The Impeachment inspired Travel Guide to Kyiv (Ukraine)
Why have a normal travel guide to Kyiv when you can have the juicy impeachment inspired edition? I’ll tell you the popular strip joint where Rudy Giuliani and his buddies Lev and Igor spent $657 on booze and lapdances. You can eat at the restaurant where Gordon Sondland made that famous phone call telling Trump that Ukrainian president Zelensky “loves your ass”. I’ll tell you the hotels where Giuliani and his henchmen stay when In Kyiv. If you’re an Impeachment groupie you can stay, eat, and get lapdances at all the same places. But mostly I’ll describe a city that is far from the image portrayed in the American media – Kyiv is a very attractive city with some of the most impressive highlights we’ve seen in Europe.
My “Travel Guide to Kyiv” was meant to be published in a national newspaper. It got axed as the impeachment process evolved. Since it was already written I decided to make some changes and have fun with it.
A couple of preliminary things
Sorry, these might seem boring but they’re essential to a bit of background to present-day Ukraine and the conditions that set the impeachment we’re seeing today into motion.
A few things learned about Kyiv during the Impeachment hearings
I think it surprised most people listening to the impeachment hearings to hear “Kyiv” over and over again. Most Americans have never previously heard of Kyiv. They know of “Kiev” but in most cases they only know of it because of the chicken recipe. Chicken Kiev is chicken stuffed with things. Kind of like that bloated turkey Donald Trump.
Ukrainians call their city Kyiv. And they actually do serve Chicken Kiev in Ukraine but again, it’s called “Chicken Kyiv”. There’s actually a restaurant in Kyiv called “Chicken Kyiv” which specializes in Chicken “Kyiv”.
The Ukrainian Embassy has been begging Western media to call their city “Kyiv” for years. In a way the impeachment hearings have been the best marketing campaign ever in spreading the awareness.
Also, It’s “Ukraine” and not “the Ukraine”, something else many people didn’t know before these hearings. *
* Not as egregious as in Prague where we still hear visitors call the country “Czechoslovakia” 25+ years after the separation of Slovakia and the Czech Republic…
Before we spent 2 months in Ukraine last year we made some of the same mistakes. It’s just habit out of hearing those versions all of our lives and not meant as any disrespect of Ukraine. Now we laugh when we hear presidents and government officials still using “Kiev” and “the Ukraine”. You’d think they’d know better.
On Ukraine’s love for the US and Trump
Much has been made about Trump’s comment about not giving a shit about Ukraine. Much of the way he feels is due to not feeling any love from Ukrainian officials in the 2016 elections. He felt that they wanted Hillary to win.
But that’s very different from Ukraine not feeling the love for the USA. In 2013/2014 there was a war going on in the streets of Kyiv when the former president decided to align Ukraine’s future with Russia. The people revolted and fought the police for over 6 months. The Ukrainian people wanted to align themselves to Europe and the USA. Over 100 people died but in the end the people got what they wanted – the president fled to Russia and the new government aligned itself with the US and the West. That’s when the US government started pouring all this military aid into Ukraine….the military aid that was all put on the line by Trump in his dealings with the new Ukrainian president.
How many people would put their lives on the line to fight for their country’s freedom for a wish to align themselves with the West? Netflix has a great documentary on it called “Winter on Fire. Ukraine’s fight for Freedom”(click on that link to see a preview).
Incidentally, the former Ukrainian president who wanted to steer the country into the hands of Russia was Viktor Yanukovych. And who was the guy who brokered Yanukovych’s dealings with Russia? It was Paul Manafort. The same Paul Manafort who would soon end up being Trump’s campaign manager. And the same Paul Manafort who’s now in jail for conspiracy against the United States.
