Kyiv in Photos – Remembering a Ukraine before the war

by Feb 14, 2023Ukraine

Lavra Monastery Skyline Kyiv Before The War

Little did I know that a last-minute trip to Kyiv and Ukraine in early 2020 would be followed by a pandemic and then a horrific war, effectively closing the borders of the country I hoped to return to. View photos of this beautiful Ukrainian city – Kyiv before the war.

When Russia commenced its “operation” in the Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, my heart sank. Only two years prior, I had visited Kyiv and Chernobyl and had planned a return. Then COVID struck. And now, for the last year, Russia has been trying to destroy a country filled with astounding history, glamorous architecture, and amazingly welcoming people. Wistfully, I have found myself glancing more frequently at my archive of Kyiv photos from before the war, wondering what has survived Russian missiles — and what perhaps has not.

Increasingly, I search maps and news stories about Kyiv to see if I can discover what of the things I saw and admired in pre-war Kyiv have been damaged, destroyed, or have perhaps survived. Especially now that we hit the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine. Even if some sights have survived, I’m sure they look different — with tank barricades set up on plazas in front of historic churches, with ruins of buildings scattered around, with glorious metro stations having become bomb shelters. And now too Ukraine has strengthened its “de-Russification” campaign, with some monuments slated to come down and many streets in the process of being renamed.

Kyiv Soviet Ukraine Friendship Statue Before The War

For example, a Soviet-Ukraine Friendship Statue – seen under the above arch — was dismantled soon after the war began and the “Friendship Arch” it stood under has been renamed “Arch of Freedom of Ukrainian People.” The plaza around the arch was always a community gathering place with events and celebrations. Note the “crack” in the friendship that was painted on the arch in 2014 by activists. The plan by the Kyiv City Council was to repaint the arch, but I can’t know if or when that happened.

Kyiv Friendship Arch And Glass Bridge Before The War

The popular Kyiv Glass Bridge over Saint Volodymyr Descent, which had just opened in 2019, suffered damage in a Russian bomb attack in October 2022, but has been repaired and was reopened in December 2022. It lead to the Friendship Arch on one end. During my visit, the Soviet-Ukraine Friendship Statue was still prominent under the arch at one end of the bridge.

I pray that when the Russian attacks stop, and peace returns, Kyiv will be rebuilt and restored to the beautiful city I remember. I pray too that no more Ukrainians will suffer or perish in this “operation” by Russia and Vladimir Putin. Ukraine gained – allegedly – independence from Russia in 1991. Not that the country has had an easy time since that declared independence, with a revolution in 2004 stemming from political corruption and more battles with Russia for independence in 2014. The de-Russification campaign began after that revolution and has now garnered new support.

Take a walk around pre-war Kyiv with me in all of these photos from January 2020. And perhaps consider your own bucket list trip to Ukraine and Chernobyl when it’s possible once again.

Socialist modern architecture in Kyiv

Strangely, some of what was impressive in Kyiv before the war were the remains of some of the Soviet architecture built prior to Ukraine’s independence  from the the-Soviet Union in 1991. Today, the Kyiv City Council and the community have started the process to consider what to do with these symbols that seem so inappropriate in a country that is now being attacked by Russia.

Hotel Salute Kyiv Ukraine Pre War

After arrival in Kyiv, I stayed at the Salute Hotel, my first experience with Socialist Modernist architecture. Built in the early 1980s, the hotel only has 88 rooms and thus I am told is not really economically viable. Plus, because of its odd round structure, expansion is not possible. Walking up to your room on an interior circular ramp is a strange sensation indeed. Ignore that red door in the dining room which I hear goes to a brothel.

UFO Buidling Soviet Architecture Pre War Kyiv

Looking a bit like a flying saucer landing, the building commonly called the UFO Building was part of some Ukrainian institutes for sciences. As with many Soviet era buildings, even when I was there in 2020, there was debate about what to do with it. This UFO Building was empty when I was there. Who’s to tell about its future in today’s Kyiv, one year after the war began?

Kyiv Ukraine Crematorium Soviet Architecture

Strange, perhaps, to visit a cemetery and crematorium when traveling in Ukraine, but this one is odd-shaped and eye-catching. It was designed in this way so as to not look like a place where bodies where incinerated, due to understandable sensitivities after World War II. If a cremation is in process, the smoke does not rise from the building but from vents off to the side in a field.

Kyiv Pre War Motherland Monument

The Eternal Glory Park and the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War occupy a plot of land that allows profound views of the area – not to mention yet another piece of Soviet architecture, the Motherland Monument. Another Soviet structure, it has been embattled for years, but it remains a popular and entrancing sight, towering over the National Museum of History with its perch high above the Dnipro River.

Pre-war Kyiv metro stations, more than transportation

When I was in Kyiv before the war, the metros were teeming with people coming and going, the lifeblood of a busy metropolis, like in so many urban centers. They have become safe havens as air raid shelters since the war began in February 2022. Indeed, some stations have been closed for transit and are only air raid shelters.

Metro Station Kreshchatyk Escalator

The metro stations were places decked out in marble slabs, with tiles, mosaics, and sculptures. You ride incredibly long escalators down to the platforms since they are so deep – no wonder they have become safe places during bombings. The Kreshchatyk station, above, was near the Maidan Independence Square, which honored those killed during the 2014 revolution. It was always a busy busy station.

Metro Station Zoloti Vorata Kyiv Pre War

I glance at a station interior in news stories with kids doing homework during a bombing and think, this is not right. At Zoloti Vorata station in the city center, one could get to many sights and churches. It is often considered one of the most beautiful stations in the world with its arches and tiled mosaics.

