If you happen to be in Kiev around the 7th of January, don’t be surprised if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas. The Orthodox Church here uses the Julian calendar, 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, so you could actually have a chance to celebrate the season of love and giving, twice!
The name of the city comes from one of its legendary founders, Kyi. One of the biggest cities in Europe, with a population of over three million, Kiev is the bustling capital of Ukraine, and as well as the country’s administrative, economic, scientific, cultural and educational center…that’s a whole lot for just one city. Kiev (as the Russians spell it), or Kyiv (as the Ukrainians spell it), is located in the north central part of the country on the shores of the Dnieper River.
One of the oldest towns in Europe, Kiev is often called ‘the mother of all cities’. Its art and architecture are considered universal treasures. It used to be the capital of Russia in the Middle Ages, and still remains a major industrial center and is also a market for the abundant agricultural produce of Western Ukraine.
A stroll down the city center will give you a feel of its beauty, and the spirit of its past. Marvel at its great architectural and cultural heritage, try out the many food joints, try your luck at a casino, and end the day at a spectacular note in one of its many vibrant clubs.
Kiev is part of the Polesia ecological zone (part of the European mixed woods) and has the Dnieper River flowing through as it makes its way to the Black Sea. The river has numerous tributaries, isles and harbors within the city limits. The city is adjoined by the mouth of the Densa River and the Kiev Reservoir in the north and the Kaniv reservoir in the south.
The landscape on right-bank on the western side has woody hills, ravines and small rivers. The left-bank to the east became a part of the city only in the 20th century.
Kiev has a humid climate. It gets quite warm in the summer months mid-year and cold in the winter months. It starts to snows usually around November and lasts till March on an average.
Legend says that the city was founded by three brothers, Kyi, Schek and Khoryv, and their sister Lybid, around the end of the 5th century. The city was named after the eldest brother, and means Kyi’s city. Since the exact time of the foundation of the city is hard to determine, May 1982 was chosen to celebrate the city’s 1,500th anniversary.
By the end of the 9th century, many tribes gathered around Kiev and it became the political center of the Eastern Slavs. It was ruled by the Varangian nobility and became the nucleus of the Rus’ polity. It came to be known as Kievan Rus.
Introduced by the Great Prince Vladimir in 988, Christianity became the official religion of the Kievan Rus, furthering relations with the Byzantium Empire and Bulgaria. The Mongol invasion of Rus, led by Batu Khan in 1240, destroyed Kiev at a time when it was reputed to be one of the largest cities in the world with a population of over a hundred thousand.
The city was then conquered by Gediminas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1362, and from 1569 it came under the power of the Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth. The city was transferred to the Russian empire in the 17th century where it remained a provincial town of little importance till the 19th century.
Kiev prospered during the Russian industrial revolution and became the third most important city of the country and a major center of commerce of the Empire’s southwest region. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, it became the capital of many short-lived Ukrainian states and was caught between many conflicts like the Great War, the Russian Civil War and the Polish-Soviet War.
1921 onwards, the city was part the Soviet Union till 1934 when it became the capital of Soviet Ukraine. The city’s turbulent times were far from over. The World War II was catastrophic. The Chernobyl Nuclear accident, just 100 km away, affected Kiev too.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was declared independent and a parliament was put in place. Kiev has since then overcome its past tragedies and continues to progress and develop.
Getting there and around
Kiev’s Boryspil International Airport is roughly 40 minutes from the city center and the Zhulyany, used mostly for domestic flights, is just 20 minutes away. There is a regular bus service from the airport to the city and also to the train station.
The city’s central railway station, Kyiv-Passazhyrskyi is close is close to the city center and the metro station, Vokzalna, is linked to it. There are daily trains from here to major towns in the country and also international trains to neighboring countries like Austria, Belarus, Germany, Hungary, and many others.
Within the city too it is relatively easy to get around. The city buses and trolleybuses can be hailed from designated stops, but these can get extremely crowded in peak hours. For shorter distances, you could hail down a route taxi or mini vans called marshrutky. You could even opt for a more private taxi. You could even try the trams or the funicular, which take you through a more scenic route through the city.
The Metro is the fastest way to travel, especially for longer routes. It has around 45 stations some of which are quite deep. The Arsenal’na station, at 107 m, is the deepest metro station in the world, and the Universityet station has one of the longest escalators – 87 m long!
What to see and do
There will never be a shortage of things to see and do in Kiev. The city has been an integral part of the Slavic culture. Monuments, structures and cathedrals, apart from being beautiful also have historical significance. Andreevsky Spusk street where many concerts and art festivals are held, was where merchants and artisans used to live in the olden days. Askold’s Grave on the bank of the Dnieper River was where, according to legend, Prince Oleg killed the sons of Kie (Askold and Dir) and ascended the throne. The Children’s Railway is a place kids would love. Here they get to be machinists, train-drivers and conductors running a narrow-gauge line with actual trains and stations. Cyril Church is named after one of the most eminent Orthodox saints. He and his brother, Moravia, preached Gospel to the Slavs and are said to be the originators of the Cyrillic alphabet.