As for Trump being upset about Ukraine not feeling the love from Ukraine? I can’t think of any country happy about Trump having been elected as the new president. So Ukraine was pretty much the same as every other country in the world…
We were in Japan when Trump was elected…
Impeachment hotspots (Where to Stay)
Want to stay in the same hotel as Paul Manafort? And Rudy Giuliani? They stay at the Hyatt Regency, situated with great views over Saint Sophia’s Cathedral and St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery. Ultimate luxury including sweet dreams of Vladimir Putin whispering conspiracy theories of DNC servers in your ear. Or are you more the Lev Parnas/Igor Fruman type? They stay at the Hilton. Because even evil henchmen who stick guns in people’s faces enjoy luxury.
If you’re looking for something a bit more affordable I recommend: Crystal Hotel near Maidan Nezalezhnosti (excellent hotel near the main square), KievInn (between the main square and Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. Excellent location and price), Central Area Apartments on Khreshatyk street (centrally located, good price, apartment ).
So what’s Kyiv like?
Trump has been going on and on about corruption in Ukraine, using it as justification to withholding the military aid to the country (because Trump cares about corruption. Laughtrack). With all the talk of corruption in Ukraine, you’d expect Kyiv to be a crappy 3rd world stinkhole. It’s anything but…
We didn’t expect Kyiv to be as attractive as it is.
Kyiv is a very hilly, very green city. The right bank of the city (where you’ll find the downtown core and the city’s highlights) is lined by parks filled with monuments and lookouts. They look over the huge green expanse of islands that separate the right bank of the Dnieper river from the left bank (which is mostly residential). You can spend a whole day just walking along the bluffs above the river, looking at the city on one side and across the other side at the river and the left bank beyond.
The downtown itself is a hodgepodge of different architectural styles, with Soviet era Stalinist baroque buildings standing next to modern highrises. As is typical in ex-Soviet cities, boulevards are large with wide sidewalks and often culminate in big squares dominated by monuments, fountains, churches and monasteries. What’s more, the streets are clean and often lined with trees. We’ve spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe and the Balkans where cities usually have a “gritty charm”. Kyiv is different – it’s grand, spacy and clean.
Another surprise: we weren’t prepared for the wealth that we saw in Kyiv. You’ll see fancy restaurants, glitzy shopping centers and people driving big SUVs. Khreshatyk street is one of Europe’s most prestigious shopping streets. There are many well-dressed women, many sporting those Daffy Duck lips. Obviously there’s money is Kyiv. During our month there we had no issues finding anything that we would find in any modern European capital. This is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. It’s a city where Melania and Ivanka would feel comfortable.
As a tourist destination, Kyiv’s highlights are incredible and unlike what you’ll find anywhere in Europe. Colourful Orthodox cathedrals and monasteries with golden onion domes, huge Soviet-era statues and monuments, impressive remnants of Kyiv’s history as the capital of the Kievan Rus state. I don’t often throw around words like “stupendous” – but it is the best word to describe some of the sights we saw in Kyiv. I go into detail below.
Impeachment hotspot (Where to Party)
Want to party like a rock star dirty lawyer? Rudy and his buddies Lev and Igor’s favorite Kyiv strip club is Tootsies. According to the website their strippers perform “the best erotic pirouettes in Kyiv”. They “invite you to discover a private room with no prying eyes”. Rudy and friends spent $657 on a night here, charging it as a business expense.
Below: Lev with a Russian hooker
13 Places you absolutely have to see in Kyiv
Saint Sophia’s Cathedral
You’ll often hear references to the “Kievan Rus” period when in Kyiv. Kievan Rus was the first East Slavic state, starting towards the end of the 9th century and lasting to the 13th century. The state extended from the Baltics (covering the eastern part of what is now Finland) to modern-day Belarus, Ukraine, and Western Russia. Kyiv was the capital of this state.
Saint Sophia’s Cathedral was built in the 11th century, when the Kievan Rus period was at its height. It is the oldest church in Kyiv, the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ukraine, and the city’s best known landmark.
The cathedral was originally built to rival Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (then Constantinople) and celebrated Kyiv as the “new Constantinople”. It is a gorgeous cathedral with many original frescos and mosaics dating from 1017 – 1031.
You can wander the grounds and climb the tower. The tower gives outstanding views over the cathedral and the city. You’ll also have great views of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery (which is a 5 minute down the street).
