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Kiev, September 2000
Once upon a time, when there was a large Soviet Union, it consisted of 15 republics. Theoretically, they all were equal, but of course in real life they were not. Russia was the largest and the best economically developed, Moscow then was proudly the capital of both the USSR and Russian Republic at the same time. By all means, it was the #1 city in the country. The question of who is number two had then no obvious answer. On one hand, there was Leningrad (now, St. Petersburg), former Russian capital since the time of Peter The Great. On the other hand, there was Ukraine, the Soviet Republic obviously ranked number two, and it had Kiev as its capital. Kiev definitely was from a political viewpoint a #2 city in the Soviet Union, and, technically, its capital #2, though I know that very few residents of Leningrad/St. Petersburg would share this opinion.
Now Kiev is the capital of independent Ukraine, the second most powerful state (after Russia) that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union. I did travel a lot across the USSR, but surprisingly all my routes never brought me to Kiev. It was almost 30 years ago when I visited it last time - then I was a high school student. Fortunately, this September they invited me to deliver a report on a conference there, so I had a chance to not only meet Ukrainian colleagues, but to look at the city. There was not much time for sightseeing, so here is just a brief report with a few photos.
Kiev is wonderfully relaxed by Moscow standards. Attention of a Muscovite is very soon arrested by the observation that looks strange after Moscow sights. There are no military patrols in the streets or metro. You stroll the wide sidewalks of Kreschatik, the main street of Kiev, and never see a single Kalashnikov or a bulletproof vest. This peaceful scenery is not possible in Moscow - or any major Russian city for that matter. Turkey or Israel in this respect do look much more Russian than Ukraine. Alas, this is just another confirmation of a sad fact, we've got used to living in the country that is involved in a war. It does not matter that the military operations occur far from Moscow, in the Caucasus, in Chechnya. Modern guerilla war is, unfortunately, not perfectly local.
As always in my stories here, you can zoom in on any picture. Just click on an image and a larger and better quality photo will open. Many of the photos are worth looking at in postcard size.
But we are in Kiev right now, let us forget for a day about Russian troubles. By the way, Kiev is not very far from Moscow, it takes an hour and a half on Boeing 737 to get from one city to another, and a small private Ukrainian airline would offer you a comfortable and pleasant flight, and the ticket prices are nice too. Well, for a foreigner - and for some Russians, I mean. For most here, the price is prohibitively high, around $200 the round trip. With low salaries and ever growing cost of living, such a travel becomes a luxury one cannot afford.
Kiev is full of rivers. Dnepr is a wide and beautiful river, elegantly winding across the city, under its elegant bridges, by often green banks. The views from a hotel balcony or from a special observation point on a high bank are equally beautiful - even if one picture was taken on a rainy morning - and the second, on a sweet blue night.
The city suffered a lot of damage during the World War II, and restoration afterwards brought many buildings looking so familiar for a Muscovite, al these pseudo-classical temple-like structures of distinct "Stalin's victory style". Now, richly decorated with satellite dishes, they look a bit funny.
Kiev is a musical city. I mean not only music of its style and the rhythm of its narrow streets going up and down. I mean music quite literally. Local singers are performing in front of their fans on the streets, numerous cafes offer very good live music, and sometimes there are unexpected pleasant meetings. We were sitting in a very cozy Blues Cafe listening to a local band - and when the musicians were having a rest, a lady came up onto the stage, an American jazz singer and player visiting Kiev on the way home from Moscow. So all of a sudden we had a chance to listen to Napua's performance. It's a small world, we all do know that, - but every new evidence is very welcome!
Kiev is relaxed as only a southern city can be. I do not know why, but natural and easy relaxation is the secret known only to those who live in the warm climate. Fountains, street cafes, teenagers on skateboards or bikes make the city look a bit like a resort - even on a weekday in September.
For a person who reads and speaks Russian, Kiev offers an extra fun. It is the place where visual and audio environment are in an obvious conflict with each other. Most of the spoken language around in the street is Russian. Close your eyes, and you feel like in a street of a southern Russian city (not Moscow, pronunciation is noticeably different - but maybe Kursk or Belgorod)... But if you open the eyes, they will immediately tell you that you have crossed the borders of Russia and are abroad. Following very strict local regulations, every billboard, every sign, every announcement or flyer is in Ukrainian. This is a bit weird feeling, when the soundtrack does not match the picture.
Still, this just adds another pleasant strangeness to the place. Perhaps, if you ever going to visit Russia, it makes perfect sense to plan the trip so that you spend a few days in Kiev, on the way in or on the way out of Russia. The city is worth visiting...
Andrey - firstname.lastname@example.org
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