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.