Kiev, or Kyiv in the Ukrainian spelling, is the capital city of Ukraine, as well as its largest economical, political, educational and cultural center. It is located in the central north of the country, on the shores of the Dnepr River.
Kiev was founded in the 5th century and is one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe and is considered the seat of Slavic culture. It played an important role in the development of the medieval East Slavic civilization as well as in the modern Ukrainian nation. It was once the capital of Old Rus (the ancient name of Russia) and was a major trade center with the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. In the 17th century Ukraine came under the rule of Russia, making Kiev the third city in the USSR after Moscow and St. Petersburg. Today Kiev is the country’s hub of hi-tech industry and higher education. It is also home to many important historical landmarks and its art, architecture and cultural heritage are considered world treasures.
The city is a must on any visit to the region. Its numerous sights set along the Dnepr River, the museums, theatres, opera houses, historical buildings and gardens, will keep the visitor amazed and interested.
Kiev has a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. December through February are the coldest months when temperatures often dip below zero, ranging from an average of -4 to -2. Summers are characterized by average temperatures of 15 to 25 degrees Celsius. The warmest months are July and August.
January average temperature -4 deg Celsius 38 mm rainfall February average temperature -3 deg Celsius, 36 mm rainfall March average temperature 1 deg Celsius, 38 mm rainfall April average temperature 8 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall May average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 51 mm rainfall June average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 69 mm rainfall July average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 76 mm rainfall August average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 63 mm rainfall September average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall October average temperature 7 deg Celsius, 43 mm rainfall November average temperature 1 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall December average temperature -2 deg Celsius, 43 mm rainfall
Atass bus: services run from the airport to the center of Kiev. Taxi: widely available at the Terminal B entrance. Marshrutka: a shared minivan is the cheapest option of reaching the city.
Kiev’s extensive public transportation comprises of buses, trams, trolleys and metro. All signage is in Cyrillic script.
Buses are often crowded during peak hours. Bus tickets have to be validated with a hole punched into the ticket.
Metro is the fastest way of reaching destinations in the city. There are three lines – red green and blue. All go through the city center, but do not cover all parts of the city. A ride can be paid for with a token. Alternatively, monthly passes are available. As a point of interest, metro stations were remodeled from former mass bomb shelters, thus Kiev has some of the deepest stations in the world.
Marshrutkas are privately run minibuses with assigned routes displayed in the front window. They operate throughout the entire city and can be flagged down anywhere.
Taxis can be ordered by phone or hailed in the street. Unmarked cabs – called ‘gypsy cabs’ operate too. If you use a gypsy cab be sure to negotiate the price beforehand.
Kiev is blessed with natural beaches along the Dnipro River. A favorite local hangout during the summer weekends and holidays is the Hidropark complex, located on Venetsians'kyj and Dolobets'kyj islands, inter-connected by a bridge and also to the mainland. The park offers many sport and leisure activities. There are numerous cafes and restaurants and there is even a casino. You can enjoy swimming, playing volleyball, tennis, or badminton.
New on the scene is the Oasis Coca Cola, a beach for the young featuring a disco, café, concert stage and numerous water-based activities and sports. The park can be accessed via metro, alight at station Hidropark.
STROLL ALONG THE KHRESHCHATYK
Khreshchatyk is Kiev’s main street where people like to stroll, have something to eat and drink and indulge in some people-watching. It is a charming tree-lined street, paved with ceramic tiles interspersed with squares and beautiful terraced gardens. After WW II the retreating Red Army left the street in a complete shambles. Later it was rebuilt and was given a neo-classical Stalinist look. During Ukraine’s independence it was further modernized and is today the administrative and business hub of the city, as well as a popular hang-out.
Address: 24 Vladimirskaya Street Phone: (044) 278 2083. Web: http://www.sophia.org.ua
This is one of the oldest churches in Kiev, dating back to the 11th century. The church has suffered damage several times and has often been repaired, so that today it bears the impact of nine centuries of architectural styles. Its most striking feature is the interior Byzantine mosaics and frescoes dating from the time the church was first built. The church was named Saint Sophia after Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom).
The Caves Monastery dates back to 1051. It was started by St. Anthony who settled in a cave. Soon his followers populated all the caves and lived there as hermits. The Kievan aristocracy visited St. Anthony on many occasions, and also contributed money to build his monastery, which remains in operation today and is still an important center for Orthodox Christianity. Set on grassy hills above the river, the Caves Monastery complex is a fascinating site with several golden domed churches, and the underground labyrinths where mummified monks are displayed. The monastery is a huge draw for pilgrims and tourists alike.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE HISTORY OF THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR OF 1941-1945
The museum is one of the country’s biggest, featuring 300,000 exhibits. It commemorates the hardships of Ukraine during WW II when half of the city’s population was killed by the Nazis. The museum collection includes a fascinating collection of World War II artifacts and also features decommissioned tanks, which were later painted over with flowers. In front, the towering, 62m tall titanium Motherland statue stands guard over the edifice.
