A trip to the dark side – Chernobyl

(November 2019)

What do you think about so called ‘dark tourism’ – going to see things and places that have less than happy stories to tell? Chernobyl is one of those and despite its dark history – it is part of history and therefore something of interest to many – including me.

That said, is visiting an abandoned city really ‘dark’ tourism? Sure, we know why and how the city was abandoned but is it truly any different to visiting Machu Picchu or one of the great Mayan cities such as Tikal in Guatemala or Luxor in Egypt even?  Don’t get me wrong, I am not comparing the incredible Mayan or Egyptian architecture to that of the Soviet Union in the 70s but is the premise still the same – visiting an abandoned city 🤔🤔? Either way all are equally fascinating to me – a snapshot in time of a civilisation that lived there.

Since the recent TV show depicting the events of the Chernobyl disaster, it has become incredibly popular, though I had booked my trip before the programme came out. Learning about the world and it’s civilisations – good and bad – has always interested me.  Perhaps in the hope that we learn from the mistakes of those before us.

I had time to take a quick walk around the Kiev city centre before I headed to the meeting point for my tour – despite the -8c I was glad I did as it was beautiful with the sun coming up and the changing colours over the monuments.

I then heading to the meeting point for my day tour to Chernobyl. I was quickly allocated my group, guide and van.  There were probably 7-8 vans, each with 10-12 people heading off for the day – I can only imagine the mayhem in the height of the tourist season.

Before I go on, I had better give you a brief history of Chernobyl and the reason I and thousands of others visit (just in case you have been living under a rock).   On Sunday, April 26, 1986, reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant exploded during a safety test (oh the irony) and it is still considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.  The explosion and subsequent fire released vast amounts airborne radioactive contamination into the atmosphere which drifted over much of the USSR (as it was at the time) and into Western Europe.  USSR did not admit the accident until high levels of radiation were recorded in Sweden.   Ultimately up to 16,000 deaths can be attributed to the disaster across Europe however only 31 deaths have every been reported as a direct result of the disaster.

We were issued with our ‘Visa’ for the Chernobyl zone, which we were to show with our passport at the police check points and then given an initial run down of the health and safety rules:

  • Don’t eat in the open air
  • Don’t remove anything (and therefore spreading radiation) – you can be given 7 years in prison for this!
  • Don’t put anything on ground or sit on ground
  • Don’t go inside buildings – most are in bad condition and some falling down
  • Don’t pat stray dogs – they are very friendly but contaminated due to the ground and the water (this one was the hardest for me lol)  

We passed a fair few Ladas on the drive towards the Chernobyl zone (and if you have read my previous blogs of my trip around Central Asia you will know I am a fan of them) and when we reached the first check point, we were given our personal dosimeter to measure the dose of external ionising radiation we receive during the day.  During the day, we should receive less than 0.003 microsieverts – you would get more radiation on a flight between the New York and the Ukraine.  The dosimeters get returned at the end of the day and the statistics shown to the Government on a regular basis.

Did you know there are three types of radiation:

  • Alpha – the weakest
  • Beta – which is dangerous to the skin (this is the most difficult to manage in the summer when people don’t want to cover up)
  • Gamma – which destroys DNA and can be the cause of cancers for you and/or your future children.

Our Guide was biotechnologist and had a lot of information to share as the day went on.

Although then day started off at -8 in Kiev, it seemed even colder now we were in the country side it was absolutely bitter and the problem with wearing so many layers to keep warm outside, is rapidly get them off when you get inside the warm van! 

The Chernobyl Exclusion zone covers an area of almost 2,600km2 in the Ukraine with restricted zones marked at 10km and 30km.  Surprisingly a small number of people live within the 30km zone. It is also now considered a nature reserve as nature has fully recovered with many bear, lynx, moose and wolves living in the area.  In the initial years after the disaster, there were a lot of mutations as you would expect, but due to evolution and survival of the fitness, those died off and only the healthy animals remained.  Although it is expected that some of these still have less obvious internal mutations, the populations continue to thrive.

