Kiev, Capital of Ukraine
Kiev (also spelled Kyiv) is the capital and largest city of Ukraine with over 3 million inhabitants (see map). It was the birthplace of Kievan Rus, the Eastern Slav mother state of a thousand years ago. Here Eastern Orthodoxy became the dominant religion of future Russia and Ukraine. Old Kiev was built on the high right bank of the Dnipro river, and the city has many hills, parks, islands, and forested areas.
To foreign visitors Ukrainians' lifestyle may be just as interesting as the sights. In Kiev one can find all possible combinations of cosmopolitism and provinciality, secularism and spirituality, and capitalism and communism.
Kiev has been experiencing a construction boom for several decades. New apartment buildings began going up as people from all over Ukraine rushed to the capital city. The Soviet system of residence permits (the infamous propiska) used to make it very difficult for people to change their place of residence, and living in Kiev or other Soviet capitals became a highly-prized status symbol.
Tours around Kiev
There is a wide choice of English language tours available. Here you can browse a list and order free travel broschures, as well as book a tour. For a comfortable, affordable place to stay in the heart of Kiev choose Citybase Apartments. Combining the convenience of a hotel with the comfort of home serviced Kiev apartments offer the perfect base when touring the Ukraine capital.
Ukraine: capital, regions, and province
In Soviet times most resources and opportunities were concentrated in a handful of capital cities (Kiev, Leningrad, and most of all Moscow), where everyone wanted to be. Everywhere else was called "the regions" [регионы] — a collective name for all those second-tier towns and cities other than the capital — or "the province" [провинция] — everything other than the largest cities of a million or more inhabitants, which was a sort of cut-off size indicating that there were at least some opportunities to be had in the city.
After visiting hustling-and-bustling Moscow Kievites often jokingly call Kiev a "province" or even "village." In contrast, in the West — where decentralization is the norm — even towns of 100,000 people are called cities. In many Ukrainian towns of 100,000 people there is literally nothing to do — few opportunities, hardly any civil society or public activities of interest — just a few cafes and discotheques and a parade once or twice a year. No wonder everyone wanted to come to Kiev!
Kiev's unique character is indeed best felt after a visit to Moscow. Both these cities are predominantly Russian speaking capital cities, full of government buildings and institutions inherited from Soviet days. Yet there are marked differences.
Kiev is quieter and more modest. The noise level is lower, the buildings are smaller and less monumental, building development is not nearly as dense. The government buildings are more provincial in character and don't smack of imperialism. There are no buildings or squares that overwhelm you like in Moscow.
While there are a few genuinely large churches in Kiev, none compare in size to those of Moscow and St. Petersburg, not to mention western Europe. The word "quaint" comes to mind. Ukraine's churches are more decorative than monumental.
Kiev's green hills above the Dnipro river, spotted with churches and monuments, relay the quiet spirituality (spiritualism?) that Kiev embodies even after 70 years of enforced atheism.
Kievites live in a less busy environment than Muscovites. The pace of life is slower, there is less urgency and competition. At the same time, Moscow's cultural life is head and shoulders above Kiev, where the arts and sciences have suffered terribly from the fall of the USSR. Moscow's development in information and business runs two to three years ahead of Kiev.
Kievites seem quieter and more well-mannered than Muscovites, who are sometimes seen as being rude and irritable. Moscow has gangs of skinheads and riots at soccer games, while nothing similar to my knowledge has been reported in Kiev.
Nature in Kiev
One of the things that makes Kiev unique is the amount of wild open areas within city boundaries or adjacent to the city. Kiev is surrounded by forests on three sides and has several large islands on the Dnipro and a few smaller ones. It's possible to spend years in Kiev and know only of gray highrises, stuffy public transportation, and historic buildings downtown, but if you begin studying the map and exploring the city, you'll find an incredible amount of wild areas and greenery. See my collection of pictures of Kiev's nature, parks, and waterways.