The Golden Gate is a fort constructed in the 11th century which served as the main entrance to Kiev. If you love to look at innovative architecture, visit the House with Chimeras and get fascinated by the many stories that surround it. Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti, is where many parades and concerts take place. At other times, you could enjoy its fountains, the Independence Column, and the artificial waterfall.
Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra with its gilded domes is where, according to the legend, Apostle Andrew blessed the hilly bank of the Dnieper River. Kreschatik is a wide boulevard with plenty of chestnut trees. It used to be a valley with a river surrounded by forest, but now is a commercial area. Podol is an old district where craftsmen and fishermen used to live. The district was formed after a major fire in 1811, when all the wooden constructions burnt down.
Sofia Cathedral is an architectural monument from the 11th century. The name comes from the Greek ‘sofia’, which means "wisdom". The 19th century Saint Vladimir Cathedral is another one of the most beautiful temples in Kiev. It was built to commemorate the 900th anniversary of Rus baptizing. The Russian Emperor Nicolas I had ordered to collect money for its construction from all over Russia and more than 100,000 rubles were collected. Vladimirskaya Gorka is a great place for a stroll with old pavilions offering picturesque views on the left bank of the Dnieper River.
Being the cultural capital, you are sure to find a plethora of museums and art galleries in Kiev, which are of high cultural and historical value. The ARTEast Art Gallery is said to be one of the best in the country. The Kiev Art Gallery located in a 19th century building has many other monuments and landmarks nearby apart from what it holds inside. Other notable museum include the Kiev Museum of Wax Figures, Kiev Museum of Western and Oriental Art (with over 17,000 exhibits), the Literary Memorial museum of Mikhail Bulgakov, the Museum of Cultural Heritage (with the works of Ukrainian artists compelled to live abroad), the open-air Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life, the National Art Museum, the National Museum of Medicine representing medical development since older times (the building itself is a marvel to look at), the State Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art (having the largest collection of folk art in the USSR countries), the Museum of Historical treasures, and the one-of-a-kind State Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema.
For all theatre buffs, there are many culturally-enriching theatres. The Academic Theatre of Drama and Comedy is a good place to start, and then make a visit to the Bravo Drama Theatre which was the first private theatre of Kiev. The Cherny Kvadrat, or Black Square, is the center of modern theatrical art in the city where many innovative projects are acted out. The Kiev Marionette Theatre transports you to a world of talking puppets and fairy tales, something that adults as well as children enjoy. Also, don’t forget to visit the National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet which is the oldest musical theatre in Ukraine, founded in 1867.
If you are in the mood to get away from it all, or just commune with nature, there are many parks where you can get a breath of fresh air. The picturesque Botanical Garden spread over 130 hectares, the Hydropark where you will even find clean beaches, the Kiev Zoo, the Park Slavi or the park of glory dedicated to those who died defending their country, and the Trukhanov Ostrov that offer great city beaches in the bustling city.
If you want to take back a part of the city there are many shopping centres apart from the big malls and department stores, where you can browse for mementoes and curios. Billa "The City within the city", is a great place and huge to shop, occupying the total area of 1,500 sq m. The Matiola provides an exclusive collection of handmade items created by the skilled artisans of Ukraine. You can find a variety of items like shawls and scarves, embroidery work, knitted tablecloths, napkins and collars. Each item reflects the country’s tradition and charm. And finally get ready to empty your wallet at the Kiev Jewelry Factory which produces almost half of all the jewelry in Ukraine. Dating back to 1936, it is the country’s indisputable leader in the production of gold and silver wares.
What to Eat
You could find cuisines from all over the world here, including many American fast food joints, but do not miss the opportunity to try out the local fare. Some traditional dishes include kutia (home-made bread with honey and red poppies), borsch (beetroot soup), vushka (dumplings filled with onions and mushrooms), vareniki (dumplings filled with different stuffing), holubtsi (stuffed cabbage), chicken Kyiv which is one of the more popular dishes here, and to wash it all down some Horilka (Ukranian hard liquor).
Where to stay
You could rent apartments if you intend to stay long in Kiev. It is a more economical option than hotels, and the building are equipped with all facilities. If you prefer your luxuries, then the Premier Palace Hotel or the Opera Hotel are the places for you.
It is always nice to carry a gift, even if it’s just flowers or candies, when you visit someone, but in case of flowers, make sure they’re in odd numbers. Remember to take your footwear off at the entrance. Ukrainians are rather superstitious and shaking hands right over the threshold or whistling indoors, for example, is considered bad luck.