Our first stop after the check points in to the exclusion zone at the Kopachi village kindergarten and its small war memorial just a few kilometres from the power plant.  Here we were given the instruction to “break the rules carefully” as our guide let us go inside the building.  He could not join us as he had to wear a GPS tracker 🥴.  Obviously there has been much deterioration over time but it was clear it was left in a hurry with shoes, toys and books just left – all very eery.  All the other buildings in this and many other villages in the area were bulldozed and buried.  Sadly, this was not such a good idea as the ruins seeped radioactive isotopes into the groundwater!  They built new roads, with new asphalt which they refer to as “safety tunnels”.

There were 15 villages within the 10km zone, and all were destroyed and buried after the disaster.  Despite the explosion happening on April 26, the villages were not evacuated until May 3rd, nor were they given iodine pills.  The heavy particles in the atmosphere (e.g. plutonium) destroyed their immune system – as a result many who died of other things (due to their compromised immune systems) were not considered in the death toll.  There was also a lot of blindness (as eyes absorb radiation easily).  No one can live in this area today and no one can stay more than 6 hours at one time. 

The Chernobyl Nuclear power plant was planned to have 12 reactors in total.  The accident happened in No. 4, and all further building plans were abandoned leaving No. 5 unfinished and the other reactors were closed over the following years (No. 3 closing in 2000).   Not surprisingly, water in the runoffs in the area are still highly contaminated.

Reactor number 4 is now covered with a safety shield or Sarcophagus.  The current one was built in 2012 and was the biggest and heaviest structure moved in the world, as it was built 300m away and then moved into place – 36000 tonnes of steel in total.

In front of the sarcophagus there is a monument to the ‘liquidators’ with an inscription “To those who saved the world”.  “Liquidator” is a general term used to describe the civil and military personnel who dealt with the consequences of the disaster.  Liquidators roles varied greatly; power plant workers on duty at the time of the explosion, fire fighters, Soviet Armed forces who removed contaminated materials, female janitors who had to remove food from abandoned homes, hunters who exterminated domestic animals left behind, coal miners who dug a protective tunnel, helicopter pilots …  These people and many more (it is estimated that around 60,000 people were involved) are generally credited with limiting the immediate and long term damage from the disaster and those who still survive today finally have veteran status, even if they were civilians, having fought for many years to have their participation officially recognised.

Our guide had spoken to an engineer who was on duty the morning after the explosion.  He had said that no one could believe the core could or in fact did explode and for many hours they continued to work in disbelief.  They were initially evacuated but Kremlin engineers made them go back in to continue pumping water into the core – which was now non-existent!

Our next stop was in the town of Pripyat, the location of many of the eerie photos you see of the disaster aftermath.  Just outside the town we came across some puppies – all dogs are supposed to be sterilised but clearly not! A US organisation look after the stray animals in the area and thankfully we could play puppies 👍🏻 (as they are too young to be particularly contaminated) – they certainly looked chunky and healthy.

Prypriat was a good city, purpose built in 1970 by the best designers, with all the best infrastructure – Amusement park, Palace of culture, cinemas, schools etc, connections to railway, bus and boat stations and a massive medical complex.  Everything was provided – health care, housing, education etc.  On top of that, good jobs were available at the nearby Nuclear Power plant, just a few kilometres away.

Although there was an estimated 50,000 people living in the city, there were only 4000 cars as the city was so easy for people to walk around.

Gear from firefighters on first night still in the basement of the medical complex.  They had no radiation protection and people did not understand symptoms of radiation related illnesses.  Nurses, doctors, visitors were all contaminated as they touched exposed workers and their clothes with no protection.  Once the extend of the contamination was understood the Government issue a law that all pregnant women in the city had to have their babies aborted and many children from the city were sent to Cuba for rehab (a friend of the USSR with good medicine).

