You say Kiev -- I say Kyiv
Looks like Kyiv's night life is becoming very trendy and chic, and the atmosphere for tourism looks good. Wondering where to travel this year? There might be a Kyiv in your future -- or Kiev if you prefer. If you are wondering why the difference in spelling here's the reason. Ukrainians prefer the spelling Kyiv, as that is the way we say it in Ukrainian. Kiev, is how the Russians say it and how they spell it. So there's the difference. Ukraine belongs to Ukrainians now -- so Kyiv it is. (Although there is still some disagreement among even Ukrainians, since the old spelling is the familiar one which has been used for many years. It will all iron itself out eventually.
Here's an interesting article from today's Globe and Mail. Guess what sentence really caught my eye? Here it is -- and three guesses why, and the first two don't count:
"Even the Ukrainian language was suppressed, with most of the country's politicians coming from Russian-speaking eastern regions after the fall of Communism."
Now here's the rest of the article:
Kiev, Ukraine � It's 10 p.m. on a weeknight in June, and the 112 bar in downtown Kiev is packed with the city's heady beau monde of young politicos, glamour girls and go-east expats.
They've gathered to watch a soccer match between Ukraine and Greece, the reigning European champions. When Ukraine scores the winning goal in the 82nd minute, the bar erupts into wild cheers — patrons on the wacky bar stools, which slide up and down periodically, pump their fists in the air.
When the DJ puts on local rap band Green Jolly, whose song Razom Nas Bahato became the anthem of last year's Orange Revolution, everyone spontaneously holds hands and sings along to the famous lines -- "Razom nas bahato! Nas ne podolaty!" (Together there are many of us! We cannot be defeated!)
This spring and summer, Ukraine -- and its capital Kiev in particular -- is having its first heady taste of post-revolutionary euphoria.
Usually surly customs guards at Kiev's newly renovated Borispol airport wave visitors past with a smile and a "Welcome to Ukraine." Cab drivers actually apologize for not speaking English. Pedestrians go out of their way to point strangers in the right direction. And with visa restrictions for EU citizens lifted as of May 1, the current tourism boom is only expected to continue.
Lovers hold hands and stroll dreamily through the city's numerous parks and leafy courtyards, while skateboarders glide gleefully over the concrete steps of Independence Square, where crowds camped out in orange tents for weeks on end late last year in support of President Viktor Yushchenko. Souvenir stands line its perimeter, selling Orange Revolution trinkets. The uprising has been quick to market itself with DVDs, scarves and beanies.
A provincial backwater until recently, Kiev never went through the boom that characterized Moscow in the 1990s or the surge of unruly democracy during the Yeltsin years. Instead, it settled quickly after the fall of communism into an oligarch-controlled lethargy, more corrupt, more dangerous, and less Western than most other cities in former communist nations.
Even the Ukrainian language was suppressed, with most of the country's politicians coming from Russian-speaking eastern regions after the fall of Communism.
But with the revolution now behind it, the city is buzzing with an energy that recalls Berlin in the mid-1990s.
The Klitschko brothers, world-famous boxers, last year opened the upscale Arena brewery and nightclub off Kreschatik, Kiev's own version of 5th Avenue. The place is packed nightly with the city's high-octane party crowd.
In addition, Kiev boasts dozens of other nightclubs, such as Pa Ti Pa, Moda Bar (which features the longest bar in Europe) and Club Tato, which hosts nightly fashion shows. Eric Aigner, a German who moved to Kiev in the mid-nineties, has also opened a string of bars and restaurants, including Eric's Pub, a low-key affair with great beer and inexpensive food, and the 112 bar.
Kiev has personality and good looks going for it: Buildings are clean and gorgeous in their deep reds, teals and maroons. There are parks aplenty, wide, bright streets, an efficient Metro system and a sense of community that is reassuring.
After the aforementioned soccer victory, the streets were full of victorious fans, peacefully waving orange flags and singing the national anthem.
Last month, the city hosted Eurovision, Europe's cheesy yet wildly popular pop-music contest, in a converted soccer stadium. With the Klitschko boxing brothers as the hosts, in addition to Ruslana, the glamorous Sheeba-like pop star who won the prize for her country last year, the city geared up for Europe's television crews. The road in from the airport was repaved, street lights fixed up,
English-language maps hastily printed, and hotel staff ordered to brush up on their English and French.
With Russians betting that Ukraine will join the EU within a decade, Russian money has, paradoxically, begun to flow back into the city.
Kiev's many cosmopolitan restaurants, including Belgian, French and Uzbek eateries, are overflowing with locals, Muscovites and Europeans keen to savour the energy of a dynamic city. Like Moscow, the city also has its share of lush Central Asian restaurants, with damask couches, hookahs, nautch dancing girls and delicious plov, a type of rice pilaf.
There are also Japanese restaurants, such as Yakitori, which are open around the clock.
Ukrainian restaurants such as Tsarske Selo, meanwhile, serve up wicked borsch and vareniki, dumplings stuffed with cherry and other savoury fillings. Situated as it is in a log cabin, Tsarske Selo embodies regional rusticity with wooden beams, waiters in traditional Ukrainian dress, wooden bowls and motifs from Slavic folk culture decorating the walls. My favourite eatery, though, was U Hetmana (the Ukrainian word for a Cossack chieftain), whose historic dining room and white-suited waiters evoke a 19th-century grandeur.
Meanwhile, fashion brands are pouring into the city in hopes of capturing a new market early on. Energie, Miss Sixty, Puma, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana are all over the city's boutiques, which are rapidly growing in number. The main shopping street is Kreshatik, which runs into Independence Square. The city's residents, especially its women, dress far more glamorously than most of their counterparts in the West, mixing Slavic daring -- think high heels, transparent bodices and tight tank tops -- with contemporary European brands.
Kiev's cathedrals, such as St. Sofia and St. Mikhail, and the sprawling Pecherske Lavre monastery complex near the centre of town, mark the ancient city as the birthplace of Orthodox Christianity. It is still possible to go down into the monastery's caves and see the miraculously preserved remains of holy men from centuries past. The great bell tower, almost 100 meters high, is the tallest free-standing tower in the former Russian empire. The golden-domed spires and lime-green and white church walls are like little Kremlins, springing out in a burst of onion shapes and brilliant greens and mauves.
Yet the cozy caf�s and Ukrainian restaurants in the historic Podil district, formerly the merchants' quarter, have a sophisticated, intellectual vibe that is more Paris than Moscow. Many great Russian-language writers, including Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov, were actually Ukrainians who later made their mark in the empire. Their well-preserved homes are worth a visit.
Soon, perhaps too soon, Kiev will become part of the well-trodden tourist trail of the New Europe. Until that happens, the city has a newness, a sense of discovery, and an awe at the strange twists of fate that makes it special.