It is said that walking is one of the best exercises for maintaining and improving health. In this post, walk with us for about 25,000 steps as friends take us to see more of Kyiv and as a bonus, meets some of the newest residents of the city. Curious? Continue on!
One of our reasons for traveling to Ukraine was to see a couple of Open World delegates that stayed with us in 2013 (Oleg) and 2017 (Alina). I’ve written about the Open World Leadership Program in a couple of previous articles, click on these links to revisit those posts here and here. We met up with Alina and her friend Christina one afternoon and had a great get reacquainted visit. She then volunteered her husband Maksym and Christina to take us to see some of the sights in Kyiv. I should point out that Christina is an Open World facilitator and has been to the US over 20 times!
It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon when we met up with Maksym and Christina and began our 25,000 step walk. They took us past a few sites that we’ve seen before such as the Golden Gate, St. Sophia Cathedral, and St. Andrew’s Church. On our route, we passed this gray, Soviet style building that at one time was the headquarters for the KGB in Ukraine. Now it houses the Ukrainian secret police! I believe they have several photos of me taking photos of this building, probably on a list somewhere in Ukraine, maybe in this building!
We made a return visit to the plaza that features the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, the home of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. I wrote about them in a previous post but it was interesting to see all the people out on a Sunday afternoon taking in the sites and enjoying the day.
On the plaza is the monument to St. Olha (Olga) of Kyiv. She is known for taking on and destroying the tribe that killed her husband Igor in the mid 900’s thus becoming the de facto ruler of Kyiv as her surviving son was only three years old. She converted to Christianity in the 950’s and later earned sainthood by spreading Christianity in Ukraine. Her grandson, Vladimir the Great, finished the job in the early 1000’s by converting the entire country.
On the right side of St. Olha are Saints Cyril and Methodius, Byzantine theologians and Christian missionaries to the slavic nations. They also were responsible for what is today known as the Cyrillic alphabet used even today by many of the slavic countries including Ukraine. We were told to blame them when we couldn’t read signs or menus! On the left is St. Andrew, the patron saint of Ukraine, having prophesied that Kyiv would become a great city with many churches. True on both accounts.
There were a lot of pilgrims visiting St. Michael’s on that Sunday, here’s a few photos that I discretely took of some of the patrons. The top photo is the only portion that survived the destruction of old cathedral by the Soviet’s in the 1930’s.
The next portion of our walk took us past many of the Kyiv Day activities, there were lots of people, mostly families, out and about enjoying the day. On our way to Volodymyr Hill Park to see the new pedestrian bridge, we came across the former President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. He’s also known as the Chocolate King due to his ownership of Roshen Confectionary Corporation, the leading manufacturer of confections in Ukraine (they are good!). He had recently lost reelection, garnering only 30% of the vote, and losing to comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. It’s interesting to note that even with winning 70% of the vote, not one person we talked with admitted voting for Zelensky! In the photos below, Poroshenko is the guy in the sports coat and blue t-shirt.
Maksym and Christina wanted to take us across the new pedestrian and bike bridge, Friends, that was opening day. This bridge connects two popular tourist routes, Volodymyr Hill Park and Khreshchaty Park. Well you could say that just about half the population of Kyiv wanted to try out this bridge on it’s first day! After shuffling a short distance, carried forward by the crush of people, we bailed out. I should note that the bridge was closed the next day because two of the glass panels cracked likely due to vandalism or someone taking a shot at the glass.
Here’s how it looked from above.
In this park is one of the most recognized monuments in all of Kyiv, that of St. Volodymyr (aka Vladimir) the Great, the aforementioned grandson of St. Olha.
Nearby is the People’s Friendship Arch, erected in the early 1980’s to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Soviet Union and the 1500th anniversary of the city of Kyiv. Since the dissolution of the Soviet states and a move by Ukraine to “decommunize” their country, plans to dismantle this arch have been proposed. But alas its still there although some Ukrainian artists painted a “crack” on the arch as a symbolic gesture to indicate that friendship with Russia is frayed at best.
Our steps next took us through Mariinsky Park that fronts the Mariyinsky Palace, the official residence of the President of Ukraine.
Next to the Palace is the parliament building, the Verkhovna Rada.