Kiev’s famous historical street is one of the city’s biggest attractions. The street, popular with visitors and locals alike, is full of architectural, historic and cultural landmarks. Here you can see the Castle of Richard the Lionheart, the baroque St Andrew's Church dating from the 18th century, and the house of Mikhail Bulgakov, Kiev’s foremost writer, as well as numerous gift shops, art galleries and fine restaurants.
The historic street winds its way from the St Andrew Church on the Old Kiev Mountain down to Podil district and ends at the Kontraktova Square. The famous street is also the setting of various art festivals and Kiev Day celebrations.
Golden Gate is an ancient gateway into the fortified city walls that used to protect the city against foreign invaders. Constructed between 1017 and 1037 under the rule of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, it served as the main formal entrance. In 1983, the Golden Gate was restored and now also houses a museum with archaeological finds excavated in the area.
Mikhail Bulgakov was a novelist and playwright, best known for the novel Master and Margarita. In this museum Kiev pays an eccentric tribute to its most famous son, offering an insight into the writer’s family life as a young boy, focusing mostly on his autobiographical work, the White Guard, depicting the Russian civil war.
NATIONAL CHERNOBYL MUSEUM
Address: Provulok Khorevy 1 Phone: (044) 417 5427
The museum gives an insight into the infamous nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986 – just 100 km from the city. The museum opened its doors in 1992, five years after the accident. The material was collected slowly. At first there was little or no information to be had as everything that had to do with its causes and effects was kept strictly confidential.
On display are hundreds of photos of the explosion and the aftermath. There are artifacts from the actual site, as well as protective clothing used during the fire and aftermath, and the personal belongings of the participants, and pictures of animals mutilated by the radiation.
The museum also features artistic representations of the disaster, life-sized costumes with gas masks and 76 road signs from villages and towns around Chernobyl from the affected resettlement zone.
Ukrainian cuisine is not really world-famous. Some of the typical dishes include borsch (beet soup), varenyky (small dough pies stuffed with meat, potatoes, cabbage or fruit), deruny (potato pancakes), holubtsi (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat), and mlyntsi (stuffed pancakes), and kasha (porridge).
The modern capital has a lot to offer besides traditional fare; restaurants can be found all over the city, with the largest selection in the city center and around popular tourist landmarks. Cuisines can be found from Eastern and Western Europe as well as Asia and the Americas.
Both local and international fast food restaurants are available everywhere. Try the traditional drink kvas, a non-alcoholic beverage with a sweet wheat-like taste, widely available on city streets in the summer.
During the last weekend in May Kiev annually celebrates its day with street decorations, parades and traditional music. The festival is attended by popular local musicians and actors and concludes with a big fireworks display in the evening.
The annual film festival established in 1970 attracts visitors from the international world of film and is helping to put Ukrainian film on the map. The films screened tend to represent new trends; the two competitive categories are for student film and a first professional film.
New Year's Day
On New Year’s Day decorations flood the streets, excitement engulfs everyone and there is all-night partying. People usually gather with friends and families to eat, exchange presents and party all night long. At night, children are given gifts from Ded Moroz (a version of Santa Claus).
The theatre is named after the famous Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko and has been producing a repertoire of classical, dramatic and musical performances since 1926.
Kiev has several movie theaters that are equipped with the most up-to-date audio and visual gear. The city also holds several film festivals. For the most part, local films are almost non-existent and dubbed Hollywood blockbusters prevail.
Address: 3 Peremogi Ave.
Multiplex with four halls, one of the most popular in the city.
Address: 5 Architect Gorodetsky St.
Quality programs, a good location and nice interior make it one of the best theaters in the city.
