Experiencing a Banya in Ukraine
I arrived into Kyiv after a long bus journey from Warsaw which involved multiple toilet and cigarette breaks on the way. Oh and also being kicked awake by Polish or Ukrainian border police. I’m not sure which. It was an absolutely filthy afternoon with the rain just pouring down from all sides. I had no money on me and had to find my way to where I was staying. I eventually made it to an ATM (bankomat) and to where I was staying for a well needed washup. Rather than staying in, I met a friend from Russia that was also visiting Kyiv and went to a banya. If you don’t know what a banya is, it is a small sauna style room or building. I was advised that I will probably feel like I’m about to die at some point. They were correct…..
The first stage was to get completely naked and staying in the banja room for 10 minutes to warm up. After that I was given a massage with a brush made from birch or oak leaves. Just when I had cooled down, the heating was turned up again and the process was repeated a few times. Then it was time for a warm massage using the leaf brushes with the heating turned up again.
At the point where it felt my back was on fire, it was time to stop and jump into an ice bath and to fully dunk myself under the water at least three times. This done the trick and I was instantly cold, so you can guess what came next. Back to the banja for more heat. This time I was washed clean with warm soapy water and more of the warm massage using the brushes. It was at this point that my head was boiling hot. I was relieved and slightly worried when an ice cold balaclava was put over my head. The same gentleman then poured (threw) a bucket of cold water over me while whistling and singing ‘Don’t worry, be happy’. Refreshing!
It was time to get very hot with the temperature increased again and again and more hot massage until I could take no more. After 10 minutes it was time for the ice bath again but this time I had to stand in it ‘until I feel pain’. After 30 seconds it didn’t feel too bad but after 2 to 3 minutes I started to get dizzy. ‘2 more minutes’ the guy said. I began to lose the feeling in my legs and my arms started to tingle. I could still see but everything was moving fast and all a blur.
After the 2 minutes it was time to get out but not before I was moved (shaken) from side to side several times and was fully dunked again by the helpful gentleman. I have never felt cold like it before and was stumbling a little as I climbed out. I couldn’t feel my feet but the instant heat of the banya room felt fantastic. The heating was turned up and I was given a massage using huge ice cubes and with green tea poured over me. Then, after the heat was turned up again, I was massaged with salt and what smelled like orange oil. I was then washed (with lukewarm water) and able to dry off before having a more traditional style massage.
Needless to say I slept like a baby that night! If you are ever in Ukraine I highly recommend it. Possibly the best £40 I’ve ever spent
If you’re in Kyiv and you want to go the same place, you can find information on their website. You might need to use a translator website though. Good luck!