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Das Höhlenkloster in Kiew, Bild: Serhii Brovko / shutterstock

Ukraine – at the interface between East and West

It is with great horror that we see the sad images from Ukraine. We have decided to leave the following article from 2018 unchanged for the time being in order to present the beauty of Ukraine before the outbreak of the war. Our thoughts are with the families on site.

Behind the slightly pale windows of the train, the meadows glide by, and the rays of the early sun of the day sparkle in the dew on the grass. Carriages can be seen on the narrow paths that lead to the old villages and, of course, the many nests of storks on the electricity pylons at the edge of the railway line. A trip on one of the last narrow-gauge railways on the continent is like a trip back in time. This is possible in Ukraine, and this country is not really as medieval as the fleeting images of a train ride convey. After all, Ukraine was once considered a pioneer in Europe. The people of the country fondly remember it as their Princess Anna, who was once married by her father, Grand Duke Yaroslav, to the royal court in France . And it is precisely this Princess Anna who is said to have complained about “backward Paris” after her trip from Kiev . Charles de Gaulle also raved about the metropolis: “I have seen many parks in cities, but never a city that is located in a park…”

The Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life in Lviv, Image: Ruslan Kalnitsky / shutterstock

Kiev’s golden era is still evident today in the impressive Art Nouveau facades in the city. The city was a cultural and economic center at the interface between East and West. The city on the murky waters of the Dnieper cherishes and cultivates its nimbus as a worthwhile destination for holidaymakers who are not only enterprising but also thirsty for knowledge. Because there is a lot to see in Kiev, although Ukraine as a modern state has basically only existed since 1991. At that time, 91 percent of citizens pleaded in a referendum for the independence of their country.

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If you look around Kyiv’s surroundings, you will discover amazing things. For example, the Mezhyhirya Palace, the former residence of President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in 2014. Today, this house is also open to visitors, and during tours you will even be shown the golden toilet bowl of the ex-dictator.

A frozen lake in Ukraine, Image: Standret / shutterstock

The Sophia Cathedral and the Lavra Cave Monastery are world-famous. Both can now be found on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Once upon a time, the caves on a hill on the west bank of the Dnieper served as a domicile for hermits. Later, the monks were buried here. Those God-fearing people who are revered as saints by Ukrainians today. Incidentally, the memory of Grand Duke Volodymyr, who made Kiev a Christian city, is also cherished as a saint. He is said to have given the order for the construction of four hundred churches. However, many of them disappeared during the Soviet occupation.

As for Odessa, the port city on the Black Sea, the residents of Kiev claim that it is a little “crazy”. Odessa certainly reflects the somewhat different Ukraine. It is casual here and not a few see this city as a pearl of the south. With the famous Potemkin Staircase, which leads over exactly 192 steps from the Old Town to the harbor and has become the visual symbol and landmark of Odessa. This is a city on the move, where the colors of the legendary tsar’s daughters dominate the streets: Russian green, lilac blue and yellow like the butterflies in the park.

The city of Lviv with its extraordinary cultural program is also recommended.

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The crises and wars after the secession of Crimea have cast a shadow over Ukraine as a travel destination. Although some precautions are useful for round trips and you should also be prepared for one or the other pothole on the roads, tourist stays in this interesting country are recommended to all those who are interested in culture and lifestyle. And regardless of whether you are travelling by intercity bus or train, almost everyone can easily get into conversation with the hospitable people in Ukraine.

Travel information Ukraine

Capital Kiev
Form of government Republic
semi-presidential system
Currency Hryvnia (UAH)
Area approx. 603,700 (including 26,080 AR Crimea and 864 city of Sevastopol) km²
Population 42,854,106, excluding AR Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (May 1, 2015)
Languages Ukrainian
Electricity grid 220 volts, 50 Hz
Area code +380
Time zone UTC+2
UTC+3 (March to October)