Last spring (I know, I know, I am soooo far behind on posts AND in what world is it already 2020?!) Chris and I had the opportunity to tag along with our friends, Heather and Chris, to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Always at the top of my Dream Travel Destinations List, I was so excited to help plan our short trip. We had roughly three days in the country, and including our trip to Chernobyl (post to come, I promise), this left about a day and half to wander the capital.
Get ready because this post is going to be looooooong and a little heavy on the political, historical, and yes, grammatical side (and wayyyy too many pictures). As a PoliSci nerd who studied Russian history, particularly the influence of the Soviets on Ukraine and the Baltic states, I can’t help but discuss many of the topics I’ve researched in the past that I finally was able to see the effects of in person (still can’t believe it).
To be honest, it has taken a long time to really reflect on our few days in Ukraine. The history, vibe, and culture of Kyiv is so difficult to put into words; it was definitely a lot to process and ingest considering my background (and as a person who leisurely reads books like Environmental Justice and Sustainability in the Former Soviet Union in her free time, my nerdiness knows no bounds).
We opted to stay in the historic neighborhood of Podil, a quick Uber ride into the center of the city. Kyiv also has an expansive metro (including the deepest station in the world at 10.5 meters below the ground #yikes) so you can easily move from different areas of the capital. When getting into our Uber at the airport, Heather and I quietly air-exclaimed-in-delight that our driver was listening to the Neverending Story soundtrack, clearly one of the highlights of the year.
Kyiv is extremely affordable (roughly 35 US cents for a train ticket or $2-6 per Uber ride) and the food is amazing; you can easily find a Ukrainian, Georgian, or Eastern European dinner for less than $10 USD. Happily for us, we were able to find #allthefood while we were there.
Unfortunately, it was a little rainy and chilly while we visited, but thankfully we were able to see as much as we could in the small amount of time we were in Ukraine. Mostly everyone we met were friendly and spoke English; while I remember some Russian–and the language is similar to Ukrainian–the most important words to learn are деруни (“deruny” meaning potato pancake) and варе́ники (“varenyky” = dumplings similar to pierogi). I’m only being half serious here, but for real, learn those terms because these dishes are on point in Kyiv.
Where are we?
Kyiv is the capital and most populous city of Ukraine. The legend goes that the city was founded by three brothers and leaders of the Polyanian tribe of the East Slavs: Kyi, Schek, and Khoryv. Each brother established his own area on a hill and this together became the formation of the city; a nearby stream was named for their sister, Lybed.
One of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, Kyiv has a complicated history and plays a vital role in the region. Enjoying relative independence until becoming part of the Tsardom of Russia in 1667, the primarily Christian city fell increasingly under Russification in the 19th century; a greater number of ethnic Russians moved into Kyiv, resulting in a domination of Russian speakers in the city. Following a period of prosperity after the Russian Industrial Revolution, the city was the center of a number of conflicts including the German occupation in WWI, the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), and the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. The leadership and status of Kyiv changed sixteen times in two years (1918-1920).
Ukraine became one of of the founding republics of the Soviet Union and was under Soviet occupation from 1921-1991. While an increase in Ukrainian population and culture migrated back into Kyiv and the city became a scientific and industrial center for the region, a number of events devastated the country including the Great Famine of 1932-1933 and Stalin’s Great Purge of 1937-1938.
The Great Famine is known in Ukrainian as Holodomor (Голодомо́р в Украї́ні: “to kill by starvation”) and millions of people died during this time, most of whom were ethnic Ukrainians. Scholars believe the man-made famine was created by Joseph Stalin as a way to either shut down the Ukrainian independence movement or an intentional policy by the Soviets to eliminate the Ukrainians; many consider the unreasonable quotas implemented on Ukrainian farmers and peasants should be considered genocide. While an exact number is impossible to determine, it is estimated that between five and ten million people died during Holodomor. The Ukrainian government recognized the event as genocide in 2003 and was finalized by the Kyiv court of appeal in 2010.
Kyiv is also known for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster (1986) that took place 100 km from the city; northern winds moved radioactive debris north and the capital remained mostly safe from the accident.
Ukraine declared independence on August 24th, 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but issues with Russian influence remain. In 2013, protests against the Ukrainian government’s decision to decline signing an agreement with the European Union (instead furthering ties with Russia) took place in Kyiv’s Independence Square. Nicknamed Euromaidan, the movement resulted in more than 100 deaths and 2,500 people injured. These protests against corruption, human rights violations, and abuse of power led to the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution and the removal of President Yanukovych from power.
And for a little political grammar nerdiness (skip ahead to the potato pancake pictures if this bores you):
Why am I using the “Kyiv” spelling instead of “Kiev”? The latter version–the translated Russian word for the city–has been the more commonly used spelling by the West. Kyiv is the transliteration of the name from Ukrainian and established by their government as the official spelling in 1995. As the country is no longer under Soviet occupation, many are opting to use the preferred spelling of the Ukrainians–as we should–rather than the Russian pronunciation.
“There’s no reason other than old colonialist inertia to continue using a Russian spelling for a Ukrainian city name,” Dr. Shevchuk said.
Zraick, Karen. 2019. “Wait, How do you Pronounce Kiev?” The New York Times. Available here.
Full disclosure: correctly spelling the capital city is a challenge for me. I studied in the United States and most of my academic work focused primarily on Russian influences on Ukraine, so of course I’ve always spelled the city as Kiev.
While we’re on the topic, let’s try to stop referring to Ukraine as “The Ukraine”. English speakers have historically added the “the” as a way to refer to the country as “the borderland” part of Russia, rather than its own entity. Incorrect both grammatically and politically–Russian and Ukrainian languages do not even include definite articles–if we want to correctly refer to the Eastern European country bordering Russia, Ukraine (solo) is the right pronunciation. Using “the” is disrespectful to Ukrainians as it is seen as a denial of independence. #decolonizelanguage
Kyiv is unlike any other city we’ve had the opportunity to visit. I absolutely recommend taking a trip to see the amazing buildings, unique landscapes, and experience the history (and let’s real, the cuisine) of the city.
Kontraktova Square (Контрактова площа):
Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Києво–Печерська лавра):
The Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War(Музей історії України у Другій світовій війні):
The Motherland Monument (Батьківщина-Мати):
Taras Shevchenko University & Park(Київський національний університет імені Тараса Шевченка):
St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral(Собор святого Володимира):
Independence Square(Майдан Незалежності):
Saint Sophia’s Cathedral(Собор святої Софії):
St. Andrew’s Church (Андріївська церква):
Golden Gate(Золоті ворота):
Restaurants & Pubs:
Podil East India Company:
Craft vs. PUB:
Coffee in the MISTO:
Holy Beans Coffee Company:
OMG Ice Cream & Coffee:
❤ На здоровье
You can also download a Google Map of all my favorite places here.
Reading: On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal (Naomi Klein) Watching: Watchmen (HBO) Listening: In the Dark Season 2 (APM Reports)