Celebrating a merry Orthodox “non”-Christmas in Kiev

Want to see an richly ornamented churches, overcrowded church services, an overabundance of delicious food places and hipster coffee places?
Kiev is the place to visit next.

Icon from the Noun Project by Icon Fair.

You are into Soviet architecture and burst real estate bubbles from the 00s, ?
Really consider Kiev. We visited Kiev over Christmas (Roman Catholic Christmas) — and the city welcomed us warm heartedly. Christmas markets on every corner, but make sure to pack yourself warmly too (it gets freezingly cold and the wind is super harsch).In case you are wondering whether you should show your affection to your same-sex partner in public, we recommend you not to. If you can bear with this, the city makes it up with its architecture, awesome vegan food and craziness.

VISIT

Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Kiev, Ukraine, 02000) — Khreschatyk Street — is the more beautiful and completed version of Berlin’s “Karl Marx Allee”. If you are into Socialist proletarian palaces make sure you spend enough time walking along this impressive parade street. I for my part was constantly impressed and tried entering as many buildings as possible. Moreover that was the place where people (very recently in 2014) expressed their will for democratic change, and that for itself is worth visiting.

Maidan.

Roshen (вул. Хрещатик, 29/1, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — When walking along the Khreschatyk Street make sure you visit Roshen. This chocolate brand is owned by the current President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. The whole store reminded me a lot of Willi Wonka’s chocolate factory in the Tim Burton movie, moreso because of the “band” playing downstairs 24/7.

https://youtu.be/d7kMpjrNG-A

PinchukArtCenter (вул. Велика Васильківська/Басейна, 1/3–2, Kyiv, Ukraine, 01004) — a small, yet fine contemporary art museum. After visiting the museum you might want to check out the coffee on top of it.

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery (Triokhsviatytelska St, 8, Kyiv, Ukraine, 01601) — was the first Orthodox church I visited in Kiev, and damn was I blown away. The vast area it covers, the sheer amount of service visitors and gold was just extraordinary. Over the time spent in Kiev, I noticed that these things are not simply prone to Mykhaylivs’kyi but to any monastery we visited.

Gorodetsky House (Bankova St, 10, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — On your way towards the Motherland Monument, you pass by this landmark. The former President’s house/palace, which he fled from with a helicopter during the Maidan protests in 2014.

Rainbow Arch (Parkova Rd, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — As you continue walking along the hills above the Dnjeper river, you will pass by the Rainbow Arch. Amazing view over the city and it is situated handily on your way to the Motherland Monument.

The Motherland Monument (запечерна, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — every country of the former Warsaw Pact (military alliance of socialist states opposed to NATO) still has them idling around somewhere in town. Walking there from Maidan you pass by some of the most relevant churches/monasteries, and you will enjoy an amazing view over the valley and town.

Kiev Pechersk Lavra.

Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Lavrska St, 15, Kyiv, Ukraine, 01015) — If you continue walking, and pass the Motherland Monument you will eventually end up at another “must-visit” site — if you want to get acquainted to Eastern European Orthodoxy is Pechersk Lavra. Since its foundation as the cave monastery in 1051 it’s been a center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe. We visited Kiev in Winter so the long and vast area of Pechersk was even more impressive. Make sure you really visit the churches, even during a service, as you will notice significant differences in the the set up and gospel.

St. Sophia’s Cathedral (Volodymyrska St, 24, Kyiv, Ukraine, 01001) — If you are not familiar with Christian Orthodox architecture, Sofiyskyi will astonish you. It is one of the “first” Orthodox cathedral, and originally was a burial place of the Kievan rulers. Since its foundations date back a thousand years much of the buildings resembles a fortification. Both the Ukranian-Greek-Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church both claim they are the “real” ones.

St. Andrew’s Church (Andriivs’kyi descent, 23, Kyiv, Ukraine, 04070) — In comparison to the other St. Sophia and Pechersk Lavra, this church was originally built in the Baroque time (18th century). Though what is more interesting than St. Andrew’s is the surrounding neighbourhood, why? Well, although the average salary is about 300€ (before taxes) the neighbourhood surrounding could be in any other EU-capital. Flashy facades, white or black iron fences, super large and newly built houses, yet hardly any people on the streets. And if there were any, then they were in their SUV cars — our friend called it “the Disneyland of the rich”.

