From the moment we booked our flights to Kyiv – the capital of Ukraine – our family and friends had shown some concern, as literally the next day a Russian ship rammed into a Ukrainian tug boat passing from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine has had an politically challenging run in recent years, with the Ukraine Revolution, Annexing of Crimea by Russia and Pro-Russian rebellion in Donetska and Luhansk oblasts all occurring in 2014, and constant tension since then. This has deterred tourism. with the numbers almost halving since 2013. However, the country has a lot to offer. Outside of the war zone in the east, the rest of the country is safe, and Jon and I decided to venture to Kyiv (translation from Ukrainian, Kiev is the translation from Russian) for a long weekend.
After a three hour flight from London, we arrived late on Thursday evening. They take security very seriously at the international airport, with security for those even entering the airport and not just before the departure gates (I could not take any photos in the airport as it is a big no-no, as it is in a majority of countries across the globe).
That evening we took a stroll to Maidan Square, where there is a fountain display with jets of water shooting up into the sky, lights and music, making children run around with excitement and everyone with their cameras out enjoying themselves.
Jon and I decided to split the city into two sections, tackling the more dispersed southern section along the river first.
We made our way through Maidan Square to the Founder of Kyiv Monument.
At the time of our visit there were giant metal boards giving information about the 2014 revolution, and acting as a memorial to the fallen.
Behind the Founder of Kyiv Monument are steps that lead up to the top of a building that give you great views of the square.
After this we ventured towards the large park that sits on the hills by the river to the south east of the city and saw many more shrines to the fallen during the revolution.
Passing the imposing Kabinet Ministriv Ukrayiny (Ukraine Cabinet Ministry) we reached the park area where we saw the the Maryinsky Palace.
Unfortunately, it was not open so you could only admire the architecture through the gates – but it is very impressive and worth seeing.
Walking south through the park there are so many pathways to take that take you past a variety of monuments and statues.
It was a very pleasant walk, just with the occasional hill from time to time.
On the top of one hillside you come to the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and the Holodomor Genocide Museum which covers the detail in the genocide that occurred in Ukraine during the 1930’s.
This was a man made famine during the Stalin period. The area also has a great view of the river.
Our next stop was the National Kyiv-Pechersk Historical and Cultural Reserve. For a mere 40 Ukrainian Hryvnia (£1.20) we were able to go and explore every museum and cathedral.
There is so much to see within the area for a tiny cost.
They do charge for taking photos in museums but hardly check so it isn’t worth paying the 200 Hryvnia extra.
It was a great experience as there was a lot to see and experience within the area. Ukraine is a highly Orthodox country and getting some knowledge into their faith and its history is certainly worth a visit.
The end of our walk in the southeast parkland area in Kyiv brought us to the Ukrainian State Museum of Great Patriotic War.
Around this area there are tanks missile launchers, as there is an open air section to the museum that displays cold war military vehicles, as well as captured Russian vehicles from the most recent war in Eastern Ukraine, to prove Russian involvement (they deny it).
There are several war memorial sculptures from World War II, and an Eternal Flame to commemorate victory during WWII.
Between this and the Motherland Monument there has been some slight controversy within the country as in recent years, as all Soviet sculptures have been removed except these two.
The Motherland Monument is a giant, impressive statue on the top of the hill of a woman with a Soviet shield, to commemorate victory in WWII.
It is also on the city’s flag.
That evening we made our way to a recommended Ukrainian restaurant, Kanapa.
They served Borscht, Vareniki, Lamb brain, Salo, Chicken Kiev, and a variety of different dishes that you may not have tried. Our meals were delicious, and the place was lively and authentic. They have a set menu, which I recommend you try if you are brave enough!
Our final day in Kyiv was going to be another action packed one. I’ve trained Jon well in getting up at a reasonable time in order to head out and explore.
One of our stops was to the Golden Gate. It isn’t the real thing, but a replica of the 11th century fortified wall that was the gate to the old city.
After this we had fun on the metro. By coincidence we went down to the deepest station in the world, which sits 105.5 meters below the surface. The escalator didn’t seem to end. A one-way trip on the metro sets you back 8 Hryvnia (£0.24) so it is cheap to get around if walking isn’t your thing.
Our next stop was a personal one for Jon. His heritage is from Belarus. Every Easter his Great Grandmother used to walk from southern Belarus to St Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, which was a 12 day walk one way!!! Now that is dedication to her Orthodox faith.
Jon’s grandfather moved to the UK after WWII, so this is the first time anyone in his family had been back here.
The cathedral was beautiful with lots of old frescoes, but what made this extra special was that it meant a lot to Jon. This is what I love about travel – sometimes you visit places that are closer to home than you think.
After this we walked across Volodymyrs’kyi Passage towards a square where you can find the Princess Olga Monument, who is a saint within the Orthodox church.
Next we saw St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, which was painted a gorgeous baby blue to go with the golden roofs.
Word of warning – as you may have noticed this city has a lot of cathedrals!
We then walked through Volodymyrska Hill towards St Andrew’s Church, which is a great spot to sit and relax overlooking maybe not the most scenic part of the city, but a part of it nonetheless.
We had an hour to kill so we finished our trip in the National Museum of the History of Ukraine. It gave a great overview of Ukrainian history from ancient times, to medieval, both World Wars and the Soviet period.
It solely focuses on Ukrainian history, so it is a great starting point to gain some knowledge if you want to learn about the history of the country.
Kyiv is a spread-out city, with so much to see and do. I would 100% recommend spending several days here and then using it as a base to go and do day trips to other cities or excursions – which you’ll read about in my blog next week where Jon and I head to the Chernobyl zone!