• Ralf Steinberger

Kyiv before the War

Memories of a journey to the capital of Ukraine during peaceful times



Ten years before Russia declared a war on Ukraine in February 2022, we travelled to Ukraine's capital Kyiv (see below for a discussion on the spelling). Due to the horrid stories and images we have seen in the news recently, I dug out the photos I took in April 2012 to remind myself of what Ukraine looked and felt like. I want to share with you some of these pictures and memories.

July 2022




Two tanks, painted with blue and yellow flowers, stand in a park. The Kyiv cityscape can be seen in the background.
Painted flower power tanks at the War Memorial Monument in Kyiv, Ukraine. Museum of the Great Patriotic War.



Motherland Statue in Kyiv, also referred to as "iron lady" or "tin tits".

In hindsight, the visit to the memorial complex of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War was a key moment of our visit. We took photos in front of painted flower power tanks, looking down on the cityscape of Kyiv. We were amazed by the size of the 102 Meter tall Motherland Monument. I had seen Mother Armenia in Yerevan, but only after having discovered Mother Georgia in Tbilisi (Georgia) earlier this year, I realised that these enormous metal mother figures are a feature of former Soviet countries.





 


Long-term demonstration in Kyiv centre requesting that former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko be set free.

One of the first (admitttedly superficial) impressions during our visit of Kyiv was that freedom of speech did exist in Ukraine. On a main street in the city centre, there was a long-term demonstration and a large sign requesting that former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko be set free. She was in prison after allegations that many interpreted as a politically motivated manoeuvre by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.



 


Carefree and untroubled wedding celebrations in a square in Kyiv.

The population generally seemed relaxed and carefree. There were street musicians, painters, chess players and break dancers. People were generally discreet, but very friendly whenever we had contact with them. Many persons in town seemed to speak Russian and restaurants always offered both Ukrainian and Russian menus.



Ukrainian-born Bandura (zither) player Ostap Kindrachuk playing in the streets of Kyiv.


One of the strongest impressions I brought back from this trip was the contrast between the traditional and the modern world. On one hand, market sellers mostly seemed very rural and people in the Orthodox churches practised traditional religious cults. Women in the church all wore headscarfs and people kissed icons. On the other hand, there were plenty of modern youths going to discos. Ladies loved to dress in high heels. Life just seemed like it is in most countries with strong traditions: Old habits and new ways rub against each other.




High heels on a daily basis.


 


The most striking architecture are the colourful religious buildings with their golden domes. They contrast with impressive, over-sized Soviet area buildings and the many seemingly run-down apartment blocks.




Soviet style architecture and art in the centre of Kyiv.
Historical religious buildings strike the eye with their bright gold-coloured towers.


 


Soviet style metro in Kyiv with deep escalators.

Further memories: A visit to the Chornobyl museum (Chernobyl Museum); the Soviet style underground system with its enormously deep metro stations; vodka; night clubs and neon-lit bars.









 


Is it Kyiv or Kiev or Kiew?


When I travelled to Ukraine in 2012, I visited Kiev (German Kiew), but in 2018 the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs started the online campaign #KyivNotKiev. Its goal was to persuade English-language media and organisations to exclusively use Kyiv (derived from the Ukrainian language name Київ) instead of Kiev (derived from the Russian language name Киев) as the name of the Ukrainian capital.



Ukrainian law enforcement officers at work.

 

And here is a photo gallery. I recommend that you enlarge the photos to see them well. Simply click on them to see them full-size. I would be happy to read your comments.







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