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Kiev, Ukraine



Kiev parks index:
Dnipro Park

It is said (nowadays) that Kievovans take to the streets when their politicians don’t live up to expectations. They pitch tents in the parks and the now-famous central city square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Such democratic action has proven to work—note the Orange Revolution following the 2004 election fraud scandal—so the young and old camp out and sign petitions. The police accept this behavior as completely natural, and even help out with traffic control. None of this prevents the downtown from glimmering at night and bustling with shoppers in daytime. In fact, the Ukrainian capital seems to be itching for a party at the smallest sign of a gathering.

On a warm August evening, I walked through Maidan Nezalezhnosti admiring the lighted fountains and listened to the megaphone chants from the protesters across the square. Beer tents conducted brisk business. Vodka tents made the most noise. Couples strolled arm in arm through the crowd. Kids licked soft-serve ice cream cones. Old men eyed me with a little suspicion when I smiled and raised my hand to say hello, trying out the nearly unpronounceable “Bitaio.” They weren’t convinced I’d said hello or something dastardly, I think.

I sat on a bench and watched the capital move around me. Beneath my feet, I came to learn the next day, was Globus, an enormous shopping center with two floors below ground and one above. Suddenly one of the old men came and sat on the bench. He wore corduroy pants and a loose jacket, and his head was a gray helmet of hair. He asked me a question in Russian (I think). I answered in English, but he wasn’t perturbed by such barriers. He began to tell me a story about his native country, Poland (I caught that much at least).

kiev_2Bruno’s English vocabulary was about 20 words, but outflanked my Russian and Polish by two to one. With lots of gestures, we began to communicate—at least, I think I was getting some of what he told me. After he spoke, I would tell him something of myself. He seemed to understand “Chicago” and “writing.” When our conversation exhausted itself by sheer lack of momentum, we stared at each other for a few moments. Then, just as abruptly as he entered my world, Bruno said a few words and was gone into the crowd.

This was not the first time while I traveled alone that spontaneous conversation arose between locals and me. Sometimes I would start it up, other times they wanted to know what I was all about. Traveling alone is the best way to attract attention, and you’d better want it, because it happens all the time whether you’re prepared or not. And perhaps Kiev was the best place for a solo trip this time around, because I had definitely entered a most alien culture—or so I thought that first evening. The next day, while walking through Kiev’s enormous Dnipro Park alongside the Dnipro River, more of the same happened. Yes, it was the language that made it all appear so. The Ukrainian cyrillic alphabet is less recognizable than hieroglyphics, to the untrained eye. And pronunciation? Forget it. But it was fun trying, especially the expressions I got in return for my attempts.

Over the next few days, however, I found Kiev to be not all that much different from Chicago, New York, or even Paris: people looked for happiness in the everyday—in their work, in play, while out shopping for food, or sitting around a park bench playing chess and kibitzing after every move. I had not discovered why travel was so fun, but I might as well have.

kiev_3Kiev Museums and Sites
The Museum of Russian Art has one of the largest collections outside Moscow and St. Petersburg. It’s simply fabulous. Much of the collection comes from confiscated private holdings—nationalized by the Soviets—and those artworks of the Tereschenko family. You’ll find here works by Russian artists I. Repin, M. Vrubel, and N. Rerikh. The building is the Tereschenko family home of the 1880s. Open Fri-Tues, 10am-5pm. Closed Wed & Thur. Admission 6Hr. English tours available. Tereschenkivs’ka 9; metro Teatral’na (Red line).

For a great look at the Soviet side of war commemoration, visit the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (World War II). It’s a huge outdoor complex and indoor museum. Outside, bas-reliefs of 3x human size tell the story of battle, loss, and great victory. Military vehicles, planes, a rocket, and assortment of armaments sit in a nearby display. The indoor museum is below ground, and has 18 galleries displaying photographs, plaques, war artifacts, motion pictures and special exhibits honoring such momentous war events as the Stalingrad Siege. Open 10am-5pm. Closed Monday. Adission 4Hr. Sichnevoho Povstannia 44; metro Arsenal’na (Red line).

For all the Soviet attempts to kill religion in their sphere of influence, Ukraine boasts a huge Eastern Orthodox and Catholic population. The Spiritual Treasures of Ukraine is the country’s first private art museum, exhibiting more than 300 works of Ukrainian icon painters from the 15th-19th centuries. Open 11am-7pm. Closed Mon, Wed, Fri. Admission 15Hr (children / students 5Hr). Desiatynna 12; metro Zoloti Vorota (Green line).

The National Museum of Chernobyl gives you a chance to get a sense of the disaster without actually going to the site (though there are daily package deals to see the site and ghost town). Road signs from towns and villages near Chernobyl lead into the exhibit. Hundreds of photos chronicle the workers sent to the site in the aftermath of the meltdown. It’s pretty basic, but worth a peak if you’re in the neighborhood. Open 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-5pm; closed Sunday. Admission 5Hr, students 1Hr. Khorevyi Prov. 1; metro Kontraktova Ploscha (Blue line).

You can also get out of the city and into the country without leaving Kiev. At Pyrohovo, the Folk Architecture and Life Museum recreates life in the Carpathians using authentic village displays in open-air styles to authentically depict Ukrainian lifestyle and folk culture. If you’ve ever been to Williamsburg in Virginia, or Stratford-upon-Avon outside London, the concept is the same. Clay huts roofed with grass or wooden shingles, archaic barns and wells, wooden churches, windmills, granaries—it’s all here to bring you back to the Ukraine of 16th-19th century. Inside the clay huts you’ll find exhibits of traditional clothings, ceramics, household and farming equipment. What works best to show the people and their customs are the role-playing “villagers” who show you the operation of tools, cooking, farm machinery, and even games children play. Open daily 10am-5pm. Admission 10Hr. English-speaking tours. Pyrohovo, Marshrutkas; metro Lybids’ka (Blue line, last stop on south route).

(read more about Kiev’s highlights here

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