Metro Station Arsenalna Kyiv Ukraine

Sometimes as photos or video of Ukrainians hunkered down in metro stations come up in a news report, I think about how I flitted up and down, in and out, admiring the construction and agog at the hugely long escalators, sometimes two levels worth. Arsenalna station, here, is the deepest station in the world at 346 feet. Beware, too, that the escalators run at what most Westerners would consider a breakneck speed. Leap on quickly!

Metro Teatralna Kyiv Before The War

I made it to five stations during my visit to Kyiv before the war, with the mural at the Teatralna being very impressive. Yes, it’s near the opera theater. Unfortunately, this transit hub has been closed, per online reports.

Metro Kyiv Pre War Graffiti Train

Many times, the trains were simply blue and yellow in Ukraine’s colors, but sometimes they were well-decorated with colorful graffiti. This photo was caught at the Dnipro station that hovers beside the river of the same name, as a man awaited the arrival of the Kyiv metro train.

Sculptures and landmarks in Kyiv before the war

Kyiv, Ukraine, seems to show off a monument or statue around every corner you turned.

Holdomor Statue Kyiv In Photos

Perhaps particularly meaningful today is the statue called “Bitter Memory of Childhood” in the Park of Eternal Glory just north of the. Salute Hotel. It commemorates the loss of life — and of children — during the famine in the 1930s that was contrived by Stalin. The famine has been officially recognized as genocide, with some estimate that 7 million people died. Significantly, in light of today’s war, historians believe the man-made famine was concocted to squash any attempts at Ukrainian independence. The statue and a museum were opened in 2008. The woeful statue of a child with hollow eyes is holding a cherished stalk of wheat.

Maidan Independence Square Kyiv Ukraine

A gathering point in central Kyiv was Maidan Square, or Independence Square, with photos, monuments, flags, and plaques that honored those killed during the country’s fight for independence.

Soviet Hammer And Sickle Pre War Kyiv

When I visited Kyiv before the war, I found constant reminders of its former Russian self. Here, the Soviet hammer and sickle remained on an ornate door of an office building on one of the main boulevards. Wonder if it’s still there?

Kyiv Ukraine In Photos Hedgehog Monument_

Not all the outdoor monuments in Kyiv are serious odes to war, independence, and lost lives. This monument to Hedgehog in the Fog is from a famous Soviet – yes, Soviet — cartoon. It is located near the Golden Gate and was installed in 2009. Although perhaps trivial in today’s world, it had been very popular among both Ukrainians and travelers in pre-war Kyiv.

Churches and monasteries, the pride of Ukraine

Just like with monuments in Kyiv before the war, there are hundreds of churches. Some are busy tourist destinations; some you just happen across on side street where you then stand in awe.

Kyiv Ukraine In Photos Lavra Monastery

A sight on every Kyiv tourist’s itinerary was always the spectacular Lavra Monastry, also known as the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves. Established in 1051, it is an historic Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery. Its domes and crosses rise about treetops and buildings, glinting gold in the sunlight on the hill that overlooks the Dnipro River. The lead photo at the top is from my hotel balcony at Hotel Salute (lucky me) and shows, from left to right, the top of the museum for the Holodomor genocide, the Lavra Cave Monastery’s golden tops, the Orthodox cathedral, and the Motherland Monument.

Kyiv Ukraine In Photos St Andrews Church

Situated at the top of the Andriivskyi Descent on a hilltop, St. Andrews is a remarkable, rare baroque design in Ukraine. The church with unique green and blue tones was built in the mid-1700s. It overlooks the popular and trendy Podil neighborhood and is one of so many breathtaking churches and monasteries dotted through the center of Kyiv. As you come off the walk through the park and climb the stairs (seen on the right) to Andriivskyi Descent from the riverfront park, it suddenly rises above you in all its glory.

St Michaels Monastery Kyiv In Photos

The golden domes of St. Michael’s Monastery rise up beside a large plaza in Kyiv. It has sky blue walls while inside it features impressive marble, mosaics, and fresco — all behind this gate. This monastery dates back to the 12th century – and is a revered piece of history in Kyiv. I have seen photos of tank barricades in the plazas around it, which is unsettling indeed. All around this area were sculptures and monuments to all things Ukraine and all the battles it has fought for its independence.

St Sophias Cathedral Kyiv In Photos

During my visit in January 2020, you were able to climb the bell tower of St. Sophia’s, which offered great views of the cathedral as well as views down the boulevard to St. Michael’s Monastery.

St Sophias Cathedral Kyiv Bell Tower Views

Beautiful Kyiv parks and plazas

No wonder it seems you are nearly always in parks and green spaces in Kyiv. More than half of the city, or 112,000 acres, is covered with park areas. The city has been named one of the top 100 greenest cities in the world.

Volodymyr Hill Gazebo Kyiv Before The Wall

From the Glass Bridge, mentioned above, you can walk through a park on Volodymyr Hill high above the river, past a funicular that started operations in 1905 (yes, it is still used – or at least was – for everyday commutes!) to the Kokorevskaya gazebo. This spectacular openwork gazebo was built in the late 1800s. The loop will then take you to St. Andrew’s Church and Andriivskyi Descent.

Kyiv Before The War Funicular

HITT Tip: If you want to learn more about how staunchly Ukrainians will defend and have defended their independence and the pride that runs deep in the country, the Ostannya Barykada Restaurant is the place to go. Somewhat hidden below Maidan Independence Square, the OB Restaurant is a bit of a shrine to the country and his heroes.

It’s been more than three years since my experience in Ukraine, as I look back at this one-year anniversary of the war. During that time I was also able to spend four days in Chernobyl – a place that has also been badly damaged by the Russian invasion. I know some people I met at that time have fled the country or were working in the war effort.  My look at Kyiv in photos has me hoping I will indeed be able to safely return one day – to the proud country it is and to an independent country that it was and should remain.

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