Kiev out of the beaten path

Kiev really wasn’t on top of my bucket list. To be frank, it wasn’t even in my top ten.
In fact, Kiev is so low under the average tourist’s radar, that I don’t think it’s on anybody’s list.
Nevertheless, due to circumstances that were out of my control (AKA my family), I found myself visiting the city no less than twice in a short time period of six months.

Although my visits to the city had a family gathering undertone, I decided not to give up on the opportunity to explore it. And since I’m not really into religious structures and I try to limit those to a total of two per trip, I decided to focus less on the religious architectural abundance the city can offer, and more on things to see and do out of the beaten path.

<img src="statue.png" alt="statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky in kiev">

Here are my findings on the subject *pushing my imaginary glasses to my nose*:

“Taras Shevchenko National Opera”-

A visit to the city is a great opportunity to spend an evening at the national opera and watch a show.
The prices are very accessible and even the priciest ticket will cost you around 1200 hryvnia, which translates to roughly 43 USD. That’s a fraction of the price you’ll pay for a similar ticket in a country with a stronger currency.
In other words, if you always wanted to attend one of these, but weren’t sure if it’s your cup of tea, or thought you might start your own “snooze fest” symphony  – fear no more! It’s time to experience classic European culture at its finest! Let your inner bourgeois run wild!

Personally, I’ve had the privilege of watching Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and I was pleased to discover a professional production and talented dancers.  

<img src="chandelier.png" alt="blurry photo of a chandelier">

Small tip 1 – DO NOT,  I repeat, DO NOT arrange for the show to be on the first day of your trip. These shows are quite long and even with a break in between the acts, spending three hours at the opera can be exhausting after a flight. That’s what I did and I ended up having a hard time staying awake and keeping up with the show.
For “some” reason, it suddenly seemed that the dancers were reaching the other side of the stage way too fast.
Don’t be me-  take your time and rest and before you attend any shows.

Small tip 2 – If it’s something that’s important for you to experience, please note that the opera sometimes goes on a recess and it might be a good idea to check for updates on their website. 

Small tip 3 – if you chose to sit in one of the balcony seats, you should avoid the chairs right next to the railing. Since the balconies were built with a small incline downwards and the chairs are not arranged on stairs or generally fixed to the floor, you might find yourself sliding down. The combination of sitting close to the railing and the dense arrangement of the chairs can become a lethal threat to your knees. I’m 5 ft 2 and I’ve had a pretty rough first act, so be warned. 

<img src="opera theatre.png" alt="opera theatre">

If you weren’t able to buy your tickets in advance, it’s possible to buy them from the box office at the front of the building. The box office is operating every day from 11:00 AM to 19:30 PM and ’till 19:00 PM on Mondays. Please note that from 18:00 PM tickets will be sold exclusively for that evening’s show.

The opera is located 15 minutes’ walk away from the central street of Khreschatyk, but if you’re short on time, you should know that the closest metro station is Zoloti Vorota, which is located on the green line.

Adress: National Opera of Ukraine, 50 Volodymyrska St. , Kiev, 01030

“Victoria” museum –

If you’re interested in fashion and history, and the combo of these two makes your heart flutter, I suggest you pay a visit to the “Victoria” museum. It’s a relatively new museum that opened its gates in 2017 and consists of 2 floors with seven exhibition rooms showcasing garments from the Victorian era ( second half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century).

<img src="jewelry box.png" 
 alt=" jewelry box with decoration of roses">

Since the museum is quite small, with help from the audio guide ( comes in English, Chinese, Ukrainian, Russian, and included in the entry price) it should take you around 2 hours to finish your tour around the museum. Personally, any longer than that, and I start staring at the exhibits instead of actually looking at them, so for me, it’s the perfect amount of time to spend in a museum. Any museum.
The exhibits themselves- even if not many- are very impressive and in a well-kept condition, while the explanations that accompany them are enriching and give good context to the objects.
Aside from the obvious of checking out the exhibits, you could also try on a traditional costume or take some photos with accessories like hats and fans.
When I gave the museum a visit around its opening hours I had the place almost to myself which was a very welcome surprise, considering how things usually go when it comes to the bigger museums. My visit was quiet and crowd-free – yay me!