As we walked through the park, I noticed this older woman praying at what looked to be a permanent religious shrine.
The next phase of our tour with Maksym and Christina wasn’t in steps but in a short 10 minute ride on a local bus. The bus was hot and crammed with Kyiv Day goers. The trusting bus driver maneuvered the bus while watching to make sure riders threw down their 8 Hryvnia (about $0.30 USD) on the rug draped over the center console. He even made change and passengers passed it back to the riders!
Our destination was Motherland Monument that overlooks the Dnieper River. This statute is part of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. It stands over 200 feet tall and sets on top of the museum building extending it’s height another 100 feet. It was dedicated in 1981 by the Soviet leader Brezhnev. We just missed the last admittance to climb the observation deck about 300 feet above ground level, apparently it has one of the best views in Kyiv. We were told there is a movement to remove this monument as a reminder of Soviet rule and put the many tons of steel to better use but it’s a WWII memorial. So far, it stands, we’ll see what the future holds. Of note, the tip of the sword was cut off so as not to be higher than the cross on the nearby Lavra.
Below this monument are memorials to the events of importance to the war effort.
As we were leaving, there were military apparatus on display such as trucks, tanks, cannons and etc. But of most interest to us was the very small display of military equipment from the current dust up with Russia in the Donbass Region.
Our next stop was at the nearby Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (also known as the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves), another of the main historic and religious sites in Kyiv. From a distance we could see both the Lavra and the Holodomor Victims Memorial.
This monastery is connected to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that is part of the Moscow Patriarchate so is out of favor with some Ukrainians that look to the west for it’s future. Regardless, it’s a beautiful site.
It was too late in the afternoon for us to take a tour of the grounds and buildings but this chapel was holding a Sunday evening service. I tried to be discrete taking photos but an observant older woman gave me the stink eye and stern words in Ukrainian or Russian so I moved on! Note that all the participants are standing during the service.
The second to last stop was at the nearby Patrick Pub for a well deserved dinner and a beer. We had a great time relaxing from our walk and and talking with our guides for the day.
But our day wasn’t done just yet. Maksym and Christina took us across the street from the pub to our last stop at the Holodomor Victims Memorial. This was one of the most sobering sites we visited on our whole trip and were grateful that our people were safely in the US during this horrific time. The Holodomor, which means “to kill by starvation” or “death by hunger,” was a famine created in 1932-33 by Stalin that killed millions of Ukrainians (estimates vary from 4 to 12 million people perished). All this to stop the Ukrainian independence movement. Food in all forms (grain, livestock, poultry, garden vegetables) were confiscated and movement in the country was limited to prevent any distribution of food from the country to friends and relatives in the cities. This is also the time when farms became collectivized and food production fell. The possession of foodstuffs and theft of food was punishable by death or at the minimum a trip to Siberia. The starvation of the people also contributed to the spread of disease, infant mortality and birth defects, affecting the population of Ukraine for at least a couple of generations. The Soviets denied there was such an event and called the reporting of Western journalists propaganda much like the Holocaust that occurred a mere 10 years later. The photo below is of the statue known as the “Bitter Memory of Childhood” with the Candle of Memory in the background. Note the black bricks that symbolize the rich black soil of Ukraine.
The tall (about 100 feet) candle like memorial overlooks the Dnieper River. Many symbols are embedded in the memorial such as the Ukrainian embroidery pattern, the crosses, and the storks that express the rebirth of Ukraine. The underground museum was closed by the time we arrived but is on the list for our next visit, it is said to be quite impressive.
As we were leaving, I took one more photo that of the statue of the Angel of Sorrow.
By this time, it was almost dark and time to say good night to Christina and Maksym. We wouldn’t see Christina again during our stay but hope to connect with her in the future.
It was a couple of days later that my traveling partner and I went to visit Alina and Maksym and their five month old twins, Vasil and Maria! We had a great day with the proud parents, a wonderful meal, held the babies, and took a walk in the park. We can’t wait for our return visit to see their growth and development.
While we were walking in the park, we came across this guy sitting on the bench with his raven (?) and a big ass beer! It’s one of my many favorite photos from our trip.
Well that does it for this week. Stay tuned next week to meet Yuri, our guide, interpreter and driver for a visit to a living history museum and a working farm.
Until then, happy travels!