Adam and I did a couple of walking tours in Kyiv, which were good and gave different insights and covered different regions of the city.
Kiev or Kyiv?
So the BBC and other institutions continue to spell the name of the Ukrainian capital as Kiev. But I choose to type Kyiv because that’s how the Ukrainians prefer to spell it. The Ukrainians spell it “куїв” which transliterates to Kyiv more closely than Kiev. That’s all.
For the first tour we met Marina from Kiev Free Walking Tours next to the Globe Column in Independence Square at 12noon in the scorching sun.
The second tour was with Kate and Nick of Bold Explorers where Adam and I explored the Podil Region of Kyiv. We saw some really cool graffiti and ended our trip at the Kyiv Port where there is a bronze sculpture showing the founding brothers and sister over a map of the city.
Brief Summary of Kyiv History
Kyiv is an old city; there has been a settlement here since 5th Century and legend has it that it was founded by three brothers, Kyi, Shchek and Khoriv and their sister, Lybid. The city was an important trade post between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire. In the 9th century the city was developed into the capital of Kievan Rus which lasted until 12th century when the Mongols invaded and then afterwards it was ruled over by the Lithuanian Duchy. In
1919 Kyiv became the capital of the Ukrainian Socialist Republic, which endured until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine has a population of 42 million, with 4 million in Kyiv, but the last census was in 2001. A scientist used an interesting method to conduct his own census – he determined the amount of salt sold in the city and made an assumption that it’s not something you usually buy and transport away from the city. The average amount of salt consumed per person allowed them to calculate that the population is closer to 5 million.
Kyiv’s Independence Square has seen 3 revolutions: In 1991 at the fall of the Soviet union, in 2004 against unfair elections and again in 2014 during the Euromaidan revolution.
Oldest building in Kyiv is 182 years old and was built during the Russian empire days. During Soviet times it was a KGB office then it was a prison for enemies of the Soviet state and people were killed in the basement. Now it is the October Palace and it has become an awkward reminder of the Euromaidan revolution as people were sniped from the roof. You can just make out the building above the heart in this photo.
During the Soviet era, Kyiv was a test bed for technology, with the world’s first electric tramline opening in 1892.
Most buildings in Kyiv were destroyed in the Second World War one way or another. The Soviets destroyed buildings to make them unusable by the Nazis. The city was rebuilt in the Soviet era of the 1950s and 60s.
Lavsky Gate is in Independence Square, it has stood since the 11th century. Outside this area of the city walls was a lake and swamp so it was thought that this gate required less defences than the others. However, the wily Mongols waited for the swamp to freeze and they took the city from this gate. Only 20% of the population survived the Mongol conquest and the remaining population were kept as slaves. On top of this gate is a black statue of the Angel Saint Micheal, it’s one of the only black statues of a saint because the orthodox religion only colours statues white or gold.
We walked towards St Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery passing a statue honouring the two men who developed the Cyrillic alphabet, Cyril and Methodius.
Around the side of the monastery is a covered fountain with a beautifully painted ceiling.
There is also a twist on a wishing well where you make a wish and press a coin to a metal disc, if it sticks then your wish will come true.
We walked through some other nice areas and saw a strange moustache sculpture and then another which depicts a local legend.
A man who wanted to marry two women at once; one for money, the other for power. They both found out and he ended up alone and with nothing. The statue shows him on one knee proposing to the rich woman. She has a ring on her finger symbolising money and he has a bug on his butt symbolising power. The moral is that you can’t have both and your decision is to choose for yourself: money or power and rub the corresponding part of the statue – you can’t have both. I can reach both. I guess most people can. Maybe they should rethink the statue…
We walked to the Gaudí inspired garden and saw all the mosaic sculptures. What a place! It’s so fun.
Then Adam and I met up with Seb and Jonathan to see some more sights.
We visited the memorial to the Holodomor Victims. Holodomor was a man-made famine in Ukraine from 1932-33. It was part of a wider famine across the Soviet Union which affected the grain-producing areas in particular. The Soviet Government significantly restricted the food available through rationing, Ukraine may have been hit disproportionately hard in an attempt to squash the independence movement. Some people were actually removed from the rationing system.
There are huge variations in estimate of the number of victims, but it seems likely that between 3.5 and 7 million people starved.
It’s a sober monument and the tower plays bell chimes with an interesting, sad melody. Outside there is a statue of a skinny little girl where people leave food offerings.
The four of us walked to the Fire of Glory (an eternal flame which only burns on special occasions) and the enormous Motherland Monument, a statue of a woman holding up a sword in defence of Ukraine. She may or may not be looking at Russia.
Somehow we managed to use our IDs to get into the street with the House of Chimeras, a strange building opposite the Presidential residence which is covered with bizarre animals.
We watched the sun set over Independence Square and saw the beautiful flower clock next to the October Palace.
Lavra Monastic Complex
Adam and I visited the Lavra Monastic Complex, absolutely covered in monasteries and churches. Currently the monastery complex has around 200 monks. It was founded in 1051 by a monk who had been to Athens and returned to create his own monastery. The huge site is split into upper and lower lavra (which is probably a translation for “crowded street”).
The entry ticket costs 70 UAH (£2) per adult and you can go into most of the churches and marvel to your hearts content for a couple of hours.
We had heard incredible things about some caves on the site but had been told they were hard to find. We followed signs and found a ticket office for the caves and paid 350 UAH (£10) for a private guided tour. And it was fantastic! Our guide, Ksenya, was certainly a devout believer and took us through the narrow caves past almost 70 relics (mummified monks and saints), reciting exactly what miracle each one is prayed to for and also describing the life story of most of them. It was absolutely completely fascinating and was made even more impressive by Ksenya’s total belief in what she was saying.
In the vestibule where you get dressed into appropriate attire before walking to the cave entrance there is a beautiful painting which describes the way the orthodox church views death and the soul. According to the painting, the soul spends three days on earth with the body and then the next nine days are spent being tested between heaven and hell before the soul goes to final judgement. It’s a beautiful painting.
It’s forbidden to use mobile phones and cameras underground because it’s a holy place, and there isn’t even any artificial light – we were given prayer candles to see by.
We spent around 45 minutes in the caves and we definitely could have spent much longer there. At each relic Ksenya would kiss the glass coffin with the body inside, cross herself, say a little prayer and then explain to us what the saint was he patron of.
We emerged into the daylight and walked to a few other churches within the Lavra including climbing up the bell tower of the Dormiton Cathedral in the centre. The views were excellent!
We walked to the waterfront for food and drinks. I found Aperol Spritz at a lovely waterfront bar with beanbags for £1.50 each so I bought a few!
It was Adam’s last morning so we visited Saint Andrew’s Church, one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. I could just stare at that building all day. The colours even matched my dress!
We nipped back to the hostel for lunch and then I waved goodbye as Adam headed to the airport in a taxi. Then I headed to the Chernobyl Museum for the afternoon.
In the evening I met back up with an Aussie called Rita and a lovely Russian woman called Olga and had some drinks down by the river.
Then I walked to an awesome bar called Pink Freud and had fabulous cocktails in a great atmosphere.
And that was my last night in Kyiv for now! Next stop… Budapest