Ukraine - Attractions
Founded in the 5th century, Kiev is the mother city of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. All three descended from Kievan Rus, the Slavic super-state that existed from the 9th to the 11th centuries. Since then, Kiev has survived Mongol invasions, devastating fires, communist urban planning and the massive destruction of WWII. The Old Town is concentrated around the north-eastern end of vulitsya Volodymyrska and contains a number of Kiev's historic landmarks. The main attraction is the 11th century St Sophia Cathedral, the city's oldest standing church, which contains some of the country's greatest mosaics and frescoes. A few blocks south of the cathedral is Kiev's main commercial promenade, the vulitsya Khreshchatyk, a bustling thoroughfare lined with shops. At the southern end of Khreshchatyk, the aisles at the Bessarabsky Market are filled with fruit and vegetable vendors. Old Town is within walking distance of central Kiev.
Andriyivsky vzviz, Kiev's most charming street, winds its way north from Old Town to the base of the Podil district, the historic merchants' quarter and river port. Andriyivsky is lined with galleries, shops, restaurants and cafes. The heart of Podil is the Kontraktova ploshcha, a park-like square named for the large, white arcaded Kontraktova Dim (House of Contracts) occupying the centre. Dating from 1817, the building is now filled with restaurants, galleries and businesses. A few blocks to the north-west is the chilling but fascinating Chernobyl Museum, where exhibits document the worst nuclear disaster in history - bringing home the fact that it happened only 100km (62mi) to the north. A few blocks west is the oldest standing structure in Podil, the 1631 Church of Mykola Prytysko. Its whitewashed, green-roofed exterior is a lovely example of early Ukrainian Baroque architecture.
South of Old Town along the river is the Pechersk district, the historic ecclesiastical centre and site of the Caves Monastery, founded in 1051. Spread across wooded slopes above the Dnipro a few kilometres south of the city centre, the monastery is a collection of gold-domed churches, underground labyrinths lined with mummified monks, and elegant monastic buildings turned into museums, one of which is packed with Scythian gold. The Dormition Cathedral, part of the monastery complex, dates from the late 11th century. Despite being partially destroyed by the Red Army during WWII, it's one of the country's greatest Baroque religious buildings. To the north of the cathedral is the Historical Treasures Museum, devoted mainly to artefacts and precious stones and metals from Ukraine. The highlight is the display of Scythian goldwork from the 4th century BC. There's also a 12th century model of Kiev and exhibits of richly ornamented goblets, crosses, chalices and icons by Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and Lithuanian masters. City buses connect the Pechersk district with downtown Kiev.
The Folk Architecture Museum is 12km (7mi) south of the city centre but well worth the trip. Spread out over scenic rolling hills dotted with groves of trees are a large number of 17th to 20th century wooden cottages, churches, farmsteads and windmills, many with beautiful gardens and preserved interior furnishings. The museum is divided into seven small villages representing regional traditions, and there are some good restaurants, a gift shop and special events. You can make the trip from downtown Kiev by city bus.
Kamyanets-Podilsky is about 25km (16mi) north of the point where Moldova and Romania meet at the Ukrainian border. This old town has stood since at least the 11th century on a sheer-walled rock island carved out of the steppe by a sharp loop in the Smotrych River. The south-western bridge, for centuries the only link between the town and the mainland, is guarded by a nine-towered stone castle that dates from the 16th century. Most of the towers are open to visitors, and many offer great views of the town and the surrounding countryside. The Ethnographic Museum on the grounds has excellent displays of traditional folk craft and archaeological finds from the castle and vicinity.
Cobbled streets lead from the castle down to the Armenian Quarter. Centred around a 14th century market square, the quarter is home to several 15th century churches. Off the north-western corner of the square is the 1580 Cathedral of SS Peter & Paul, entered through the Triumphal Gate, dating from 1781. The Turks used the cathedral as a mosque in the late 17th century, adding a tall minaret, which the Poles topped with a golden Virgin when they regained the town. The lovely and solemn interior houses a museum. Just north of the square is the Dominican Monastery and Church, with a tall, ornately moulded bell tower. North of the monastery is the 14th-century former town hall, the oldest in Ukraine. It now houses a small museum dedicated mostly to WWII.
