Brett again, here to talk about the time I spent in Ukraine. Despite the ongoing conflict with Russia, Ukraine is a very interesting place. After visiting Istanbul, I spent a few days exploring the capitol of Kiev. For those interested in World War II history, this place is for you! The cost of living is low here and the United States Dollar is very strong. In restaurants you can expect to pay $0.43 for a coffee or get half a liter of beer for $1. You can have plenty of fun for cheap in the post-Soviet country of Ukraine.
A FEW THINGS YOU PROBABLY DIDN'T KNOW
1. Ukraine has 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites
These include the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev built in the 11th century. There are plenty of monuments to remind us about all of Ukraine's history. From WWII to famine, you can learn so much in Kiev just by walking down Lavrska Street or Parkova Road along the Dnieper River. It also is close to Chernobyl and Pripyat.
Left to right: Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Holodomor Victims' Memorial, Trumpeting Angel of Chernobyl
2. It isn't The Ukraine, it's just Ukraine
After declaring independence in 1991, the country's leaders asked the world to drop 'the' from the country's name. During the Soviet era, Russia referred to the country as The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Ukrainians do not like the term "The Ukraine" as it was used by Russia and brings up a negative demeanor.
3. Ukraine is the 6th largest consumer of alcohol
According to the World Health Organization, finding a good local beer isn't hard in this country. From hefeweizens to lagers, you can find it all! You can also try their locally made vodka, horilka. All can be fetched for a fair price too!
THINGS TO DO
1. The Motherland Monument
Below this massive statue is a World War II museum told through Ukraine's eyes. The entrance fee is only 30 UAH (approximately $1 USD) and an English tour guide is 200 UAH (approximately $7 USD). I spent nearly 2 hours in the museum, and that isn't including the one hour or so I spent walking around the grounds gawking at the well preserved tanks and aircraft. While not many things have an English translation in the museum, you can still learn plenty about the hardships Ukraine faced. After you're done, you can walk up to a lookout in the shield of the statue or even climb up the sword!
2. Saint Andrew's Church
Built by an Italian architect between 1747 and 1754, this church overlooks the Podil neighborhood and honors Saint Andrew. The church sits on the same location where Saint Andrew put up a cross in 1 A.D. Walking up the steps takes you to the top of the hill that the church sits on. Here, you can get awesome panoramic views of the city of Kiev. When you're done, you can snag some cheap souvenirs on the streets nearby.
3. Holodomor Genocide Memorial
Along Lavrska Street you can find the monuments signifying the man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians. The museum costs 18 UAH (under $1 USD) to enter. Ukraine and 15 other countries say the Soviet government were the cause of this genocide. The monuments overlook the Dnieper River and are nestled in-between picturesque parks. The statue of the little girl grasping wheat is known as the Bitter Memory of Childhood. It displays who is affected by starvation the most, children.
4. Independence Square
This is one of Kiev's main squares and is a symbol of political activity. It sits along Khreshchatyk Street where you can find countless shops and restaurants. There is also a massive mall underground you can explore. Enjoy a coffee to go and snap a photo in front of the 'I ♥ Kyiv' sign or gaze up at the victory column.
There are plenty of tours to choose from if you desire to check out this infamously historical place. Don't worry, most of the areas you visit are safe in terms of radiation levels. In 1986, Reactor 4 exploded during a safety test. Everyone in the town of Chernobyl as well as surrounding towns had to evacuate as soon as possible. Believe it or not, Chernobyl is still a fully functioning town but with very few residents. The Sarcophagus was a metal structure built over Reactor 4 to prevent radioactive chemicals from further polluting the air. In 2016, another shell was built over it and was also the world's largest land-based moving structure. If you want to know what it's like to visit a ghost town, then check out the abandoned town of Pripyat during your tour!
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed in a spacious 1 bedroom apartment on Triokhsviatytelska Street which perfectly ran into one end of Khreshchatyk Street. I also was able to easily walk to St. Michael's Golden-Dome Monastery and the Saint Sophia Cathedral. The apartment was only $25 USD a night! You can find this cozy accommodation here.
This is perfectly situated in a bustling area of Kiev. Hotel Ukraine overlooks Independence Square and is walking distance to the Saint Sophia Cathedral. The cheapest rooms will cost you about $60 USD a night. You can find them here.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Vidro Craft Beer and Kitchen
Try a Milkshake IPA or a Russian Imperial Ale here! Half a liter of draft beer will costs you between 40 UAH to 75 UAH which equates to about $1.44 USD to $2.70 USD. The place is really small, almost like a long hallway, but makes it that much more special. Try a cheese and beer soup or a small plate of various Ukrainian cheese. The bartender I befriended, Max, told me all about the Ukrainian language and the current conflicts with Russia. You can find them here.
There is a wide selection of Ukrainian craft beers here, especially since they have their own brewery. This 3-story place is casual and has your typical bar and grill food here along with Ukrainian dishes like Varenyky (dumplings). Their burgers are so messy, they provide latex gloves to wear while you eat! Their website is here.
This is a delightful Georgian restaurant and bar. From the wall art to the Georgian language inscribed on the walls, you'll enjoy the comfort and hospitality from the Georgian natives who work here. They also have live music nights featuring authentic mountain folk music from Georgia! Be sure to indulge in a flavorful Georgian wine or try Georgian vodka, chacha! My server's name was George; George from Georgia! Here's their FaceBook page!
Ukrainian beer and Georgian vodka, chacha, which is served with orange peels to chase the bite!
Aside from being the coldest weather I've ever experienced, Ukraine has an abundance of culture and history to learn about. Everyone was so extremely helpful, from the taxi driver helping me find my Airbnb to the bartender who walked me to Kyivstar to get a SIM card. While tourism may not be really big here, that makes for a much more authentic (and cheap) experience.
An empty swimming pool in an abandoned school in Chernobyl!