It has been five years since the Ukrainian Revolution and the memory still remains on Maidan, the enormous public square at the heart of Ukraine’s capital. It had been the epicentre of the 2014 protests that sparked an uprising. The square is populated with billboards bearing photos from the revolution, next to the recently renovated Trade Unions Building that burnt down during the siege on Maidan. The wounds may be still be visible, and this may make some travellers wary, but rest assured Kyiv is a safe, open, and cosmopolitan city that is ready to welcome new visitors.
I always knew that Kyiv was supposed to be a large city, but I was still shocked when I arrived – it is enormous. The socialist neoclassical buildings surrounding Maidan are massive and imposing, as is the gargantuan Soviet “Motherland Statue” – a sculpture that dwarfs even the Statue of Liberty. The city’s metro is enormous, with its elaborately decorated stations being some of the deepest in the world. To top it all off, the city centre sits high atop the steeply sloped banks of the Dneiper River, giving the entire metropolis the air of an impenetrable fortress.
But the city has a much prettier and quaint side too. The baroque architecture along the historic Andriyivskyy Descent is beautiful. It resembles a more faded, gritty version of Prague. Along this historic street you can find the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum, a fascinating collection of artefacts belonging to the legendary Kyiv-born surrealist author. The city’s many onion-domed medieval churches and monasteries are riddled with tunnels and crypts beneath their ornate interiors and lofty bell towers. Kyiv is a city with over one thousand years of history, and there are many layers to uncover.
If you can pull yourself away from the fascinating city centre, Kyiv is prime for day trip options. The infamous Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is located within Kyiv Oblast, and a host of tour companies offer tours of this fascinating and tragic area. While not for everybody, a tour of the zone is a truly unique and haunting experience that nothing will prepare you for. I opted to visit with Gamma Travel, who offer a full day tour for a very reasonable £76. You’d be wise to hurry, however, as the HBO television series Chernobyl has caused the number of visitors to skyrocket, and the cost of tours are expected to increase as a result.
For those who aren’t keen on visiting disaster sites, Kyiv still offers plenty of things to pass the time including a vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene. Students on a budget will be pleased to find that Kyiv is incredibly cheap, even compared to other Eastern European destinations. Meals average around £5, and a bottle of vodka can be purchased from a supermarket for a couple of pounds. The nightlife is rich and varied, and with alcohol prices being as cheap as they are, it is easy to imagine that a night in Kyiv can get wild rather quickly.
No visa is required for British or EU nationals visiting Ukraine, and with Ryanair recently starting a direct route from Manchester to Kyiv, the journey has never been easier, or cheaper. I went to Kyiv in April with return flights that cost only £36. My entire four day trip, including flights, accommodation, food and a day in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, came to less than £250.
Kyiv is affordable, beautiful and fascinating, but more people are catching on to this fact. I’d recommend going sooner rather than later, before the secret is well and truly out!