St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
One of the most photographed highlights of Kyiv. Outside and in, it is absolutely incredible.
Like Saint Sophia’s, it was built in the 11th century. It survived the Mongols (who invaded Kyiv in 1240 and removed the gold-plated domes) but didn’t survive the Soviet period. The Communist authorities demolished the monastery in 1934 (they had wanted to do the same with Saint Sophia but changed their minds at the last minute).
The monastery was rebuilt in 1999 after the fall of the Soviet Union and includes many of the works of art from the original monastery. These had been stored in Moscow and it took long negotiations to get them back.
Today it is a fully-functioning church and monastery. Like Saint Sophia’s Cathedral it has a bell tower that is worth climbing.
The Golden Gate
The Golden Gate was one of 3 main entrances to the city during the Kievan Rus period in the 11th century. At that time the entire city was surrounded by ramparts and moats for security.
The gate standing here today was rebuilt in 1982. Inside you’ll see some of the original fortifications of the wall and, going up, you’ll find a little church at the top of the structure. Again, this is another great spot for views.
Maiden Nezalezhnosti is the main square in Kyiv. An attractive square full of monuments, fountains, and circled by attractive buildings in Stalinist style, it has always been the center of parades or protests. It was here in 2013 that the Euromaiden protests occurred (I wrote about that above). The violent protests ended with president Yanukovych fleeing to Russia and to Ukraine adopting closer relations with the EU and the US.
The square is a lively spot, especially on weekends when Khreshatyk street (the main boulevard leading to the square) is closed to car traffic.
Khreshatyk Street is a large, attractive avenue that runs through the center of Kyiv. It was completely destroyed in World War II when the retreating Red Army remotely detonated explosions in over 300 buildings along the avenue to stop the advancing Nazis.
The avenue was rebuilt in the 1950s in Stalinist baroque style. You’ll see some examples of this style in the many apartment buildings, government offices and departments stores. Today it is one of Europe’s most prestigious shopping streets. Have a look at TSUM, an ex-Soviet style department store that is now a gleaming luxury shopping center.
Impeachment hotspot (Where to Eat)
Eat like an Ambassador to the EU (although Ukraine is not in the EU. But this is the Trump presidency where stupidity is a virtue). So where was EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland eating when he made that infamous call to Trump? The one where he told Trump that president Zelensky “loves you ass”? It was Restaurant SHO, a fancy restaurant that serves both international and Ukrainian food. On the menu you’ll find Ukrainian specialties like Varenyk (they’re a sort of dumpling) with rabbit, and Zrazy (stuffed potato) filled with meat or cabbage.
Right across the street is one of our favorite spots in Kyiv: Good Wine. It is a very upmarket grocery store with imported products from around the world. You can find anything here including lots of great wine (at surprisingly good prices). If you had a preconceived idea of Kyiv it’ll be shattered when you come to this store.
St. Andrew’s Church
This beautiful baroque church, designed by an Italian architect, was built in 1754 on the wishes of a Russian Empress who wanted to have her summer home in Kyiv. It is located on a hill on the edge of downtown, with views over the Dnieper river and the neighbourhood of Podil.
Right by the church is Andriyivskyy Descent (Andrew’s descent) which is a very popular tourist street full of restaurants and artists’ stalls. Walking down the street (which I recommend) will bring you to the old Podil neighbourhood which is also worth a visit.
The Motherland Monument
This huge monument (62 meters or 203 feet tall) looms over the Dnieper river and can be seen from much of the city. It was completed in 1981 by the Soviet authorities as a war memorial.
It is a colossal and beautiful statue. It is also controversial because you’ll see the huge state emblem of the Soviet Union on the shield of the statue. According to the 2015 decommunization laws adopted by Ukraine it is outlawed. But the emblem still exists today.
Around the monument are Soviet-era statues and monuments, some of the grandest we’ve seen anywhere. You’ll also see lots of military hardware like planes, helicopters and tanks.
Within the base of the Motherland Statue is the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World. It’s an incredible war museum. I cover that just below.