<img src="white shoes.png" alt=antique white wedding shoes">

The museum is located outside of the city center, so you’ll need to take the red metro line to the Arsenalna station and from there go around 10 more minutes on foot.

The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11:00 AM to 19:00 PM. 

The entry price is 130 hryvnia per person or 190 hryvnia for a couple. It’s also possible to hire a guide for an extra payment of 500-800 hryvnia.
The cashier receives payments via cash or bank transfers.

Address: Victoria Museum, 23 Butyshiv Blvd., Kiev, 02000

Guided tour to the “Chernobyl” exclusion zone –

A few years ago I was watching a news report that covered the opening of the exclusion zone of Chernobyl to guided tours for tourists. At the time, it was quite a weird item to watch, especially since as far as sites soaked with nuclear radiation go- this one was considered cult. I was staring at the tv hypnotized.
The video footage played on screen showcased post-apocalyptic, rust eaten landscapes that for some reason enchanted me in their surrealism and called for me to visit, so that I could witness their dystopian charm with my own eyes.
A couple of years went by and I was on a plane on my way to Kiev, which is located two hours’ drive away from the area. Guess where I decided to visit and win a bowl of borscht!
I signed up for a day tour with a company that specializes in organized tours to the area ( there are also multi-day tours, but yours truly was short on time) and hoped to experience something unique.
In retrospect, I experienced a time capsule from the ’80s and learned an important lesson in history, all of it wrapped in one big radioactive package.

<img src="window.png" alt="window with a view to the wilderness of chernobyl">


For those of you who aren’t familiar with the subject and somehow missed HBO’s latest documentary series on it, the Chernobyl exclusion zone is home to the largest ecological disaster of the 20th century.
On the 26th of April 1986, reactor number 4 in the Lenin nuclear powerplant blew up, spreading radioactive particles all over Europe.
A deadly combination of defective construction, failure to follow procedures and human errors brought on a disaster on an international scale that took the lives of 2000 official victims ( in this case the emphasis is on the word “official”) and effects the area to this day. 

The tour-

The tour takes off from a central gathering point in Kiev and officially starts when you cross the military checkpoint that separates the exclusion zone from the rest of the world surrounding it.
The zone spreads over a 30-kilometer radius, with its 10 most inner kilometers considered to be contaminated with the highest levels of radiation.
Due to the radiation, the government prevents unauthorized entries to the zone and the only way in is with an organized tour ( private or with a group). Independent entry will not be allowed and is considered to be a violation of the law.
After going through the checkpoint and a standard passport checkup, the tour will proceed to its first stop inside the exclusion zone: the only two villages that are left standing and haven’t been destroyed by the post-disaster “clean-up” works. In the first village you will visit a pharmacy and in the second one a kindergarten- both structures bear the signs of time and neglect.

<img src="old bottles.png" alt="old medication bottles on a window sill">
<img src="book.png" alt="antique book on the floor">

From there, you will continue to the secret military facility of “Duga” –  a giant radar system, whose purpose during the cold war was to notify the USSR of any missiles fired from the USA in their direction.
The irony is, it was discovered to be quite useless, for reasons the guides will tell you about themselves.

<img src="radar.png" alt="duga radar system">
<img src="hallway.png" alt="hallway ">

The main and final stop of the tour is the town of Pripyat, which was populated by the nuclear powerplant workers. Inside the town, you will visit a few points of interest: a hotel that used to accommodate big decision-makers, a café that definitely saw better days, the Main Street and the “crème de la crème”: the famous amusement park that was scheduled to open its gates a few days after the disaster had struck, but never opened.

