With the horrific things going on in Ukraine today, we wanted to remember the beauty of the country and its people by reposting our blog on Kyiv from our 2019 trip. Our prayers are with the Ukraine people and hope they keep their country and their spirit.
Kyiv Ukraine is one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe. It has been a major commercial center since at least the 5th century when it was on the trade route between Scandinavia and Constantinople. Like Lviv Ukraine, it has had a tortuous history. The Vikings first conquered it in the 9th century. The Mongols completely destroyed it in 1240. Kyiv fell into a decline until the mid-19th century when it became a gateway between the rapidly industrializing Russian Empire and Europe.
In 1918, Kyiv became the capital of Ukraine when the country declared its independence from Russia but then fell into the orbit of the Soviet Union in 1921. In World War II, the Germans almost completely destroyed the city and annihilated its Jewish population. But it rapidly recovered to become the third largest and most prosperous city in the Soviet Union.
Kyiv regained its independence in 1991. By then it was the country’s largest and most prosperous city, growing to almost 3 million residents. This period of independence, however, has been almost as difficult as its past. Kyiv seems to have teetered from one corrupt and/or incompetent government after another.
Through all of this trauma, Kyiv has managed to rebuild and maintain many of its most historic monuments—especially its religious ones. We took a Kyiv Walking Tour’s Ancient Kyiv Walking Tour to acquaint ourselves with the city. Although the tour provided much less history than we normally expect in such tours, it did provide a basic introduction to most of the city’s most important historic and religious sites. Among these are:
- Maidan Square, (aka, Independence Square). It is the home of the city council, Noble Assembly. It is also the primary site of the country’s 2004 Orange Revolution, which succeeded in annulling and reversing the results of the recent, fraudulent election. Today, it is home to the national Independence Monument and, on the other side of the square, a replica of one of the city gates.
- St. Michael’s Golden Dome Monastery is a wooden structure that was originally built in 1108. Fire destroyed it in 1930. It was rebuilt in plaster-covered brick in 1999. The interior of the beautiful, multi-gold-domed church is gold-painted wood with beautiful gold-gilded furnishings and religious artifacts.
- St Andrew’s Church, built by Queen Elizabeth 1 in the 17th century for her wedding, is also Baroque. While the exterior is certainly beautiful, the church is currently closed to secure the foundation. Interesting, the church has no bell to call parishioners to worship. There was, after all, no need for them since the church was built for a personal wedding for which private invitations were sent.
- St. Sophia’s Cathedral is the largest, most dramatic, and most beautiful of the city’s monuments. It is only one of close to a dozen buildings in the complex. You enter through the base of a beautiful, gold-domed bell tower. Other buildings include a refectory, an elaborate archbishop’s residence, and several museums. Built in 1011, the cathedral was originally unfinished brick. It has since been mostly (except for original brick spots for comparison) covered with white plaster.
- Bohdan Khmelnytsky Monument is an 1888 stone mount topped by the representation of the horse-mounted Cossack general that is credited with defeating a Polish invasion.
- Golden Gate is a reconstructed, gold-domed fort that houses a brick tower with a huge gate that guarded the main entrance to the old walled city. On the side is a sculpture of Yavatov the Wise, who was the driving force behind the building of St. Sophia (a model of which he holds in his hands) and a founder of the largest library in the country at the time.
After the tour, we returned to St. Sophia where we explored the magnificent cathedral, with its 29-meter dome, beautiful mosaics, paintings, and frescos, many of which have been, and others that are currently being restored. We also visited the refectory, which houses a number of artifacts and some lovely, framed mosaics.
Other places that we visited on our own include:
- Volodymyr’s Cathedral, the 1852 mother cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Its interior contains lovely mosaics, paintings, and frescos;
- National Opera, an early 20th century buildings that were unfortunately closed when we were there; and
- Andriyivskyy Descent is a cobblestone road lined with pretty, old buildings that leads down the hill from St. Andrews to the Podil neighborhood. This neighborhood is one of the oldest in Kyiv and has a large Kontrakova square, historic buildings, open-air market, and the Castle of Richard the Lionheart.
- Khachapuri is a Georgian restaurant where we shared kinkakali (dumplings that we had filled with pork and veal) and khachapuri (with a thin layer of chicken, mushrooms, and cheese in a pastry crust). While the meat in the dumplings was quite flavorful, the dumplings had far more dough than required for the meat. The khachapuri, meanwhile, was mostly dough. We did enjoy a couple of glasses of Georgian Badagoni wine made from the mukuzani grape.
- Kanapa is a contemporary Ukrainian restaurant. We had a plate of Ukrainian Black Sea Mushlya Fanna oysters followed by two main dishes: a decent, baked pike-perch fillet with sautéed crawfish and a very good pheasant Kyiv. Our wine was a nice, 2015 Ukranian Don Alejandro Equilibrium cabernet.
- Teatro, where we began with a cone filled with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and salmon eggs. Joyce had a very good ricotta-stuffed, baked chicken breast wrapped in parma ham. Tom stuck with his Ukrainian/Georgian theme. He had equally good beef stroganoff with sautéed tenderloin, mustard/cognac/sour cream sauce with forest mushrooms, and mashed potatoes. We enjoyed our meal with another Georgan mukazani wine–a 2017 from Tellani Valley.
Opera Hotel. While we are not convinced this is a 5-star hotel, it was definitely a good hotel. The room had robes and slippers, good sheets, and was a decent size. The shower was strong. In fact so strong that it was impossible to not flood the bathroom floor. The bathroom had a magnifying mirror that you could use as a night light, which is always a nice touch. Since we arrive so early in the morning from our overnight train, we were too early to check in. Reception informed us we could “rent” a room for half price and occupy it immediately. When we said we were OK waiting, she then told us we could wait for 2 hours and then have the room at no extra charge. Obviously, it is a policy issue to not give one a room before 10 AM without extracting money. We needed to recharge our computers anyways so we sat in the lobby and plugged in to catch up on email. About 15 minutes before the 10 AM check-in time, we decided to go out and explore. Interestingly enough, the clerk saw us leaving and said, well, you have 15 minutes before you can go to your room. Hey, rules are rules. But we didn’t need the room until night so we still left. No problem. When we were leaving, we had the hotel call us a taxi to go to the airport. Although the staff was around when the cab came, no one helped us load the luggage into the cab. Nor did anyone tell us we put the luggage into the wrong cab or help us reload the luggage into the right cab. 5-Star? We think not.