Day 4: Kyiv Part Two, Ukraine

by - August 27, 2012

Inside the Upper Lavra complex
Yesterday’s day trip to Chornobyl was epic enough to have its own post, but was only the second day of our three in Kiev.  The first day in Ukraine’s capital city had been pretty rushed, so we decided to take it a bit easier and left the hostel at just before midday and treated ourselves to a morning coffee at a Ukrainian coffee chain that we have really fallen in love with (strangely enough, we have yet to see a Starbucks).  We only really had one area that we wanted to see today, the Pechersk Lavra, a complex of monasteries, churches and caves that is the centre of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. To get there required us to use the Kyiv Metro, which is ornately decorated and extremely deep - some of the escalators reportedly take up to 8 minutes to reach the surface.  The network isn’t hugely extensive and there are only three stations in the entire city where you can change between the three lines, but it got us close to the Lavra, leaving us a 15 minute walk to reach the gates.

The Upper Lavra bell tower
The complex is divided into an upper and lower part, one owned by the Russian Orthodox church and the other by the Ukrainian (apparently there is a lot of tension between the two).  We entered the upper section to start with, paying 50UAH (about 3.90GBP) plus a further 100UAH for the right to take photos, which seemed like a bit of a scam.  This did allow us access into several churches within the complex, but museums cost extra so we avoided them.  It was nice to walk around though, as it is a centre for pilgrims and is full of monks, worshippers and tourists alike.  We spent an hour or so walking around the grounds, taking in the ambience, before heading down into the lower Lavra.  This was much the same as the upper, but slightly smaller and with the extra tourist attraction of a set of catacombs.  These were originally dug back in the days when Christians were persecuted and literally ‘forced underground’.  A sprawling network spread under the city and became the place where monks were buried.  Their bodies are still there, wrapped in cloth and in glass cases and are the holiest of places within Ukraine.  Pilgrims head down into the cramped tunnels with naked candles and duck from one side to the other, kissing the cases of the dead monks.  What with every woman wearing a headscarf, it poses a serious fire hazard, but nobody seems to care and the monks guarding the entrance shepherded more and more people into the tunnel complex.  Stupidly, we didn’t realise that the candles were for finding your way rather than for prayer, and therefore stumbled around in the dark looking extremely touristy.

View over the lower Lavra complex
The motherland statue (with dramatic filter…)
After wandering around the Lavra for a couple of hours we continued south to a set of sights at the opposite end of the historical spectrum.  Kyiv suffered terribly at the hands of the Nazis and a large museum and memorial have been set up to the south of the city.  The museum itself was closed, but there were enough bits of WW2 military hardware in the open air museum for us to look at for a while.  The main highlight of the museum complex is the giant statue that has been built on top - the motherland statue, which is made of titanium and looks over the entire city.  Nothing says communism like a giant metal WW2 statue.  This essentially concluded our sight seeing tour of Kyiv.  There was far more that we could have seen with more time, but we felt we had got a good feel for the city and were now happy to move onto our next location, Odessa on the Black Sea.  We walked back to the hostel via a Ukrainian restaurant, grabbed our bags and then headed to Kyiv’s main passenger train station for the sleeper train heading south.  The train left at 22.05 and arrived at 06.55 and cost about 20GBP for a second class ticket - which is pretty good as it also saved a night in a hostel.

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