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Overview and History
Kiev is situated on the river Dnieper, which was one of the most important navigation arteries in Europe and part of the ancient trade route "from Varangiants to the Greeks."
The legend of Kiev starts with three brothers -- Kiy, Scheck and Khoriv. Their sister was named Lybid. Kiy came to live on the mountain which has now become the Borichev slope; Scheck settled on the Shechekavitska mountain, and Khoriv lived on the mountain now called Khorevitska. They built a town and named it after the oldest brother. There was a forest full of animals in all directions. They were wise and clever in the way they built Kiev into a city, and the people there were called Polians.
This forms the base of what city calls itself "the Mother of all Slavic cities," the place which claims to be the spiritual center of the Russian Empire. Kievan Rus was the center of Slavic civilization in the early medieval times, changing from an outpost of the Khazar empire into one of the worlds largest cities for its time. During this period Kiev was ruled by the Vanangian nobility; however, it was attacked and beseiged in the 10th century with the beginning of a series of invasions.
Kiev has been invaded more times than most places in Europe. Several Russian princes captured and burned Kiev and Mongolian raiders completely destroyed the city in the 13th century. Powerful neighbors like the Grand Ducky of Lithuania, Poland and then Russia held sway over Kiev's prosperity until the industrial revolution.
Ukraine gradually lost its autonomy during the nineteenth century while Russian migration and administration changed the face of Kiev. Folk art and traditions continued under the surface but Russian landmarks such as railroads, architecture and educational facilities stole the spotlight.
Following the Russian Revolution in 1917 Kiev became an important city of the Ukranian Soviet Socialist Republic and was named its capital in 1934. The city was significantly damaged during WWII but recovered quickly, becoming the third largest city in the Soviet Union.
The Ukraine gained its independence in 1991 and Kiev remains its capital.
There are two main airports in Kiev, Borispol International Airport and Zhuliany. Zhuliany handles domestic flights around Ukraine. Borispol International is about 38km from the city and you can reach it by bus or metro. "Boryspilska" is the name of the airport metro station.
Taxis are plentiful in Kiev but not cheap, and tourists get hassled at the airport. Rumor is that everyone with a car in Kiev is a potential taxi driver, and they will charge pedestrians less than the taxi will.
Other options for getting around are the minibus, trolley, tram and metro. Remember to stamp your ticket in the machine on the trolleys and trams!
The first tram system in Kiev was built in 1892, making it one of the first ones in the whole world. Nowadays the metro is the main mode of transportation for most people.
People and Culture
The dominant religion here is Orthodox Christianity. Holidays are divided into two groups, religious and public ones. New Year is the the most popular holiday of the year, moreso even than Christmas. Popular public holidays are Independence Day, International Women's Day. The orthodox religious holidays have their own unique character apart from the Catholic ones.
If someone invites you to their home, it's always a good idea to bring something small like a bottle of wine, or chocolates. If you decide to bring flowers, make sure you count them! Do NOT bring an even number of flowers and don't shake hands in the doorway, come all the way inside first. Be ready to take your shoes off when you go inside, also. A little local customs management goes a loooong way.
Things to do, Recommendations
St. Andrew's Descent is the heart of Kiev's artistic commununity and it makes a big attraction for tourists seeking traditional Ukrainian arts and crafts. Originally it connected the Upper City's administrative section with the Podil, Lower City of merchants and artisans. It has long been host to festivals, concerts and galleries. Around St. Andrew's Cathedral. Have you heard of Gogol Bordello, the band? Its namesake Nikolay Gogol used to like walking around here.
There are many UNESCO world heritage sites here, like The Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves) and Saint Sophia Cathedral. St. Sophia's is still actively performing the Mass in addition to being a major tourist attraction.
Classical music venues are many: the Conservatoire, Philharmonic Society, House of Organ Music, Refectory in Lavra, International Centre of Culture and Arts, Ukrainian House.
The National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet is the oldest opera house in Ukraine, dating back to 1867. It saw performances of works by Tchaikovsky, Glinka, and Dargomyzhsky.
If you like being outside, you should visit the botanical gardens and the military museum with MIG-29 aircraft. Also there's the Pyrohiv village with its outdoor historical exhibit. This is officially called the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine. It has an area of 1.5 square kilometres which houses several "mini-villages" representing traditional Ukranian rural life.
Other places you should not miss are Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti. It's thecentral square in Kiev, the main and the most beautiful one.
Kreschatik is the most famous and busiest street in Kiev. It is a wide boulevard with plenty of chestnut trees. It is hard to believe that some time ago on the site of Kreschatik used to be a valley and a river surrounded by forest. Nowadays it stretches from Europeiskaya Square to Bessarabskaya Square and contains trade buildings, bank departments and luxurious hotels.
For night life, try these recommendations: AVALON lounge bar, restaurant, disco, and casino halls. Avalon restaurant boasts an extensive list of oysters, fish and seafood and is designed like an underwater kingdom, complete with jellyfish chandeliers and mermaids. Avalon casino is one of the oldest and most prestigious gaming venues in Ukraine).
Text by Steve Smith.