Quick Love Letter to Kiev

No sooner had I arrived there in early January this year than I fell head over heels for Kiev. The embassy had issued my visa late, just two days before my flight. I missed the Orthodox Christmas Eve and Day celebration in Kiev by a couple of days according to the Julian Calender but the carols and yuletide mood would go on until the end of the month past Epiphany.

Kiev is a sizeable metropolis. With 3 million inhabitants it is one of the ten largest cities in Europe. Beneath its 18th and 19th century exterior and Soviet era appearance, Kiev is actually a very ancient place. Its founding as a riverine settlement by roaming northerly tribes is shrouded in slavic legends and nationalistic myths but its verifiable history dates back more than a thousand six hundred years. Called the ”Mother City of Rus”, Kiev is where it all started – the site where Russia was born eleven centuries ago .

My friend Tatiana warned me about Kiev’s airport touts so I rehearse my basic Russian and haul my luggage up the airport marshrutka (taxi bus) number 322. I pay the 100 Hrivna fare to the driver, a good-natured and pleasant man about sixty and he issues me an old-fashioned printed ticket. We wait for about 30 minutes for more passengers then depart on the one-hour long journey from Boryspil on the left bank to the city centre on the right crossing one of the bridges over the Dnieper.

Along the way, tall, bare and twiggy roadside trees intersperse with housing and commercial blocks alternate and dominate the view in various shades of grey.

We are disgorged finally at a stop that looks like a back entrance to a large station. Golden domes of a new cathedral glisten in the frosty sunlight, snowflakes fall sharply on naked faces and commuters wrapped up in overcoats and hats stand waiting, stamping their boots in the cold.

I was exhilarated and shivering. Like the feeling after downing a glass of fine frosted vodka – instant, intense and head swirlingly unforgettable. 

Street art at Velyka Vasylkivska – a lovely street name that flows from the tip of tongue with a bit of practice
Tasty and generous local meals at Puzata Hata – a chain of canteen style eateries found in Kiev and other main cities
The Russian shapka is still the best head covering in winter
Hot and fragrant Glintwein in Sofiyska Square where food and craft stalls, nativity figurines and a large tree with lights draw revellers day and night during the month-long Christmas season
The proud and resilient young faces of a city emerging from its long hard history
Last light at the subway entrance
Although outsiders particularly the West like to paint a picture of Ukraine as a multi ethnic place destined for irreconciliable division and strife, the country is in reality remarkably homogenous where 95% are white, slavic and Orthodox Christians.
Coffee and oreshki outside the Besarabka, Kiev’s historic meat and vegetables market at the end of Kreshchatyk
Smokers at the steps to the entrance of an underground shopping arcade
The universal language of empathy and kindness, Taras Shevchenko Boulevard
From Centre to Periphery. Kiev in the 10th century gave birth to both the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox religion. Although Ukraine is not Russia the two share a common religion, history and culture.
Podil – the lower city was Kiev’s centre of commerce and trade up until the nineteenth century
Lvivski Plyatski, a popular bakery located near the Kontraktova Ploshcha Metro station that serves freshly made pastries kneaded, tossed and baked before your eyes at the shop window.
The irrepressible Kievan spirit
Kiev’s Blue Church – St Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery built in 2001 on the site of an original church which was pulled down and dynamited to pieces in 1935 and 1936 by the Soviets for having “no historical value”.
The brave and faithful dip themselves in the freezing Dnieper River on Epiphany Day on 19 January
Young diners spending time together over a meal of fusion Asian noodles and beer in the Podil district of Kiev
Sweet and Savoury : stalls selling inexpensive and delicious cakes and pastries are found in around 50 stations across the city’s vast underground metro.
Skates, ferris wheel rides and Christmas lights at the Kontraktova Square in Podil
Andreevsky Spusk the charming and historic street in Podil that many say is Kiev in miniature.
Kreshchatyk – Kiev’s main boulevard and commercial street
Kiev’s stylish and creative side is evident in its many beautiful cafes, boutiques and especially people.
Cosy coffee and hookah bar in Kiev
Trains in Ukraine are no-frills but clean, comfortable and respectably fast including this one that makes the 468 km journey from Lviv to Kiev in under 6 hours.
School trip to the Maidan
Statue of Vladimir, the prince and saint who brought Christianity to Russia in Kiev
The first law passed after the 2014 coup is that removing Russian as an official language in favour of Ukrainisation. This discriminatory and ill-advised move is described by a Swiss writer as “a bit like if German putschists decided that French and Italian would no longer be official languages in Switzerland.”
Epiphany day blessings in Dnipro Park
“I was born in Russia, but ethnically Ukrainian. I don’t speak the Ukrainian language and don’t have Ukrainian citizenship. So I’m a Ukrainian to Russians and a Russian to Ukrainian “ according to Andrew Gloe, the author of Ethnicity map of Ukraine (2016)
Besarabsky Market or Besarabka – built in 1912 in the center of Kiev with stalls selling meat, fish, vegetables, dried goods, cheese and caviar on its modest 9,640 square feet of floor space.
One of greatest engineering achievements and lasting legacies of Soviet Kiev is its efficient, elegant and very far below the surface metro. Arsenalna station on the red M1 line at 105.5 meters (345.1 feet) is the deepest train station in the world.
The Kiev Funicular built in 1905 carries passengers paying the UAH 8 (USD 0.30) fare for a 3 minutes ride that connects the lower station of Poshtova in Podil with the upper station of Mikhailivska in front of the Blue Church.
Kiev’s magnificent metro stations are individual works of art and architectural gems in their own right
Closing hours chat in the cloak room of the Kiev Opera House after an enchanting evening of classical music and ballet

Copyright Reserved Kerk Boon Leng 26 March 2022