Tag Archives: kiev
August 5, 2013

POTD: Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine

One question that I often get from people who want to travel to Chernobyl is where to stay in Kiev. Well, like any destination, it depends on your budget and tastes. In Kiev, accommodation ranges widely from bunk bed filled hostels on the outskirts of town to five star hotels in the city center. When my friends and I visited Kiev, we opted for neither of those options and instead rented an apartment. Yes, you can rent an apartment for just a few days, often at rates far below that of a decent hotel (especially if there are several of you, and you can split the cost). Plus, the apartments have kitchens, so you can purchase groceries and cook your own meals instead of eating out all the time (of course, we opted to eat at restaurants because none of us really enjoy cooking that much). The property manager of the apartment also picked us op and dropped us off at the airport for an additional small fee, which definitely saved us the hassle of trying to explain the location to an airport cab driver.

Another perk of renting Kiev apartments is the location. The apartment we rented was located very close to Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), the central square of Kiev. The above photo shows the monument to Berehynia in the middle of the square. In Slavic mythology, Berehynia is a female spirit who serves as the “hearth mother, protectoress of the home”. This square has also been the site of many political demonstrations throughout Ukrainian history, most notably when Orange Revolution protesters pitched their tents on this square.

In addition to Independence Square, Khreshchatyk Street was just a few minutes walk away; this is the main street of Kiev where you can find plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities (and in our case, the TGI Friday’s where we celebrated American independence day with burgers and beer). If you have very limited time in Kiev, I would highly recommend renting an apartment in this area since so much is within walking distance, including the beautiful St. Sophia Cathedral.

Most apartments will also be equipped with wifi and TV, in case you’d like to catch up on Facebook or see what the Ukrainian version of MTV is like (actually much better than American MTV because they actually play, you know, music). I’ve rented apartments throughout Western and Eastern Europe without any issue and would definitely recommend it to any cost-conscious traveler.

December 15, 2010

FAQ: I want to tour Chernobyl. How do I get there?

Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Chernobyl nuclear power plant
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, July 2007

Since the Ukrainian government recently announced that the exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl disaster site will be open for tours beginning in 2011, interest in touring the region has exploded (along with traffic to my blog). Media reports have been rather erroneous, however, as private companies have actually been leading tours of the exclusion zone for many years. I traveled there in 2007 and since then I have received a substantial number of emails from people who are interested in making the trip themselves. I’ve been meaning to put together a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to address most of the common questions but have kept putting it off. Well, no longer…here is the list of frequently asked questions posed to me by readers, and my answers.

How did you get there?
As strange as it sounds, a Chernobyl tour was actually quite easy to arrange. We booked our tour through the travel agency SoloEast. You have to let them know ahead of time so that they can submit your details (i.e., passport number) to the Ukrainian government for clearance. Also, if you do this far enough ahead of time there is an opportunity for others interested in touring on that day to sign up for your tour, which will lower the cost. SoloEast will pick you up in Kiev and take you to Chernobyl, and then bring you back to Kiev. Yes, it’s really that easy.

Another option you might want to consider is taking one of the tours that is led by former Pripyat residents. I’d really like to visit Chernobyl again, and if I were to return to Ukraine, I would definitely look into doing this. You can find out tour dates and more info at chernobylzone.com.

Amusement park in Pripyat, a city of 50,000 abandoned shortly after the Chernobyl disaster

How much was the tour?
At the time we went, our tour cost approximately $115 per person. Prices have risen over the years, however. A solo tour will cost you $490, but if you round up a few others the price drops to $100-205 depending on the number of participants.