Zhitnii Market (Verkhnii Val St, 16, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — this Soviet market hall is still functioning and worth visiting, when you want to experience some realness. Besides authentic atmosphere, stunning architecture you can also purchase traditional clothes or some pork legs.

Feel the Soviet spirit at Zhitnii Market.

Lviv Handmade Chocolate (Andriivs’kyi descent, 2Б, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — close by St. Andrew’s you will find the best chocolate in town. Definitely better than any Roshen chocolate you will find.

Expo Center of Ukraine (03127, Akademika Hlushkova Ave, 1, Kiev, Ukraine, 02000) — similarly to the World Expo, the Soviet Union states had their own expos. At these events they presented the achievements of the member states and the collectives. So what you will encounter there is a Disneyland of stylized Soviet architecture. You can still enter some of the pavilions, others have been turned into hipster Western-priced coffee houses, others are falling apart and rotting. Yet if you visit Kiev and are fascinated by Soviet architecture, make sure to pay this site a visit.

A Disney Land for Soviet Lovers — Expo Center of Ukraine.

Last but not least, in many former Soviet countries people started re-decorating public spaces on their own. In Kiev we visited two Khrushchyovkas (public housing complexes) on the other side of the Dnjeper river. In the first, someone decorated 2 floors of the staircase as a djungel. At the second one, an elderly man decorated 3 floors of the public staircase in Versaille style. Every now and then these places are then completely removed by authorities, but people then just create something similar at another house or floor. So in case you visit Kiev, make sure to google for such Khrushchyovka art houses.

Just google for such places — they exist and they’re breath taking pieces of public art.

To Chill

Although there many green spots in the city, if you want to relax in some real parks I’d recommend Park “Landscape Alley(Пейзажна Алея, Київ, Ukraine, 01025) -and the park surrounding Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (Volodymyrska St, 60, Kyiv, Ukraine, 01033). Especially the “Landscape Alley” is very picturesque as the park is on different levels and you can walk up/downhill and in this sense it does not get boring.

If you happen to visit Kiev during the Summer months, make sure to go on one of the Islands of Dnjeper river. Our friends told that real nature was preserved there, but be careful people there go sunbathing naked. ;-)

Food & Work

Katysha (Velyka Vasylkivska St, 60, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — everything at this restaurant chain is authentic. From the 60s and 70s TV shows running on the TVs, to the uniforms of the waiters and waitresses, to the food.

interior of 60/70s styled restaurant chain Katysha.

S. told that his mother used to complain about these uniforms as you only got one set for your entire four years, and that they were super uncomfortable.

It really does not matter which of the places you check out, but make sure you do! The food is very affordable, yet the taste is purely Ukrainian authenticity — an experience of its own.

Bessarabsky Market (Bessarabs’ka Square, 2, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — is an old market hall located at the end of Khreschatyk Street. The food you get there ranges from vegan burgers, to Israeli humus to fresh fish or fruit. More and more spots there were occupied by diners run by people under 30.

Vagabond Cafe And Vintage Corner (Hryhoriya Skovorody St, 7, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — close by Zhitnii Market, St. Andrew’s and the Lviv Handmade Chocolate store is this coffee and tea place. It is a typical Ukrainian hipster place that opened after the Maidan protests happened. The interior reminded me of a forest sanctuary with a lot of natural material and the tea selection is exquisite, so are their cakes.

Noodle vs Marketing (Khrestovyi Ln, 8/9, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — We accidentally ran into this place, that you have to enter through the inner courtyard of a building and then go into the basement. The noodles were made fresh in front of our eyes, the soups tasted really good, but make sure not to order your food too spicy. S. was crying most of his dinner.

One Love Coffee (Bessarabs’ka Square, 2, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — is located at the top floor of PinchukArtCenter. The whole place appears sort of dystopian, when you have designer furniture and 4€ coffee, while the average citizen would not necessarily come here. Yet it had free and fast wifi, so in case you need to work for a few hours, this is an option.

I Live (Esplanadna St, 32, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000) — is a full on vegan diner/cafeteria. Although the food options are nice, the prices are not. Going there felt somehow luxurious, and the furniture looked like some rich person’s dream made out of plastic. Be aware there are many such places around town. closed down by now — and thats good.

Kiev during Christmas season is an amazing experience. Familiar, yet definitely different in so many ways. Make sure to check out the Metro and its historic stops — telling the history of the Kiev’ Rus. Mesmerizing.