Parma’s known for its ham and its cheese, Champagne in France has, er, champagne. But Kyiv (sometimes written using its Russian spelling “Kiev”) will always be irrevocably linked with those garlic chicken thingies Kerry Katona used to hawk on the telly a few years ago, even though the dish almost certainly didn’t originate in the city. Those looking for a Kiev in Kyiv won’t be disappointed, however.
Legend has it Ukraine’s capital was founded by three Slavic brothers, Kyj (the eldest, whom the city is named after), Shchek and Khoryv, with their sister, Lybid; picturesquely located on the Dnipro, they couldn’t have picked a better spot.
A statue of the fabled four sits overlooking the river on the right bank, which provided the impetus for the city’s growth as a trading post and it became the capital of Kyivan Rus, but its history has been dominated by foreign rule. The Mongols sacked Kyiv in 1240 and over the years it was passed between Lithuania, Poland and Russia until Nazi occupation between 1941 and 1943.
War devastated Kyiv. Seldom do you associate “lovingly restored” with the communists – most Soviet city makeovers were best described as “functional” – but they did a rather splendid job of rebuilding Kyiv. You’ll be amazed at just how beautiful Ukraine’s capital is.
Of course, there are the drab tenement blocks in the suburbs, but the broad, leafy boulevards of its centre – where you're likely to spend most of your time anyway – give the city a certain charm and in the summer months the population pours out onto the beaches along the Dnipro or heads to the myriad of parks and gardens to sun themselves, drink beer and eat shashlyk (skewered meat).
One of Europe’s oldest cities, it can seem odd at times. The onion domes and golden spires of grandiloquent churches and cathedrals like St Sophia’s compete for supremacy on Kyiv’s skyline with ultramodern buildings and bombastic Soviet-era monuments like the colossal Rodina Mat, while capitalism has been comprehensively embraced along the tree-lined vul Khreschatyk, the main thoroughfare.
It works, though: at the weekend, put on your Sunday best like everybody else for a wander down the pedestrianised street and people-watch in the lively maydan Nezlezhnosti (Independence Square), focal point of the 2004 Orange Revolution and where all roads seem to lead to.
You’ll also want to immerse yourself in the culture along the cobbled Andriyivsky uzviz (Andrew’s Descent), a quaint street winding its way up a steep hill that has become known as the “Montmartre of Kyiv” for its association with artsy types; Mikhail Bulgakov, author of Master and Margarita, once lived there. Today, artists line the route, as do souvenir sellers flogging everything from Dynamo Kyiv scarves to matryoskha dolls, and you can even pick up one of those ushanka hats if you fancy going for the David Sullivan look. Rewarding those that make it to the top is the stunning St. Andrew’s Church, designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the architect responsible for the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.
MEET THE SIDES
It isn’t just about Dynamo Kyiv – two other Premier League sides also call Ukraine’s capital home – but the Bilo-syni [White and Blues] are indubitably the star attraction. Champions of the Soviet Union a record 13 times, Dynamo became the first club from the USSR to win a major European honour when they beat Ferencvárosi 3-0 in the final of the 1975 Cup Winners’ Cup under the stewardship of Valeriy Lobanovskiy; they triumphed again in the same competition 11 years later and dominated domestically after independence until Shakhtar Donetsk’s rise.
Obolon and Arsenal are two fairly recent additions to the football landscape in Ukraine. The former are a brewery-backed side based in the northern area of the same name, while Arsenal are owned by the, er, colourful Vadym Rabinovych.
For more on the sides, see the Club Guides at the bottom of the page.
Kyiv is served by two airports. A regular bus service connects Boryspil, where most international flights arrive, with Kyiv’s railway station (Kyiv-Passazhyrskyi) in the city centre 20 miles away (journey time one hour, look for “Aтасс” buses). Zhulyany is a 40-minute trolleybus ride away (no. 9). If you take a taxi from either airport (or, indeed, in Kyiv itself), it is strongly recommended to negotiate a fare with the driver BEFORE the journey, as some do not use their metres.
If you're arriving by train, the renovated Kyiv-Passazhyrskyi (ploshcha Vokzalna 2) conveniently has its own metro station (Vokzalna).
There are several bus stations in Kyiv, but the Central Bus Terminal (Tsentralny Avtovokzal, ploshcha Moskovska 3) close to the Lybidska metro station is where long-distance buses arrive at. Any trolleybus or marshrutka from Lybidska should stop there. Gunsel runs a comfortable and reliable service linking the major Ukrainian cities.
It perhaps isn't as ostentatious as Moscow or Tashkent’s, but Kyiv’s expanding metro – the third to be built in the USSR – is arguably the most convenient and efficient method of getting around the city, although a basic grasp of the Cyrillic alphabet will certainly come in handy. Alternatively, a network of buses, trolleybuses and trams crisscross the city; or you can take a marshrutka (minibuses that ply a fixed route).
Located on forested hills overlooking the Dnipro is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Pechersk Lavra (vul Sichnevoho Povstannya, metro Arsenalna), whose onion domes are an iconic sight on the city’s horizon. Even if religion isn't your thing, the 28-hectare monastery complex, which dates back to 1051, is home to some interesting museums and climbing the 97-metre high Great Belfry Tower rewards visitors with some stunning views of Kyiv.
For the curious, Pechersk Lavra’s underground network of narrow tunnels contain the mummified remains of some of Ukraine’s most venerable monks in glass-topped coffins tucked into alcoves in the walls.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
How about popping by and saying hello to Kyiv’s iron lady? The grandiose Rodina Mat (vul Lavrska 24, metro Arsenalna, bus no. 24 or trolleybus no. 38 to stop “National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War”), is a gigantic 62-metre high titanium lady looming large over the city brandishing a sword in one hand, and a shield emblazoned with the hammer and sickle in the other.
Yeah, it’s an ugly blot on the landscape, but “Tin Tits”, as she’s known colloquially, is home to the superb National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, commemorating the Second World War on the eastern front. Rodina Mat is located in a park of socialist realist sculptures, where there is also a smattering of tanks, helicopters and missiles to explore, and at the weekend is a popular spot with families.
In the early house of 26 April 1986, reactor No. 4 at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant some 80 miles north of Kyiv exploded, contaminating a 145,000km² area of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, and affecting over five million people. A 20-mile exclusion zone was set up around the plant, but it is possible to take a guided tour of the site and its environs.
It’s a sombre experience in the Zone of Alienation, seeing firsthand the concrete sarcophagus of the reactor and wandering the streets of the post-apocalyptic Prypyat, a ghost town once home to almost 50,000 workers and their families that’s been left to Mother Nature. Various companies can arrange guided tours in English (check around, prices vary), but for those wishing to learn more about the disaster from a safer distance, the excellent Chornobyl Museum in Kyiv (prov Khoryva 1, metro Kontraktova Ploshcha) is worth a visit.
There’s a lively clubbing scene in Kyiv, so check out the local English language newspaper, the Kyiv Post to see what’s happening. In the summer, locals drink at the street cafes and beer gardens that spring up in the centre, while the beaches along the Dnipro and its islands are also a popular hang out, especially Hydropark (metro Hydropark).
Explore Kyiv with our interactive map – drag, zoom, click badge for guides
Guide by Mark Gilbey, who writes FourFourTwo's Never Mind The Bolsheviks
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