Soviet crest atop a Pripyat apartment building

Where do you go? What do you see?
Everywhere. A lot. You’ll visit the Memorial to the Liquidators who literally saved the world. You’ll visit Kopachi, a village so contaminated with radiation that the government bulldozed it and buried its remains. All that remains of it are mounds of dirt skewered by the occasional radiation sign. You’ll stand 100 meters from the infamous reactor #4, where the explosion occurred, and feed the giant catfish in the nearby cooling pond. The highlight of the tour is Pripyat, a city that 50,000 residents called home until they were evacuated following the explosion at reactor #4. Today, Pripyat remains as a Soviet city frozen in time, visited by curious tour groups, vandals, and looters. You’ll visit the graveyard of ships and a collection of vehicles that were used in the cleanup of Chernobyl. And then you will be provided with a hearty lunch back at the Chornobylinterinform office.

chernobyl ship graveyard

Where do you fly to?
Boryspil International Airport (KBP) in Kiev. If you go in the summer (I went in July 2007), like I did, roundtrip to Kiev from the USA will run about $1000+. If you’re coming from Europe, or going to Kiev in the winter, it will be substantially cheaper.

Where do you stay?
SoloEast now gives you the option of spending a night at a hotel within the exclusion zone area itself (it is primarily for visiting scientists and researchers) so you can ask them about that. But in general since tours are only for a day you will stay in Kiev, which is 2.5 hours from the zone. As for accommodation in Kiev, skip the overpriced hotels and rent an apartment. We used KievApts.com and rented a place in the city center near Independence Square. Can’t beat that location. KievApts will also arrange to pick you up at the airport if you’d like.

kiev apartment bedspread
You know you want to stay in an apartment that features this bedspread!

Is it safe to visit Chernobyl? Were there any protective measures?
Is it safe? Well, they say it is, and obviously it wasn’t a huge concern of mine, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone. One of my friends used to work in the nuclear industry and thought I was nuts for going there, though. There are a lot of rules you have to follow there and they go over them once you get to the zone (i.e, stick to the asphalt and don’t step on the radioactive moss). When you book your tour, SoloEast will advise you of the proper clothing and shoes to wear, but other than that, you won’t be walking around the zone in white suits. At the end of the tour, you’ll pass through a checkpoint that will scan you for any stray radioactive particles you might have picked up. Our group cleared the checkpoint with no problems, but if you don’t then you might be subject to a chemical shower.

radiation checkpoint near chernobyl
All clear

Was the tour in English?

Do they speak English in Ukraine?
From my own experience, many of the younger Ukrainians spoke English. I speak horrible Russian and managed quite well over there, but I think you will be fine if you don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian. Just think of it as an adventure. I would recommend learning the Cyrillic alphabet if you are not already familiar with it because all street/metro signs in Kiev are in Cyrillic. It’s not that hard and will only take a few hours to master it. Trust me.

If you have any further questions that haven’t been addressed here, shoot me an e-mail or leave them in the comments section and I will answer them.

November 20, 2010

POTD: Sculpture of Soviet soldiers in Kiev

Sculpture of Soviet World War II soldiers near the Rodina Mat monument in Kiev.

October 11, 2010

POTD: Colorful Tanks in Kiev

tanks in Kiev

tanks in Kiev

Tanks near the Rodina Mat statue in Kiev. I’m quiet certain this wasn’t the paint job they received at the factory.

October 9, 2010

POTD: Kiev Monastery of the Caves

The Kiev Monastery of the Caves is one of the most famous sights in Kiev, primarily due to its complex system of underground tunnels. Upon entering the tunnels, you are surrounded by worshipers prostrating themselves before icons, lighting candles, and kissing glass coffins that contain the remains of monks. Yeah, it’s pretty weird.

September 24, 2010

POTD: Monument to Berehynia in Kiev’s Independence Square

Berehynia monument

Berehynia monument

In Slavic mythology, Berehynia is a female spirit who serves as the “hearth mother, protectoress of the home”. This monument to Berehynia is located in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev, Ukraine.

