Writing this on the plane towards London and feeling a little emotional. This probably is my last visit to this amazing city for the immediate future. After dropping in and out in no less than eight times within a six month period, Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv (or Kiev from the Russian days) had captured my heart and I fell in love.
Sitting in the middle seat of the plane again and before deciding who’s shoulder I would accidentally sleep on, I smiled as I reminisced over my first impression of Kyiv. Arriving on a dreary, dull, grey day in September last year, I gazed upon the view with wide eyes through the car window in my taxi from the airport to the hotel. This was after the taxi driver nearly broke my arm while shaking my hand. We exchanged a grand total of three words; “Hello”, “Card?” and “Bye”. This in turn was actually to my benefit (and liking) as I not to be distracted by conversation as I looked in amazement in the sheer volume and close concentration of high rise buildings, be they apartment blocks or office blocks. Rows and rows of them. The first thought that came to my mind was that of 2000AD; the world of Judge Dredd and this being Mega-City One. (Geek alert).
Slowly though you realise there is more to this city than this impression, and I got that when I suddenly saw a wall mural on the side of one these buildings. Then another in between and behind some blocks. Then another. And another. And I kept seeing new ones each time I arrived and drove towards the city. It then hit me. This place has a multitude of layers and you have to work to peel away each one to not only understand, but also truly appreciate Kyiv.
Kyiv, like many cities in this part of the world, had its fair share of “owners”. From the Mongols, to Lithuanians, to the Polish and of course, Russians. It was a war zone during the early 1900’s between Ukrainians, Polish and Russians. Not surprising when you realise Ukraine has such fertile land. My friend who was like a walking history book, although I swear she google searched most of the stuff just before she met to “entertain” me, enlightened me on the origin of the name. Kyiv was founded by three brothers, Kyi, Schek and Khoryv, and their sister Lybed, at the end of the 5th-beginning of the 6th centuries. The city was named after the eldest brother Kyi. Kyiv means the city of Kyi. That’s pretty cool, reminds me of my own siblings. Maybe I can use the same logic for my Lego city? However, what enamoured me the most about the history and how it is now, is that you can really see the character of the city around you that for sure has developed over their turbulent times. You see imposing buildings, then modern office blocks, then cute boutique shops, then looking down at your feet you smile at bustling life in the basement bars you’re walking past, large green spaces where when you suddenly feel relaxed when you breathe in the oxygen from the trees. Yes I walked in the park during the night.
Heck, one of the first sights you see is the Motherland Monument. A huge statue of a woman holding a sword and shield, arms apart. The intention was to represent the unnerving spirit of the people, but to me, it’s like she’s saying, “Please, welcome to Kyiv, have fun, but if you fuck with me you’re going to get this sword through your heart and this shield smashed over your head. D’akuju”.
Suddenly it can all be very intimidating. But like I said, peel away and you just get it. Much like the people of Kyiv, at first almost aggressive or stern, but slowly, with a flash of a heartfelt smile, giving true respect first and most importantly listening, you are immediately rewarded with genuineness and continued warmth. There is no fakeness here, and what a breath of fresh air that is.
So as I relaxed in the plane finally deciding that the cuddly guy to my left was the guy who was going to get my head on his shoulder, I closed my eyes, knowing one day my destiny will follow me back here.
Stay tuned for my city guide here, on what to see and where to eat and drink in Kyiv. Peace & Love.