Monday, April 18, 2016

Ukraine adventure: Kyiv

My first and last stop in Ukraine was the capital: Kyiv (Київ). As I mentioned in my last post, "Kiev" is still widely used in English, but it is the Russian pronunciation of the city. "Kyiv" is the Ukrainian transliteration into English and is pronounced "KEY eev" or almost "KEEV" instead of "KEY ev". Kyiv is the largest city in Ukraine and one of the largest cities in Europe with around 3 million people.

I arrived in Kyiv via Boryspil International Airport, the main airport for the city. Katie met me there and we took a bus all the way across town to the train station, which is near the hotel we stayed in (Ibis) and also near Peace Corps headquarters. When we flew into Kyiv, what surprised me was how there aren't really any suburbs. There's the city, and then there's the country. No in-between. There's also no visible "downtown" area, or an area where more skyscrapers are close together. Spread all over the city are the massive Soviet-era apartment buildings, with new high-rises being built all over the place. But no, nowhere I'd consider an equivalent of "downtown" like many cities have. The Dnieper River is very wide in town, to the point it looks like two separate cities on either side of the river.

Just after meeting Katie at Boryspil International Airport. It was the first time seeing her since May 2015!

My first visit to Kyiv was just the Monday evening after I arrived and most of the following day. We left via train to Lviv around 5PM, so we didn't have a lot of time to see Kyiv on that first day, but we also knew we'd be coming back at the end of the trip. All I had energy for the first evening was walking to our hotel room from the train station and then getting dinner at a small Italian place across the street from our hotel, which I really enjoyed!

Our Italian dinner...I got a most delicious four-cheese pizza!

Our Tuesday in Kyiv was spent just getting my first "taste" of Ukraine. I was able to meet several of tjhe Peace Corps staff when we visited headquarters, plus I withdrew my first Ukrainian Hryvnia at the small ATM there (no fee!).  I also made my first purchases in Ukraine, as we stopped at a small convenience store, mostly to break up our 500 UAH notes. Sights on that first day included Olympic Stadium, St, Michael's Golden Domed Monastery, St, Sophia Square, and Maidan. It was also my first time on the bus system and the Kyiv Metro (subway) system.

View out our hotel window
Olympic Stadium

St. Michael's Golden Domed Monastery. It was blown up by the Soviets in the 1930s and rebuilt after Ukraine became independent again. 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I found out later it was supposed to have been only part of a huge capital complex, but only it was built. The rest was to have been built on the site of the destroyed St. Michael's, which is adjacent to this building. 

Going down one of the long Metro escalators. I found out later the Metro tunnels in Kyiv are exceptionally deep, which was on purpose for use as bomb shelters. The other fun thing was the railing didn't quite go the same speed as the steps. so as you were going up or down, your arm was slowly going faster or slower than you. 

Kyiv main rail station main lobby. Beautiful!

On the train to Lviv. VERY pleasant, especially after all those hours on a plane!

We returned to Kyiv the evening of Friday, April 1st, via a bus ride from Berezhany to Ternopil and a train ride from Ternopil to Kyiv. That gave us all of Saturday and Sunday to see different sites in town, most of which we had planned out from the previous visit, having a better idea of what to see. We had much better weather on the return trip, but Katie was dealing with a bit of a cold and I think both of us were pretty worn out from all the traveling. Even so, we were still able to see quite a bit more. I got quite a few pictures at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Майдан Незалежності; it means "Independence Square" but most just refer to it as "Maidan", which is the Ukrainian word for square) since our hotel was right along Maidan, plus I just love the architecture and setting!

Back in Kyiv on the Metro!
Coming up the deep escalator at the Maidan station of the Kyiv Metro
Back at Maidan! Beautiful!
View from our hotel, which was on the opposite end of Maidan from the big Independence Monument
Independence Monument at Maidan with the Hotel Ukraine in the background. The monument was built in 2001 for the 10th anniversary of Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union.
Closeup of the top of the Independence Monument 
Katie in front of the Hotel Ukraine
International Center of Culture and Arts of Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine, overlooking Maidan. Say that three times fast!
Yeah, it was reeeeealy sunny!

