The 500-ton Motherland Monument which sits on the bank of the Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
Kiev — Through years of political upheaval and economic turmoil, Ukraine's capital city, Kiev, has remained a vibrant, engaging place to visit. For travellers, its food and culture rival the best of Europe at a fraction of the price.
Here's more on why this often overlooked destination should top your getaway list.
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- Maidan: This square was the site of deadly protests in 2014 that ushered in the country's pro-European revolution. It's now a bustling tourist hotspot surrounded by shops, restaurants, an evening fountain show, the towering Independence Monument and the Instagram-ready I Love Kyiv sign.
- Saint Andrew's Church: This 18th century Baroque stunner by Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli is worth a visit. Afterward, head to the nearby Landscape Alley, a whimsical sculpture park and kids play area. I dare you not to snap a selfie with one of the massive mosaic creatures.
- St Sophia's Cathedral: The gold-and-green-domed UNESCO World Heritage Site offers an impressive collection of original 11th century mosaics and frescoes.
- The Motherland Monument: This tremendous 500-ton (or 453 592-kg), 335-foot (or 102-metre) stainless steel structure on the bank of the Dnieper River keeps a watchful eye over Kiev. The grand statue, a woman raising a shield in one hand a sword in the other, commemorates the Soviet Union's defeat of the Nazis during World War II. A Ukrainian war museum is located at its base.
Maidan, the site of deadly protests in 2014 that ushered in the country's pro-European revolution in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
Saint Andrew's Churh in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
Landscape Alley, a whimsical sculpture park and kids play area in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
St. Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
The Motherland Monument in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
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Kiev cooking: Borscht or bust?
- Puzata Hata: Get your fill of borscht, a hearty soup often made with beets or cabbage, and other Ukrainian dishes at this popular and cheap fast food chain. Don't skip the dessert line at this cafeteria-style gem. Sugar-sprinkled, cherry pierogies, anyone?
- Yaroslava: If looking to refuel between sites, stop by this historic Ukrainian restaurant and bakery for traditional treats including their famed cinnamon rolls. The cranberry cake is also worth a mention. Three yummy pastries and two fresh juices cost $3 (USD or about R36 @R12.01/$). It's located at Yaroslaviv Val St, 13.
- Chicken Kyiv: Where better to sample the famous dish (not actually from Kiev!) than its namesake restaurant located near Maidan? You'll be transported to Soviet high society of 1970s in the retro eatery, serving dozens of chicken dishes, inducing the famous Kiev with its breaded outside and herbed butter center. Dive into a lavish three courses for two for under $30 (or about R360).
Yaroslava bakery in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
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Fashion forward finds
- Corner Concept Store: Try on some wearable art by Ukrainian designers in this sparse, ultra-chic boutique.
- Nadezdina: Local designer Natella Nadezhdina's shop is lined with funky prints and feminine styles for a range of shapes and sizes.
- Lesnaya market: If thrifting is your thing, head to Lesnaya flea market and journey between mountains of secondhand clothes and stalls of flowers, produce and knockoffs. The market is located outside Lisova metro station, the last stop on the Sviatoshynsko-Brovarska Line.
- Atelier 1: If you can find the back-alley entrance of this industrial, underground concept store you'll be treated to an artsy mix of local and high-end brands like Comme des Garcons.
Shoppers sift through thrift store finds at Lesnaya market in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
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Yes, you can visit the site of the world's worst nuclear accident, the Chernobyl disaster, which led to the evacuation of about 115 000 people. Armed with dosimeters, you'll traipse through abandoned towns, schools and an amusement park and check out the site of 1986 explosion that sent a radioactive cloud over Europe. Pripyat, a hastily evacuated Soviet city, was ravaged by looters and left as a modern-day ghost town.
Rest assured, though: The amount of radiation you'll receive on a Chernobyl tour — a day trip from Kiev — is less than your last dental X-ray.
The story of the massive (you must see it to believe it) Soviet missile detection system, Duga-1, is also a worthy stop on any Chernobyl trip.
A bumper car ride in an abandoned amusement park in Pripyat, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
What remains of a home in Kopachi village, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
What remains of a kindergarten in Kopachi village, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
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Marvel at the sprawling, opulent estate of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych located on Dnieper river, 15 miles (24 kilometres) north of Kiev. Many consider the impressive 350-acre (142-hectare or 1.42-square kilometres), once-secret, walled complex a sobering symbol of excess and corruption by the Russia-friendly Ukrainian leader driven out during the 2014 protests.
You could lose an entire day wandering Mezhyhirya's manicured gardens, golf course and impressive classic car collection. Better to navigate the grounds with a hired golf cart ($5 or about R60 per person.)
Colourful tours of Yanukovych's massive lodge-style home, complete with spa, tennis courts, bowling alley and salt room, are led by the home's lively caretaker, Petro Oliynyk. For English translation, you'll need to hire a guide in advance or pick one up onsite. Transport plus a three-hour tour with Argotour cost $77 (or about R925). Entrance to the home is an extra $10 (or about R120) per person.
Mezhyhirya Residence in the village of Novi Petrivtsi, north of Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
A seating area in the Mezhyhirya Residence located in the village of Novi Petrivtsi, north of Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo: Nicole Evatt / AP)
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You can hail a taxi, but be prepared to negotiate the rate. Ordering a cab by phone or online from an established company will ensure a better price.
Uber is cheap, but can include long wait times and it's surprisingly difficult to connect with drivers.
Your best bet is the subway, which roars through Kiev's metro system with impressive efficiency. You can pick up single-ride tokens for around 15 cents US (or about R2) or buy multi-day passes.
Plan your trip: Kiev, Ukraine
- Do SA residents need a visa: Yes, it costs about R910 and takes roughly 10 days to process. (read more here)
- Currency & exhange rate: Hryvnia: R1 = 2.16 Hryvnia (for once our Saffa Rands hold some clout)
- Main Airport: Boryspil International Airport
- Airlines that travel there: Qatar Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, South African Airlines, Turkish Airlines, British Airways and many more (search for flights here)