Kiev, Ukraine

Recently I had the opportunity to stay a few days longer in Kiev, Ukraine. I’d never been there before and ex-Soviet countries always appeal to me, so I opted to stay 4 days longer after my first two days of work were done.

Kiev is an interesting city of contrasts. Crumbling ruins stand next to neo-classical reproductions or shining highrises. The city is full of people who obviously have money, with their expensive cars and fashion, yet wages are so low I can’t imagine the majority is anything but struggling.

I didn’t venture outside of the Podil area often, which is more the real “old town” of Kiev. Podil is such a colorful area, with many old monasteries in and churches still standing, despite there being ongoing controversy over the government’s conservation policies.

Kiev is also the crazy crossroads between Western development and culture mixed with Eastern chaos and underdevelopment. For example people drive nice European cars, yet there are no parking rules or permits as far as I can tell; you can just park where ever you want without any repercussions or cost as long as you don’t block any traffic (at least not too much).

Equally fascinating is the average Ukrainian’s mindset towards law and order. Corruption is rife everywhere in the country, and average citizens denounce it, yet I observed this omnipresent train of thought that if you don’t bend the rules like everyone else does, you’re a sucker and you’ll just lose out.

I don’t want to judge the country in any way, if anything these cultural differences make a place even more fascinating to visit. The extremely low course of the local currency (the hryvna) means most things are obscenely cheap (about one third of what I’m used to), an especially stark contrast considering you still get everything like at home. It’s weird to actually be the “rich tourist”, especially in a place where people don’t look all that different from home.

I spent a day visiting some museums, the Airplane museum and the interestingly named “Museum of Great Patriotic War”, a Soviet-style museum about the Second World War. The airplane museum was interesting for the machinery on display, but the Patriotic War monument and museum were even more fascinating for the political undertones that run everywhere.

Before you get to the actual museum, the entrance hall is filled with an exposition about the current “civil” war in the Donbas region and Eastern Ukraine. They go quite far in pointing out how this war is pretty much a clandestine invasion by Russia, with some pretty strong proof (the tank on the right was captured from the “rebels”, it’s manufacturing location is near St Petersburg, Russia, and it was very recently supplied with a battery manufactured in Russia within the past few years).

I can’t help but feel sympathetic to the Ukrainian plight, especially when you see the equipment from their forces on display, not much more than old passenger vehicles with some armor plates welded to them. Perhaps that’s exactly the sentiment they aim to achieve with this exposition.

Further inside the Second World War display has a very heavy handed approach in pointing out the evils of Nazism. It’s a stark contrast with the museum in Canberra which has a much more neutral tone (that offended some of my German travelmates nonetheless).

The museum is actually inside a very impressive monument named “The Motherland”, depicting a fierce, strong warrioress Mother-Russia. Built in 1981 it’s quite controversial, though it’s striking nature is undeniable.

You can pay a bit to go inside and up to the base of the statue, which has a pretty good view of Kiev and the Dnipro river banks.

Now apart from my walks around Kiev, I also opted for an excursion to Chernobyl and the surrounding abandoned areas, infamous from the 1986 disaster. There’s quite a few pictures so I’ve dedicated another post to that.

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