Tomorrow the circus arrives in town. But not any circus – the Eurovision Song Contest – and not any town – Kiev. Beyond having already hosted the cacophonous crescendo of both song-writing muscle and political amenability (in 2005), what else does the Ukrainian capital have going for it? We explore.
1. It’s safe
Ukraine has had a bumpy few years, between revolutions and annexations, but the Foreign Office (FCO) maintains that Kiev is safe to visit, well, “generally calm”. The FCO has actually issued specific advice for fans of terrible music heading to the contest this week. “Most trips are trouble free, however, there have been some reports of attacks on foreign nationals,” the advice says. Read more information here. Parts of Ukraine, including Crimea, are off-limits, according to the FCO.
2. It is hogging the Eurovision Song Contest
Not fair, right? We said we’d already dealt with this little factoid, but actually feel it needs more consideration. Kiev last hosted the contest in 2005 (Greece won with their unmitigated banger, “My Number One”), when there were numerous scandals and controversies as is the song contest’s wont. The main thing to come out of that night was that the powers that be finally decided to shorten the way votes are announced after Europeans across the continent wasted hours of their lives listening to score after score. Even Terry Wogan, commentating for the BBC, asked: “What time is it?”
3. Kiev is home to magnificent churches
Now to the city proper, and its majestic places of worship. The 11th century Saint-Sophia Cathedral is a fantasy of green and gold domes and the first site in Ukraine to be inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List. St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery is not too shabby, either. The original was sadly destroyed by the Soviets in the Thirties, so today a reconstruction from 1999 stands in its stead.
4. It’s the gateway to Chernobyl
Although about 100 miles north of Kiev, the city acts as a base from which tours of the nuclear ghost town set off. Chris Leadbeater visited the power plant and nearby abandoned city, Pripyat, for Telegraph Travel in 2016: “More than 10,000 tourists now explore the disaster site every year, snapping photos at the stricken power plant, and wandering the empty streets of Pripyat – – which was evacuated on April 27 1986 (far too late in terms of the health of its citizens), and has lain abandoned ever since.
“Visitors are screened before they enter the Exclusion Zone – the restricted space, 19 miles in radius, which surrounds the blast area. They are told not to sit down, or touch items within this cordon – and are checked for radioactive particles when they leave again.”
5. There is a market to savour the city
“Go to the Bessarabka market to taste, drink and smell the city,” advises Kiev native and author Anna Shevchenko.
6. And an atmospheric old town
The city’s old town is akin to those found in many Baltic states, with cobbled streets, welcoming squares and charming pastel-coloured houses. Though destroyed in the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, the space dates back to the ninth century and had a more recent renovation in the 19th century. Go for St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery but stay for the Golden Gates fortifications.
7. It has a cemetery full of history
The city’s Baikove Cemetery is the final resting place of several of the country’s most distinguished people, with memorials dating back to the early 19th century, 87 of which are classified National Landmarks of History.
8. And is surprisingly lush
The city is remarkably green. So much so that it is said one can walk from one end of Kiev to the other without ever leaving the shade, thanks to its plentiful tree population. Victory Park and Venetsianskyi are both popular with joggers and cyclists, while in the winter when the lakes and rivers freeze over, skaters take to the ice.
9. You must try its fiery tipple
A visit to Kiev would not be complete without a shot (or several) of horilka pertsivka, a vodka infused with spicy chilis. Playwright Nikolai Gogol wrote of the spirit in Taras Bulba: “And bring us a lot of horilka, but not of that fancy kind with raisins, or with any other such things – bring us horilka of the purest kind, give us that demon drink that makes us merry, playful and wild.” The drink is readily available at most bars and restaurants in the city.
10. And if you must, its immensely popular fast food
The third busiest McDonald’s in the world is said to be the branch at Kiev’s main train station.
11. Kiev gets deep
Arsenalna, a station on Kiev’s Sviatoshynsko-Brovarska line, is the world’s deepest at 105.5 metres below ground. For comparison, London’s deepest is Hampstead, at 58.5 metres beneath the streets.
12. It built a superlative plane
Kiev was home to the world’s biggest plane, the Antonov An-225 Myriya. It has the largest wingspan of any aircraft, at 88.4 metres and weighs 640,000kg. A brainwave of the Soviet Union, only one was ever made. Though you cannot visit the airfield where the plane was built (it is still operational), you can visit the State Aviation Museum in the city.
13. And has recovered from a tumultuous history
The city has a bruising history, having been caught between the Nazis and the Soviets in the Second World War. The National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War is where to go to explore the nation’s role in the conflict and pay tribute to the some 10 million Ukrainians who lost their lives.
14. This immense statue is something to behold
Another reminder of the nation’s Soviet past, is the monstrous Motherland Monument, part of the above museum, that towers above the capital, at 102 metres tall. A shield bearing the emblem of the hammer and sickle survives despite a piece of legislation introduced in 2015 forbidding Soviet and Communist symbols from the country – Second World War monuments were excluded.
15. Its football team gave Moscow a run for its money
The Ukrainian capital is home to one of the country’s most successful football teams, Dynamo Kyiv. During the Soviet Union, Dynamo Kyiv was the only team to challenge the dominance of Moscow clubs, such as Spartak Moscow, leading to the colourful rivalry between the two teams. A tour of the team’s stadium, NSC Olimpiyskiy, which was first built in 1925, then renovated in 1998, is available to visitors.
What else to read about Ukraine
Thank you for your interest in Ukraine and we hope that you will love this country even more when you will visit it.
There are many exhibition centres and art galleries in the Kyiv city for lovers of contemporary art and modern style.
They are almost always open for tourists with sophisticated taste and are ready to share the bright impressions.
In Kyiv you can spend time with your family with fun and pleasure: hiking to museums, amusement and attractions park; participation in family festivals and events.
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