Kiev is the capital and largest city of Ukraine (pop. 3 million) and is situated on the Dnieper River, where the Vikings settled and established it in the mid-9th century. Under the Vikings (also called Varangians) Kiev became the capital of the Kievan-Rus, a confederation of Slavic tribes that over time became the Ukrainian and Russian peoples. Kiev is what most eastern Slavs today think of as their place of origin.
Kiev, unlike the smaller Ukrainian towns I visited, feels distinctly European in its monumental architecture and its openness to foreigners. I had some interesting conversations with folks I met in Lviv and Kiev and they clearly tended to regard eastern Ukrainians (the ones more in sync with Russia than their own government) as a completely different people. This helps to explain why, in a sense, many western Ukrainians would probably be delighted to see the Donetsk region break away and join Russia. And when Vladimir Putin announced he was seizing Crimea because that’s what the people wanted, he was probably speaking the truth. Crimeans and eastern Ukrainians have always regarded themselves as more Russian than Ukrainian.
At any rate, I loved Kiev and wound up staying there for almost a month. There was so much to see, so many great museums, so much history and such delightful people that I could have spent two months there and still not seen everything.
As the center of several Slavic Orthodox religions, Kiev has an extraordinary number of magnificent cathedrals and monasteries, most of which are still in use today. The level of religious devotion in Kiev, and throughout Ukraine for that matter, really surprised me. It’s as if the 75 years of official atheism under the Soviets only intensified the people’s attachment to their ancient icons and mysteries.
Here are a few photos from around Kiev. It’s truly a remarkable and gorgeous city: