Never have I visited the country that is in a war… Although my plan to visit Ukraine – both Lavov and Kiev was some 8 years ago, initially.
I was supposed to be there on Monday afternoon for meetings. But the traveler and history nerd in me couldn’t agree with that. So I got my Travel Papers and the ticket for Saturday morning. I woke up at 4.00. My flight was at 5:50. Good thing is that I had taxi and priority boarding.
Left my luggage at hotel and immediately went to explore. It was -5. First thing was to change money to Ukrainian Hryvnia. No English here, only Russian/ Ukrainian. Or, according to my colleague and local guide Iryna, the slang that happens recently amongst youngsters in Kiev mixing Russian and Ukrainian language together.
So I realized if I talk to people in my native Croatian, we would understand each other better, as it belongs to the same group of languages – Slavic.
I wanted to visit the Museum of Ukraine History, but I was wrongly instructed. So I ended up at some places where nobody understood what I wanted, mostly at wrong museums where old ladies were speaking Russian only but still trying to help. My internet didn’t work, and to call the taxi was mission impossible. Holding a map in my hands, in the middle of the street when the snow is falling and melting my map at the same time, a girl named Kate approached and called the taxi from her own phone and even captured it in the street for me. Trust me, it is not that easy to get a taxi in Kyiv. Long live Kate! 🙂
So I got to the Museum of Ukrainian History. Not many thing is in English, so I missed a lot from history part, but still I enjoyed and could connect the dots from my current knowledge and the exhibited items.
Northern Ukraine and Kiev started as Slavic tribes cohabited with some Greek colonies at that time. In museum you can see the items of old amphoras and some arms of old the Slavic tribes.
In the 10th century, as a result of a long period of development of Eastern Slavic tribes, the Kyiv Rus State was formed – one of the most powerful states in the medieval Europe. In order to be recognized, it was needed to accept the Christianity. The leaders who implemented the Christianity were Prince Volodymyr and Prince Yaroslav, strengthening political and cultural contacts with European countries and made it possible to use the achievements of Byzantine culture.
The best example of Byzantine influence is the Saint Sophia Cathedral, dating from 10th century. You can still see the original frescoes surrounded with gold. This outstanding architecture example of Kievan Rus bring its influence from Haga Sophia in Constantinople.
But the Avars and Kazakhs were the enemy from the East so the Ukrainian Rus State formed some kind of nowadays guerilla called Cossaks. Many items were exhibited in the Museum too. The most famous story about Cossaks is written in the novel Taras Buljba of Nikolai Vasiljevic Gogolj – a Russian realism novelist with Ukrainian origin.
The other famous Cossacks hero is placed in front of the Cathedral. Fun fact, it used to be turned towards East where the Ottomans are – the biggest enemy of that time. Now is turned towards North, where is Russia.
This military structure had its own state called Zaporozhje during several centuries and continued fighting against Ottomans.
In 19th century, Ukraine was part of Russian Empire. The citizenry lived in wealth, but poor peasants lived in poor, on country sides with no access to healthcare at all. However, Tsar Katarina The Great and later her son Peter The Second brought new and modern life into society, such as education, healthcare, territorial administrative division etc.
The feudal- serfdom structure still existed and the landlords/ nobels represented the privileged stratum.
I found particularly interested the Crimean war – a military conflict fought from 1853 to 1856 in which the Russian Empire lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia. The award was the access to Black Sea and ports and cities like Sevastopol at Crimean peninsula or Odessa.
During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale and her team of nurses cleaned up the military hospitals and set up the first training school for nurses in the United Kingdom. It was the first time somebody took care of the war wounded ever. Later the war finished, Henry Dunant founded Red Cross in Switzerland.
The crisis of feudal – serfdorm system brought peasants to cities and the First Industrial Revolution started.
An important landmark of Ukraine is the part of Soviet Union. Ukrainians are claiming that the big genocide was held over them during the sustained hunger over the country, the Holodomor (1921-22). I visited the Memorial to the Victims of Holodomor.
Most of the communist symbols in Kyiv are taken away, but there is one remained at The Motherland Monument, when the strong muscled mother (built by Russians) holds the sword and shield with five-pointed star. The Ukrainians like to joke what is motherhood for Russians, calling them cold and abusive.