Next, we headed to the River boat station – there were boat connections to Kiev and Belarus, and the boats were a popular way of travel.  Much more popular than crowded Soviet buses with no AC!  The cafeteria here had beautiful stain glass windows, and apparently it served the best ice cream in the city.  An old vending machine remained – your choices were water, sparkling water and lemonade. 

It really is a snapshot of a moment in time and straight out of an episode of Abandoned Engineering – fascinating if you like that kind of thing, which I do lol.  The interesting thing is that the town was not damaged by the disaster, it was just abandoned, but of course age and environment (and apparently in some cases military training including live ammunition training leaving bullet holes in buildings) has worn it down over time.  I was particularly intrigued by the photos our guide showed of the buildings we were visiting pre-disaster, filled with happy people going about their normal lives.

Both the cinema and musical school was adorned with beautiful unique mosaics, made of aluminium.   This time the guide abandoned his GPS tracker and took us in to the music school 👍🏻 to see the crumbling auditorium where musical performances were once held.

As we wandered through the empty city, we passed a Government building (the centre for Nuclear Energy), the hotel where people brought in to clean up the explosion initially stayed, through the central square and across the football stadium.  Did you know the international nuclear symbol symbolises the 3 types of radiation coming from 1 core?

Our final stop in the city was probably the most famous site, the amusement park.  I think most people have seen photos of the abandoned Ferris wheel or dodgem cars.  Not many people know that the park was brand new and was due to have its grand opening on 1 May 1986, but this was cancelled after the explosion.  Some say it was opened briefly on April 27th, one day after the explosion as a distraction for the locals but before the town was evacuated but this has not been confirmed. 

The announcement to evacuate the city came on the afternoon of April 27th and the whole evacuation (of the almost 50,000) took only 36 hours. People were told that they were back in 3 days, so to pack light – of course they never were to return.

We left Pripyat and headed back to the Administration area to have lunch in Cafeteria No 19, built for Chernobyl workers to eat Soviet workers cuisine 🥴.  Some of the 6,000 people who still work on site (it was 15,000 people when in operation) still eat here.  To enter you had to pass through a radiation detection machine and then thoroughly wash your hands before reaching the dining room. (Good hand washing practice for the future COVID world – who knew!)

Our Soviet workers cuisine consisted of a small plate of salad with some kind of cold sausage and lots of cabbage.  A Boursk – a traditional soup, and some kind of grain with a chunk of pork!  The dining room was busy and by the time we go to eat there were no knives left so I just had to pick it up and bite it!  Thank goodness for my clean hands lol.  It was not amazingly flavoursome but ok 🥴. The coffee was not much better, but worth it for the cup lol.

Although Reactor number 4 and Pripyat were the main reasons for the visit, the next stop at the once top secret Soviet Cold War base fascinated me.  Hidden deep in the forest and after a short walk we arrived at the Duga radar – a Soviet over-the-horizon radar (Duga literally means “arc”), which was part of the Soviet missile early warning radar network (to spot ballistic missiles fired from the USA) and the last one left intact.

It operated from 1976 to 1989 and broadcast over shortwave radio bands.  Unfortunately, it often interfered with broadcasts on radio, tv and sometimes aviation communications with a clicking sounds gaining it the nickname the Russian Woodpecker.  That said, most people annoyed by the interference never actually knew where it was coming from!  Apparently even the Ukraine officials were not aware of it!

It is huge 700m long and 150m high structure made up of made up of hundreds of huge antennas and turbines and is hugely impressive when you stand at the base of it.

We exited the 10km zone with another radiation check and this time the minibus also got checked before we were free to head to the town of Chernobyl.  The town used to have a population of about 14,000 but today the town around 1,000 people live there and is often the overnight base for tourists who take a 2 day trip. 

At the entrance to the town, they have an exhibition of robots and vehicles assembled for the 25th anniversary of the disaster.  The vehicles were bought from various countries to use in the clean up on the roof of the reactor and in the surrounding area, including a copy of moon landing vehicle!  Unfortunately, none of the vehicles/robots could last longer than 13 hours on the roof in the extreme radiation before their circuitry died so they had to resort to using people – or biorobots as they were referred to!!!   More than 70% of those men are now dead.

