I was in Kiev in mid-Nov 2014, which happened to be one year after the 2013 EuroMaidan demonstrations began. Here are my 10 observations:
1. It was cheap. At the ATM at the airport the maximum amount I could take out was 500 UAH, which was about 25 Euros. Several other ATMs in town issued a maximum of 500 UAH too — though there were some that issued more. The price of a metro ticket was 2 UAH, which was about 10 cents. Dinner for 2 people with drinks at an average restaurant cost 12-15 Euros.
2. Even though it was cheap, there were no signs of poverty. I didn’t see beggars or homeless people. However, apart from the large number of luxury cars, it didn’t look like there was much money around either.
3. It was nationalist. Ukrainian flags and colours of the flag were ubiquitous. Trains and postboxes in the apartment building were yellow and blue. There were toilet paper and doormats with Putin’s face for sale.
4. Albeit Russian was widely spoken.
5. Our Airbnb apartment was overlooking Maidan Nezalezhnosti where the protests began in Nov 2013. There was one burnt building with scaffolding around it — the Trade Unions Building which was occupied by protesters and burnt down in Feb 2014. We came across old ladies reading poems and there was an exhibition of pictures of the revolution. Otherwise it was calm and quiet.
6. Kiev is a nice city. It has large solid 18th-20th century buildings lining wide boulevards. There were also buildings such as the House with Chimaeras built by the architect and hunter Vladislav Gorodetsky who had an interesting life that took him to Siberia, Poland, Persia among other places.
7. Despite it being freezing outside, the apartment was hot. Not sure if this meant gas was cheap.
8. We met 2 cool Ukrainians:
- 15 year old Anastasia from Crimea who had moved to Kiev with her mother and sibling. Even though her first language was Russian, life had become difficult in Crimea. Her father had stayed behind because he owned a business. But it was becoming increasingly complicated for him to travel, so he was thinking of moving to Kiev soon too.
- Iryna who was working for the UNDP as a logistics officer. Her role was to procure goods for IDPs (internally displaced person) from Eastern Ukraine. Most days, she told us, she was working till 9-10pm.
9. The Lenin statue on Khreshchatyk Street had been toppled. Other Sovietic monuments such as the giant 62-meter tall Rodina Mat (Motherland Monument) were still standing. However, the Memorial in Commemoration of Famines’ Victims (below) erected in 2008 (for famines believed to have been caused by policies of Stalin to curb Ukrainian nationalism), was the most poignant.
10. I learned they drink vodka cold from the fridge as a shot and eat pig fat, and that the cuisine was surprisingly rich with dumplings (Varenyky), cabbage rolls (Holubtsi), beetroot soup (Borscht).