We arrived in Kiev in the morning by an overnight train from Lviv. It was a long train ride and throughout the journey I slept, got woken up, slept, got woken up and slept until I had to wake up and get off the train. It was very cold, like it always had been since we have come to Ukraine, and was so foggy that I couldn’t tell if the city was surrounded by mountains, hills or giant trees as I couldn’t see further than a few hundred meters.
Where everything was almost grey, the bright red color of McDonald’s caught my eyes as we walked out of the train station and it convinced me I was starving. There was no way Wayne could stop me from eating there and the next thing I knew I was already munching on my favorite fries and ketchup with glee (it was mostly because of the ketchup).
After a very satisfying meal, we made our way to the Metro (underground railway) to get to our hostel. Not knowing that Kiev’s Metro has some of the deepest stations in the world, I was in awe with how long the escalators were and how far down the underground we were going to get on the trains. Two long escalators down and I swear I daydreamed on each one of them as it was so long that I couldn’t help it. I could probably have played a song and it would be finished before I got off. I have been to other deep underground railways but Kiev definitely has brought me closer to the center of the Earth.
We found a hostel with not much troubles and got a room with three beds for around $20. I didn’t have much to complain as it was a nice place, clean and quiet but it had a few bed bugs that bit me. I murdered one but still got bitten by another a night later. As usual, like it always had been for years, Wayne didn’t get any bites even when we were on the same bed. I appreciate their choice of my blood over his because mine are probably better but can they not choose him instead of me sometimes?
We went out in the afternoon to check out the Chernobyl Museum a few kilometers away. Since the snow was melting and the sidewalks were slippery, I walked ever so slow especially when we were going downhill. I was so focused to not slip and fall on my butt, or face (whichever is worse), that I didn’t bother to take any photos. We walked past beautiful churches and interesting architecture but missed out on taking any of their photographs. I told myself that I was going to do it the day after but we never came back that way. Even though it was annoyingly a foggy and cloudy day, Kiev was undeniably a beautiful city.
On the way to the museum, passing by the lovely St. Andrew’s church, I saw a lot of stalls selling souvenirs, artworks and the most random stuff, like old war memorabilia, military shoes, uniforms and knock-off medals. There were shoes that didn’t have a complete pair so I assumed they weren’t meant to be worn (maybe). There were a few tourists lingering around but not as many as it deserves in my opinion (which I surprisingly have).
The Chernobyl Museum was cheap to get into but I had to pay extra to take photos which still wasn’t very much. I should have bothered to pay for an English audio guide if I had known that very little is written in English inside the museum.
The museum was very small but it has a huge collection of photos, scale models, videos and artifacts from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 which is in history the worst nuclear power plant accident in the world. 31 people have died from the accident and direct effects of the disaster but thousands suffered from long term effects of cancer from the radiation.
After the disaster, the town of Chernobyl and the nearby city of Pripyat have been evacuated by their residents and only a few have returned to their homes since then. Much of the towns have remained like how it was left nearly 30 years ago and the risks of radiation exposure are still at large. Tourists can go on tours and visit Pripyat and see the Chernobyl power plant from a distance but are required to book and register for at least ten days in advance.
Unfortunately, we didn’t do it in time and missed out on having the awesome experience of seeing the aftermaths of the Chernobyl accident in person. We did, however, easily decided to go back to Ukraine one day, on a less foggy day perhaps, and give ourselves another chance.
As it was uphill on our way back, we opted to get on the Metro instead of walking and it was rush hour. We had to change trains but got confused with directions inside the station, a hundred meters below underground, and somehow ended up in Maidan, the main square of Kiev, where hundreds of protesters have camped and barricaded a huge part of the area.
I got scared simply because the place looked so eerie. The square was surrounded by barricades and walls made out of tires and wooden debris. It was dark even when there were a lot of camp fires and a lot of men’s faces were covered by scarves or some other piece of clothing.
There was a dark deep voice of a man coming out of the speakers that were spread all over the square. I looked around and saw where it was coming from originally and saw that a guy, whose face was also covered and also the people surrounding him, was speaking on a microphone as he stood on a stage in the middle of the square. He sounded exactly like the scary masked guy from the ‘Saw’ movies and the apocalyptic scene of the square made me feel like I was in one of the dark scenes from a Terminator movie. I wasn’t sure if we should even be there.