By this time, it was 3pm but the sun had started to set already which made for some cool photos and a dropping temperature, dropping from the balmy -4 to -8!

Further into the town we came across the court where those blamed for the accident were tried.  In reality they were just scape goats of an attempted coverup of the entire event, and although initially convicted, they were soon released after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The courthouse is still overlooked by a large statue of Lenin – apparently the last remaining Lenin statute still standing in the Ukraine! 

Nearby there is a poignant memorial to all the villages which were destroyed after the disaster.  An ‘avenue’ of village signs, one for each abandoned and destroyed village in the exclusion zone both in the Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus.  Nearby is the “Monument of the Third Angel” – inspired by a Biblical passage, Revelations 8:10-11:

“And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from Heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter”.

Some speculated that this passage predicted the disaster, as Chernobyl was named for the Ukrainian word for wormwood!

After one final check point to measure our radiation exposure (0.002, less than 0.003 allowed so all good 👍🏻) we were on our way back to Kiev after what was a fascinating yet sobering day.

Chicken Kiev in Kiev

(November 2019)

I set off on the 3 hr flight to Kiev (Kyiv) the capital of Ukraine  (what a joy living in the UK again, albeit briefly, to be able to take trips like this in just a weekend.)  Unfortunately, the trip did not start too well as the transfer I had booked did not show up and waiting for it for 20 minutes meant all the official taxis were gone!!   (A quick side note, the country used to the called “the Ukraine” but dropped the “the” after independence.)

It was late and cold, and I had no intention of hanging around any longer, so I got in what I could only describe as a dodgy ‘taxi’.  I was on edge the whole trip, we were going over 130km/hour (which turns out to be the speed limit on the highway but it seemed very fast) and I was messaging back and forward with my partner back in NZ so someone knew where I was lol!!  I also used the wonders of modern technology to follow along the route we were taking on my maps.me app (a godsend when you don’t have internet coverage on your phone) to ensure we were going in the right direction – which thankfully we were.  I was probably completely ripped off but it was less than I was going to pay for the transfer that did not turn up (which thankfully I had not paid for in advance) and I made it in to the city in one piece.

Next challenge was the dodgy alleyway leading to a dodgy looking hostel I had booked!  Thankfully they had sent me photos showing how to get in, otherwise I would not have been so bold as to walk down the dark alley into the dark courtyard!!   The hostel was nice enough inside and very quiet, probably because it was very small – just 4 rooms off a small main entrance area where you clearly hear everyone coming and going.  Thankfully it was not busy at this time of year, so it was ok.

I had an early start on my first day for my day trip to Chernobyl, but that is a whole other blog post (it was all going to be in this one but it was just going to be too long)!

Back in Kiev late afternoon and had a quick walk around my hostel to find somewhere to eat.  Despite its dodgy appearance, the hostel was pretty central, just of the main street of Khreshchaty, which was great as I did not have much energy so settled on somewhere close to my hostel for Chicken Kiev (it has to be done – didn’t it?) and it was delicious.  For dessert I kept it local with cottage cheese pancakes with sour cream and berry sauce 👍🏻.  All well deserved after such a busy day.

Day two and my last morning (the problem with such short trips), I could have a more relaxing start before packing up and heading out for another busy day.  I had enjoyed the cottage cheese pancakes so much the night before (they are way better than they sound) I went back to the same place again for breakfast – this time I had them with banana and toffee sauce!  Highly recommended.

Ready for a history lesson? Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe, bordering Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova.  Today it has a population of approximately 42 million and shares the same history as many of its neighbours’ including the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires and of course the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.  It had independence briefly between 1917 and WWII as the Ukrainian People’s Republic and then again in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As with other former Soviet states, it has had its problems since independence.  Ukraine declared itself a neutral state, trying to establish relationships with Russia and NATO, however in 2013 the President tired to align more closely with Russia rather the European Union which resulted in escalating demonstrations and the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.  The President tried to end the protesting with violence, backed by Russia, whilst the EU and USA backed the protesters.

