’s people’) but the square as we saw it has been repaired and only a few bullet holes are to be seen. It is like nothing has happened here. On the square there are statues to look at, a beautiful view point from Hotel Ukraine and the Globus shopping centre which lays underneath with glassy domes to be seen on street level.
Kiev is known for its beautiful churches and cathedrals, St. Sophia’s Cathedral being the highlight with his green painted walls but our favourite is located opposite (a few minutes walk) called St Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral which was built in the 12th century but was destroyed by the Soviet Union in the 1930s for having ‘no historical value’. Rebuilt in the year 2000, the highlight has to be the sky blue exterior and the golden domes.
Here are our other favourite places to check out in this beautiful city –
Equestrian statue of Hetman Bogdan Khmelnytsky in Kiev
The entrance of St Sophia cathedral
Even the tourist signs have made it to this part of Europe
A view over the Dnipro river and looking out to the eastern side of Kiev
The statue known as ‘Love Story’. The longest long affair story in history…maybe? Luigi Pedutto (Italian prisoner of war in 1940s) and Mikryna Yurzuk (forced Ukrainian labourer) met in a concentration camp in Austria. It was here she fed him food whilst he sewed hats and clothes to impress her in return. They fell in love but in 1945 when the camp was liberated, Yurzuk was sent back to Ukraine but Pedutto was not allowed to join her. Many decades passed, both married and had children but never forget their wartime love. Finally they were reunited thanks to a television show in 2004 and now they have own statue in Kiev in a park next to the Lover’s Bridge, a popular destination for people to confess their love to the other.
Our personal opinion once again is forget about what the media is saying about Kiev (unless war has broke out which we doubt this will happen). Kiev is very much open for business and visitors are welcome. There are the usual scams which readers may know about or seen on their travels and corruption being a problem here (yes, we were scammed as well in our taxi on the way back to the airport in January 2017 despite having the meter on and had to pay an extra $20), but in all, common sense is needed. The locals are lovely and willing to speak English and in some ways, I got the impression when they saw us they were hoping there will be many more visitors to come. It is a beautiful city with many spectacular buildings, green parks and amazing river views as well as great beer and food to be enjoyed all over the city. Eventually Kiev will be thriving again and will be a city where people would want to go to. We felt safe, there was no problems at all and it was a very cheap destination to spend our money.
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