Kiev: Maidan

Walking through the centre of the city on the second day of my trip, I unwittingly wandered down Khreschatyk Street and into Maidan, where riots earlier this year led to the overthrowing of the government.

Maidan01Maidan02Although the streets have been peaceful for a while now, the effects of the protests and violence remain tangible. Blockades constructed from piles of tyres block off traffic at both ends of the street and square, and walls and stacks have been built from bricks taken up from the pavement. The pavement may be gone, but now pedestrians wander freely down the wide, previously traffic-filled street. A few years ago I took part in a large protest in London against the rise in tuition fees, and remember most of all how strange it felt to walk down the middle of the Strand, normally blaring with cars and buses. I imagine Kievans experience the same sensation now in Maidan.

Maidan03Maidan04Maidan05Now the area has become a strange sort of tourist attraction, with visitors having their photos taken in front of tanks and burnt-out cars. There’s even the odd ice cream seller. Shrines consisting of multicoloured clusters of candles in glass jars, keepsakes and photos remember those who died.

Maidan06As I approached the main square I was puzzled by the smell of burning, but then, seeing tents, realised that many protesters are still occupying the area. The bonfire smell came from the cooking of meals rather than tyres (I’d heard rumours that pigs and chickens were also being kept in the square but saw none during my visit).

Maidan07Maidan08Maidan11Maidan09After sheltering from the rain under the tall Independence monument, I wandered out of the square again, stopping to ask a man for directions. Since my Russian (let alone Ukrainian) and his English didn’t quite meet in the middle, he called a friend out from the tent to translate.

Before I knew it I was inside, drinking tea and eating homemade cake with Ted, Alicia and Anastasia, sitting amongst pillows and sleeping bags in a large, dimly lit tent. My hosts were from different parts of the country, and different walks of life, but had been brought together by a common cause. We didn’t talk politics too much (I think their occupation speaks for itself) but I was sad to learn that political unity had loosened familial ties; one woman had become estranged from her family in Donetsk because of their difference in opinion. I placidly accepted gifts of a book, an “I love Tymoshenko” pen and a rosary (we didn’t talk religion either) and made my goodbyes.Maidan10

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Kiev: Day 1 – tour

My arrival in Kiev was greeted with torrential rain, claps of thunder, and lightning so bright the pictures look as though they were taken in broad daylight.

lightning in Kiev on Make A GifSo I was rather surprised to have come back from my first day of sightseeing with dry clothes and sunburn.

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Statue of Yaroslave the Wise, 10th century Grand Prince of Kiev, holding the cathedral of St Sophia

My guided tour began with the city’s ‘Golden Gate’, a reconstruction of the main entrance to the old city, under which a bit of 10th century wall is still preserved. The eighteenth-century zeal to recoat and paint ancient monuments also struck the city’s oldest church, St Sophia. Originally built by Yaroslav in the 11th century, its bright white, green and gold facade is hard to connect to the originally round-domed church within (as seen in the model held by Yaroslav in this statue) and its old frescoes and mosaics.

Outside St Sophia, and in several other parts of the city, clusters of candles commemorate those killed during the tragic events earlier this year.

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the bell tower and entrance of St Sophia

IMG_1575The tour was sprinkled liberally with stops at statues – to make a wish on the lucky ear of the cat, the lucky ring and shoe of the lover, the lucky hand print on Yaroslav.. This, and my guide Hannah’s enthusiastic report on the importance of the number 13 and black cats, made me wonder if she, Kiev, or both, were just a little superstitious. However, my skepticism didn’t stop me wishing on the ear of the cat for peace in Donetsk.IMG_1560IMG_1598IMG_1592

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A recently-painted mural on Andreevsky Descent

On Andreevsky Descent, we wandered past stalls selling antiques, embroidered Ukrainian shirts and tablecloths, and pottery bowls and ornaments, to number 13 – home to the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pose for a picture with the bronze Bulgakov next to the museum, holding my (borrowed) half-finished copy of The Master and Margarita. The stranger who took my picture recommended reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand* next.

IMG_1911We then went on to Vichnoi Slavy Park, a popular spot next to the Dnipro river for couples to have their wedding photos taken, and tie a ribbon to the ‘love tree’. IMG_1624When the tour finished, I asked the guide to drop me off at the Ivan Gonchar museum and National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Decorative Art, which really need a piece of their own to properly do them justice.

*20/05/2014 My dad has warned me that Atlas Shrugged is “the most extreme neo-lib novel imaginable”, and it’s been described by critics as an “homage to greed”, and “shot through with hatred”. Perhaps I’ll try Gogol’s The Overcoat instead.