My first walking tour of the day was an Ancient Kiev walking tour which met in Independence square, otherwise know as Maidan Square in the heart of Kiev. It has been part of the landscape of the city since the 10th century.  It has also been the site of all major revolutions, including the 2014 Ukrainian or Maidan Revolution which resulted in around 130 deaths in clashes between protests, riot police and sharp shooters positioned in overlooking buildings. The revolution ultimately lead the removal of President Yanukovych who fled the country for exile in Russia before being sentenced in absentia to 13 years in prison for treason.

This all lead in a round about way to Russia invading Crimea (then part of Ukraine) and the shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight 17 in July 17 2014 – but that is a whole other story!

Towering over Independence Square is the Independence Monument or Glory to Ukraine momument.– a victory column commerating the Independece of Ukraine, built on the 10th anniversary of independence in 2001.  It’s 61 m tall and is topped by a figurine of Berehynia (a Slavic goddess) holdings a guelder rose branch in her arms. 

We crossed the road to the other side of the square, to admire the reconstruction (built in 2001) of Lach Gate, topped with archangel Michael the spiritual patron of the city and who was believed to fight of evil and witches!  The gate was original located in the Polish quarter on the east side of the city and was one of three main gates of medieval Kiev – we will see one of the others (the Golden gate) later in the day.

As we left the square we passed a number of interesting art installations– “Street Lamp Lovers”, apparently if you meet here, your love will last for ever, and “tree with chairs”. It turned out these would be the first of many quirky art works we would see around the city.

A short walk later we arrived at the beautiful St Michael’s Golden Domed Cathedral, a working Ukrainian orthodox church originally built in the 11 century.  After multiple Mongol attacks, the church rose from the ashes and it was repaired in the 15th century. In the 18th century, the exterior of the building was refurbished in baroque style, while the interior remained Byzantine.  Despite the beauty of the church, it was destroyed in the 1930s by the Soviets who opposed religion, so what we see today is a reconstruction based on old photos and the original foundations, built in the 15 +/- years after independence and is now one of the most impressive architectural monuments in the city.

Being Sunday, there was a service going on so we could not take photos inside, so you will just have to take my word that the interior was as beautiful as the exterior!  Worth noting that there are no seats in an orthodox church, the parishioners have to stand for the 2-3 hour service!

Not far from St Michaels was the columned Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, built in 1934 by the Soviets when the capital was moved to Kiev.  Despite it standard, imposing Russian design, it is built in a semi circle.  Apparently it is easier to protect from attack as bullets can’t shoot around corners!!

It was originally the Ukrainian Communist Party headquarters so it is adorned with a hammer and sickle but now proudly flies the independent Ukrainian flag – blue for sky and gold for fields of wheat.

Next was another beautiful baroque style church, sitting on a hill above the street – St Andrews.  Apparently, St Andrew the Apostle came to Kiev and walked to the top of the hill and proclaimed that “on the mountains of Kyiv, the grace of God will shine, a great city will grow, and God will put up many churches.”  

St Andrew’s was built in the 18th century by an Italian architect and is sometimes referred to as a cathedral.  Interesting the church has no bells, legend has it, their noise would cause flooding! 

The church towers over the historic district of “Andriyivsky Spusk” or “Andrew’s Descent” which it lent its name to.  It’s a 700m paved street dating back to 1711, running from the old part of the city to the more modern, lower part.  It is sometimes referred to as the Ukrainian Monmarte, after the area in Paris as it is normal filled with artesian stalls selling their arts and crafts.