Related: Kyiv has the most impressive highlights in Ukraine. But Lviv (in Western Ukraine) is the place we’ve fallen in love with. After spending a month there in 2018 we came back in 2019 and spent 3 months. Why we loved our summer in Lviv.
National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War
Aka The Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War.
The largest, most detailed, and best war museum we’ve seen anywhere. It’s full of everything: German military uniforms, motorcycles, missiles, trucks, artillery, even the remains of a downed plane. Almost 11 million Soviet soldiers died during World War II including 1.7 million from Ukraine (Ukraine also suffered over 5 million civilian deaths). The thousands upon thousands of photos in the museum – especially in the last hall honouring the Ukrainian soldiers who lost their lives – is sobering.
We walked out happy to be alive, feeling like we had just lived through the Second World War. Fantastic museum.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra
Kiev Pechersk Lavra, also known as Kviv Monastery of the caves, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be THE highlight of a visit to Kyiv.
The site was originally a cave monastery (starting in 1051) and included an underground church, chapels, and living quarters for monks. With time the complex grew to include an exterior cathedral, bell tower, walled fortifications, as well as many smaller churches. The complex is still an active monastery which means you’ll see monks while wandering the grounds (which you can easily spend half a day doing).
St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral
This cathedral took our breath away. It is one of the most beautiful church interiors we’ve seen anywhere. The mosaics were crafted by masters from Venice, the iconostasis carved out of white marble from Carrara, the frescos produced by famous Russian and Ukrainian painters.
The cathedral was built to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Christianization of Kievan Rus, which officially happened in 988 when ruler Vladimir the Great was baptised.
Mariyinsky Palace and Mariyinsky Park
This baroque-style palace was completed in 1752 by the same Italian architect who built St. Andrew’s church. It is today the official residence of the President of Ukraine and is often used for ceremonial functions (Bill Clinton was here in June of 2000). Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu recently met with President Zelensky in Mariyinsky Palace.
There’s not much to see since you can’t enter the grounds. But the palace is located in a beautiful park (Mariyinsky Park) on a high bluff overlooking the Dnieper river. After a walk through the park (which is full of statues and fountains) you can walk downtown through a forest with river views on one side and city views on the other. Walking along this route will bring you to the People’s Friendship Arch (which I cover next). It will make you appreciate what a green city Kyiv is.
People’s Friendship Arch
The People’s Friendship Arch was dedicated to the unification of the Soviet Union and the Ukraine. It was built in 1982 by the Soviet authorities to celebrate 2 events – the 60th anniversary of the USSR and the 1500th anniversary of Kyiv.
With the new decommunization laws and the current-day conflict with Russia there’s been talk of dismantling the arch and the monuments underneath it. But it still stood while we were there and they were celebrating a new friendship – that between Ukraine and Armenia (which is a strange friendship as Armenia has close relations with Russia. It’s like dating your ex-girlfriend’s sister).
Besides a pretty cool arch in a park setting, the location also has fantastic views over the river and is a favorite local hangout with an amusement park and lots of food and drink stalls.
House with Chimaeras
One of the weirdest things you’ll ever see. A weird experience as well because you’ll need your passport to get close to it.
The building was constructed by Władysław Horodecki, a Polish architect, in 1901 – 1902. He was a hunter so he decided to decorate the exterior of the building with busts of exotic animals and hunting scenes.
Today the building is used for official and diplomatic ceremonies. An interesting meeting of note: Vladimir Putin met with then Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko on December 22nd, 2006. Yushchenko was the man who many will remember as having been poisoned in 2004 during the election campaign against Viktor Yanukovych (the Russian-supported candidate who, with the help of Paul Manafort, later became president, setting up the 2013 Euromaiden protests). Russia was suspected of being behind the plot.
I mentioned you need a passport. That’s because the house is on a street full of government buildings including the President’s office. Getting to the House with Chimaeras means bringing your passport and going through a security checkpoint.
A few fun things to see in Kyiv on a rainy day
The Kyiv metro has some interesting stations, including one of the most beautiful metro stations in the world.
