2017 was an interesting year for Ukraine. For the first time ever, the 25th December was a holiday and I happened to spend Christmas in Kyiv. During my time in Kyiv, I stayed at Dream House Hostel. You can read about my review of the hostel here. I arrived in Kyiv via train from Lviv to find the city covered in snow. It looked liked it had been snowing for days but it had actually only started snowing that day! It was a nice introduction to travelling around Eastern Europe and Russia in Winter that’s for sure!
One of the advantages of travelling somewhere when it is cold and snowing, is spending time warming up in coffee shops and eating deserts. If you are in Kyiv, then you have to check out Milk Bar. This place has the best cakes in Kyiv. Sadly, they didn’t have Kyiv Cake which the city is famous for, but they did have their own called Kyiv Triffle and it was very good indeed! If you want to try Kyiv Cake, then do what I did. Go to the Roshen shop on Khreshchatyk in the centre of the city and buy one there. A ‘small’ one as below costs 130 UAH which is approximately £4.
Churches and Religion
This was my 3rd visit to both Ukraine and Kyiv. However, my Ukrainian friend Anna told me “You have not been to Kyiv if you haven’t been to Lavra”. As I hadn’t visited on my first two trips, I had to go this time. And she was right, of course! If you dont know, Pechersk Lavra was initially founded as a cave monastery in 1051 by St Antoniy, and is still in use today. The caves, and lots of mummified monks almost 1000 years old, are visited by locals and tourists alike. It is one of the 7 wonders of Ukraine and is definitely a must see in the city! The easiest way to get here is via the Arsenalna metro station. You can easily walk from here to the complex in 15 minutes. That is when you get out of the station because this is the deepest underground station in the world and it takes about 5 minutes to reach the ground from when you get off the metro.
I stayed at Dream House Hostel in Kyiv, which is on Andriivs’kyi descent. You can walk up this street towards St Michael’s Monastery and then to one of Kyiv’s most famous buildings – St Sophia’s Cathedral. The street is easy to climb despite how its name sounds. Just take your time, especially in the snow.
War and Famine
Walking from Arsenalna towards Lavra, I recommend going to the Park of Eternal Glory. There are a couple of things in this park which I recommend seeing. I saw the two figures below on plinths but I was unable to find any information about them sadly.
Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub was a Ukrainian fighter pilot in the Soviet Air Force during World War 2. He flew over 300 missions and shot down 62 enemy aircraft during the war, more than any other Allied pilot. He was also made a Hero of the Soviet Union on three separate occasions – only Georgy Zhukov and Leonid Brezhnev were awarded this four times. A military university in the city of Kharkiv is named after him.
The Monument to the Unknown Soldier. I think this translates something like “Glory to the resting soldier”.
The ‘main’ monument in the park is the Holodomor Monument. This monument is part of a museum dedicated to three Ukrainian genocides/famines between 1921-1947 which claimed between 7-10 million lives. The total number of deaths is impossible to determine, with some estimates even higher. Important to remember.
Christmas Market on Sofiiska Square
Sofiiska Square is where the main celebration of Christmas in Kyiv is located. The city’s Christmas tree is also located on this square which featured a Christmas market as well. The market was packed with stalls of hot Ukrainian food and drinks such as Uzvar – a traditional hot, sweet Ukrainian drink made from dried fruit – apples, pears, cherries, raisins, as well as fresh fruits and berries. There were also stalls selling Ukrainian products which would be good souvenirs/presents for family and friends at home. Looking at these photos is bringing back memories of the great smells of all the food and drink!
I think it would be impossible to celebrate Christmas in Kyiv without involving music. Of all the countries I have been to, Ukraine really loves music. You will see musicians performing all over the city. When I was here during late Spring, I even stumbled across a karaoke competition outside the University. Ukrainians really love music and at the market they had a stage which included an orchestra and singers. Check out the videos below. I was a very happy man this day!
Have I tempted you to spend Christmas in Kyiv? I had such a great time there. Maybe I will go back again in 2018…….