Also just below St Andrew’s, is another quirky sculpture called “Chasing Two Hares”.  It is based on characters from a famous Soviet film, part of which was filmed in the area.  According to the story,  the lead character was going to marry a rich, but ugly women but he loves a beautiful girl who doesn’t like him – the moral of the story being that if you chase after two ‘hares’, you will not catch any!  Apparently depending on where you touch the statue, you will find money, or love … or both??

We continued on to Sofiyskaya or Sophia Square, a beautiful square surrounded by beautiful buildings, including the 11th century St Sophia Cathedral which was inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.  It was one of the city’s best know landmarks and the first site in Ukraine to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage site. 

In the centre of the square there is a large statue of Bodhan Khmelnytsky, known as the leader of the Cossacks.  In December 1648 he lead his Cossack’s regiments in to the square, through the Golden Gate after they had defeated the Polish Army.  Interestingly the square was dominated by a large banner on one of the surrounding buildings #FREEMARKIV.  Our guide explained that it was protesting the imprisonment of Vitalii Markiv, a former Ukrainian solider who is in an Italian prison for allegedly be responsible for the death of a Russian and an Italian journalist in during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.  Many believe the conviction was unfounded and based on false testimony and are still fighting for his release.

On the way to our final sight for the walk we passed yet another quirky art work, and one of the city’s favourites – “Hedgehog in the Fog”, from a famous Soviet cartoon in the 1970s.  Apparently, it is dressed up depending on the seasons, so in November it was adorned with a ‘necklace’ of autumn leaves.

Finally we reached the Golden Gate, which has been referred to a few times during the walking tour.  Another key landmark of the city and a reminder of its medieval past, dating back to the 11th century.   It was original built by Kievan Prince Yaroslav the Wise, upon his victorious return from battle.  It was named the Golden Gate after the golden domes of the church on top on top of the gate.

As with so many places I have seen this year, the gate was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century and subsequent builds were reduced to dust until the 18th century when the ruins were excavated.  Full reconstruction took until 1970 though there is no real evidence that the current Golden Gate is the same or even similar to the original one!

Next to the Golden Gate is a statue of it’s founder – Yaroslav the Wise.  In his hands is the Sofia cathedral (which he was also responsible for building)– or is it?  Some say it is actually a statue of a waiter, holding a Kiev cake???

Just when I thought it was all over, there was yet another interesting statue – this time a cat, in a small park.  The cat, named Pantyusha, lived in a nearby Italian restaurant and was popular with all its customers.  One night in 1997 there was a fire in the restaurant and legend has it the cat saved the family before dying itself.  It was buried in the park and staff and customers donated money to erect the statue.  Apparently, it is lucky to touch his ears or tail.

I said goodbye to the guide and small group (only 5 of us) and walked back down towards Indepdence Square to get something to eat.  I had heard about a ‘hidden’ restaurant called Ostannya Barykada, or the “Last Barricade”.  It is fair to say, if you did not know it existed, you would not find it!

In the shopping centre under the square, there is a hidden level in the elevator.  Once you have found the floor, you head down what looks like a dead end, but when you utter the password (it would be cheating to tell you what it is), a secret door opens and you gain entrance to a corridor with a wall of hands, signifying the years Ukraine spent under Russian rule, before another door opens in to a huge cafe/restaurant!

The restaurant is dedicated to the revolutions – the Student Revolution in 1990, the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Maidan revolution in 2014.  That’s a lot of revolutions in a relatively short period of time!  The restaurant only serves Ukrainian food and while it is relatively expensive by Ukrainian standards it is totally worth it (and still cheap compared to similar places in central Paris for example).

For the last proper meal in Kiev, it was great to have such a selection of local food and drinks and after a discussion with the waitress I chose to have a Baked Cheese and a local sausage dish.   To accompany it I had a Sea buckthorn and ginger drink – sour but quite tasty.  I rounded it all off with a Kiev cake (layers of meringue with hazelnuts, butter cream and chocolate glaze) – just like the one Yaroslav the Wise is holding.  I had asked if having both the cheese and suasage dishes was too much (considering I also wanted cake) and the waitress had said no – she was wrong – they were both huge!