March 9, 2008

Lessons from the former Soviet Union: How to park your car in Kiev

Mercedes parked on a sidewalk in Kiev, Ukraine

Mercedes parked on a sidewalk in Kiev, Ukraine

If you were under the impression that sidewalks existed solely for the use of pedestrians, you would be wrong. At least if you were in Kiev, where it is quite common for drivers to park on sidewalks. With Kiev’s horrendous traffic, you’re also likely to see cars driving down the sidewalk, as we did while on our bus coming back from Chernobyl. Our bus driver felt it was appropriate to drive on the sidewalk rather than wait at a busy intersection. Amazingly, no pedestrians were harmed in the process.

August 20, 2007

Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Kiev Monastery of the Caves)

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

I’m accumulating a rather impressive collection of head scarves due to my travels throughout the former Soviet Union. It’s not that I actually collect head scarves, or even wear them, but I always forget to pack one and am thus forced to purchase yet another before heading into an Orthodox cathedral/church/monastery/whatever. While visiting the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, I opted for a cheap, boring yellow scarf. (Nothing will ever top the head scarf I purchased for our trip to a monastery in Novgorod a few years back…it was bright pink and covered with several large flamingos. I think the monks were duly impressed…or appalled.)

The Kiev Monastery of the Caves is one of the most famous sights in Kiev, primarily due to its complex system of underground tunnels. Upon entering the tunnels, you are surrounded by worshipers prostrating themselves before icons, lighting candles, and kissing glass coffins that contain the remains of monks. I was convinced that, while navigating through the narrow passageways, I would bump into a member of the candle carrying faithful and my cheap, yellow headscarf would soon be in flames. I do not recall seeing any fire extinguishers down there. If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to avoid the caves.

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kiev Pechersk Lavra
Seriously, how unbelievably cute is that little onion dome?

August 19, 2007

Make sure to secure the door when I am gone. There are many dangerous people who wanna take things from Americans, and also kidnap them. Good night!

our apartment in Kiev

I love Eastern European apartments. Where else would you find such an awesome bedspread? (Except, of course, perhaps in a certain genre of movies produced in the San Fernando Valley during the 1970s?)

our apartment in Kiev
Yes, I slept here.

If you are looking for a place to stay in Kiev, I’d recommend checking out kievapts.com. The apartments are decently priced, especially when compared to a hotel, and it’s much more comfortable than a hostel. We really couldn’t have asked for a better location – our place was about a 2-3 minute walk to Independence Square.

our apartment in Kiev
The building’s exterior could use a bit of work…

our apartment in Kiev
Ryan loved his inflatable bed

I stole the title of this post from the movie Everything is Illuminated. If you haven’t seen this film, and you’ve spent some time in Eastern Europe, you need to put it on your Netflix queue ASAP.

August 1, 2007

Kiev: You’ve seen one Rodina Mat, you’ve seen ’em all

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev

One thing the Soviet Union excelled at (besides sending dogs into space, building intercontinental ballistic missiles, and producing awesome holiday cards) was designing some rather impressive war memorials. Due to my interest in the Eastern front of World War II (or, as they say in the former USSR, The Great Patriotic War – Великая Отечественная война), I always feel obliged to visit these memorials, even if it means dragging myself and my friends up whatever hill the memorial is situated on. The Kiev memorial, Rodina Mat, more or less follows the standard Moscow decreed blueprint for war memorials (highest point of elevation, stern-looking woman holding sword, various military vehicles scattered about the grounds). At a height of over 200 feet, however, Kiev’s Rodina Mat does not disappoint.

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
If only I had a plastic sword, I could look even more foolish

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Close-up of the shield (thank you, 12x zoom)

tanks near Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
I’m positive this wasn’t the original paint job…

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Sculptures throughout the grounds

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Ryan and I

There is also a small outdoor exhibit containing a variety of Soviet aircraft, tanks, and artillery pieces. And you already know how much I love Soviet military pieces

Soviet plane in Kiev
Could use a new paint job
Katyusha in Kiev

missile in Kiev
tanks in Kiev
MiG in Kiev
tank in Kiev
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamn arms race