Approaching the statue, you walk under this:
(I honestly don’t have words about it, but; typical communist statues, reliefs, representing the strong commune where each person has its own task/ place).
A of 1991, Ukraine is finally independent.
By the end of visit to the Museum, as coming down the stairs, you can see the bombs hanging, reminding you that the conflict on Crimea is still ongoing.
The reminder on the war currently happening at the south of the country is this wall with the faces of the killed. And the wall is long, long…
In front of the Museum is the St Andrew’s Church. I didn’t enter, but I found very photogenic this orthodox church, with golden cupolas and green façade, giving the contract through the snowy weather.
My very next museum was about Chernobyl.
The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 was the explosion in Nuclear Power Plant in the northern Ukrainian village Chernobyl and some villages around. At the entrance you can see the tree which is a Biblical alliteration of the fertility and fertile land which is now destroyed by the USSR Nuclear Power Plant. Below the tree are photos of the people who lived in these villages but needed to be evacuated.
The catastrophe happened at 01.23 local time. Apparently, the engineer said that the power plant is so safe that it could be placed at the Red Square in Moscow, Russia. Question is, why didn’t they?
The next day I was walking around with my host Iryna. We started from the very important square in recent Ukrainian history: Maidan Nezhaleznosti, (Ukr. Independence Square). Since the start of Ukraine’s independence movement in 1990, the square has been the traditional place for political rallies, including four large-scale radical protest campaigns: the 1990 student “Revolution on Granite“, the 2001 “Ukraine without Kuchma“, the 2004 Orange Revolution, and the 2013–14 Euromaidan.
As a political scientist and a feminist, I have to point you out my favourite Ukrainian politician and leader, currently in jail: Yulia Tymoshenko
At Maidan Nezalezhnosti I found this huge billboard and kinda liked the idea and design, spreading the message: Liberty is our religion.
The story about three brothers and sister founding Kiev is just there, at Maidan, captured as a statue. Their names were Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv and sister Lybid (loosly translated: the swan, the dawn – in 19th century poetry the name is used as a personification of the nation-states).
The legend is widely recognized as a source of Kyiv’s mythology and urban naming.
As mentioned before, Kyiv lays on the river Dnieper. It is the 4th longest river in Europe.
The river is the main reason why the city is the deepest metro in Europe. The deepest station in the world is Arsenalna (at 105.5 m), also beautifully decorated in ukrainian medieval style.
Kiev was formed on the cliff, on the right side of the river Dnieper. It was surrounded with the city walls and many doors. The most famous is Golden Gate (ukr. Zoloti vorota).
This was the main gate in the 11th century fortifications of Kiev, the capital of then Kievan Rus’. It was named in imitation of the Golden Gate of Constantinople.
The most captivating scene that will stay in my mind after visiting Kiev is Pechersk Lavra – also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, a historic Orthodox Christian monastery.
Since its foundation as the cave monastery in 1051, the Lavra has been a preeminent center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe. But this is a Russian church, so here you will not see or hear the priest preaching for the independence of Ukraine and heaven bless to the country, as the church in Ukraine is divided into Russian and Ukrainian.
There are over a hundred burials in the Lavra. Actually, there are saints buried down in catacombs. My colleague Iryna insisted to visit this place even though I am quite claustrophobic. We got the scarfs that we put around our heads and legs and bought the candle.
I didn’t manage to take many photos because I was hyperventilating, and due to respect to the corps. As you can see, it really narrow and hot below. 😦
Once we got out, I was happy for the -5 degrees temperature and cold air. Hugging my Iryna, we decided to finish our day in a restaurant.
Walking through the streets of Kyiv, I noticed how the avenues are wide and the influence of iperial Russia of 19th century is present in the architecture:
Sitting in the restaurant, we were discussing how the city is quite elitist and restaurant dining is designed for the wealthy Russian people.
We were welcomed with the salt and pig belly fat on bread and for the drinks we got the horse raddish apettizer. Bread and salt is a welcome greeting ceremony in Slavic and other European cultures and in Middle Eastern cultures.
Very traditional is the soup borscht made of beetroot. 🙂
For al the sport lovers, I was accomodated nearby metro station Olympiska where the Dinamo Kiev stadium is. 🙂 The stadium is best known for the finals of 2012 European Championship and 2018 UEFA finals.
Coming to the end, the souvenirs I bought: