Kiev… Four Years Later

(I will preface this by saying that if you’re offended that I am spelling Kyiv as “Kiev”, please pretend it is spelled the way you prefer throughout; I am spelling it the way travelers search for the name for the sake of this post alone.  On the other hand, don’t add “the” to the beginning of Ukraine under any circumstances, please.  It is Ukraine.  Not The Ukraine.  Thanks!)

My first trip to Ukraine was in December 2011.  I needed out of Norway desperately for a week and after finding cheap tickets to Lisbon and Kiev, I decided on Kiev and booked them.  I had a friend from high school living there and will credit that for being a major influencer on my decision.  Ukraine is also one of the best winter destinations in Eastern Europe (I assume 99% of you will disagree, but have you see the country in the snow?!)  I had always wanted to travel to Ukraine, but never did proper research on where I was heading specifically- Kiev.  I stayed with my friend and she showed me around the city and I had a wonderful time and knew that one day I’d get back there.  That week was simply an introduction to the place.  There are SO many things to do in Kiev.

Me in Kiev 2011

<me in Kiev in 2011>

Two years ago I hit one of my busiest travel years to date.  I visited 23 different countries (many more than once) and spent well over half the year on the road.  That does not include three trips I had planned and tickets purchased for- Kaliningrad with Air Baltic, Baku with Aeroflot (which was going to be my base as my goal was to fly to Nakhchivan), and Donetsk and Crimea in Ukraine.  

All three tickets ended up cancelled by the airlines and I never rebooked any of them, despite getting my money back.  Kaliningrad and Baku just skyrocketed in price and I wasn’t keen on taking a train in from other locations.  I also wasn’t too fussed about needing visas for both places.  Donetsk and Crimea, on the other hand, went through their own battle, one that is still being fought today in Donetsk and eastern Ukraine.  A battle so intense that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 felt the wrath of it while in the Donetsk Oblast.

Politics aside, I was eager to venture back to Ukraine one day.  I wholeheartedly feel it is one of Europe’s most underrated countries.

Kiev, Ukraine

I was planning my spring travels with my travel partner in January and we were literally two-seconds from clicking ‘purchase tickets’ on Skyscanner to Israel and Jordan.  After months of haphazardly planning this trip, I abruptly stopped us from purchasing the tickets because we really didn’t know if we could afford it at this point in time.  At least not including everything we wanted to do in each country.  We slept on the decision and ultimately concluded we needed something different and a bit more affordable.

I mentioned Ukraine.

To my surprise, he instantly agreed and we booked tickets into Kiev (and out of Chisinau, Moldova since we had two weeks of travel).  Aside from Armenia, Ukraine had been the cheapest place I had ever traveled in my life.  That included India, Nepal, Southeast Asia, Central America, etc.  And after looking at the currency exchange for the country currently, I knew it would be even cheaper these days.  We could, without question, afford this trip.

I remember Kiev as a city with a bit of an identity crisis in 2011.  It knew what it wanted to be, but the city held back.  Instead of embracing the unique backgrounds of its citizens, it pined over those differences.  The city seemed to be on the brink of letting those differences and built up aggression get the best of it.  Despite having the time of my life traveling there, I never got a true feel for the place back then.  I longed to go back… and then Euromaidan happened.  Rather than get into details about it, I will say that it was much-needed.  The Ukrainian people deserved better and they were finally demanding better.

Arriving back in Kiev in March 2016, I had no idea what to expect.  The currency was a mess.  The news coming out of Ukraine wasn’t relaying anything overly positive.  A country known for corruption on all levels was still known for the same corruption.

But, immediately upon landing at the airport in Kiev, I knew things were different.  Handed a ‘Say no to Corruption’ flyer before even arriving at passport control, it seemed as though a country once known for its corruption was desperately trying to change things.  Nothing changes overnight, but this was a sign that the country was trying to head in the right direction.

