Kiev: a one day itinerary
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 I 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 twelve hour layover on connecting flights) or on a long weekend. I have been to the capital twice (first visit being in 2009) and this is what I did on a layover for a day back in the winter.
The best place to start is outside the centre where the Motherland statue is located (to which I got a taxi from the airport. The sixty-eight meter high statue (which stands on a forty meter pedestal) looks out eastwards and overlooking the nearby Dnipro river. This enormous stainless steel statue of a female warrior holds a twelve-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.
Eternal love sculpture – I came across this statue whilst walking through Mariinskyi Park near the romantic Lover’s Bridge. It shows two elderly people hugging each other. This monument is dedicated to the story of love between an Ukrainian woman, Mokryna Yurchuk and an Italian soldier Luigi Pedutto. They met in a concentration camp in Austria in 1943 where they had been imprisoned by Nazi Germans during the Second World War. They were both around twenty years old, Luigi a prisoner of war and Mokryna was displaced as she was forced to leave Ukraine with thousands of other people. The war brought them together but then the war pulled them apart. There were problems with the language but they fell in love and helped each to other to survive in the horrors of the war.
At the end of the war, the Soviet army entered the area and released all the prisoners, the two guys got freedom but it did not bring happiness to them. Luigi intended to settle in the Ukraine with Mokryna but because of the Soviet Union laws, it was impossible to get outsiders to live in any of it’s lands at that time. So they did not see each other for sixty years! In the early 2000’s, Luigi sent a letter to the Ukrainian television programme ‘Wait for me’ which helps find missing people. And voila, he was in luck. Mokruna was found in a small Ukrainian village near Dnipropetovsk in the centre of the country. Both of them couldn’t believe the news! They were reunited in 2004 but not quite sure what has happened to them since. But its a lovely story and I did shed a tear whilst standing there taking in the information.
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.
My personal opinion is once again to forget about what the media is saying about Kiev (unless war has broken out which I 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, I was scammed as well in my taxi on the way back to the airport 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 me they were hoping there will be many more visitors to come. Kiev 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. I felt safe, there were no problems at all and it was a very cheap destination to spend my money.