What to see
Ukrainian National Chornobyl Museum
The Ukrainian National Museum of Chernobyl was opened to commemorate the disaster of 1986. Opened in 1992, the museum seeks to explain the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, both on and industrial and personal level, as it explores the impact it had on the victims. Its exhibitions all take place with a solemn air of remembrance in the hope that lessons have been learned from the fateful event. As you explore the museum, you’ll find exhibitions focusing on the science and technology developed to reduce the risks to mankind and the planet created by nuclear power generation, and the international agreements which have been signed to enshrine those safeguards. There are also some sobering photographs and documentaries which show the scale of the disaster as well as its terrible human cost.
As Kiev was being built, its architecture drew much inspiration from Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It was decided that a monumental gate should be built as an entrance to the city as part of the ramparts surrounding it. The Golden Gate (Zoloti Vorota) is one of Kiev’s most significant historical buildings and was constructed between 1017 and 1024. It’s said that it takes its name from the fact that sunlight floods into the city from the gate each morning. The Golden Gate takes inspiration from the Yedikule monumental gate in Istanbul, and for years it was used as a triumphal arch and was the site for countless military homecoming celebrations. Inside the building you’ll find a church and to the side of the gate stands a statue of Yaroslav I, who was responsible for establishing the city-state of Kiev.
The 1.2 km-long Khreshchatyk extends between Independence Square and Bessarabska Square, and is considered the city’s retail hotspot. Both Bessarabska Square, built between 1910 and 1912 by Polish architect Henryk Julian Gay, and the famous Arena City mall draw visitors and locals alike to this busy street. Many world-famous stores, cafés and restaurants call Khreshchatyk home, and it’s very easy to spend hours here checking out the shops and getting a feel for the bustle of the city.
One of the most important squares of Ukraine’s recent history is found right in the center of the city. The centerpiece of the large, expansive Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) is the Independence Monument, a sculpture of a woman in traditional dress standing atop a 40-meter-tall column. There are other monuments commemorating the founders of the city in the square, as well as one of the city’s old gates, Lach Gate, on the south-eastern side. Independence Square was where rallies and celebrations took places after Ukraine’s separation from the USSR in 1991. But it is also known as where the Orange Revolution began to take hold of the country, after citizens took to the streets to protest the results of the 2004 elections.
Mariyinsky Palace (Mariyins’kyi Palats) was designed by the Russian architect Ivan Michurin, but was actually built by the Italian Bartolomeo Rastelli in 1750. Reflecting all the elegance of the Baroque style, it’s Kiev’s venue for official receptions and international conferences. The palace was damaged in a fire during the early 19th century, so in 1870, Russian architect Konstantin Mayevsky took on the restoration project, who consulted the original designs and watercolors of the palace to keep as true to the original as possible.
National Opera House of Ukraine
Although an opera house was opened in the city in 1867, it was completely destroyed in a fire, so Russian architect Victor Schröter built another in its place – the National Opera House of Ukraine (Natsionalnaya opera Ukrainy im. T.G.Shevchenka), which opened in 1901. The reliefs and sculptures decorating this impressive building are particularly eye-catching, and the venue is as popular with tourists as it is with the locals. Taking in an opera or concert in the grandeur and historic atmosphere of this wonderful venue is truly inspirational, and its 1,300-capacity concert hall puts on performances nearly every evening. So if you want to be treated to unforgettable artistic performance, be sure to check with the opera house’s program during your visit to Kiev.
Monastery of the Caves
The absolutely astounding Monastery of the Caves (Pecerska Lavra) was given the name because of the network of caves and tunnels under the building. The monastery, built in 1051, stands on a hill by the side of the Dinyeper River, and is actually a complex of building with has been added to over the centuries. Within the grounds are many churches and other buildings, though the most intriguing structures are the caves underneath, which were hermitages used by the monks of the monastery. Today, the mummified remains of some of the churches’ priests are on display down in the caves. The monastery is also in possession of a collection of religious art and miniatures, which are especially interesting viewed in the sacred, mysterious atmosphere of the monastery.
St. Sophia’s Cathedral
St. Sophia’s Cathedral (Sofia Kyivska) is clearly influenced by the architecture of the 11th-century Byzantine Empire, and today is undoubtedly Kiev’s most important religious building. From outside, the structure is truly amazing, and once you’re inside, the collection of art and the design of the interior are sure to leave you speechless. The cathedral’s mosaics, icons and frescoes are all worth appreciation in their own right. Before the 17th-century it had fallen into disrepair, but it was then restored and used by the Eastern Orthodox Church until the 1900s. However, after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the cathedral was set to be demolished, though it was saved by the pleas of many artists, scientists and intellectuals. Eventually though, it was appropriated by the Soviet authorities in 1934, and served as a museum, as it still does today under the title of the Ukrainian Museum of Christianity.
What to eat
To make chicken Kiev, a chicken breast if flattened, then filled with butter and herbs. It’s then rolled closed, covered in breadcrumbs and fried. It’s a hearty, satisfying meal, which is generally served with potatoes. Make sure you try this classic dish in the city that made it famous.
In Ukrainian, varenyky literally means “boiled thing”, and is a popular dish in many Eastern European countries. It can be compared to ravioli, as it uses a pasta-like dough which can be stuffed with various different fillings. You’ll find fillings include potatoes, mince, liver, cabbage, fish, mushroom and boiled eggs, so you’re sure to find a variety you’ll enjoy. They can even be filled with fruit jams or cheese, and served as a dessert.
This classic Eastern European sweet is a favorite at Christmas time, when it’s found on tables all over the country. The sweet is a mixture of wheat, poppy seeds, honey, dried fruits and sugar, and often walnuts, sunflowers or almonds will be added. The desert is thought to bring luck and fortune, and traditionally the youngest children of the family serve it to the rest of the table. Though the roots of the sweet are in Polish cusine, it still a family favorite all over Eastern Europe.