I’m strolling the streets of Kyiv at dawn. The sun’s early rays are reflected in the puddles: the roads of the Pechersk district, with the most expensive real estate, are cracked with the potholes.
The sun goes up and shines on the Arsenal factory: its walls are cracked no less than the roads. All the contrasts come together in unbelievable harmony.
Seems like if they polish this city till it shines, build ideal roads here, wrap it as the New Year present and then grant it to me, I will give up this gift: it would be too perfect and fake.
My well-worn Kyiv is not always groomed, it’s ancient and forever but naïve as a child. With the endless list of changes happening here, Kyiv will become neither second Rome, nor second Berlin. It will be one and only. The only place I want to live in.
It’s where honesty lives
Kyiv is a city where you get easily unmasked, if you are fake. As a traveler, you might think that grumpy Kyivites do not smile a lot, but after a while you will see that we just do not smile to be polite, and if we do, we really mean it, what’s more, we show our sympathy, affection and curiosity.
We are people curious about everything. About advanced technologies from more “civilized” world, that are reaching Kyiv just now, about people, different from us: with different shape of eyes, speaking different language or accent.
We’ve been undiscovered for the world for such a long time, that once this world started to discover us, we got a bit confused, like a child who at his 18s found out he has a sibling. We are discovering you, our guests, just like you are discovering us. We give you a taste of local flavor, and you give us a taste of being more international.
It’s where people laugh at themselves
We protest if we do not like something, we sign petitions if we want something, and we simply laugh if we can’t change something. Sarcasm and humor are at our core. When the cost of metro ride increases almost twice, we organize Facebook events where we pray for prices to go down.
When the storm turns half of Kyiv into ocean and cars are flooding, we take our inflatable boats to get to work. When the snowfall blocks streets of Kyiv, we take the right outfit and go for skiing.
We laugh at our politicians, economy situation, weather and, most importantly, at ourselves. Unfortunately, our medicine is not in the best condition to prolong our life, but we heard that laughter has the same effect. So do not get offended if we laugh at you too. Ain’t no joke.
It’s a city that can have any shape we want
Living in a city like Kyiv, where tourism is just starting to boost, has a lot of perks. One of them – the image of the city is not very clear yet, and it gives us, locals, a huge power of shaping the image of Kyiv.
Kyiv is 1536 years old, but only the recent Revolution of Dignity empowered us to finally show Kyiv to the world. And, most importantly, we finally understood that the city is built by us, citizens. We are in charge of shaping it the way we want.
Kyiv is changing every day by locals who chose to stay here. New cafes, bars, and restaurants are being opened at the speed of light. Kyivites carefully restore their living spaces into art objects, fight with raiders, paint gloomy walls and organize more festivals than the number of citizens.
It’s upside down
It’s here in Kyiv we can go to the most expensive clubs in the city and stay there till 6 a.m when the first metro starts (not to spend money on a taxi). It’s in Kyiv citizens are buying tickets to jazz on the beach concerts, while the poorer ones come on their own yachts to the stage on the water, to listen to the concert… for free.
It’s here we implement one of the most modern public bicycle rentals (Nextbike) while having one of the worst infrastructures for cycling. It’s here in Kyiv, it takes 10 minutes to go to the supermarket (with empty hands), and 30 minutes to get back (not because of banging over heavy bags, but because Kyiv is the city on the hills). It’s the city where everything can seem upside down, but it’s the city where the mess can never be boring.
It’s not a Disneyland…yet
“I’m happy we came to Kyiv before it turned into a Disneyland, and everybody started to visit” – said my guest from the USA, who came here with his son. With its growing popularity as a holiday destination, Kyiv is still a hidden gem for the world. I enjoy its local flavor because it’s a blessing to live in a city with more locals than tourists, but hearing more and more foreign speech on the streets fills my heart with hope.
And in the future, when people will start skipping Paris to go to Kyiv, I will be proud that back then, when it all started, I was here, In Kyiv, being part of it, building a city that one day will be on To-Do-List of every traveler.
It’s where every meter is different from the other one
Sometimes there are 1000 years of history behind the Golden Domes of cathedrals, and real ruins just behind its walls. Ruins that locals carefully turn into squats, then – into art galleries or bars. Here the house of Igor Sikorsky, the creator of the first in the world helicopter, can be falling apart right in the city center, being surrounded by elite residential buildings.
It’s here at one monastery the priests can cover protesters from police during the Revolution (turning cathedral’s floors into shelters), and at another one – priests drive in expensive cars. And both of them will still look imposing in their glory.
Here the 100-year-old Venetian gothic mansion, the house to the first ambulance, can be standing just next to the operating endocrinology center. It’s here the old garages with “No parking” signs can be turned into lively bars after 16:00.
It’s here in Kyiv you can be searching for speakeasy bars by the sound of talks in the backyards of the main street, or searching for the best cocktail.…in the veteran cinema underground… or trying to get into some bars through the transformer box, with a chance to be kicked out of there equally to the local.
It’s here in Kyiv, elderly people dance in the metro near the theater before and after performances (Teatralna metro station) and young people sing the national anthem in huge lines on the metro after musical festivals. Here, in Kyiv, men can play chess for the whole day in front of the Taras Shevchenko University and invite you to play with them, if you look at them for more than 10 seconds.
It’s here the huge murals can happen so often that your neck will hurt from raising your head up. And I love to live with this pain. A small price for living in a city where every meter is different from the other one.
It’s not love at a first sight
There are cities you immediately fall in love with. I do not think that Kyiv is the case. My love story with Kyiv was a lot like “marriage with convenience” – you marry somebody for certain benefits, thinking that maybe with time, the love will happen. I was kind of giving the city “a probation” – like “let’s live together, and see what happens”. The real love happened when I started to sacrifice time to learn about the city, when I started to show Kyiv to my guests, when I started reading books about it, watching films, exploring new hidden places, and seeing it through the eyes of other people.
Kyiv is awful in some aspects, but it only gives it extra uniqueness. When the feelings are real, you learn to love despite something.
The scars of your city, and its defects become something special. You want to heal the wounds that can be cured, but you feel the special charm of its flaws, that cannot be fixed. This is a moment when you love your city just like parents love their children. Unconditional love.
I have itchy feet, but my heart starts beating faster every time I hear “Cabin crew, prepare for landing” and see the lights of Kyiv in illuminator.
I am landing in the best place on Earth. And I am where I am supposed to be.