Chernobyl Museum, housed in an old fire station. All the cars on display were used in the rescue and recovery efforts in 1986.
Main entrance of the Chernobyl National Museum.
Ukraininan and English. "Chernobyl" is the Russian pronunciation; "Chornobyl" is the Ukrainian pronunciation.
Outside of the America House, an outreach of the US Embassy. No sooner had I taken this, then I had a Ukrainian security guard yelling "no pictures" and waving me away. Um, OK. We had just gotten through security to get inside the gate and then later I found on the website that photography was not only allowed, but encouraged. Guess someone didn't pass that along to the security guard! 
At the America House, they were sponsoring a technology exhibit, which included a 3-D printer, virtual reality, and some other things like this, where you could play music using wires attached to oranges! 
Church just down the street from the America House. Beautiful!
St. Andrew's cathedral, which is obviously undergoing some restoration.
Katie on St. Andrew's Descent, a windy road that passes St. Andrew's and is lined with several booths and shops
St. Andrew's Descent
St. Andrew's Descent
Dinner one night, which was Siberian pelmeni, which is similar to ravioli. These were topped with mozzarella and filled with chicken if I remember right. Really good! 
Lach Gates monument on the other side of Maidan, which features a statue of the Archangel Michael (symbol of Kyiv) on top. It was also built in 2001 and symbolizes one of Kyiv's old city gates. Our hotel was directly behind this. The dome is part of the ceiling of the Globus Mall beneath Maidan.
Can see our hotel in the center background with the previous monument just to the left of center in front of it. The building on the right with the covering on it is the Trade Union building, which was burned during the Maidan protests in 2013-14. It is still under restoration. The large dome and the smaller glass structures on the square are all skylights for the Globus Mall beneath the plaza. It's a similar setup to the Cleveland Convention Center for those who have been there. On the weekends, the road in the foreground (running horizontal) is closed to vehicle traffic along with a few other roads adjacent to Maidan. 
People's Friendship Arch, along the Dnieper River. It was built in 1982 to commemorate the 1922 founding of the Soviet Union and the unification of Ukraine and Russia. 
Statue at the center of the arch, symbolizing Ukraine and Russia. They are holding the state emblem of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ("CCCP") with the phrase in Russian "United Peoples" (or "Nations"). The front has been defaced with "слава Україні" or "Glory to Ukraine" and a Ukrainian flag.
Closeup of the statue under the arch. It will be interesting what happens to this given the current political climate in Kyiv, particularly the views towards Russia and the Soviet era. In many ways it mirrors the views in the US towards the Civil War and monuments to the Confederacy and Confederate war heroes. 
Side sculpture at the Friendship Arch
Behind the arch is a beautiful view of the Dnieper River!
Bridge over the Dnieper River as seen from the Friendship Arch park
Staircase leading up to Dynamo Stadium in the park area along the Dnieper River
Dynamo Stadium, which seats around 16,000 people. They play bigger games at the 70,000-seat Olympic Stadium. I'd love to see a game at this stadium. It's in a beautiful setting, right in the park with the city behind it. 
Main gate and monument at Dynamo Stadium. The gate translates to "Stadium 'Dynamo' named for Valeriy Lobanovskyi". He was a well-known player for Dynamo Kyiv and later as the coach of the USSR national team. This gate plaza was the scene of some violent clashes between police and protesters in February 2014, so there are monuments all around it to the many who were killed. The Ukrainian seat of government is just up the hill from here, so it's where police blocked protesters, who were headed to protest there. After the violence, the gate was mostly black from all the smoke damage caused by burning tires in the area, so has been completely restored. 
Ukrainian Cabinet of Minsters building, also just referred to as the "Government of Ukraine" building. I mistakenly thought it was the Verkhovna Rada (legislative building), but that's right around the corner. Oops! Still an impressive building and still and important government facility for Ukraine!
Founders of Kyiv monument right adjacent to the Independence Monument on Maidan
Military funeral on Maidan
Bell tower of St. Sophia
Up at the top level of the St. Sophia bell tower

View of Dynamo Stadium from the St. Sophia bell tower
St. Michael's as seen from the bell tower of St. Sophia. Hard to believe that entire complex was razed and rebuilt. The inside of St. Michael's is incredible (but no photos allowed!)
View from the St. Sophia bell tower with St. Michael's in the background
Staircase inside the bell tower

View of St. Sophia from the bell tower
Looking down the staircase in the bell tower
Not sure who these people are, but they provided a beautiful photo op for me in the bell tower with St, Michael's in the background and that nice railing to accent!
One of my "ultimate Ukrainian" photos wearing my blue and gold striped shirt, my Ukraine hat, and my Ukraine scarf at Maidan! I even have blue and yellow socks on!
American-style sliders with a Ukrainian twist at Star Burger! Really good!
Ukrainian-style coleslaw, fries, and a chicken burger with bleu cheese sauce at Burger Star. It was all really good and I usually hate coleslaw! It was fun to have American-style food with a Ukrainian twist!
Last photo of us on Maidan before heading in for the night. 
The next time I saw Maidan was around 3AM the next morning when I was getting in my cab to go to the airport. By then everything was dark! I just loved being out on it.
It was interesting how Kyiv, to me, seemed to be this city trying to become modern and shed its Soviet past, or at least move beyond it. Obviously there are still a number of reminders of the Soviet era, but even many of those have been covered up. I also noted the difference between how it felt during the week when I was there as opposed to the weekend, when there were a lot more international tourists there. For an English speaker, Kyiv is pretty friendly in terms of having people who speak English (enough) and having signs in both English and Ukrainian. That said, now that I've been home and have been able to dive into more of the history, I'm starting to create a list of other places in the city I'd like to see! Hopefully I will get an opportunity to return relatively soon!

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