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Kiev feels as though several different eras are living side-by-side throughout the city. They often seem completely incompatible, but somehow they all blend together and create the distinct culture of Kiev!
Kiev is an ancient city, and a thousand years ago was the capital of the mighty empire of Kievan Rus. Ukrainians are proud of Kiev's role in influencing and expanding Slavic culture and the Orthodox religion. While a lot of the genuine structures from Kiev's earlier days have been destroyed, either from wars or from over-zealous Soviet city-planners, today many of these buildings have been restored or rebuilt. The recent revival and blossoming of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has led to the dazzling restoration of many old cathedrals, such as the breathtakingly lovely St. Michael's and St. Sofia's in the center of the city. You can learn more about them from local guides. But to get a real sense of Ukrainian religious fervor, head down to the Caves Monastery south of the center. Ladies, tie a scarf around your head, and everyone should buy a candle, then queue up to walk through the tunnels that contain the carefully wrapped remains of Ukraine's greatest religious figures.
Life for Ukrainians changed dramatically after the Russian Revolution, and you can certainly feel this throughout the city. Look just to the left or the right of any of these beautifully restored medieval buildings, and you'll probably see a towering block of concrete with austere neo-classical columns lining the sides, and perhaps even a hammer & sickle imprinted on the wall, which the building owners will probably try to remove as soon as they save up some money to do it. While some people are appalled by the Soviet influence here, it is, nevertheless, an important part of Ukrainian culture, whether for better or for worse. Communism affected every aspect of people's lives, and it certainly gives the city part of its special flavor. Yes, this means long lines and unfriendly staff in post offices and government buildings, and ridiculous and inefficient rules in monstrously large, unattractive hotels. But it also resulted in a dirt cheap and speedy metro system, a network of underground walkways filled with shops, and some really unique and moving Soviet monuments, such as the not-to-be-missed Rodina Mat' (Motherland) statue and the war memorials all around and under her.
But in addition to the influences of these two eras, there is the new Kiev that was only born 15 years ago, and is perhaps still in its infancy. The city now abounds with all the comforts of the west, and rather than being out of place impositions onto the city's culture, Ukrainians seem to have aptly co-opted it and made it their own. Kiev is now bursting with slick new malls and fast food joints. And there must be a dozen McDonald's, all hugely popular!
Kiev is modern city, full of creative people. New urban-artist make wonderful things, for example: