The timelessness of Kiev through the eyes of its literary heroes

Paris Franz wins £200 for her account of a visit to the Ukrainian capital Kiev, where she sees the city through the eyes of one of its literary heroes

It was one Prince I M Dolgorukov who, in the early 19th century, described Kiev as “a great, well-built city with many tasteful homes”.

I wander through the old city and stop at a house that is elegant and well proportioned, its creamy facade a throwback to a more decorous time. I step inside and am greeted by a pair of matronly women who indicate I should leave my bag in the cloakroom, then point upstairs. I head up, confident I am following their instructions. In this country with its exotic script, I have become adept at understanding the language of gesture.

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kiev

© Gavin Hellier / Alamy Stock Photo/Gavin Hellier / Alamy Stock Photo

The museum, overlooking the winding slope of St Andrew’s Descent, is a time machine of sorts, its interior a snapshot of Kiev, circa 1910. The wooden floorboards creak, and the heavy furniture speaks of an era when things were made to last. I join a small group of people in what was clearly the living room, the cabinets full of books and manuscripts and black-and-white photographs.

One of the matronly women watches over us as we peruse the fragile exhibits, ushering us through to the next room when we’re done. 

This house was home to the writer Mikhail Bulgakov, author of The Master and Margarita.

The museum was opened in 1991 on the centenary of his birth, and I fancy he’d recognise it still. I can’t read the explanatory labels, but I don’t have to. Here I can feel the Kiev of his youth, a city of sugar barons and students, onion-domed churches and green hillsides. The sugar barons have gone, and many of the hillsides have sprouted aesthetically dubious apartment blocks, but the students and the churches are still here. There is a timelessness about Kiev, a little startling in a city where so much has happened, and so much of it bloody.

The Bulgakov Museum is one of many old buildings clinging to the steep incline of St Andrew’s Descent, most of which have been converted into restaurants, cafés and art galleries. 

Kiev’s Contact Square, in quieter times


St Andrew’s Descent leads down to Podil, nestled on the banks of the river Dnieper. Podil was the commercial hub of Kiev for a long time, and has survived the city’s tribulations surprisingly intact, looking much as it must have done in the 19th century, with its narrow streets, churches and pockets of greenery.

I buy a bottle of water and sit on a bench in Kontraktova Ploscha, or Contract Square, and imagine what it must have been like during the trade fairs here every year. Traders from far and wide set up shop, selling wool, silk, cotton and gems. It must have been quite a sight.

However, Prince Dolgorukov’s description came with a warning as he added: “Don’t come at Lent when the city is overrun with pilgrims, or during the Contract Fair when raucous Poles transform Kiev into a carnival.”

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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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