I got comfortable after I have seen a few other people taking their cameras out and they did not seem to be scared at all. There were lots of people cooking food in huge pots and others were lining up for warm bowls of soup or whatever at the stalls set up by the protesters themselves. There was a guy who wasn’t happy at me for taking some photos and he shouted at me. I ignored him and pretended to not hear him but I have also stopped shooting as I was scared again even though I didn’t think anyone was going to hurt me. We got out through a small exit at one of the barricades and walked back to our hostel which was actually only five minutes away. The next day, we walked back to Maidan feeling much more at ease probably because we still had daylight or we have just gotten used to men with their faces covered. We had McDonald’s and I was happy. No, we haven’t eaten only McDonald’s in our entire time in Ukraine but we have also cooked and bought some kebabs and wraps, just so you know. It just so happens that McDonald’s get to be mentioned a lot here, annoyingly.
The streets were alive with food stalls and street performers. A couple of guys with costumes on, or I should just say mascots, approached us and asked to take photos with them. We were aware that they’re doing it for money but we happily did it anyway and gave them whatever we could afford (just $2 if I remember it right). Oh bless them!
Got on another trip on the metro but for the first time, we got off above ground, on a bridge over a frozen river! It was a long walk uphill to find the Motherland, a 62 m (203ft) tall monumental statue, and we first walked past a beautiful monastery on the way, Pecherska Lavra, which had quite a number of visitors that day. I wasn’t complaining much about the walks like I normally would, uphill or downhill, as it was keeping my blood flowing and my body warm.
You would think that a tall statue could be seen from a long distance but just as we feared, it was barely visible on this very foggy day. It sucks for taking photos and it also makes it hard to find, if you don’t know exactly where to find it. It could be right next to you and you wouldn’t have known if you didn’t know what you were looking for. I probably wouldn’t but thankfully I had Wayne. He’s the one who does most of the research in this relationship!
The park itself was already worth a visit but it’s just a shame as the views would have been fantastic on a clear day. As we walked towards the statue, with old Ukranian/Russian/Soviet (whichever it was) music playing through the speakers placed all over the park, we walked past old military tanks, missile launchers and planes. The experience of just walking around the park and seeing old communist Soviet statues takes you back in time, that is if you are interested in history.
We noticed people going in and out of the base of the Motherland, and since we thought we could use some warmth, we decided to check it out. We ended up in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, one of Ukraine’s largest museums and it has some impressive exhibits on the World War II and it’s impact on on Ukraine.
Most of the displays were written in Cyrillic but the endless collections of photos, old war artifacts, and World War II weapons are enough to keep you occupied for hours. It’s a perfect place for history lovers and there are a few pages of summary from every hall explaining about the exhibits and their history in English and a few other languages to help people understand more about them. We went through three floors of displays, personal belongings, telegrams, household items, and photos from people who went through (and died from) the World War II. The museum also included a huge number of old aircraft, trucks, and weapons.
We were inside for a quite a while and I admit it was quite an educational experience. When we got out of the museum, the Motherland monument was less visible as it had gotten foggier outside and a little bit darker. As much as we would like to explore more the grounds of the park, we thought it was too cold for us to stay much longer. We jumped on any bus that we hoped would take us to any Metro station and headed our way back to the hostel but not before we stopped off at a supermarket to grab some food to cook (and not McDonald’s).
One major thing I’ve noticed from supermarkets in Kiev were the lack of fresh meat. They had a lot of hams, sausages and other cold meats, but no fresh steak or chicken. On our first night we only resorted to having noodles (with eggs to fill us up) as we couldn’t think of anything else to cook. But the next day we luckily found some frozen chicken which we used to make stew (which was yummy by the way because it turns out that I’m an awesome cook). The prices of stuff in Kiev are generally affordable and we were looking forward to buying some steaks but we didn’t find any. We did go to only three supermarkets so it must have just been our luck, I guess.
We had another day to spend in Kiev, which would have been spent in Chernobyl, and since the weather didn’t get any better, we decided to stay in and only go out for food. I personally liked Ukraine very much and I could see us coming back again in a couple of years, or maybe even sooner.
We were there two weeks ago, just before the violence in the capital blew up and it is really heartbreaking to see the beautiful square of Maidan turn into blackened ruins and so many people have already lost their lives. The heart of Kiev has become a battleground and I wish that things would get better soon, not just for me as I really want to come and visit again, but for everyone in Ukraine.
I do not just wish for the city to be rebuilt into how it once were and for peace, but also for a better future for all the citizens of this amazing country. I will see you soon again beautiful Kiev! Because I really really want to come back.