When I visited in Kiev last year, it was a different city than what is in the news today.
I went there in November, a couple of weeks before the current political turmoil started. I’ve been invited by my two former couchsurfer guests, Artem and Oleksandr, who had convinced me to visit them in Kiev.
Life in the city went on as normal. There were no barricades, no protesters, no riot police officers. Roads were full, not of protesters, but of cars and yellow marshrutkas hailing in passengers along the highway. People were preoccupied of their own daily lives and not of political discussions.
My first day in Kiev, I walked around Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) with my friend Artem. The main avenue across Indepedence Square, Khreshchatyk, were closed on weekends for Kiev locals to enjoy a stroll on that autumn afternoon. There were segways, young Ukrainian girls selling sweets and people participating in local games of hanging on a tube for more than 90 seconds.
There were no riot police officers and protesters clashing on each other. Instead, I saw mascots of Puss in Boots, Despicable Me minions and giant pandas crowding the square. The only tension I felt then was when a giant stuffed Tigger was bugging us to pay to have a photo with them.
The roads did not smell of teargas but of coffee coming from weird snail-shape pink coffee carts.
The city skyline had hardly any smoke on it but instead it’s the golden domes of the St.Andrew and St. Sophia churches that greeted my eyes as I looked upwards.
From the viewpoint overlooking the Dnipro river, the city was brown and red, not from smog and flames but from autumn leaves scattered on the roads.
I came to Kiev without much expectations yet left with a vow to visit again.
However my dream of coming back may not come anytime soon.
As I watch the news today and follow my friends’ Facebook posts, it’s obvious that it’s not the Kiev that I saw in November. I feel anxious and disheartened with the news I received. I feel helpless not having the power to act to curb the situation. It’s hard to see the once vibrant Maidan square is now tainted with blood from the ongoing violent protests fuelled by contrasting political ideologies. What I see is not the reflection of the vibrant and happy Kiev locals that I once met but rather of people tired of oppression, corruption and political unrest.
(Photo by Sasha Maksymenko)
It’s hard to imagine how fast the city transformed to what I currently see now. And the outlook looks like there will be no easy end out.
Unfortunately, the spotlight it continues to gain is not only the spotlight it deserves. I hope that after this turmoil, whenever it will be, the Kiev of my memories will still be there.
And I hope that a lot of travelers will not be discourage to visit Kiev after this event. For sure I won’t be.
It’s a great city that flourishes with traditions, historical sights and of people that despite the language barrier are willing to help you. Not forgetting also that it’s a place that has one of the cheapest public transportation and bottles of vodka.
I hope that this underrated travel destination will rise back from the ashes and show the world it’s true side – the side that people deserve to see.
(Photo by Sasha Maksymenko)
It’s a city that stood the test of time for thousand of years and I have high hopes that it will stand this test as well.
But now, from a mere spectator, all I can do is hope that the situation will be better.