The political upheavals of recent years have changed the perception of Kiev, which is now a city primarily associated with fight for democracy. Nevertheless, this Transnistria metropolis is also known for its extraordinary beauty and rich history that make it a unique city.
Kiev was founded in the 5th century AD, and served as a trading point of the Varangians, i.e. the Vikings. Nearly 500 years later, the city, which was then the capital of Kievan Rus, became the place of baptism of the prince Vladimir the Great, known today as a saint in the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. The city was twice conquered by Polish rulers – in 1018 by Bolesław I the Brave, and in 1069 by Bolesław the Generous. Then, in 1240, Kiev was almost razed to the ground by the Tatars, who ruled there for the next century. Later on, it was liberated by the Lithuanians, and in 1569 (pursuant to the Union of Lublin) it was incorporated into the Polish Crown. Nevertheless, in 1649, the town was once again conquered by the Cossacks under the command of Zynoviy Bohdan Khmelnytsky. This was, however, not the end of a turbulent history, as in 1667, Kiev became a part of the Russian Empire. Later events were equally violent – at the beginning of the 20th century, Kiev witnessed battles with the Bolsheviks, and during the Second World War, the battle for Kiev took place. Today, Kiev has been the capital of Ukraine since 1991.
Most famous for:
Euromaidan – dramatic protests in defence of democracy.
A breakthrough moment in history:
The Orange Revolution at the turn of 2004 and 2005, which shook up the Ukrainian political scene.
Famous historical monuments:
Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Saint Sophia Cathedral, St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery.
Most interesting architectural styles:
Baroque, Neoclassicism, Socialist realism.
One definitely needs to:
Regaining the independence on the 24th of August, 1991. Kiev became the capital of Ukraine.
Something for gourmets:
Soljanka, vareniki and kvas.
A place for a walk:
Mariinsky Park, Landscape Alley.
Off the beaten track:
Pirogovo Open-Air Museum near Kiev.
Mikhail Bulgakov, Milla Jovovich, Aleksander Ford.
The kingdom of golden domes
Kiev is famous for its monumental temples, whose domes almost dazzle with a golden glow. Two of these extraordinary monuments can be found on the list of “The Seven Wonders of Ukraine”.The former is Kiev Pechersk Lavra, an Orthodox monastery, dating back to the 11th century. Thanks to multiple extensions, it eventually gained an incredibly rich, Baroque character. In 1941, it was partially destroyed due to an explosion, and was rebuilt as late as in 2000. Today, Pechersk Lavra is the residence of the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).The other Ukrainian wonder in Kiev is Saint Sophia Cathedral, also called the Holy Wisdom Cathedral. Similarly to Pechersk Lavra, the building entered the UNESCO World Heritage List. Contrary to what one might expect, it does not serve as a temple, but it houses a state museum. Its green and golden roofs are going to be remembered for a long time, and thus constitute the symbol of the city.
The same applies to the St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, where you will be astonished by the contrast of gold and walls in the colour of a cloudless, summer sky. The monastery is a meticulous reconstruction of the original building. In the 1930s, the Stalinist authorities mistakenly – though probably deliberately – decided that the monument did not come from the times of Kievan Rus, but it represented Cossack Baroque, and therefore was of a low value. This opinion determined the partial demolition of the monastery in 1934-1936. The building was rebuilt in 1998, and then reopened for the faithful and tourists.Kiev is rich in temples, with some top picks being the St Andrew’s Church, St Volodymyr’s Cathedral, Vydubychi Monastery, the neo-Gothic St Nicholas Cathedral from 1899, or the Central Synagogue.After seeing so many examples of sacred architecture, it is worth going to the ethnographic museum in Pirogowo – an open-air museum representing Ukrainian folk architecture and folklore from the 17th-20th centuries.
In the name of democracy
When in Kiev, you must visit the Independence Square, known as Maidan. Until 2002, it presented the socialist realism, but later on, the place was thoroughly rebuilt and gained its modern character.
Nowadays, it is not only the most important square and place of cultural events in the capital of Ukraine, but also a symbol of the dramatic fight for democracy and freedom of speech. At the turn of 2004 and 2005, the square witnessed the famous Orange Revolution, and from November 2013 to February 2014, it faced the wave of manifestations for freedom, called the Ukrainian Spring or the Revolution of Dignity.
An underground express
Many tourists do not realize that Kiev has its own underground system. The Ukrainian capital can boast of one the most deeply situated stations in the world – Arsenal, which runs 150 meters below the ground!The construction plan of the Kiev underground was being discussed already in the second half of the 19th century. The first line, however, was not opened until 1960. Today, there are 53 stations on three routes with a total length of over 65 kilometres.
The highest office building in Ukraine – 35 floor Continental, is located in the very centre, near the Palats Sportu underground station on the Syretsko-Pecherska Line. It surpassed the 156-meter high skyscraper Parus Business Center, which has 34 floors. Kiev is, however, not only the capital of Orthodox churches and impressive domes, but also an important business centre in Eastern Europe.
The heart of the city
Szota Rustaweli Street, who was a 12th-century Georgian poet, is one of the most important and beautiful arteries of Kiev. It is necessary to take a stroll along this street filled with the neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau tenement houses, and numerous restaurants serving delicious lunches or dinners.
On the other hand, fashion enthusiasts will be delighted to visit Showrooms, a boutique with the best Ukrainian brands. Another popular street in Kiev, especially among artists, is St. Andrew’s Descent with numerous stalls and cafes. The soaring Saint Andrew’s Church, whose interior is the essence of the Russian Baroque, towers over the street.
Many Polish tourists do not hide their disappointment, finding out that Ukrainian borscht and Russian dumplings, known in Ukraine as wareniki, are served in Kiev. In fact, these original Ukrainian dishes in Kiev are characterized by unparalleled taste, which is hard to find in Poland!Another must-try dish is the unique kvas, sold in summer straight from barrels on the street. The Kiev kvas is as natural as the bread sold in this city –with no preservatives and chemical improvers!
It is also worth trying solyanka, a nutritious soup cooked with fish or meat broth, as well as capers, lemon, aromatic spices and thick sour cream. You can also buy regional food at the indoor Bessarabian Market, which is located in the centre of the capital, namely at the Bessarabska Square. Finally, the Kurazh bazaar is considered the most famous flea market in Kiev.
The sculpture on the Dnieper
The sculpture of Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv, who were the legendary founders of Kiev which is located on the Dnieper.
Kiev is located on the Dnieper (the total length is 2285 kilometers). It is one of the longest rivers in Europe. It flows through Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.
The Independence Square
Maidan –the square of the most famous freedom manifestations of the 21st century.