Legend has it that Kiev was founded by three brothers Kyi, Schek, Khoryv, and their sister Lybed at the end of the 5th century, so the name Kyiv literally translates as ‘belonging to Kyi’. The location was strategically very favorable as the high banks of the Dnieper River provided a natural defense against invading nomadic tribes. Many tribes had gathered in this area and by the 9th century it had became the political center of the Eastern Slavs. Kiev was conquered by Prince of Novgorod Oleg in 882, who declared it the capital of the Old Russian state and the cradle of the three fraternal nations: the Russians, Ukrainians and the Belarus. Due to its position on the banks of the river Kiev had prospered greatly from water trade and this ushered in rapid economic development. The city was ruled by Vladimir the Great from 980 till 1015, during which time it experienced rapid development. In 988 Christianity was introduced and became the official religion. This also enabled political and cultural ties with the Byzantium Empire and Bulgaria. The first stone church was built in 989. In the 11th century Kiev was ruled by Yaroslav the Wise and was one of the largest cities in the Christian world. Saint Sophia Cathedral, Golden Gate, Kiev-Pechersk and Klovski monasteries were constructed, and the first Russian library was established. From the 13th to the 15th centuries Kiev was in the hands of the Tatars and Mongols, during which time its development was brought to a standstill. In the attack by the Mongol leader Batu-Khan, the grandson of Genghiz Khan, many people lost their lives, and the city was almost completely destroyed. By 1240 Batu-Khan had usurped Kiev and Moscow. In the following two years he conquered Hungary and Poland and invaded Germany. The period from 1362 marked a new era of progress when Kiev became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The city prospered economically and expanded, many churches were built but the population remained small due to plague. During the 16th and 17th centuries the population grew rapidly and toward the end of the 18th century Kiev had passed into Russian hands and daily life was dominated by the Russian military and the Orthodox Church.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
During the Russian industrial revolution the city experienced an unprecedented boom due to sugar exports. At the turn of the 20th century the upper classes were prevalently Russian-speaking, whereas the lower classes retained Ukrainian folklore. After the Russian Revolution in 1917 Kiev became the capital of the Ukrainian states several times but all appointments were short-lived. In the period from 1918 to 1920, during several conflicts like WW I, the Polish - Soviet War and the Russian Civil War, Kiev changed hands as many as 16 times. From 1921 it became a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1941 the city was captured by German troops and over 500,000 Soviet soldiers were captured or killed. Many civilians suffered at German hands and by the time the city was reclaimed by the Red Army in November 1943, 80% of Kiev’s population was homeless. After the war the city experienced rapid industrialization. Vast, grim-looking suburbs were constructed. Another event put Ukraine and Kiev on the world map, as the catastrophic accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on 26 April 1986 occurred only 100 km north of the city. Scientists generally agree that the city is now safe from radiation effects. In 1991 Ukraine proclaimed its independence.
Kiev was flooded with activists from all over Ukraine during the 2004 – 2005 Orange Revolution in view of massive corruption in the election run-offs between leading candidates Yushchenko and Yanukovych. Nationwide protests ended when the results were annulled and a revote was ordered. In the second election Yushchenko was declared the official winner. He was inaugurated in on January 23, 2005 in Kiev, and the Orange Revolution ended.
Greeting: A typical greeting is a firm handshake with a steady eye contact. Female friends greet by kissing on the cheek three times.
Names: Ukrainians have three names. The first name is the person’s given name. The middle name is a patronymic (a version of the father’s first name plus "-vich /-ovich" for a man and "-avna/ -ovna/ -ivna" for a woman. The last name is the surname. All three names are used in formal situations, while among friends only the first and middle names are used.
Visiting: It is polite to bring a gift when visiting someone. A bottle of wine or chocolate will be sufficient. If bringing flowers, avoid even numbers. Remove your shoes when entering someone’s home. Ukrainians don’t wear shoes at home but will provide you with slippers.
When entering a church, men should remove their hats.
Drinking habits: A common Ukrainian toast is “za vashe zdorovya” – meaning “to your health.” In general, Ukrainians are heavy drinkers. A shot of vodka should be taken in one gulp. Always return the courtesy by buying back a round of drinks to everybody who has treated you. When drinking in a group it is considered rude to drink before somebody makes a toast. Traditional Ukrainian medication for your hangover is - pickle juice.
Tipping: tipping is a fairly new practice in Ukraine but 5 -10% is expected in restaurants.
Kiev has its share of pickpockets, muggers and scammers that prey on tourists especially so you should practice general caution.
Be very careful to keep your belongings safe and valuables out of sight on public transport, in crowded tourist areas and on overnight trains. Robberies and scams are prevalent. Avoid eye-contact with suspicious people, but if you find yourself caught in a scam, simply ignore the person and walk away, or indicate that you are going to call your embassy or go to the police.
Scams include being approached by a thief pretending to be a plainclothes policeman. These usually approach lone tourists who are visibly not familiar with the city. There were also a few reports of corrupt officials, such as customs officers, who try to force a tourist to pay a fine or otherwise force them to miss their flight. A phone call to the embassy usually solves the problem.
Keep important documents, credit cards, large sums of money and other valuables in a safe deposit box at a hotel.
Never exchange money in unauthorized places, as illegal money exchange is a criminal offence in Ukraine.
If you find yourself a victim of a crime, contact your embassy and report the crime to the local police.
Do not drink tap water. Bottled water is cheap and widely available.
Emergency Phone Numbers: Fire - 01 Police - 02 Ambulance service - 03 U.S. Embassy in Kiev - 4904000 Long distance calls service – 079 International Information Center – 059