One of the largest and most historic cities in Eastern Europe, Kiev exceeded any expectations I had, with the little I knew about it relating to the Orange Revolution in 2004 and Euromaidan protests in 2014. I was pleasantly surprised by it’s architectural richness, lively atmosphere, and clean environment. It doesn’t feel like the capital (only since 1934) of the second poorest country in Europe (by GDP per person), more like a major Western European city.
To start with one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. It dates back to the 12th century but was destroyed by the Soviets. Thankfully it was rebuilt in 1997-1998 and is quite stunning.
St. Sophia Cathedral was very nearly destroyed by the Soviets. It is the oldest church in Kiev, with parts dating back to the 11th century though there was a major restoration in the 17th century.
As well as the cathedral itself there are complex of surrounding buildings, most notably the enormous Bell Tower, providing panoramic views across the city.
Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) was a surprise. Having only known about it from the 2014 protests, which resulted in around a hundred people dying and 15,000 being injured, I wasn’t expected a lively, well planned civic space. It has a huge underground shopping city, decent restaurants, colourful fountains, a Museum of Jellyfish, and is filled with people at most times of the day.
I stayed at Ukraine Hotel at the head of the square, which during the protests was home to snipers and a makeshift hospital. It’s hard to believe that this happened less than five years ago.
Khreshchatyk Street runs through Maidan Nezalezhnosti and is Kiev’s main street. It is lined with attractive heritage looking buildings but was actually almost entirely rebuilt after WW2. The Soviets rigged buildings along the street with explosions, which they detonated after Nazi troops finally captured the city after heavy fighting. Over 600,000 Soviet troops were killed or captured defending Kiev, one of the major battles on the Eastern Front (where around 90% of German fatalities occurred during WW2).
These terrible times are vividly remembered at The Motherland Monument. The well known part of this is the giant silver Rodina Mat statue, with an oddly short sword to prevent stability issues in strong winds.
The really effective and emotional part of the monument though is below, with giant sculptures depicting the wide variety of Soviets who fought and suffered during WW2.
The monument is on land that used to be part of city fortifications, which are now home to the Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II. Outside this has lots of tanks, a Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopter, and a number of Russian military vehicles found during the fighting since 2014 in eastern Ukraine.
Despite the devastation of WW2, and Soviet rule, there are many wonderful buildings around the city. The majority are built of brick, though often designed to look like stone buildings.
Another reconstruction, though more obviously one, is the Golden Gate. It was originally built in the 11th century as one of the main gates into the walled city, and rebuilt in 1982.
A couple of blocks away is another beautiful and colourful Orthodox Church, the bright yellow 19th century St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral.
St. Andrew’s Church is a great example of 18th century Baroque.
Although the interior is closed for restoration it is worth getting a ticket to enjoy the views of the city from around the church.
One of the holiest places in Ukraine is the 11th century Kiev Pechersk Lavra Monastery. Below the ground are caves (tunnels really) with over 100 relics, bodies of people mainly from the 11th and 12th centuries that didn’t decay like most bodies, as a few hands sticking out demonstrated. To enter you carry a lit candle and can see the devotion of pilgrims praying to the relics for fertility, health and other wishes. No photography is allow inside the caves so you’ll have to use your imagination, or try Google Images.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra is a bit of a walk from the city centre so I caught the metro, which apparently is very similar to the one in Moscow (which I’ve yet to visit). The escalators are much faster than those on the London Underground, needed as the Kiev metro system has some of the deepest stations, and therefore longest escalators, in the world.
Some of the best places to visit in Kiev are on the outskirts of the city, easily reached by Uber for around €5 each way. The Pyrohovo Museum of Folk Architecture has a huge collection of traditional Ukrainian buildings relocated from around the country, into seven villages. It would be easy to spend half a day here, there is so much to see, particularly at the weekends when many of the buildings are open and there are people in costume. A typical house design has an flat interior ceiling to the living area, within a large V shaped roof structure.
There were some photogenic windmills.
The highlights though were the quite incredible wooden village churches from the 17th and 18th centuries. The first one I saw was quite surreal looking from the outside and was breathtaking inside.
There were a three more with quite different designs which were closed. Clearly one is quite new but the other two look more authentic.
The last one I visited though was also open and had another quite stunning interior.
For anyone interested in aircraft the Oleg Antonov State Aviation Museum is a must visit, home to one of the most impressive collections I’ve seen. There’s so much there that there will be a separate post on it but here’s a taster.
I finished my time in Kiev with a morning run down and back up Andrew’s Descent, a large hill being a novelty after a couple of weeks in very flat parts of Romania and Moldova. There were plenty more churches at the bottom, including Pyrohoshcha Dormition of the Mother of God Church and Mykola Prytyska Church.
To finish this post though with what street art I could find in Kiev, there isn’t a huge amount of it but what there is of generally high quality.