Kyiv has the Museum of Toilet History which is in the Guiness book of records for having “the largest collection of souvenir toilet bowls in the world”. Something else to do on a rainy day.
Final thoughts on Impeachment
Trump will be impeached by the House of Representatives. There’s no doubt about that. He’ll be the 3rd president impeached in US history.
It probably won’t really mean anything other than making the history books. The Republican-held Senate won’t remove him from office. He might even be re-elected next November.
I’ve written about what I think of Trump. He’s actually worse than I previously thought.
But I think the scariest thing is the 40% of people who still support him.
It’s ironic and fitting that Ukraine would be what impeached Trump. This was a country that struggled for so long to have freedom and then, when they finally had it, they had to literally fight in the streets to preserve it. It’s a lesson – in the end it all comes down to the people. Are Americans happy to keep Trump in power? If not what are people willing to do to fight for their democracy?
Getting Around: the Metro is excellent, very inexpensive, and super easy to get around. Some of the metros are actually highlights onto themselves (one is considered among the most beautiful metro stops in the world) and we took one afternoon to ride the metro and stop at a whole bunch of stations to take some photos. See my post here on the 10 Most Beautiful Metro Stations in Kyiv.
Uber is everywhere in Kyiv and is usually how we got around.
Accommodation: We were in Kyiv a month and stayed in this Airbnb apartment in the Lypky area, which is up a steep hill from the center. Nice for a long-term stay if you don’t mind the inconvenience of going up and down that hill for most of your needs. If you haven’t signed up for Airbnb you can sign up here and get a $35 US discount on your first stay. Hotels. For a shorter stay I recommend being somewhere centrally located. A few recommendations: Crystal Hotel near Maidan Nezalezhnosti (excellent hotel near the main square), KievInn (between main square and Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. Excellent location and price), Central Area Apartments on Khreshatyk street (centrally located, good price, apartment ).
Organized Tours. We did all our sightseeing independently. But we were also in Kyiv a month. If you’re limited for time I’d recommend this Central Kiev 3 hour walking tourwhich will take you to the main highlights. Note, it doesn’t include Kiev Pechersk Lavra which you have to see, either independently or with a tour (as I mention, this one is recommended). Looking for something unusual? How aboutthis tour of the Kyiv underground tunnels? (it’s on my list for next time). Or shooting automatic rifles at a shooting range? (we did it in Prague and it was a highlight). Finally, many people come to Kyiv because they want to visit Chernobyl. This full-day tour takes you there.
Food shopping. We didn’t eat at restaurants much in Kyiv, preferring instead to cook at our apartment. Silpo is a large, modern grocery store chain and you’ll find everything you need. There are several stores in central Kyiv. Good wine is very upmarket and sells imported products from around the world. You can find anything here including lots of great wine. If you had a preconceived idea of Kyiv it’ll be shattered when you come to this store. Bessarabsky Market in downtown Kyiv is good for fruits and vegetables and is worth seeing – but we found prices artificially high (much more than at the local markets in Lviv). Better to buy your everyday produce at the many small stores you’ll find around the city (or at Silpo which I mentioned above).
Flights (and hotels). Kyiv has a modern airport with many flights coming/leaving for most of Europe. We flew out with Czech Airlines to Prague. We use Expedia for all our flight bookings. We also use it to book hotels when bundling a flight with a hotel stay (bundling flights/hotels results in big savings).
Safety. With the war going on with Russia in the East, some of our readers have been curious about safety in Kyiv. The only signs we’ve seen of the war are lots of soldiers and security personnel. When we took the train from Lviv to Kyiv about half the train was filled with soldiers going east. In Kyiv, government buildings are blocked off and guarded by soldiers. Other than that, life carries on normally in Kyiv and you would never know that there’s a war to the east*.
*Note: we always recommend people keep up with the news for changes.
So, does the above change your perception of Kyiv?
Like This Article? Pin it!
Ps. If you find our blog helpful, please consider using our links to book your flights, hotels, tours, and car rentals. Have a look at our Travel Resources page.