The Ukrainian capital was not a city I planned to visit whilst I was stumbling about Eastern Europe in summer 2012. It sort of just happened; I had spent two days in the river Danube Estuary, (that is a place to visit if you are ever in Romania). I was on a river boat and marveling at the Kiev natural beauty with some guys from Holland. The boat actually passed within range of a transmitter and I got a message on the mobile saying “welcome to the Ukraine”, so to cut a long story short I went to Kiev the next day.
This city of 3 million people is I think the last European capital in South Eastern Europe before the Russian border. Due to its location it was not too difficult a detour for me, after a few days, I back tracked through Northern Romania. Without a doubt Kiev is one of the most historic cities I have ever visited. There are more landmarks and memorials than I can mention. But you must see the 10th century St Sophia Cathedral and the Perchesk Lavra, UNESCO recognized 900 year old monastery of the caves. I am not religious but you have to admire the dedication and the country is justly proud of these icons of its past. The caves are one of the 7 wonders of the Ukraine. The city center is a wonderful montage of the old and new and it is important to state that over 70% of the city’s monuments and buildings have been reconstructed or conserved.
A good way to orientate yourself is to take a gentle wandering stroll, start from Independence Square of Kiev, itself a place of massive importance to the country. It was here that hunger striking students provided the focus and drive for genuine independence as the cold war came to an end. You must remember that prior to 1991 the Ukraine had not been truly independent for centuries. From the square walk along Kreschatyk Street, one of the many principle thorough fares that bisects the city. There are plenty of high end shops, restaurants, cafes and bars all over the city center, if you like rip-off central go for it. Personally I go for the quirky and obscure, and I found plenty of that on the steepest and oldest street in the city, Andriyivisky Uzviz. Without being an ‘overt’ tourist trap this is the best place to get your souvenirs and little keepsakes of traditional and authentic Ukranian artesian wares.
The Ukraine suffered terribly under Nazi occupation, so as an enthusiast for modern history I had to visit the World War 2 museum. It crystallizes the point that the conflict was a total global (but avoidable) apocalypse, but it was the people of the East who endured the full horror of Nazi ideology. On a lighter note the city prides itself on its green status; the National Botanical Gardens are well worth a visit. The city is also ranked 30th in the UN sponsored index of Green European Cities. Finally, I ended my visit with a panoramic ride in the cable car that takes you up and over the city granting you a damned fine view across the landscape. A fine way to end my visit.