Marcin Konkel

Life goes on

KYIV / A couple looking at Independence Monument with statue of Berehynia on top.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti. A place that just a year ago has seen the clash of political powers, ideologies and faith for a different tomorrow. Today, it stands still and peacefully. It does not resemble the images seen in media yet remembers the conflict in terms of those who have fallen during the overthrow of the government. There are photographs, small symbols of the fights so locals and tourists don't forget what and why happened. The battles continue on the East - around Donetsk and Luhansk cities.

KYIV / Two men sitting on a wall overlooking Maidan NezalezhnostiOn the wall itself you can see photographs of people lost in riots on the Independence Square.

Although, the East of the Ukraine seems to be more pro-Russian and West rather pro-EU everyone unite in Kyiv towards, what seems to be, a common distaste for Vladimir Putin. When on Maidan you can sometimes hear anti-Russian themes and buy some gadgets that, let's say, don't approve of Mr Putin. Russian language is used at times in shops or restaurants where it also mixes with Ukrainian. Yet, some of people were puzzled when spoken to in Russian. I don't think it was due to the lack of knowledge. One can only imagine that a tourist speaking Russian in Ukraine might be thought as if he or she does not see any differences between the two nations. This is just a thought though - no hard data to support this.

View from our appartment in Kyiv.Notice the balconies on the left and how each and every one of them is adapted in a slightly different style. This and the clash of architecture style between the three visible buildings can also be observed all around Kyiv in apartment districts.
A small church.This church was right behind our apartment and the small bell tower was in front of the kitchen window waking us up at 9 am on each day.

We visited the popular spots and the less popular. We've lived in a block of flats like locals and shopped like locals. I love the experience when you wake up, look through the window and are set inside the living tissue of locals seeing their customs and how the life goes on. Standards might quite differ from hotels where prices might be similar at times. Both options have their pros and cons. There is also couch surfing if you prefer to live with a local in his apartment.

When going to Kyiv I was curious how the city looks like and if there are any sights of conflict. First impression of the rail was more then positive. Apart from Maidan there are few places where you can see that the conflict is still alive and people do not treat the events on the Independence Square as if it was the end of struggle. Few block from and around the square there are signs of what happened.

A mural few blocks away from the Independence Square showing longing to join the European Union.
Three murals on a shop. From the left "The ardent ones aren't burnt by fire." (ukr. Вогонь запеклих не пече) - comes from the Taras Shevchenko poem Hamalia where it has been translated as "At flames the Cossack warriors scoff.". It means that someone, who has been burnt many times, has been fierce, can no longer be burnt. // The second mural states “Someone, who frees himself, will remain free" (ukr. Хто визволиться сам, той буде вільний). It comes from Lesia Ukrainka's poem - "An Autumn Tale”. The full quotation states “Someone, who frees himself, will remain free, someone, who frees someone else, will capture him”. // The third mural "Our whole life is a war" (ukr. Наше все життя — війна) and is from Ivan Franko's "Mykyta the Fox".
A poster on one of the streets of Kyiv.The slogan states "There is such a profession — to protect one's homeland" (ukr. Є така професія — батьківщину захищати). It comes from a Soviet film Офицеры (years 1971/1972).

During time I spent Orthodox Easter was celebrated. Ukrainians celebrate Easter differently to Poland - at least the part which I have seen. There were several picnics in few parks, music played by DJs, stalls with knickknacks, food. Some people were drinking booze. One of such picnics was happening next to a church which in Poland would, I think, be hard to achieve. I'm not connected with any church but it's interesting to see how it all varies from country to country.

KYIV / An Easter picnic in Pechersk Landscape park.

Switching the context to my impressions of Kyiv.. It seemed to me that there is no one place where the life goes on during day and night. Of course, there are parks, there is Maidan as the focal point of the city. Still, many of restaurants are tucked here and there and people just drive by and eat or party. Then they drive away. So, even if the district is not a lively one, there can be a place that's quite popular. The effect sometimes might be that in a poor neighbourhood there is a premium restaurant popping out of nowhere. I managed to find two streets that were somehow the epicentre of life - Petra Sahaidachnoho street (get off at Poshtova Ploscha metro station) and Andriivs'kyi descent (get off at Kontraktova Ploscha metro station). The first street has a lot of restaurants around and is close to the river. The latter goes towards few viewing points (Zamkova Horaan observation deck), has Mikhail Bulgakov (writer of The Master and Margarita) house next to it and Solomianska Brewery craft brewery (do try their stout) among others. 

KYIV / Part of The Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War.

Apart of the streets there is a museum worth seeing - Museum of The History of Ukraine in World War II. It gives you some background on the history of Ukraine and if you are a fan of military stuff you will be content as well. Most importantly it gives you a fantastic view on the city - almost a 360 degree panorama with an impressive The Motherland Monument visible from many corners of the city.

Kyiv's metro is another thing that's interesting to see. It it a bit similar to Moscow in terms of the style of design but has two metro stations worth checking out. Maidan Nezalezhnosti station with the longest moving staircase in Europe and Arsenalna station being the deepest station in Europe. The trains run madly fast - at least that's the impression I had. A friend of mine from Kyiv said that they run at around 40 km/h so rather similar to any other capital. They are loud though and that can influence the whole experience. The metro for a Western traveller is cheap. A ticket one way costs (at the time of writing) 4 UAH / 0.14 EUR. You buy tokens to access the station. You can also buy a card which can then be topped up. Similar as in Russia, you will notice station attendants in their booths. Different to London where their role is to support the commuters and be helpful - they mainly monitor if there aren't any anomalies based on the monitoring systems and cameras. One person is located next to the escalator and another on the gates where you put the token in or use the card. If you ask them they will help but they don't know English.

KYIV / A station attendant looking at commuters.
KYIV / The longest metro staircase in Europe at Maidan Nezalezhnosti station.

There is a lot to see in Kyiv and around. There are trips to Chernobyl power plan in Pripyat going from the city centre. There are also trips to Mezhyhirya Residence (a.k.a. Yanukovych's Private Mansion) where you can see the former presidents luxurious estate to which much of the tax payers and bribe money was going to before the government was abolished. Both of the above are still on my list of things to see as during the Easter period not much could be done. If you want to check either - reserve yourself at least one day as Pripyat is outside of the city near the border with Belarus and the Mansion is in the outskirts of Kyiv.

All in all, I will surely visit Kyiv once again and take a bit more time to dig deeper into the culture and vibe of the Ukraine's capital and check the two points I did not manage to see. If you plan to visit Ukraine be prepared to know some Ukrainian or Russian as almost no one uses English (apart from some of the young). The capital is a bit more expensive then Lviv but still in the same price span. To see more shots from the capital click here or watch the slideshow below.

PS. Kudos to Dymtro for helping me with the translations!