Matryushka Rodnaja

We’ve decided to go for all the sights and museums the first day and highest on the list is of course the Mother Russia statue down by the river Dnepr. It’s about 3-4 km from the hotel so we decide to walk and see some of the town while we’re at it. Having marked it at Hasse’s Nexus One Android phone we head off in its general direction.

Crossing the street, at least the larger ones is a dangerous prospect in Kiev. People drive like they’re chased and it’s like a giant game of Frogger (with only one life each…). Having safely navigated the road we choose the road less traveled and end up between some run down residential buildings. There we spot a playground in a really desolate state which we of course need to investigate. After a fair amount of walking (an hour or so) we reach a park with lots of families playing around and friendly pack of stray dogs (no, we didn’t pet them).

We decide it’s time to ask someone the way and I approach two moms asking where we can find the “Matryushka Rodnaja” – they seem to think it’s really funny and points the way. We decide that this is a good time for a beer and find a nice along the road. Local beer is 10 uah (~$1.50) apiece and we sit there enjoying the 22°C and sunny weather we’re having.

A bit further down the road we spot a park with an obelisk centerpiece and go to check it out, ending up with a gorgeous view of the Dnepr river and a golden Orthodox church down the road. We’re a bit puzzled to still not seeing the statue however as it is over a hundred meters tall. We do know that it’s situated next to the river though and continue downstream. The park is littered with newlyweds and we start to wonder if it’s something special about this day or if it’s just due to the proximity to the fancy bigass church. Right after the church though we finally see the statue and with Russian choir music playing from large speakers we make our way down to the first of the exhibitions. The area has several World War II-era tanks, helicopters and other vehicles placed along the way that you can look at free of charge, but there is also another area with some more goodies, including a train cart with cannons mounted and amphibious vehicles that you have to pay a modest fee (8 uah, 5 more if you want to photograph) to see.

Coming down to the actual statue there is a large, fabulously communistic, statue depicting heroic Soviet soldiers advancing on an unseen enemy. We take lots of picture and head on into the museum at the base of the statue. Entry here is another measly 15 uah, more if you want to photograph, we opt not to though. The museum is really big but all the signs are entirely in Russian so you don’t get the whole story, had we taken a guide though, then we’d been stuck there the entire day. The exhibits are great however and there’s lots to look at even if you don’t understand the signs. There are a lot of weapons, pictures and uniforms, among the more macabre things are a guillotine. My friend Mats who’s been here also mentioned a pair of gloves made out of human skin(!), but we must’ve missed those or not realized what they where.

We buy a couple of propaganda postcards on the way out and head over to a covered passage nearby that has a few more of the communist era statues. Upon entering I almost soil myself as I hear the classic Svitjennaja Vojna streaming out of hidden speakers. This is one of the songs we sing in the Red Army Boys choir and it’s indescribably feeling walking around among all these awesome statues while singing along with the real Red Army Choir.

It’s at least 26°C at this point when we make our way back into the city. Lucas wants to see Arsenal’na metro station that apparently is the world’s deepest at 107 m so we head back there. We get some Ukrainian fast food on the way, I have some spicy chicken for 40-something uah including a soda, rather tasty actually. The metro is really cheap at 1.70 uah and you go down two veeery long escalators before reaching the bottom. The trains are in a rather sad state and packed to the ceiling with people, but since we’re heading to Kontraktova Plosha station and the Chernobyl museum, we hop on.

Arriving at Kontraktova Plosha we discover that noone actually knows where the damn museum is. The locals seem surprised that there is such a museum. But after some Google mapping on Hasse’s phone we’re on our way, it’s actually only a couple of blocks but if you didn’t know it was there you wouldn’t find it since the only sign is a worn plaque on the door itself.

Inside we get a guide that almost speaks English and shows us around the exhibit. I’ll get to the facts in the next blog but something that stuck with me was the comparison between the New York Times who dedicated the entire front page to the accident while the Soviet Pravda had a 3×3 cm notice far down on the left. There was also a case displaying all the various aid efforts, including the Swedish program “Adopt a Chernobyl kid” which I inappropriately cannot help snickering about as my mind wanders to “Stampa med Leroy” =P

Deciding to walk back to the hotel we set off in the general direction (determined by looking at the sun). We find ourselves in a winding street with lots of booths packed with trinkets, one of them with the usual soviet memorabilia. I decide that I have enough of that though and we move on. We find a set of stairs leading up to some sort of hill and since we’re striving to take the most interesting way back we choose the stairs. Up top there is one of those hills where kids go boozing, away from the prying eyes of police and parents. It’s actually a really nice place and we wander around the hill for a while admiring the view. After a while we’re more or less on the other side of this rather big hill and are looking for a way down. We ask a couple of girls if there’s a way down and they just giggle and shake their heads.

We decide to try our luck anyway, I mean, how hard could it be?! Heading down the 45° slope however, we find out it’s pretty hard… Bouncing like pinballs from tree to tree we make our way down to the street, almost! We find ourselves on top of a 5 meter high wall and the only recourse is to walk along it until we find some other way down. We find a promising spot after a while until Lucas spots a rather aggro-looking dog blocking our way. A hasty retreat later we notice that the dog was guarding a dead end so I guess we were lucky to get out intact. Turns out we were almost all the way back though and a just a little bit further we find ourselves back where we started.

To gather our strength we sit down for a round of beers before heading to the metro. Problem is that we have a bit of a problem figuring out which train to take. Fortunately there’s a really helpful girl there to guide us to our destination.

We wrap up the evening by going to a pub called Lucky’s, featuring a great all-girl cover band before heading on to Kiev’s largest nightclub Arena. A rather nice place with go-go-dancers and lots of beautiful girls, we don’t stay too long though since we have to be up at 8.30 to catch the Chernobyl tour so we head back at about 2 am for some shuteye.

Ukraine Ahoy!

It starts out promising with Lucas and Max just about missing the train to Arlanda (with Lucas having my ticket and all…). But it all works out except for that the plane is delayed for 1.5 hours or so. You don’t need a visa to visit the Ukraine anymore, but the stupid piece of paper you have to fill out sure makes it seem like you do. Poor Hasse arrives long before us since he’s flying in from Hungary and his flight isn’t late. This means that he doesn’t know what to enter on the row where you’re supposed to say where you’re staying. A helpful guard tells him to fill in “Tourist Hotel Kiev” making it blatantly obvious that these papers are all going straight into the round archive…

We take a taxi into Kiev, probably getting ripped off at 25 euros. Arriving at the hotel we’re pretty much convinced that we’re in the wrong place since it’s pretty extravagant. It seems to be the right one though and after dumping our stuff we head out to get a bite to eat. It isn’t that easy to find something at ten in the evening on a Thursday though… Turns out that McDonalds are out of meat for instance and only serving fish burgers. Everything else is closed until we find a bar where declaring that we want “non-smoking” gets us seated in a tiny room furthest away from anything in the bar.

I order a Mojito (78 hryvnya (uah), almost the same in sek) and it’s fabulous! I have not tasted a better Mojito since… ever really. Food is also great, costing around 100 uah (this is probably a pretty expensive place, a Big Mac costs 12 uah) and we enjoy a great dinner. Along with the food I order something random from the drink list and end up getting a 6 cl layered shot with Tequila, lemon juice and some sort of green liqueur. Maybe not the thing I wanted to drink with my food really, but hey, at least it was cheap! =D

Stumbling back to our hotel we get to see a lot of creative parking and a fair amount of drunken locals (keeping in mind that this is a Thursday).