<img src="ferris wheel.png" alt="ferris wheel in pripyat">
<img src="bumper cars.png" alt="bumper cars in pripyat">

It’s hard to explain the experience of walking through a ghost town in the midst of being swallowed whole by the nature surrounding it.
It’s grim, eerie and unsettling but also beautiful, it’s everything, all at once. It’s like walking through the castle from the “Sleeping Beauty” fairytale, only in this case, there is no one to lift the curse. This town will stay asleep forever as it could never be populated again.
The slowly collapsing structures scream the tales of the life they used to accommodate and there is grief in the air, for it’s a disaster-stricken place. And yet, even through the veil of sadness that surrounds it, it is possible to see the beauty in this place and in the nature that grows wild around here, reclaiming the land it once lost.

<img src="house on a lake.png" alt="house sinking into a lake">

Additionally to the locations mentioned above, throughout your tour you will also visit two monuments dedicated to those who have sacrificed their lives fighting the outcomes of the disaster, and take a look with your own eyes at the blown-up reactor ( or to be more accurate, at the protective dome that’s covering it and its magical dystopian façade. Still beats growing a third arm in my opinion, no?).

Anyhow, these are the locations my tour has taken me on and it’s possible that the order of/the locations themselves will change in accordance with the organizer’s discretion. Therefore, my advice would be to stay updated via their website (at the end of this section of the post).

<img src="memorial statue.png" alt="memorial statue in chernobyl">

Safety – 

The tour covers only areas that are considered to be safe ( assuming of course, that you follow the guidelines and safety rules set by your guides). Also, to put everyone at ease, at the end of your tour you will go through a radiation detector. That way, you’ll know there aren’t any radiation particles trying to catch a ride on your precious Nikes.

It’s important to understand: when the radiation counter indicates a certain amount of radiation, it’s indicating the amount you would’ve absorbed if you stayed standing in that same spot for an hour. Hence, the amount of radiation you absorb throughout the tour equals the amount you would’ve absorbed on a short 2-3 hour flight. Personally I didn’t mind that, but I’ll leave it to your consideration.

Here are some general safety rules:

* Eat only in the car/ the cantina to avoid ingesting any radioactive particles floating in the air around you.

* Most of the structures in the area are disintegrating due to decay, so please be careful and watch your step, as the whole experience feels a bit like strolling through a construction site.

* Wear long comfortable clothing and closed shoes. * no tights allowed

* Always follow the guide’s instructions.

<img src="old hut.png" alt="old hut in the woods of chernobyl">

Technical details –

* The tour starts at 8:00 AM and ends around 20:00 PM.

* The tour is conducted in English / Russian.

* The tour costs 99 USD while the shuttle services,  bureaucratic arrangements, and a professional tour guide that will provide you with historical background and stories for the locations you visit, are all included.
You’ll need to pay 25% of the sum in advance payment online and the rest by exact cash before departure from the gathering point. 

* Also, for an extra charge, you could grab a meal at the local cantina ( I don’t know if the food is good or not because I brought my own snacks to the trip) and/or get your own radiation counter ( kind of unnecessary from my point of view since your guide will keep you posted on the radiation levels in each location you visit anyway).

* You should book at least two weeks in advance to give the company enough time to process your paperwork and get you clearance to enter the exclusion zone. 

* The tour has an age restriction of 18 +.

* Respect the time schedule and arrive to the departure point on time.
If you don’t, they’re just gonna leave without you.

* Bring your passport. Without it you will not be allowed to enter the exclusion zone and you will end up spending your trip at the military checkpoint.

It’s hard to call this tour fun because of its focal point. We tend to associate fun with happiness and yet there is no doubt that this is a very special and important experience.
I recommend the tour to those who are into the genre of dark tourism, those who are drawn to explore abandoned places or alternatively to the curious history enthusiasts.
Go, enjoy, and please remember to be respectful of the place you’re visiting.

Also, if you’re really into it, you should know that there’s a gift shop.
A jar of radiation anybody?

This post is dedicated to and is in the memory of my grandmother Valentina Fiodaravna, may her soul rest in peace. Thanks to her I was able to discover and experience all of these places that Kiev has to offer. Thank you Nena. <3





Kiev out of the beaten path



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