The Ukrainian Capital City of Kiev has been in the news a number of times in recent years - unfortunately the news has not always been good! The city consist of large wide open streets with large Soviet style buildings and a number of spectacular cathedrals scattered throughout the city.
There is a fantastic documentary available on Netflix called Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom. I highly recommend watching this to gain some local insight on the political situation that they were facing and how they fought for freedom.
Ukraine is huge in terms of size and it shares land boarders with Belarus, Poland, Solovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and of course Russia, along with a large stretch of sea front coast line in the south along the Black Sea. This means that there are multiple ways to access this unique country, including from buses and trains from most European cities, however due to my Visa requirement, I flew directly into the Capital, Kiev.
From the Airport, there is a ‘Skybus’ which drops you at the rear of the Central Station. The trip takes about 45 minutes to an hour and cost 25 UAH. You can book online, pay with card or cash at the terminals at the airport or alternatively pay the driver in cash.
You can also organise a local sim card at the Airport which is very helpful when on the ground. It cost about $7 UDS for a Vodafone sim card with 10G of Data.
Since 2016 citizens of certain nationalities are able to apply for VOA at Kiev Borispil Airport (BSP). You will need to complete and online application, on the first page it was state “Consular Office” - Make sure you select, Ukraine and then Borisphil Airport in this section. Print out a copy of the completed form, along with copies of your accommodation reservation, insurance policy and proof of funds (although I wasn't asked for the proof of funds) and take them with you.
The VOA counter is located directly opposite the immigration desks and claim to be open 24/7, however I have read mixed reviews on Tripadvisor regarding this. I arrived around 7pm, there was no one at the VOA desk when I arrived so I waited and within a minute and English Speaking Guard walked over and asked me for the above documents, I handed them over and he said that my visa would cost 255 UEA (which I paid on card) and would be ready in seven minutes then he walked off. Seven minutes later he walked back and handed me my passport with the Ukrainian Visa. I have read that it can take a few hours to process, so I am not sure if the process is improving or if I just got lucky but it fast and was hassle free.
One thing to remember is that once you hand over these documents, you will not get them back so if you require any of this information for other purposes, then print and extra copy.
THINGS TO DO
First thing to do, eat a Kiev in Kiev - Unsurprisingly it was great!
Free walking tour beings in independence square at 12 noon and 4pm and is really interesting, especially given the recent civil unrest which occurred in 2013.
There are a number of amazing cathedrals located throughout the city, but the one that stood out in my mind was Kiev Pechersk Larva! This monastery consist of a complex of cathedrals, buildings and caves - the highlight of the city in my eyes!
Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, Sofiyskaya Square, Saint Michaels Cathedral and the Golden Gate are interesting sites to see and there is a SkyPark with Zip-lines open in the summer along with the Kiev Underground City Tour.
Independence Square is where the protest began, and a very interesting place to check out especially if you have read about what happened, seen pictures or videos on the news, or even the Nextflix documentary.
Chernobyl - There is the opportunity to explore the Nuclear Disaster site of Chernobyl on a day tour for around $100 USD. Although, I initially planned on going to Chernobyl, I read some mixed reviews on the internet so contacted a friend who is a Radiologist and a lot smarter then me, who advised that it may be fine but if it was him, he would not risk the exposure as there are still larger amounts of radiation in the area, so I opted to cut my losses and give it a miss.
You can organise buses to all over the country from the bus depot close at Demiivska train station. I arrived without reservation and managed to get on a bus to Odessa, the only this is that it cost me nearly twice as much as was advertised on the internet on busfor.com so may be better to book in advance. The ticket cost 400 UEA but online prices were around 250 UEA.
The seaside resort of Odessa is a Tourist Hotspot in the summer! I was there in winter so I couldn't not hit up the beach or soak in the ambiance of the summer festivities but I did enjoy it and think it could be a fun weekender in the warmer months.
I stayed at a new hostel located near the station, the bus station is located around 100 metres north of the train station.
Walking from the train station to the main street through some of the back streets felt like it was a movies scene of some of the old soviet states. There are a lot of parks although most are pretty bland, I walked to the Starobazarnyi Garden Square where there was man selling mulled wine in the park for 20 UEA - it was delicious and warmed me up, there is a lot of beautiful architecture,
The architecture in the city centre is magnificent and really nice to walk around. The Opera House, Sheshenko Park, Primorsky Boulevard and Potemkin Steps are the main highlights for tourist then a stroll back along Deribasovskaya Street will throw you amongst all of the bars and restaurants.
The Odessa City Fair seemed like a nice little set up with a heap of bar and food stands, even some novelty games but I was told that it is unsafe to hang around there as its is run kind of like a little Mafia set up. I went back in the evening and got that kind of vibe so we just opted for an Irish Pub on the main street.
I speak absolutely no Russian and found that everyone in Ukraine speaks absolutely no English so I found my way around by pointing at the food I wanted and had a phone handy so that people could type in the price of what I was buying. ‘Vody Bez Gaza’ or ‘Net Gaz’ spoken with a loud Russian accent usually got me a bottle of water and ‘Auto Vauxhall Astley' got me to the bus station (Not really sure if its correct but it seemed to work) - from there I just said the name of the place that I wanted to go and someone would point me in the right direction. At times it was difficult, but a lot of fun, especially given that they all seem so serious.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to Lviv but a few people I met travelling in the region said that this was also really cool to check out and similar to Kiev.
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