Following violent incidents in Odesa on 2 May, the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Odesa city.
So, I had to be in Kiev by Thursday because I’m going to Chernobyl on Friday. There were two ways I could have realistically done this:
1) catching the morning train from Tiraspol to Odessa, then a train or bus from Odessa to Kiev. This was my original plan; the disadvantage being I go through Odessa.
2) returning to Chisinau, and catching the bus to Kiev from there. The disadvantage is that there are only two buses a day, one very early and one very late, so it would mean effectively ‘wasting’ a day in either Tiraspol or Chisinau.
Last night I did attempt to buy tickets online for routing 1) but my website of choice claimed there was no availability. Now I’m sure it was lying, but I didn’t fancy trying to buy a ticket from a hectic ticket office where no-one could even read English characters, never mind speak it.
Then I remembered something about the bus I’d caught from Chisinau on Monday, and the routing it took.
At 10.40am, and about £80 poorer (though in the larger scheme of things, £80 isn’t really significant), I was boarding a flight from Chisinau airport …
… along with 12 other people. In a 30-seater plane. With propellers. And an awful lot of bumps in flight. Beautiful journey though – we flew quite low and there was no cloud so we could see the whole of Western Ukraine laid out below us.
No hassles through security – went from plane to city bus link in a handful of minutes (gotta love travelling with only hand luggage). Interestingly for a major city airport, it was almost completely empty. We were the only flight being processed at passport control/customs, and I didn’t see any other people waiting for flights. I know that much of the country is on holiday at the moment (the 1st and 9th are both holidays and it seems due to the days of the week they’ve fallen on, most people have taken the whole period off), but I didn’t expect it to be quite that empty.
It was another hot day here, but yet again I did a lot of ambling around. Had difficulty finding the hostel at first due to a couple of the buildings not having consecutive numbers on, but I got there eventually. It’s a small place, and it’s only about half-full I think. Cheap though; about £3.50/night (many of the hostels are that cheap in Kiev it seems; to be fair though they seem to be quite cheap across most of Distant Eastern Europe – the one in Bucharest was similarly priced, so it’s not just that no-one’s coming to Kiev), and conveniently not far from the main railway station, where I have to be at 8am on Friday morning. Boo.
That said, it’s quite a weird little hostel. It feels like it should have some ‘vibrancy’ about it, but it doesn’t seem to. It’s a bit like the one I stayed in in Bethlehem last year – a really cool place let down by a lack of people, which in a small hostel like this one (one dorm, 12 beds) is much more self-evident. I’m not alone in the hostel (I think just over half the beds are occupied), but I can’t tell how many of them are being slept in by people who work here/know the people who work here, and how many are other backpackers. I suspect a lot more of the former than the latter.
Much of today was spent exploring the city, visiting several areas of greenery, and seeing a few memorials. I ended up by the banks of the Dnepr River, and the views over it towards central Ukraine are pretty immense – the Eastern suburbs of the city then blend into the vast expansive forest. And the vista is very wide indeed; it’s quite a sight.
Kiev does seem to be a very green city too – like Tiraspol only obviously more so as it’s that much bigger. And I have to say again I’ve been really taken by it; it seems friendly and bright. Not sure how it would look in Winter though.
My walk took me along a road very close to the city centre but which felt like it was in some remote forest – deep woods either side with only a couple of buildings along the way that give any indication of civilisation – invariably restaurants, oddly. But this road takes you out right past Dynamo Kiev’s football ground, and, immediately after it …
… well, it would be a road junction but it looks more like the remnants of a warzone, with ash and detritus everywhere, the area surrounded by tyres, and hand-built memorials everywhere. This is the edge of the area where the revolution happened in February, and the effects are still in evidence. Nearby is an art gallery that’s currently showing a retrospective photo-journalist collection taken at the time.
Maiden Square is just around the corner. This is a huge pedestrianized square that would normally be filled with shoppers, walkers, sk8er boys…at the moment however it seems to be full of memorials, stallholders selling memorabilia, more tyres piled up in rows, and people in camouflage outfits living in tents. There’s also a stage in the centre, in front of which were singing a Ukrainian choir. In the distance a PA was blasting out anthemic Western music (‘The Final Countdown’, for instance). This was the epicentre of the revolution and by the looks of it, they’re still expecting ‘issues’ to happen. Note that this may be heightened as 9th May (Friday) is a holiday in Ukraine (Victory Day, I believe), and some demonstrations are possible. I’ll already have buggered off by then of course.
The tents and the detritus continue right down the main street, some of the walls are covered with pro-Ukrainian and pro-peace graffiti, and a couple of the building around the square show the evidence of considerable fire damage (one in particular, I think a bank, is probably only fit for demolition).
Having become a bit maudlin, and with my feet about to fall off, I headed back to the hostel (via a pizza restaurant called ‘Marios’. Street food is all very well but they don’t like it when you try to buy a 9 hryvna item with a 100 hryvna note).
Hryvna is a transliterated name, as the Ukranians use the Cyrillic alphabet. It’s pronounced ‘grivna’. Confusingly, the Russians transliterate it as ‘Gryvna’ (and when I’ve dabbled previously with the Cyrillic alphabet, the letter in question should generally indeed be a ‘g’. No idea why the Ukranians spell it with an ‘h’ in the Western Alphabet). Anyway there’s about 19 of them to the £ and a bottle of water is about 8 of them.