Kiev blinks at us from behind trees. A little bit shy, somewhat elusive, she has offered just a peep…as if taunting us, ‘wait until you’ve seen me in all my splendor.’ I can’t wait, I am looking forward to all of it; the sights, tastes and smells of Kiev. We are on the train, and have managed to sleep through the overnight bumpy ride from Lviv. I’ve just woken up to a beautiful sunrise. Sunrises and sunsets stun us with their bright rays and flickering glows, guiding us through promises of today and hope for tomorrows.
We’ve got company. In the top bunkers are a mum, and daughter, the same age as my little one. She is a brunette; hair neatly swept up into a cute ponytail, granite eyes flashing; she starts her conversations in a friendly fashion, hand stretched out with a memorized, “Hello, my name is Natasha, what is your name?” Every other question, attempts in conversation gets the introductory hello. Ukraine Railways are quite cool, providing packaged clean sheets, pillows, blankets for a snug sleep.
It takes me three days to get the hang of the capital though. The first two days gives us the ‘mouse-in-the maze’ run about; always ending up alighting at nondescript neighborhoods, or going back to square one with little or no headway. Ukraine’s capital is huge and has an intricate web of public transportation with countless buses, winding metro lines, trams, taxis and so forth.
If I’ve had any confidence in myself as ‘map whisperer’ whichever city I find myself in, this is a first; a city I flat out can’t understand the signs and cryptic language that is Cyrillic. The locals are cool though; helping us find our way by a good deal of pointing, rattling off in Ukrainian or a mush of sparse English words uttered urgently; “No! Wait! Metro! Come!” much like traffic lights rapidly change from red, yellow and green.
Riding around in random buses to get a feel of the city has made us feel at home in déjà-vu fashion. The hustle is real here; just like Nairobi. You’ll see lines of kiosks and women selling fruits by the roadside; you’ll also experience the maddening traffic just like Nairobi. The construction of new buildings is like Nairobi, and their little domestic airport closely resembles our Wilson. Some roads are even a little pot-holed like Nairobi, with off-the-road dusty paths.
Kiev is as quintessential as any capital can be; her cosmopolitan streak reflected in the wild popularity of eats like sushi, or Thai massages, salsa dancing and karaoke. What is different about Kiev that makes her stand apart from other capitals is that things are cheap. At one euro to 28 hryvnia it’s a surprise that more westerners aren’t vacationing here.
If Kiev is Nairobi’s twin; perhaps she’s not an identical. She’s a fraternal. The lines of kiosks? They are sometimes fully stocked with stiff drinks, booze and cigarettes. The architecture? Out of this world. The geography? Kiev stands on seven hills.
Kiev has amazing sights and glorious domes. The one that blows my mind at first glance is, the Mother of Motherland statue or Rodina Mat. She stands on a hill, overlooking the city; bearing on her left hand a shield, on her right a sword. Defiantly. Locally, she’s known as Breshnev’s daughter. The statue commemorates Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazi.
To get to her, you bypass a military museum where all sorts of tanks, aircraft, vehicles and rockets are displayed. There are statues too of soldiers frozen in action, some with weapons pointed, others crouched in fight mode. The memory of war is firmly imprinted around the monument.
There is the Golden Gates; a fortification that was part of the ancient city walls. A bronze monument to Yaroslav the wise stands infront of the gate. Yaroslav Mudry was ruler and prince over the city, and he enabled expansion and fortification of the city in times past. He wanted to drive home the point that his country was as powerful as the Byzantine empire. He destroyed hordes of nomads that regularly attacked Kiev, and honored his faith by building a dome atop the Annunciation church situated there.
Andrew’s descent (Andriivs’kyi uzviz) is a well known street, with many tourists passing by to purchase art and other souvenirs.
Children’s Landscape Park along Peizazhna alley is a must visit if you’re in Kiev with kids. Situated smack in the centre of Kiev, there are beautiful mosaic sculptures of various fairy-tale heroes to entertain kids. The Little Prince figurine is the hero of the novel of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The playground is set in an “Alice in Wonderland” theme with children’s slides made based on the novel, there’s magic rabbit, Cheshire Cat and caterpillar. The fountains are fashioned in the semblance of elephants, or hugging zebras, there is a 30 meter cat-centipede, and benches constructed in the form of a rabbit, crow and cat.
The Independence Square or Maidan Nezalezhnosti, is the main square in Kiev. It contains six fountains, the Independence Column and an artificial waterfall. There are a great deal of shops, hotels and cafes around the Independence square. It was as well the focal point of the 2014 protests, and still bear pictures of those who lost their lives.
One of the fountains of the square is decorated with statues of legendary brothers Kie, Schek, Horiv and their sister Libed.
Kiev was interesting and very fascinating. I’m glad to have gone, and know for sure that this will not be my final visit to the capital. Have you been?