The New Ukraine

Ukraine

We weren’t exactly sure what to expect when we reached Kiev.  I (Alex) was born in Ukraine so I was excited to be there but our expectations were not very high.  We knew that there was a revolution that took place here a few years back and weren’t sure how receptive the people were to outsiders since then.

Kiev

All of our fears and doubts were quickly put to rest as soon as we checked in to our hotel (Hotel Khreschatyk).  The front desk staff was cheerful and spoke English well.  They were very accommodating and happy to help.  This was not the Ukraine that I remembered from my visit 16 years ago, this was a country had overcome much adversity and stepped into the modern era with the rest of the world.  The grim faces of the Soviet era were gone and here were a people who were optimistic for the future. A people who know where they wanted to go, a people who were excited about joining the EU and escaping the chains that had kept them bound.  Now this being said, this country is still quite poor and the people have to work hard for every dollar they make.  This is by no means a happy go lucky country but it is a country that welcomes outsiders with a smile.

We spent the first part of our trip in Kiev with our Friends Andre and Roxie who came to visit from the U.S.  We loved visiting restaurants that served traditional Ukrainian food, especially “Spotykatch” and “Puzata Hata”.  We also enjoyed wandering the city on foot, visiting the malls (underground) and the many city parks.  Be sure to check out the fountains in the evenings in the city center, in Maidan Square,  the fountains light up and dance to the music. This square played an important role in the revolution and is very cherished amongst the Ukrainians.

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There is a large banner that hangs over Maidan Square from the building that was burned during the revolution that reads- “Freedom is our Religion”–declaring the freedom that was fought for and won by many!

One of the highlights of the trip was watching “Winter on Fire” on Netflix and then the next day going to Unokovichs old compound (Misdugiriya) and taking a tour through the house he built with the Ukrainian peoples money, which he blatantly stole.  It was incredible to see that corruption existed at such levels and how carelessly billions of dollars are wasted.  It’s one thing to hear about it, it’s another thing to see it firsthand.  “Misdugiriya” aka “The House of Corruption” is well worth the visit.  Simply take an Uber from Kiev there and then follow the instructions on the front door of the house if you want to do a tour inside (bring some cash with you).

We also really enjoyed visiting the WW2 memorial park in Kiev.  You can easily spend half a day here exploring the area and the many monuments.  There is also a museum you can pay to enter (not expensive) that has many military vehicles and a lot of artifacts from the war.

  • Where to stay:
  • Where to eat:
    • Eat everywhere – We loved the traditional food at “Spotykatch” and for quick/cheap eats visit “Puzata Hata” as it is a staple here.
  • What to do:
    • Visit Misugiria (House of Corruption). You can easily spend a day at this compound. They have light food on-sight.  There are a lot of different things to explore here: parks, car museums and even a zoo.
    • Visit the WW2 memorial park in Kiev.
    • Visit the Maidan Square
    • Go to the opera in Kiev!  They have beautiful, traditional shows that transport you back in time!  (Thanks Andre and Roxie for taking us!)

Rivne

This is a city of about 250,000 people but unfortunately there is not much to see here.  We really enjoyed our stay because this is the town I was born in so it was fun to see some of my cousins and go out to the lake for a BBQ.  But unless you have family here, you will find Rivne to be a bit of a sleepy town.  However, there are beautiful parks here with lake full of swans and there is a small city center to explore as well.

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  • What to do in Rivne
    • Explore the large local Market!  This is a must!
    • Visit the Tunnel of Love, bring some mosquito repellent with you!
    • Explore the parks of the city, they have a swan park here that is beautiful.

Lviv

To be completely honest we had no plan of visiting Lviv but after countless people told us that we hd to visit it, we gave in and extended our trip in Ukraine to include Lviv and we are happy we did!  I can tell you this, Lviv is a very nice city with lots of great places to eat and vast amounts of history to explore.  One of our favorite things to do here was to simply walk the town and grab a coffee in the city square, the street performers kept us entertained.  We also enjoyed doing a little city bus tour here, helped us get our bearings and gave us a quick historical overview of the city.

  • Where to stay in Lviv:
    • we stayed in a nice Airbnb in the city center, this was great during the day but at night it is loud in the city so we recommend staying just outside the downtown.
  • Where to eat in Lviv:  We did not have a bad meal here.
    • Check out the Krayivka restaurant for a dinner and a show. It’s a pretty fun experience. Its kind of hard to find- once you get the  general area of the restaurant, find the wooden door and knock on it, a little window will open and a man will ask you for a password. Good luck guessing 😉
    • Go to the Lviv Chocolate Factory and enjoy some coffee and fresh made chocolates on the rooftop.
    • Baczewski Restaurant is a very old restaurant that serves incredible food in a beautiful setting, its quite famous here.
    • Kumpel Restaurant has the best kvas in town! We walked all over the city to find this place and we’re glad we did. Kvas is a traditional Slavic fermented beverage from Rye bread.
    • Arsenal Ribs and Spirits was one of our favorites. They serve ribs on a wooden board with sides that you choose. There are no forks or knives, so hands only! Even the salad that we ordered had to be eaten with our hands. They cook the ribs on a wood fired pit right in the center of the restaurant. It was an awesome experience!
    • The Bubble Waffle craze has also reached Ukraine! They have one in the main square that is very fairly priced.
    • Coffee Manufacture is in the “Rynok Square” that serves delicious coffee. You can go down into the coffee mine and order the coffee on fire, it was a unique experience.
    • Delicateka is a very hipster place that serves unique burgers. We felt like we were back in Seattle!
  • What to do in Lviv:
    • Walk up the many stairs at the Lviv City Council to get to the top of the tower for a nice 360 view of the town.
    • Tour bus around Lviv that gives you some history about the town (costs about $4 per person).
    • See an opera at The Lviv National Opera. We didn’t have time to see one but we’ve heard great things! The building is quite beautiful as well.
    • Walk around the old town and drink many cups of delicious coffee.

 

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