Early 2006 I found myself with the luxury problem of having over 15.000 Miles & More frequent flyer miles, the majority of which were expiring 30 April 2006. Not wanting them to go sour, I figured they would be most valuable on the most expensive regular flights. Since Lufthansa does not fly to Reykjavik (Iceland), and both Moscow and Saint Petersburg require expensive and time consuming visa procedures, that only left Ukraine in my opinion. The president of this former Soviet-state has a Dutch wive, and therefore Dutchmen do not require a visa anymore.
That is how I ended up boarding a small plane with mainly business travellers going from Düsseldorf to Kiev. There I managed to find my way with public transport to a small hostel, and needed all my Russian skills to get the right train ticket to L’viv. (Un)fortunately I already found out before the trip that it was not possible to book a daytrip to Chernobyl. Yes, there are daytrips to the radioactive wasteland surrounding the exploded nuclear reactor. It is deemed safe enough for a day, as long as you stay on the roads of the deserted towns and countryside, where the radiation has washed away. Wandering around in the bush is not recommended. However, since the meltdown happened on 26 April 1986, all the daytrips were sold out to journalists wanting to write the story of “Chernobyl, 20 years later”.
Not having my daytrip to Chernobyl left me over 3 full days to explore Kiev, which is more than enough. I went to all the highlights of the city: the large monastery complex of Pecherska Lavra, the tanks and other military equipment of the Great Patriotic War Museum, St Michael’s Monastery, St Sophia’s Cathedral, various city parks, the huge arch of the Friendship of Nations Monument, and Independance Square. The last is the center of the city where the orange revolution took place. It is also the place where I met up with some students and alumni of ESTIEM local group Kiev. That is the good thing about being an member of an European student organisation: knowing people in most major European cities. I went to have a drink with them one evening, and explored Kiev one afternoon together with Lena.
Overall Kiev was a lot more modern than I expected. The Lada’s so commonly seen in Moscow and Saint Petersburg were a rarity (it may also have to do with the fact that the last time I was in Russia was in 2003). Nevertheless, those two cities are the ones that come closest to my impression of Kiev. The metro system is very efficient and very deep (the fast escalators of one metro station needed 5 minutes to bring me up), just like Saint Petersburg. In one thing Kiev seems to beat the Russian cities though: the percentage of women wearing stiletto heels, I have never seen so many as in Kiev.