In recent times, Kyiv, like Budapest, has also taken off with tourism and the film industry. (See 'Kyiv Film Commission' online). There is much to be said for the period architecture, the gregarious Ukrainians, their culture and their country, for tourists and film-makers alike. Unfortunately, at least for now, there is conflict with Russia, which seized Crimea and continues to back separatists in the eastern Donbas region.

This warlike situation can’t be ignored and makes it more difficult to write about one of my favourite places. But once the mind moves on from these unsettling matters, the splendid lesser known capital of Kyiv and the rest of the region waits to be seen and enjoyed.

Throughout the ages, this city, one of Europe's oldest dating to the 5th century, was set upon by invaders before eventual independence for Ukraine in 1991. The country’s distinct yellow and blue flag, representing land and sky, flies everywhere and is a symbol of pride.

Ukraine has come a long way to being a modern-day market economy and electoral democracy. Closer ties with the West continue to prevail, especially when it comes to elections and achieving eventual visa-free travel. Promoting new enterprises has become more attractive and less restrictive. Local tourist information is now plentiful, as seen online.

Most of the immediate attractions in Kyiv are within easy reach of the central Euromaidan, or Independence Square, with its elegant, upright Berehynia angel, which stands on a pillar that brings to mind Nelson's Column in London's Trafalgar Square. Both figures have high stature as defenders of the people, and stand amidst prominent buildings.

# The Berehynia angel at Euromaiden

Here at Euromaidan are recalled memories of the 2004-05 Orange Revolution and the 2013-14 wave of protests. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians, including some good friends of mine, took to the streets regardless of retaliation to demand greater freedom and application for European Union membership.

Regrettably, Russia under the present day regime, has unsettled Ukraine, taking its toll on the populace and the economy. Public support for Ukrainian membership in NATO has risen greatly as the rivalries in the east of the country have entered their fifth year with no conclusion in sight.

Be assured, local life and culture give this nation an identity beyond the war zones. I am sure that with the newly elected “comedian” President Volodymyr Zelensky, if he is clever and influential as well as wilful enough, his fresh approaches to politics, local life and the war may succeed. Time will tell how adept he is.


Kyiv, general atmosphere

Clearly these matters dominate everyday life. There are the respectful Heavenly Hundred memorials that commemorate those who lost their lives during Euromaidan, providing a reminder of the tragedy. The message is to tell the world what's really going on and that the country is on a quest to be part of Europe.

But putting aside the spell of politics and bad ambivalences, there is also a sense of victory, honour and defiance, as expressed by new-found friends who go about their lives respectfully. Alongside the many museums, bars and restaurants, central Kyiv is as safe as any other European city, as witnessed by me this May.

# A Heavenly Hundred memorial

Roughly a kilometre stroll from the main square and up a slight hill is St. Sofia's Cathedral, one of the most exquisite and illustrious places of worship within the Slavic sphere. A world-famous masterpiece of architecture with exquisite frescos and mosaics awaits attention. Nearby is the eye-catching statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, a Cossack military leader and the father of the Ukrainian nation, and the equally illustrious blue-and-gold-domed St. Michael's monastery that really lightens up the sky. These symbolic sightings are distinctly, spiritually home to Kyiv.

As alluring as Budapest's Castle District, but more restful, is the Pechersk Lavra, Europe's holiest repositories of Christian Orthodox relics. This outstanding shrine, alongside elegant surroundings and various museums commemorating local lore, requires much careful study. Nothing prepared me for such an event until I was there, and from a writing perspective, the “Lavra” is a high-research article in itself, requiring many explanations, for another time.

I was very impressed by how distinctly green this city is compared to most, as observed when looking out towards the River Dnieper. And like Budapest, one can be “out of the city” quite quickly, surrounded by pleasant woodlands and shoreline areas.

The list of positives goes on with more to see and do despite the shortness of time. Beyond the central landmarks is the equally distinguished Baroque St Andrew's Church, with a downhill promenade leading to the Kiev River Boat Station, where tours on the water can be taken.


Giving something back

There are highly commendable and hospitable Veteran and Crimean restaurants serving delicious Ukrainian and Tatar dishes, with proceeds going towards those in need. Please support them too. Great, tasty, fortifying food awaits, served up by friendly staff who will tell you more of the real, first-hand news beyond the regular broadcasters. Also, check out www.maidanmuseum.org, Euromaidan Press and UATV English on Facebook for reliable news and information.


Outside Kyiv

Remarkably the Chernobyl region, roughly an hour's drive northwards from Kyiv, has now become a growingly popular tourist attraction after the nuclear disaster of 1986. Although well frequented and documented, the area is still highly restricted because of contamination. A permit to enter is required and only authorised by a professional guide, who will prepare the itinerary and compulsory insurance for around EUR 120 per person. Although what awaits is obvious in its way, a ghost town with deserted and crumbling buildings, nature is fighting back against human error and bringing something of a renaissance to the devastated area. For those who are too daunted by this, a visit to the Chernobyl museum in central Kyiv will do just as well.

To really get away from it all, I recommend a visit to the Pyrohiv Museum of Folk Architecture and Life, a quaint, picturesque open-air 150-hectare venue in a forest south of the city. This is a must-see for those with an affinity for bygone times. The enchanting display of wooden houses, churches and windmills makes a great day out. Due to its large area, bikes are available and perhaps advised, alongside barbecues serving the best of Ukrainian fayre.


To get to Kyiv

With budget airlines looking further eastwards, flying to Kyiv is easier than ever before. The best way is by UIA, Ukraine International Airlines, which nowadays connects with many places world-wide. From Budapest, UIA flies comfortably to Kyiv in 1 hour 40 minutes and offers a more generous baggage allowance than most other airlines.

To go by train from Budapest requires a change at Mukachevo/Munkács, then another may be required at Lviv. This 1200-kilometre journey can take up to 24 hours (when I first did it by rail) and is the cheapest option. Plus there are spectacular views of the Carpathians en route.

Although it is possible to drive there, the roads can be bumpy and demanding. Only accomplish this if your vehicle has strong suspension. The border crossing can present hold-ups and delays with the high formalities at times. I recommend crossing any border to or from Ukraine either first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Delays during the day are common but don't be put off. The rewards are there. I shall return, knowing there is so much more to see and do when it comes to next time.

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