But never fear, I got through it all and it was all delicious but I was glad that I had plenty of time to eat them and that I was doing another walking tour in the afternoon.

The next tour was called a “modern Kiev” tour and again it started in Independence Square at 3pm.

We left the square by a different route, and our first stop was to see some street art – a small painting commemorating those who died in the 2014 revolution, known communally as Heaven’s Hundreds, and the one of the many art works in one of the pedestrian tunnels under the road.

It is always interesting when you have different guides on these tours in the same area, as you often get slightly different stories – this guide told us that the almost everything we were seeing in the city centre rebuilt after World War II as the Russian army destroyed it as they retreated so the approaching Nazis could not prosper from it!

Another one of the main symbols of the city is the People’s Friendship arch.  It was built in 1982 to commerorate the 60th anniversary of the USSR and more importantly the 1,500th anniversary of the city of Kiev, as a gift to the city from Moscow.  Its 50m in diameter, made of titanium with a bronze statue beneath it showing a Ukrainan and Russian (the burlier of the two) with their arms raised in solidarity!  Given Russian/Ukraine relationships this days, it is a surprise that it is still standing!  That said, in 2018 someone added a sticker that looks like a crack in the middle of the arch!  Oddly no one has tried to remove it.

As we continued our walk through Kreshchatiy Park, the sun started to set and the temperature dropped, it was getting so cold it was hard to stand in one place for too long so we quicken our pace!  This part held yet more quirky statues – the Tree of Wishes.  A forged iron tree where you dreams can come true if you leave a note in the hollow.  The sign says “Dream, and your life will be full of miracles!”. And secondly the Monument to the Frog, also know as the Money Toad – a 6 tonne bronze sculpture with faces in its mouth! As with many of the other sculptures, this too can bring you luck or fortune by rubbing its nose, or throwing a coin into the slot in his mouth.

Further on in the park is the Bridge of Lovers, in contrast it is also known as Bridge of Suicides!  I think you can probably guess the reasons for both names.  People who invested money to build the bridge could write whatever they wanted on the planks, apparently one of the sections says “I love soup”!  Now that is some commitment to soup lol.

The sunset from here was also beautiful over the city and the government buildings (built in 1936-39) – half circle again (so you can’t be shot from a corner)!

Through the park, we came to Mariyinsky Palace, built in 1744 by Russian Empress Elizaveta Petrovna.  Unfortunately she was dead before it was finished, and it was subsequently used by Empress Catherine II (you may know her as Catherine the Great), and has been the residences for numerous Governor Generals. 

By 1870 it was in ruins after a series of fires, and Alexander II of Russia commissioned the reconstruction of it, using old drawings as a guide – it was then renamed after Empress Maria Alexandrovna and it was used by visiting members of the Imperial family until the Russian revolution in 1917.  Damaged again in WWII it has been restored a number of times since then.  Today it is used by the Ukrainian President and visiting head’s of states

By the time we reached our final stop it was well below zero degrees and dark and I must admit my interest was waning – my note taking was definitely suffering as I could not type on my phone with my gloves on lol!  Our final stop was the “House with Chimaeras” or “Horodecki House”, an art nouveau building in the historic district of Lypky.    Built by a Polish architect in 1901 as an apartment for himself – it even had the first elevator in the Russian empire (apparently). 

The architect was a fan of safari hunting so the building was decorated with images of exotic animals and hunting scenes – hence the name, the “House of Chimaeras” – chimaera being an architecture style which has animal figures as decoration.

The architect fell on hard financial times (some say due to all the money he spent on hunting) and the house was rented out room by room and changed hands multiple times before being occupied by the Communist Party until the early 2000s.  Today it is used as a presidential residence for official and diplomatic ceremonies as it is just across the street from the Presidents office.

It had been a long and interesting day, but I was definitely ready to head home – although the Metro was cheap and really easy to use, I was far to exhausted to catch the metro and train to the airport – Uber it was!!!