What To See In Ukraine
My wife Mimi aged 65 and I aged 67, both retired psychotherapists recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. Our 4 kids, all professionals in their chosen field, gather up enough resources to give us our adventure of a lifetime. They sent us out to a 7 day tour of Ukraine. After meeting all the necessary travel requirements and being advised by our doctors as fit to travel, from Detroit we took a 25 hour business class KLM flight via Amsterdam to get to Kiev Boryspil International Airport. It was the best gift and most fun filled adventure in our years of being together!
A tourist shuttle service fetched us at the airport to take us to Hyatt Regency Kiev. At the ground floor we joined 6 other foreigners ready to explore Kiev. First we made a quick tour of Mykola Syadristy Microminiatures Museum. It houses the exhibits of the Ukrainian artist miniature artworks. There are a lot of miniature pieces that can only be seen thru a magnifying lens and a microscope, impressive! I saw amazing art particularly the hair that was hollowed out and a rose was inserted thru. The artist dedicated verses to every artwork, with English translations. I can’t imagine how human hands can create such beautiful things. Just across was the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra – Caves Monastery, it’s a monastery and caves like no other. Inside is a complex of Orthodox Churches and museums. A tour guide led us 60 feet underground as we visited the narrow and dark catacombs where the 100 monks are preserved in glass caskets, with just a lighted small candle in our hand it was a surreal experience! It was so humid and dry inside the caves that the one thousand year old monks were mummified by nature. The monks were all wrapped up however, we saw some where their hands and feet can be seen. Loud noises are not allowed, absolutely no picture taking and women have to cover their head. We simply pass in silence until it was over. Inside the monastery we found icon painting studios, a superb library, and a scriptorium where the works of ancient and contemporary foreign writers were translated into Slavic. For me the caves were the most interesting attraction of this place.
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The next day we visited the other main attractions inside the Lavra complex which are The Great Lavra Bell Tower and the Dormition Cathedral, both fully reconstructed after being badly damaged during WW2. We also checked out other churches in the complex namely, the Refectory Church, the Church of All Saints, Church of the savior at Berestove, Church of the Exaltation of the Cross and the Church of the Trinity. The complex also contains the St. Nicholas Monastery, the Kiev Theological Academy and the Debosquette Wall. I bought a religious souvenir at the Book and Printing Museum which is located at the back part of the complex. The most well known building on this area was the Uspensky Cathedral where more than a ton of leaf gold was used for its gilding works. We ended the day by watching the opera (Carmen) and ballet (The Nutcracker) at the Taras Shevchenko National Opera and Ballet House of Ukraine, the building was spectacular, the entrance so low, and the performances were amazingly impressive. The beautiful exterior is supported by the majestic interior of the theater. Outside, a statue of Ukrainian Composer Nikolai Lysenko can be found at the right side of the building.
The next day we had a tour of The Chernobyl Museum; it houses a collection of various audio and video representational items belonging to the tragic 1986 nuclear explosion in the then Ukraine-USSR. Although it consists only of two large rooms, it contains archive footage and photos of the horrific accident. The museum poignantly shows the bravery and heroism of the security personnel during the incident. Each photographs guide us to a moving and enlightening account of the Chernobyl Disaster. The actual tragic site is restricted to the public. I offered prayers at the pictures of the brave Ukrainians who risked their lives to save their people and arguably the world. A very thought provoking place. We left with a deeper understanding of the tragedy and the hope of not seeing another museum about nuclear tragedy. From here we head off to the Grishko Central Botanical Garden, my wife admired the beautiful lilacs and tulips. It was a lovely way to stroll and breathe fresh air as we pass by colorful flower gardens with roses that will knock one’s eyes out with its color and size. The chrysanthemums were bright and amazing. My wife, a gardening enthusiast was delighted over the exotic plants from all over the world. We took lots of photographs for each species. We toured around its gardens, parks and fields. We had a short hike to the hill and admire the panoramic view of Kiev up there.
We took an overnight 6 hour train ride to reach Lviv, the western side of Ukraine. We passed by the Tourist Information Center for a free booklet with loads of information about the square and the rest of the attractions. We started at the Market Square; it’s a city square with lots of beautiful buildings and fun things to do. Candy girls walk around dressed in traditional Ukraine costumes to sell sweets. We shopped for souvenirs, sweets and other eatables on sale at reasonable prices! It is lined with tenement houses of widely varying architecture designs. It also houses the Town Hall Tower and fountains with Greek sculptures in all four corners. We had a nice meal of borscht soup and ravioli at a local café. After this we went to the Old Town, the place was so impressive and interesting that we enjoyed the 3 hour walk with our tour guide. The architecture, the spirit, the whole experience was very enjoyable despite the cold weather during our visit.
Then we checked out the Lychakiv Cemetery, a very ornate place rich in history and architecture. It has many different types of headstones and mausoleums. I took photos of headstones dating back as far as the 1600’s. At night we watched “Swan Lake” at the Lviv Theater of Opera. W e enjoyed exploring the interior of the building and found great artworks along the lobby. The fountain outside is a known meeting point, while there we saw so many beautiful Ukrainian girls waiting for their young men with presents or flowers in their hands.
After two days of exploring Lviv, we took a 10 hour train ride to get to Odessa, the southern side of Ukraine. We took pictures of the stunning exteriors of the Odessa State Academical Opera and Ballet Theater. From here we walked up and down the stairs of the iconic Potemkin Steps found in Primorsky Boulevard. It gave a good view of the Black Sea from upstairs. Lots of tourists and vendors selling kitschy souvenirs, I bought my Soviet militia hat there. A few meters away is the Deribasovskaya Street, a neat cobble stone pedestrian street mall that has a beautiful mix of the old and restored buildings, restaurants , shops, and places to stay. The last part of our tour was a visit to the Odessa City Garden; we spend a relaxing quiet time here together on its lovely benches. There was a nice gazebo, a neat water fountain, plenty of trees, and iconic statues. We enjoyed our sense of calm and on this nice little park. At night the fountains light up and brass band music was provided by a local bandstand. We had a nice dinner at Jardin Place.
We thanked God that we were given enough strength to explore this amusing country. My wife and I fell in love with this country for its nature, and its people. I learned life in Ukraine was really hard, especially in the villages; there were lots of beggars and vendors selling anything in every town we visit. Still I admire its people for their strong spirit and kind heart. I believe in the future of Ukraine.