Lviv, the capital of western Ukraine, is a cosmopolitan city. Until 1939 it had never been ruled from Moscow, and it was here that Ukrainian nationalism re-emerged in the late 1980s. Having escaped the urban devastation of WWII, Lviv is a living museum of Western architecture from the Gothic to the present. And while there are plenty of Communist-era monstrosities, the old narrow streets and colourful historic core make it one of the best places in the country to visit.
Just east of the modern downtown is Old Town, centred on the broad ploshcha Rynok, once the hub of Lviv and still the best preserved urban square in Ukraine. At its heart is the 19th century town hall, and around the perimeter are beautiful 16th to 18th century buildings with ornate stone carvings. Opposite the south-western corner of the square is one of the city's best gothic buildings, the Roman Catholic Cathedral, dating from the late 14th century. Inside, the 17th century Boyim Chapel features some of Lviv's most magnificent stone carvings.
Opposite the north-eastern corner is Lviv's oldest pharmacy. Founded in 1735, the pharmacy shares a 16th century building with the Apteka Museum, featuring exhibits of historic pharmaceutical equipment.
About 2km (1mi) east of Old Town is Lviv's open-air Museum of Popular Architecture & Life, where 100 old wooden farmsteads, smithies, windmills, churches and schools are spread out over 60ha (150ac). Representing folk traditions from around the country, the buildings are decked out with historical everyday objects and folk art. Buses and trams from the city centre serve the museum.
Odessa is a curious mix of enticing seaside holiday retreat and polluted industrial port. Long the shipping centre of the Black Sea region and the major urban centre of southern Ukraine, the city is famous for its role in the 1905 revolution, when the mutinous battleship Potemkin Tavrichesky supported rebellious workers. Today it's best known for its excellent collection of museums. The city centre is a few hundred metres south-west of the waterfront; it's filled with beautiful low-rise buildings and tree-lined streets, and is home to the elaborate and famous Opera & Ballet Theatre. Dating from the 1880s, the theatre was designed by Viennese architects who gave it a Baroque cast with a Renaissance twist. Nearby is the Pasazh, a lavishly ornate shopping mall built in the late 19th century, boasting rows of Baroque sculptures.
The city centre is also the locale of Odessa's famous museums. One of the most interesting is the Archaeology Museum. Dating from 1875, it contains an excellent collection of artefacts from early Black Sea civilisations, including a tempting display of jewellery and coins. Across the road is the Museum of Maritime History, covering the history of shipbuilding and navigation with lots of models and naval paraphernalia. Nearby is the Literature Museum, where you can steep yourself in the lives of Ukrainian masters like Shevchenko and Franko and Russian authors such as Chekov, Pushkin, Tolstoy and Gorky. Don't miss one of Odessa's most famous sights - the massive Potemkin Steps, immortalised in the 1925 Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin.
The sandstone on which Odessa stands is riddled with about 1000km (620mi) of tunnels, known as the katakombi (catacombs). Quarried out for building in the 19th century, they have since been used by smugglers, revolutionaries and WWII partisans. In Nerubayske village on the north-western edge of Odessa, a network of tunnels that sheltered partisans in WWII has been turned into the Museum of Partisan Glory, where visitors are given guided tours (in Russian or Ukrainian) of relics of the partisan occupation. The catacombs are accessible by city bus.
Perched on the southern coast of Crimea, Yalta passed through many hands over the centuries until Russia took control in the late 18th century. The city became the Black Sea's classiest resort when Tsar Alexander II made nearby Livadia his summer residence. Before the Russian Revolution the coast was peppered with aristocratic estates, and though many of the palaces were briefly workers' sanitoria after the revolution, most reverted to dachas for the party elite.
The city centre stretches back from the eastern end of Yalta Bay, straddling the Bystra River. Everyone gravitates to the naberezhna Lenia, a vehicle-free waterfront promenade with jetties, palms, pebble beaches, snack bars and art markets. Some of Yalta's best beaches lie along Yalta Bay west of the mouth of the Bystra. Half way down the bay and just back from the naberezhna is a chair lift that deposits riders at Darsan, a temple-like lookout on the hill above the bay. Just north-west of the lift is the Alexandr Nevsky Cathedral, a beautifully composed piece of neo-Byzantine architecture built at the turn of the century. Fans of Anton Chekov will want to visit the Chekov House-Museum, where the great Russian playwright spent the last five years of his life. The house features numerous editions of Chekov's works, memorabilia like his pens and medical kit, and a garden.