Sadly, if most people associate the Ukraine’s capital with only one thing, it’s garlic chicken. It’s sad for two reasons: firstly, Chicken Kiev is not in fact from the Ukraine at all, but originates in Moscow and was made famous as the world’s first ready meal. Secondly, Kiev is a wonderful city, and deserves to be recognized for far more than an unrelated dish and the local football team – Dynamo Kiev – making continued appearances in the latter stages of the European Champion’s League.
Visiting Kiev is as much about experiencing the lifestyle as seeing the sights. The city is an enticing blend of blocky, old-school Communist styles and ornate, Soviet-classic domed churches topped with gold leaf and shimmering in the frosty air. Ukrainians claim the city surpasses even mother Russia’s best, and with a rich architectural and artist background coming through in the churches, cathedrals, countless museums and quirky monuments, you might even think they have a case.
Like the majority of the most enticing cultures, Kiev comes with a dark side, including the viewing of row upon row of mummified monks held in the underground labyrinths of an ancient crumbling church, and the Chernobyl Museum, where you can look back on the world’s (touch wood) only unintended nuclear disaster to date, and – if you’ve got the nerve – head off on a visit, too.
Like Russia, Kiev can often seem harsh, with an edgy atmosphere on the tree-lined streets and an odd seriousness dominating most of the Vodka supping parties in pricey hotel bars. You might even sense there’s an air of the gangster about it all, but brush aside the initial discomfort and you’ll find the locals welcoming and curious, and ready to explain their abundant national delicacies (try salo in particular) and debate vodka quality with the best of them. Then there are spots like the HydroPark, a mammoth open-air water sports centre, which make you wonder if the sleazy edge to Kiev was all your imagination.
Dive in, make the most of a city that far few tourists ever grace, and you’ll probably leave feeling you’ve experienced something you won’t stumble upon too often. Then again, you might just feel a nasty, vodka-swigging hangover.
Best time to visit Kiev is month may. August is also interesting, especially during the Independence Day.