Sunday, 10 June 2018


1st - 2nd June 2018

Rodina Mat, or Defence of the Motherland Monument, or The Iron Lady.  Overlooking Kiev.
I had only two days to look around Kiev (Kyiv). The first being a guided tour by our excellent guide Vladimir and the second just a solo wander. So a fairly cursory glimpse. 
It is, in all respects, a lovely city with a very picturesque Old Town area. It suffered enormous damage during WW2 inflicted by both the Germans on their invasion in 1941 and by the Soviets when they re-took the city, with many ancient and beautiful churches and public buildings being destroyed. Amazingly most of the destroyed old buildings, especially the churches and cathedrals, have been painstakingly and accurately rebuilt to their original specifications. Must have cost a lot of money. As you may appreciate, the present day western Ukrainians are not particularly fond of the Russians and are comparatively westernised in their outlook.

Writing here is in Cyrillic alphabet, so Anglisised spelling is a phonetic per Kyiv/Kiev. The enormous main river which divides the city is pronounced and spelt from Cyrillic as the 'Dnipro', but we know it as the Dnieper. I will, for simplicity's sake, stick to the Anglicised versions of spelling.

One of the most striking features, albeit of no historic relevance, is the appearance of the young ladies about town. The proportion of Pretty Slim Stylishly-Dressed Girls (PSG) to Ugly Fat Kangarillapigs (UFK) is about 50 PSG : 1 UFK. Nearly all girls/ladies ander the age of 35 are seriously attractive. In several towns and cities in UK (ie Newbury, Swindon, Reading with which I am currently familiar) the proportion is almost the reverse 1 PSG : 50 UFK. I can't be sure of the reason for this. Maybe genetics, or just the fact that they take infinitely more care about their diet and their looks. Just thought I would mention it.

Right: The Rus Hotel, our base in Kiev. It looks rather 'Soviet Grim', but was in fact comfortable, the lifts worked and it had a good bar and terrace restaurant with very pleasant and efficient staff. OK, the lights in my bathroom fused when I switched them on, there was no plug in the handbasin and the bedroom curtains collapsed when pulled together, but apart from that, no problem.

Our gang of 8 set off from the Rus hotel in a mini-bus for a conducted tour by Vladimir at 8.00am. We passed the entrance to Kiev University (left).

......and (right) on to the 'Golden Gates' (Zoloti Vorota) which was the original main entrance to the old city. Not golden at all but got the name from the 'gold' visitors had to pay to get in. You can go in and go up but we didn't get the chance. The statue outside is of Yaroslav the Wise, the former ruler, but is christened 'The Monument to the Kiev Cake' which you will understand when looking at it. What a poseur! I can't work out what he is trying to pose as.
Nearby is the Opera House which is internationally renowned and stages some spectacular performances (I am told). 

Sophia Square features one of many elaborately decorated and domed cathedrals, St Sophia's (left).

....and at the top of the square (right) was a stage on which a group of children were putting on a musical performance. Very jolly singing. This sort of thing just doesn't happen in British cities.

On north up from the square you pass this set of statues (left). The one on the left is of St Andrew. St Andrew who, legend has it, was St Peter's brother and features widely in the Greek Orthodox religion and is something to do with Constantinople. I really didn't work out his significance in Ukraine, but there is a story, of course, and a cathedral is named after him. He is also the Patron Saint of Scotland. I'm afraid I am left permanently baffled by all these religious connections and as far as I can see it is pure gobbledegook.

At the top, approaching St Michael's Monastery, you pass this monument (right). It is dedicated to the millions who starved during the 1932/33 period when the Soviets, under Mr Joe Stalin, introduced 'collective' farming in Ukraine which was, and is, renowned for it's wheat production. There was going to be an uprising by Ukrainian farmers, but the Soviets brutally purged any objectors and lots (millions) died either from military action or starvation. This suited the Soviet regime admirably. Cossacks, who inhabited Ukraine, came in for particular attention (they originally supported the 'White' Russian side). The Stalin Soviet regime was, by any standards, viciously, murderously, inhumane.

Next to this is a plaque dedicated to the 100+ people who died at the hands of 'government' snipers in and around the main Maydan Nezalezhnosti (Maydan) Square during the public uprising in 2014. You can read the story for yourselves, but it accounts for present day western Ukrainian dislike of Russians and the spark for the civil war in the east.

On to St Michael's Monastery at the top of the hill (right). This spectacular edifice was originally built in 1108, but destroyed by the Soviets in 1937. It was painstakingly rebuilt and completed in 2001. Apparently St Michael is Kiev's Patron Saint but please forgive me for taking no further interest in Saints, Patron or otherwise.  

Left: The pleasantly decorated doorway in.

