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Cyrillic, Churches & Cabbage: Or, Why You Should Visit Ukraine

Cyrillic, Churches & Cabbage: Or, Why You Should Visit Ukraine
Lara Maree
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Lara Maree

Founder at Lost Lara
As one of at least 5 Australians living in Ukraine, Lara considers herself an expert on where to get decent coffee or avocado on toast. She loves visiting places that other people call weird, especially if there's a statue of Lenin or a church made of human bones. Lara enjoys living on Planet Earth almost as much as she dislikes writing autobiographical information in the third person.
Lara Maree
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“Ukraine?! You know there’s a war on, love?” – Border Officer, London

When you think of Ukraine, the first things that pop into your head probably aren’t great. Chernobyl. The USSR. Maidan Revolution. Occupation by Russia. It’s an interesting list. These are all things, in my opinion at least, that make Ukraine a phenomenally interesting place to visit.

First of all, let’s get some things straight. It’s UKRAINE, not THE UKRAINE. The Ukraine is a throwback to Soviet times, and it makes you seem really silly because both Ukrainian and Russian languages don’t use articles (the, a, an). Also, I’ll use the spelling Kyiv, instead of Kiev. If you’re interested in why, the Calvert Journal explains it really well here.

 

Kyiv

I’m fascinated by Soviet history, so my favourite thing in Kyiv is Rodina Mat – a 102m tall statue commemorating the Great Patriotic War. There’s an excellent museum underneath the statue, and the surrounding grounds have open-air military displays of tanks, planes, rockets and the like too.

In the same area as Rodina Mat, about a 20-minute walk, you’ll find the Pechersk Lavra. This Orthodox Monastery has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, and includes iconic Russian Orthodox church buildings, underground caves with mummified monks, and a micro-miniature museum (think artworks that fit on top of pin-heads) which is a must-see.

In downtown Kyiv, St Michael’s Church is not to be missed. Andriyivskyy Descent, beginning near St Andrew’s Church, is a vibrant market where you can buy just about anything. Matryoshka dolls, Nazi memorabilia,  tablecloths – everything you never knew you needed. About halfway down, there’s a restaurant called Kanapa, famous for serving bread with a candle made of butter.

 

Odessa

 

Odessa is a port city on the Black Sea and has beautiful beaches, restaurants and cafes. I can highly recommend the cocktails at Cafe Forty Five and the coffee at Tishina (translation: Silence) is delicious – while these places might not have an English menu, it’s all part of the fun, right?

My favourite thing in Odessa was definitely the statue of Darth Vader, mostly because it used to be a statue of Lenin. Having said that, Odessa is a lot more European than other places in Ukraine that I’ve visited, probably because it’s in the west and closer to the rest of Europe.

Odessa also has the largest system of catacombs in the world, about 2,500km of them! There is a small portion of the catacombs open to the public, which can be seen at the Museum of Partisan Glory.

 

 

Dnipro

Dnipro has been my home for almost a year now, and is even further from the tourist trail than Kyiv and Odessa. It was home to the Yuzmash rocket factory during Soviet times, and therefore was closed off to all Western people. Somewhat ironically, Yuzmash now supplies both the US and Canada. If you enjoy Soviet architecture, then a walk along Dnipro’s main street will surely impress you. Tri Bobra (translation: Three Beavers) is a great place to get coffee and a cake, and you should definitely visit Come In for lunch or dinner. Or both.

If the markets in Kyiv didn’t satisfy your knick-knack needs, head to Dmytra Yavornytskoho Street (formerly Karl Marx St.) on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The thing I like best about these markets is that the people selling the stuff are usually the ones who made it.

Dnipro is also home to the first museum commemorating the Donbas Conflict. It commemorates the lives of the 10,000 people (including 68 children) who have died in the past two and a half years during the conflict with Russia. It has both a museum and an open-air exhibition.

Safety in Ukraine

As a 27-year-old woman, travelling alone, I have never felt unsafe in Ukraine. Not from strangers. Not from the Russians. I have never felt unsafe in Ukraine. I’m not giving you license to act like a pork chop. Be sensible, like you would anywhere. Keep an eye on the news, especially if you’re in the east. Do NOT visit Donetsk, Lugansk or Crimea. Take out travel insurance and follow their advice – if they’re willing to cover you to be in an area, then it’s fairly logical that it’s a safe enough place to be.

Travelling Around Ukraine

Express trains in Ukraine provide as good a service as anywhere else in Europe. There are also sleeper trains, which have three classes of tickets. Platz (3rd class) are open air cabins, Sleep (2nd class) are 4-bed cabins, and VIP (1st class) are 2-bed cabins. Sleeper trains in Ukraine, or as I call them, rolling Soviet museums, are an experience in and of themselves, and one not to be missed. You can book train tickets up to 45 days in advance (express tickets go on sale about one month in advance) here.

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