With the long awaited Euro 2012 just a couple of days away, Kiev’s main square converts into a lively “fun zone” for all football fans out there eager to be part of the 2012 European Football Championship’s exhilaration.
Guarded by a huge digital clock which shows the short time left until the Euro 2012’s opening game on June 8, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, also known as the Independent Square, looks forward to welcome its guests with giant screens, good will and a healthy dose of history.
Kiev’s Independence Square, Wikipedia
Stepping on History
Running along Khreshchatyk Street between Instytutska and Khmelnytsky streets, the pedestrian fun zone has been especially arranged to accommodate 70,000 football fans.
A glance into the square’s distant history shows off that today’s fun zone has witnessed several notable events, having a big role in the city’s past. From its 1946 devastation by the Red Army to the Orange Revolution’s main protest zone and the memorable oratory of Yulia Tymoshenco which took place here and whose consequences caused serious political damages, bringing thousands of people onto the streets, the pedestrian area set to welcome now the joy of football, faced a harsh period of occupation, poverty, and famine.
Kiev Passage near Khreshchatyk Street, Wikipedia
The Khreshchatyk Boulevard’s imposing architecture with its buildings restored by Stalin after the World War Two marks the birth of Russian Orthodoxy and the relentless Soviet power in a 1,000 years city, which deserves to be explored and sensed even when the purpose of the trip is different.
Moving away from the fun zone’s southern end, you will come across a 50 meters tent encampment adorned with white flags and placards asking for Tymoshenko’s release from jail. Here, the controversial politician’s supporters take turns in order to ensure a continued presence until Yulia Tymoshenco will be free.
Leaving behind this impressive living scene and taking the first right you will see the lustrous statue of Vladimir Lenin, whose commanding attitude seems to still dominate the nation, despite his actions that led to a vanished independence.
Continuing your way, you’ll find yourself ascending on Shevchenko Boulevard into one of the most expressive rolling capitals of Europe. Be careful, though, the poplar-lined avenue is not named after the famous football player, Andriy Shevchenko, as many would believe these days, but in the honor of the Ukrainian literature’s illustrious figure, the 19th century poet Taras Shevchenko.
Blending Football With Culture
Kiev’s Opera, Wikipedia
Roughly parallel to the Khreshchatyk lies Volodomyrska street, which will lead you to the National Opera House, situated at the first intersection. With its 20th century Viennese flair and the memory of the Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin’ assassination on its shoulders, Kiev’s National Opera still holds a hardy Russian breath by still providing regularly classic fares such as Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker”.
Volodomyrska street is named after Prince Volodomyr(Vladimir) who ruled Kievan Rus from 980-1015, marking the birth of Russian Orthodoxy which soon spread throughout the country. Walking a few more hundred meters along Volodomyrska Street, you will see Zoloti Vorota – Golden Gates, the former city’s entrance, grandly marched once by its rulers.
As a flourishing trade center, Keiv was always a target for many invaders; therefore, back then, the capital was designed as a city-fortress surrounded by protective walls. It lasted until the 12th century, when the Mongol Tatars managed to raze the ramparts, leaving behind only few remains and two massive stones sheltered today in a museum.
Kiev seen from Sophia Monastery’s bell tower, Wikipedia
Further along the same street, you’ll find the spectacular Sophia’s Cathedral, a golden dome build by Volodomyr’s son – Yaroslav the Wise, who also introduced the ‘hryvnia’ currency, today’s Ukrainian coin. The cathedral with its Byzantine frescoed interior was built to symbolize Yaroslav’s victory against tribal raiders.
In front of the basilica, stands proud the silhouette of Bogdan Khmelnitsky, depicted as mace-flaunting warrior on horseback, as a symbol of his notable 17th century victories against the Poles. Later on, he was blamed for the treaty he signed in 1654, when he pleaded for the union between Ukraine and Russia as a barricade against the Polish king, his position in the country’s history being contested by many.
Behind Bogdan’s statue rise the blue walls of St Michael’s monastery, also known as the city’s patron saint. Destroyed by Stalin in 1930 and rebuilt after independence, the medieval monastery holds an information board about the Great Famine (Holodomor) – The 1930 catastrophe when millions of people lost their lives due to starvation during Stalin’s strategy of destroying the Ukrainian peasantry.
Kiev – The City of Beautiful Views
Andriyivsky Uzviz (Descent) – Kiev, Wikipedia
Overpasing this tumultuous page of history recollected today by the streets of Kiev, you’ll come across Andriyivsky Uzviz (Descent), reachable by doing a quarter-turn to your left while facing St Michael’s monastery. Wrinkled with souvenir stalls, bohemian artists and craft studios, the beautiful cobbled street very similar with the famous Paris’s Montmartre comes to enliven the city’s dark past.
While picking up some traditional Ukrainian crafts, you can also admire the Baroque Church of Saint Andrew, on the top of the street. Moreover, the Descent offers you the chance to drop in Mikhail Bulgakov’s house-museum located here. A month ago, Andriyivsky Uzviz was a sea of mud and wreckage, but thanks to the Ukrainian fortitude, it has become now a very pleasant walking area.
Down the street there’s the riverside quarter of Podil, which will lead you back to the city’s center. All you have to do is to keep Dnipro to the left, pass by a well-groomed area filled with stylish restaurants and then buy a 1.50 hryvnia ticket which will bring you back up the hillside, at the St Michael’s monastery. Once you get there, don’t forget to take a look at the beautiful views over the Dnipro and its islands, a place where locals love to spend time and to hold barbecues in the high season.
Dnipro at night, Wikipedia
After absorbing the wonderful surroundings, take a cable car track down into the woods. The path will lead you to the Christian Prince Volodomyr’s grandiose monument, beautifully placed into a clearing bounded by hills. Then, follow the road back to the main viewpoint over the Dnipro and from there, let the tree-lined avenue take you to the main road. Once arrived to the main road, just turn left and drop down to the European Square.
As you walk back to the Maidan, you’ll see the soared Monument of Independence marking your victory. A-couple-of-hours strolling through Kiev’s historical times requires a well-deserved prize, so how about enjoying a traditional borscht and a cold beer?
Source : Reuters