Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Contrasting Cultures of Kiev

The Ukrainian capital has found itself in the headlines a great deal recently. This attention, in large part stemming from the 2004 Orange Revolution and its aftershocks, alongside the freeing-up of visa legislation in 2005 to allow U.S., Canadian and EU citizens to spend 90 days in the country without a visa, has placed Kiev firmly on the tourist map.

Kiev is ideally located for a weekend visit -- any one of three overnight trains will get you there by 10 a.m. on the next day. The leisurely pace of life there provides a welcome contrast to the Russian capital's hustle and bustle. Even on Khreshchatik, the main street, no one seems to be rushing anywhere. The wealth and variety of places of interest in this city present the visitor with his first question: What can't be missed? The best approach is to try to find a balance among the often competing, but not always mutually exclusive traditions that are found in Kiev.

And why not take things chronologically? Kiev's medieval history is exceptionally rich and, despite the savage fighting that took place here during World War II and Soviet attempts to destroy its religious architectural heritage, plenty of noteworthy sights remain. The most outstanding is undoubtedly the sprawling Kiev Monastery of the Caves.

John Wendle / MT
St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery is again a fully functioning monastery, having been rebuilt following independence.
This monastery, founded in 1051, is a principal center of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The church buildings that make up the monastery are some of the oldest and most significant architectural and religious monuments in Kiev, the most visually striking of which is the Great Monastery Bell Tower that dominates the city's skyline. The real treat, however, is situated below ground in the caves, which can be explored by candlelight. There lie the remains of a number of important historical and religious figures, including Nestor, the 11th-century chronicler, and the epic hero Ilya Muromets, preserved for centuries by the dry, cool atmosphere.

Not far from the monastery, and no less impressive in scale, is the Rodina-Mat, or Motherland statue, constructed in the memorial complex that celebrates victory in World War II. This massive metal construction is also the city's most visible symbol of Ukraine's Soviet past -- to some it is a source of pride, to many an open wound, as evident in the decision to shorten the statue's sword after independence was gained in 1991 as it was taller than the Bell Tower. The statue houses a memorable museum devoted to the country's struggle in the war and the horrors of the Nazi occupation. The emphasis on individual stories of heroism and sacrifice told through a plethora of personal photographs, diaries and letters allows visitors to approach an understanding of the suffering and triumph experienced by Ukrainians.

John Wendle / MT
St. Andrew's Church towers over a small lane holding its weekly Sunday craft fair.
A visit to Kiev wouldn't be complete without a trip to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, the historical center of the city and site of the Orange Revolution protests. The only evidence that remains of these protests -- the subject of worldwide media coverage -- is the graffiti on the pillars of the Central Post Office, preserved for posterity and tourists by a plastic screen. The revolution is now viewed with a great deal of cynicism by many Ukrainians who feel the protagonists have been unable to deliver on their promises. In this light, the symbolic preservation of the hastily scribbled hopes of the protesters serves as a metaphor for the revolution as a whirlwind of rhetoric and display with little concrete substance. Thus, Kiev remains what it has been for many centuries -- a city of competing cultural and political heritages.

John Wendle / MT
A small chapel stands newly built on the historic western bank of the Dnieper.
How to Get There

By train: There are two overnight express services from Moscow to Kiev every day, departing from Kievsky Station, taking about 12 hours and costing around $100 each way for a second-class ticket in a four-berth sleeper cabin. A speedier option is the Capital Express, a high-speed train which completes the journey in around nine hours, costing around $120 each way second class.

For more information see

By plane: Direct flights with Aerosvit Airlines or S7 cost around $350 roundtrip.

Where to Stay

The Impressa Hotel: A pleasant luxury alternative to the Hyatt Regency and Radisson chains. Its central location in Podil, the old historical region of Kiev, and competitive prices starting at around $240 a night for a standard double room make this a popular choice.

21 Sagaidachnogo Street, (+38 044) 239-2939,

The Sonya Hotel Service offers apartments of assorted sizes and prices for rent, ranging from $60 to $230 a night. Beyond the modest entrance of this centrally located hotel lie a variety of comfortable apartments ideal for the money-conscious traveler.

77 Volodymyrska Street, (+ 38 044) 278-5878,

What to See

Kiev Monastery of the Caves: A short walk from the Arsenalnaya metro station.

25 Sichnevogo Povstannya Street, (+ 38 044) 255-1105,

Rodina-Mat and The National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War: From the monastery, walk through memorial park, taking in the display of military vehicles and the striking Socialist Realist bas-relief monuments.

44 Sichnevogo Povstannya Street, (+ 38 044) 285-9452,

The Museum of Russian Art: Located opposite the park dedicated to Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine's literary hero, this gallery contains an outstanding selection of works by Russian masters, particularly those from the 19th century, including Vrubel, Ge and Fedotov.

9 Tereshenkovskaya Street, (+38 044) 224-6107.

The National Museum of Chernobyl: This museum provides a detailed insight into the world's worst nuclear disaster, the cover-up and the consequences. The road signs hanging in the entrance staircase are a chilling reminder of the ghost towns in the 20-kilometer exclusion zone around Chernobyl.

1 Khorevyi Lane.

Where to Eat and Drink

O'Panas: For a higher quality of Ukrainian dishes than at the ubiquitous, canteen-style Puzata Khata, visit this traditionally designed, if somewhat kitsch restaurant opposite the Museum of Russian Art. Ukrainian soups such as borshch and solyanka start at $3 and main courses cost around $8, all served by waiters in national dress.

10 Tereschenkovskaya Street, (+ 38 044) 235-2132.

U Khromogo Pola: A must for lovers of hearty food and beer, this Czech restaurant offers goulash in a bread bowl for $4, a half liter of dark Krusovice for $3 and 100 milliliters of Becherovka for $2. Be sure to book a table as this cozy, wood-paneled eatery fills up quickly.

4 Suvorova Street, (+ 38 044) 280-5007,

Kaffa: This coffee house, tucked away on a side street off Independence Square, is named for the African kingdom where coffee was first consumed. Take some time out and recharge your batteries with one of an extensive range of coffees from all over the world in this peaceful, no-smoking cafe.

3 Shevchenko Lane, (+ 38 044) 464-0505.