It was only 3 years ago that I was in Ukraine. A country filled with fantastic people, experiences and now synonym of pleasant memories for me. My few Ukrainian friends told me tales of their “back home”, a place in between Western Europe and former Soviet Block where beautiful architecture lives side by side with a tough history which forged the character of its people.
We set out for Ukraine on fantastic Wizz Air, flying from Berlin (in my case) and meeting in Kyiv. Why Kyiv you ask? The difference is political and important – Kiev is a transliteration associated with the Russification of Ukraine. Since 1995 the Ukrainians have reclaimed the proper spelling of their capital as Kyiv (Ukraine split up in August of ’91, shortly before the Soviet Union dissolved). It took the rest of the world over 25 years to catch-up and spell it properly.
Today, if I open my television or my computer, I only see images of Ukraine being under fire, the illegal occupation of Russia having culminated into all-out-war. A war that Putin tries to justify as a “special operation”, which, in the end, is simply him throwing a hissy fit at the Westernization of Ukraine with millions of innocent civilians displaced or murdered in the process. Read more about this at the end of this article, because you can help.
But back to the topic at hand,
Upon arriving in Kyiv and taking a cab towards downtown, we were greeted by a very mixed architectural style, many very large public spaces and, of course, a lot of construction.
We checked-in to our local and very humble hotel, and went about discovering the city by foot until night time.
When I travel with my friend G, we typically don’t plan much and enjoy walking around, letting our whims decide where we end up, aside from a few highlights of our trip.
In the case of our Trip to Ukraine, we intended on drinking craft beer, coffee, taking in the sights and eventually taking an overnight train to Odessa on the black sea. Perhaps seeing Chernobyl, depending on our mood.
Our first day was equally spent mostly walking around. We luckily had a fantastic coffee place right next to our flat and went there for breakfast and, a cup of joe.
The place, Coffee Mastery, not only had great food, but over 10 different ways to brew coffee and multiple coffees to choose from on a daily rotation.
Whilst G opted for an Espresso-Tonic, which we had never heard about before (for a reason, it seems!) I went for a Flat White.
We spent quite a bit of time staring at their posters explaining the process of selecting coffee beans and how to roast them. The staff were fantastic and we ended up there a few more times.
The next stop was going to be Ukrainian Borscht. While the word Borscht covers a wide range of Eastern-European and Asian sour type of soups, I particularly affectionate the Ukrainian variant made out of red beetroots which give it its distinctive color, and ability to permanently stain whatever you’re wearing too!
Meat, bone, stock. Poultry, beef or pork. It is all fair game in Ukraine and heavily regional in the way it is prepared. Ours had Beef with pieces of Lamb or Mutton in it, and had a delicious mix of local vegetables and beans with a slight pickle taste.
You can see G being shocked at how tasty the Borscht was!
With our bellies full we resumed our exploration of the city and would do a rinse and repeat of this over a few days, each day discovering even nicer places, better food, good beer and nice people.
Some pictures below;
We ended up visiting the local compound of the Saint Sophia Cathedral, eventually making our way to the undercroft of one of the chapels, a proper labyrinth with mummies of priests and saints.
Unfortunately, there was not a lot of English and it was difficult for us to understand exactly who the people buried there were. I did not take pictures of the mummified remains of what could be saints or local heroes, out of respect.
But you can see G here, holding the little candles the Babuschka at the entrance gave us, “for our protection” she said, but maybe by protection she meant the ability to see where we are walking, as without it, it was pitch blacked and rather creepy.
We also took the subway a few times to get around town more easily.
At one point taking the underground train from Arsenalna, the deepest metro station in the world at a whopping 105 meters deep. Built in 1960, one can see that it has not changed much since on this station on the red line.
With two incredibly long escalators going down, it takes almost 5 minutes to go down to the main platform.
Arsenalna is so named as it traces its origins and name to the 18th century Arsenal Factory, which was a weapons production facility for the Russian army back in Soviet times.
Truth be told, I did get a bit jittery on the platform knowing how deep we were.
Overall, the metro was fast, and on time. It was, however, surprisingly loud from the metal wheels on metal tracks.
Me and G aren’t the biggest fans of seafood, but this Mushlya had the most fantastic location in the city, always filled with sun and right next to a fountain.
The beer was cheap and tasty, and they had small burgers for less than 2€.
We enjoyed just going there at sunset to have a small bite and a beer, do some shameless people-watching before moving on to a proper meal or a bar.
Kyiv has a nightlife just as vibrant as its food scene or people. G and I particularly enjoyed our time at N::B Cocktails Bar, which was a bit fancier than your usual place, but where the service and drinks were great. We also had a stop at the Alchemist bar, which had great décor and an over-the-top menu, and service staff…to fall in love with…quite literally! Nikka had a great selection of Japanese Whisky, of all things, and a lot of trinkets from the empire of the rising sun. Drinks living in harmony with Armor sets and Katanas kind of place.
Our first time block in Kyiv was already nearing its end and we had a date, alas, not with anyone from the Alchemist bar, but with the black sea.
Booking a ticket to Odessa on a sleeper car was not particularly difficult as a work colleague in Berlin helped me understand briefly how the train network works in Ukraine.
The overnight train to Odessa from Kyiv on a weekday was less than 20€ per person, and that is for a 2 person cabin, which are more expensive than the ones sleeping 4.
Navigating everything without speaking Ukrainian or Russian was at times challenging as only very few people spoke good enough English to communicate well with us but eh, in Rome…speak Roman? Is that the saying?
Each wagon had its own “train lady” which served hot tea, beer, cookies, and made sure everyone had everything they needed. Whilst very old soviet sleeper trains are not the most comfortable experience, it was lovely to see the Ukrainian countryside go by as the sun went down. Considering the price, we had nothing to complain about really. We woke up the next morning in Odessa, on the black sea.
Before the Russian invasion, Kyiv was a bustling European capital.
If you are in Europe and want to Donate to a good cause for the Ukrainian war relief, but don’t know where to start, my friend Sophia, in collaboration with Katalina (Designer from Kyiv), are both Ukrainians. With COLORTOTHEPEOPLE they have a solidarity sale with shirt prints in the colors of Ukraine.
100% of the proceeds go to Libereco (German & Swiss NGO dedicated to Human Rights in Ukraine) & ProAsyl (German Foundation for Refugees and Human Rights). Almost 75% of your purchase total goes directly to the organizations above, directly to help Ukrainians.