Right. Inside, as with all these Orthodox cathedrals/churches, the decoration is incredibly elaborate. Women have to wear head-coverings, supplied if they don't have any, lots of candle lighting rigmarole plus praying and kissing of icons and no photography allowed. Well bollocks to that.

Left: The nearby (St Michael's is just to the right) Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A gloriously (Soviet) construction.

Also nearby is the British Embassy (right). A particularly unimpressive building. It may be more impressive inside, hopefully. To advertise its presence was a droopy little Union flag and a Range Rover parked outside. What have we become?!

Near which is the funicular railway (left) which takes you north down the hill through the old Podil district. A district full of cobbledy streets, street vendors and artists' roadside displays.

 example of which (right). Lovely area.

......including this amusing bronze (left) which depicts the strange story of a complete peasant charlatan who dressed himself up in 'posh' clothes to seduce an aristocratic lady. It worked. For a time. Anyway he gained fame and notoriety. All these bronzes, as in many other countries, have shiny bits where passers-by have rubbed them for good luck. I have one somewhere of a well endowed young man with his nether regions almost shinily rubbed through. Can't find it right now.

The lady in this pic was not one of our party....more's the pity.

Right: St Andrew's Church at the top of the Podil district. Another example of a spectacularly ornate 'five domed' Kiev church. It was built in 1754 by the same Italian architect who also designed the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. Well, you can't say I am totally uninformed (courtesy of our guide, Vladimir).

We went on to the Chernobyl Museum (left) at the northern lower end of Podil. This is housed in an ex-fire station. More about that, and Chernobyl in particular, later.

Right: Then to lunch in a very pleasant restaurant called 'Pervak'. Guide Vladimir at the front. There are lots of good restaurants and bars in Kiev, as well as many 'Gentleman's Clubs'. I meant to check if any of these were affiliated to  the Cavalry and Guards Club in Piccadilly, London.

Pervak had a most original bar. Bar stools with horses' bums as seats. Nothing if not imaginative.

Onwards to the Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, a monastery. This covers a large area to the east of the city featuring several churches, a bell tower, a cathedral, monk's quarters and, most intriguingly, underground catacombs filled with open coffins containing dead monks.

Right: The only original part, dating from the early 12th century but reconstructed in the 18th, is the Trinity Gate Church at the main entrance. Inside it is filled with religious icons, frescoes, a lavish gilded altar and paintings which our 'specialist' guide tried to explain. He was an expert who knew what he was talking about, but it all got too complicated for me and I left more baffled than when I arrived.

Amongst many ostentatious bell towers and other churches was the 7 gold domed Dormitron Cathedral (left). The original had been blown up by either the Soviet partisans or the Nazis in WW2 (some doubt as to who was responsible), but reconstruction was completed in 2000.

Under  the central dome is the place where the monks congregated, and maybe still do, to do their chanting (no band). At the opposite end is a long banqueting hall which containes, as in many other areas of serious Orthodox worship, a large gift/souvenir shop. 

Left: A view south down the river Dnieper.

All this was at the Upper Lavra.

Down below at the Lower Lavra are the catacombs. On entry you are encouraged to buy a candle (they came in different sizes). I couldn't resist it and, wishing to be generous, demanded 'four candles'. The joke was rather lost on the lady selling them ('fork handles' for those not familiar with the Ronnie Barker sketch). I bought the largest ones and gave the other three to members of our group. Down steep steps into these catacombs, in alcoves, are the bodies of 123 ex-monks contained in open topped coffins. They are covered by embroidered cloth with the odd shrivelled finger or toe poking out. It was dark down there (hence the need fork handles) and jam-packed in shuffling single file with slow moving tourists, some fighting through from the opposite direction. The passageways are very narrow with uneven floors and it was stinking hot and quite claustrophobic. The women all had to wear (borrowed) and quite voluminous veil-like head coverings. Pressed nose to tail, holding one's candle (mine was a particularly big one.....the deluxe version, which painfully dribbled molten wax down my hand) it was a miracle that noone caught fire. One trip on a flagstone and the lady in front would have gone up in flames. I didn't notice any fire extinguishers. No photography was allowed down there and, in any event, it would have been difficult due to having to hold one's candle in very poor lighting conditions. 

A further note on the Rodina Mat (Nation's Mother, or Defence of the Motherland Monument, or The Iron Lady). It is 62 metres high standing on a 40 metre podium on top of the national War Museum. It is made of shiny welded steel sections and was inaugurated by Leonid Brezhnev in 1981 (there's another in Volgograd). It became a feature of ridicule when the communist authorities reduced the length of the sword so that it didn't rise above the cupolas on the upper Lavra. The sword and shield alone weigh in at 12 tonnes.
It is possible to take a lift and further steps up to the top of the shield. I wanted to do this, it would have been a great viewing point, but got there too late. The lift had closed for the day. Bugger.

Much more to come from this fascinating country/city. Hope I'm not boring you.

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