In 2011, I struggleto communicateng with people in Kiev as I found English to be sparse.  I experienced no such thing in Kiev this time.  Everyone seemed to speak a bit and was using it with a smile on their face.  Customer service was impeccable everywhere we went.  The craft beer scene, specialty coffee availability, and concept stores seemed to be burgeoning in Kiev.  Kiev has always been cool, but something felt different about the city this time – there were so many things to do in Kiev..  Dare I say that this Ukrainian capital has an identity of its own more than ever before… ?

Kiev Olympic Stadium Dynamo Kiev vs. Dnipro

Kiev... Four Years Later

Craft beer from Varvar in Kiev
Street art in Kiev

Body outlines near the stadium

Maidan in Kiev

Scenes around Maidan in Kiev
Mother Ukraine

The Ukrainian people have always been fiercely proud of their country.  Look at how many Ukrainians joined forces to defend their country in recent years and how many perished as a result of defending their land.  Just head to Kiev and count how many times you see the colors blue and yellow side by side.  It will make you hate the colors by the end of your trip (not really, just saying they are ubiquitous across the city).  Ukrainians are sticking up for their beliefs more so than ever these days.  There were demonstrations and picketing at Maidan each day I was in Kiev.  Some may find this annoying; I simply find it inspiring.

Kiev, and all of Ukraine, has a long way to go.  But it’ll eventually get there.  For every few steps forward, there will be a few steps back, but I am very anxious and excited to see this land of intelligent and charismatic people finally be able to come into its own.

I have recently ventured back to Kiev four years after my initial visit and found a completely different and more inspiring city.

PS:  I wrote this right after I came back from Kiev, and Ukraine has since won Eurovision.  Will be interesting to see how this pans out.  The country desperately needs the tourism and I think this will be a great start.

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Comments (17)

Hopefully I’m not double posting – I got an error message last time.

But, it bears repeating – great post. I am still kind of bummed I’m not heading to Ukraine next week instead of SE Asia, but I am excited to witness the whole Eurovision spectacle there next year. In your opinion, is there any city other that Kiev that could pull off the event logistically? There are rumblings on the internet about many cities being interested in hosting: Kiev, Kherson, Lviv, and Dnipropetrovsk all have their names i the hat, apparently.

Love your pics and all of the blue and yellow – a favorite color combination of mine :)

i thought i had replied to this but evidence shows i have not ;)

i think kiev will host and id be surprised if they sent it to another city. kiev likes to keep things like this in kiev. i cant wait! hope we get to meet up there :)

Nice post Megan!

I haven’t yet been to Kiev or Ukraine. I was invited to visit but at the time, it was in the middle of the political crisis with Russia, so I had to politely decline!

I’m very glad to hear that they’re getting their feet back even though as a Brit Ukraine winning the Eurovision Song Contest was a well-deserved shock!

i agree about the eurovision shock! i was very excited when i saw it because i think the event will be great for ukrainian tourism. :) definitely get over that way if you have a chance! it is changing so fast, but the city is just amazing!

I want to go to Kiev so bad! I know several Americans, and even more Russians, who say it’s a beautiful city! Unfortunately, my Russian boyfriend won’t be able to go with me because single Russian men aren’t allowed to go. I also don’t know if I’d be able to go the Ukraine from Russia, but it’s on my list! I’m glad you can say so many positive things about it!

ahhhh i didnt realize single russian men couldnt go there :( what a shame (but i suppose the restrictions are there for a reason, sadly)

seriously if you can get there, do it! the city is so stunning and it is changing so quickly!

Miroslav Hristoff

Very optimistic article! Actually I find in healthy to read something like this early in the morning :) I hope Ukraine to get better soon because it’s so ridiculous such a big and rich country to have financial and social problems.

so glad you enjoyed it miroslav!! it was so refreshing to get back there and see things on the up. i know it has a ways to go and many obstacles will arise along the way, but im hopeful and i hope the world and europe is too :)

Excellent Website, excellent writing and Yes Kiev is a nice city, I really like it. I have been coming and going the last two years and I really like it. And as you said Megan, craft beer and coffee culture has really increased in the city. Have a good travelling, wherever you go! Cheers!

Thanks so much Julio!!! Yea I just got back from another stint in Ukraine (and then moved to Kazakhstan hence the delayed reply!) It is just an outstanding city!!!! Happy travels to you :)

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