Ukraine

St. Andrew's Cathedral

Getting there took long enough. Now we had to wait though this. The airport security was as slow as a snail and it didn’t seem to be getting any faster. After about an eon of Soviet-style security we went forward and faced – you guessed it! More security. Thankfully, though, it started to move and we reached the outside of Boryspil International airport.  

We met our tour guide who was taking us through the city. As we were driven to our destination, it was easy to recognise the Russian influence on the country, from the car brands, to the buildings. My dad says that the prominent feature of a Russian apartment is no features at all, and sure enough,you could see many identical buildings in rows. Soviet occupation was something you could imagine on many of these streets. The scenery changed, and soon we were able to see things from a different era such as the Pechersk Lavra, which was made in 1696. But again, the era of the buildings morphed and we were back to the Soviet buildings. 

But one of them stood higher than the rest. The Motherland Monument, made in 1981, under the leadership of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.  Our tour guide said that this would be our first stop in the tour and as we got nearer to the monument, the Iron statue seemed to radiate power and order which was exactly the intention of this monumental piece of Soviet architecture. But as we reared farther from the city and closer to the center of the monument, we were spared from the stench of industrialization. And as we entered the area of the monument, you could clearly see the astonishing scale of the statue. At 203 feet, the monument is only ⅔ the height of the Statue of Liberty, but you wouldn’t assume that if you were there. It’s soviet air makes up for all of it and some.

 But before we got closer to the monument, we spotted a park with all of my favorite weapons. Ironically, the smaller one of them stopped a war and the larger one of them won a war. I am referring to the T-34 tank, which played a huge role in the eastern front of WWII, millions of them being manufactured in the span of a few years.

I raced down the park, trying to find the famed T-34 tank that I had read of so many times. When I finally spotted the tank, it was underwhelming. This tank was just like the tank after that, and I wasn’t able to pinpoint what made it the monster it was in the second world war. It was so small!  What I didn’t know at the time was that half of the tanks were just other types of T-34 tanks. Even though the tank was so scrawny and common-looking, it still thrilled me to see the tank that changed history. But my attention span quickly shifted when I discovered that this park also had a huge missile. The weapon that stopped WW3. It was literally the length of three buses and the height of one. To see the whole thing, you would have to be outside of the park. A weapon like this could not be underestimated. There were other things in the park, but these were the two coolest weapons. There were an assortment of submarines, planes, tanks, and other Soviet weaponry. 

But now it was time to see the motherland monument. The statue, which was so tall, looked even grander and more powerful under the close-up view. But other than the statue, there wasn’t much…until I looked down to find out that there was yet another park. But this park was more modern, that is, the tanks there were more modern. According to our tour guide, this tank was actually from the war in Donbas. A living proof of Russian involvement in the war. It was amazing to see how calm and stable this country is, even while fighting a full blown war. As I climbed the huge Russian tank, the differences between this tank and the T-34’s really struck me. The modern tank had much more precise and sharp edges, and it was wider than the T-34. The T-34 was much more corroded than the relatively new Russian tank. While the Russian tank was covered in camouflage paint, it’s counterpart from the 1940’s was covered in green paint, which gave away its location. We were drawn to a few carvings in the middle of a tunnel. Our tour guide explained to me that the CCCP on the wall was the Russian equivalent to the USSR. It looked a lot like propaganda, similar to the photo “Raising the Soviet Flag on the Reichstag”. But we couldn’t stay here forever and so our tour guide took us to the next spot.

The drive there was relatively short. When we got to the cathedral, though, I couldn’t help but be totally and utterly amazed by the sight of the St. Michaels Golden Cathedral. I can imagine why they gave it this name. The whole top of the cathedral was covered in gold and what was more, it was built in 1108 AD, just a few years before the Mongols conquered the whole area. But the cathedrals stood the test of time and survived till this day. It’s amazing to think that any building could have survived the Mongols, Napoleon, WW2, and the Soviets, yet still stand. That blew my mind. We explored the many buildings in the cathedral but none of them stood out. But that was because they were all so amazing. The insides didn’t disappoint as they were lavishly decorated. But that was just the first cathedral of the day. 

We went to many more but one that really struck out was the St. Andrew’s cathedral. It wasn’t big, nor as famous, but its exterior was really colorful and well decorated. We decided to take a walk there and explore the area while our tour guide took a break. We found a person selling Russian dolls and we decided to check the prices out. Unfortunately, they were too high for us, but Russian Dolls still have an interesting history. Did you know that they used to be hand painted and carved? It must have taken a lot of work.  We decided to go to one more place. The Independence square which was the site of many protests and a memorable, albeit rather grisly one in 2014 where they protested against president Viktor Yanukovych. Instead of quelling the protests by action or peace, the rather corrupt president massacred over 100 people. It was a tragedy. My heart sank when I heard of it and it gave me a whole new perspective on the square. But the following government rebuilt the square and now it’s a rather nice place, but only if you forget all of the horrible things that happened there. We bought an ice cream and we left for the airport. Oh no, I thought, not the security again!

Tips:

Weather/Best time to visit: 

  • The best time to visit is during summer, preferably late June to August, when it’s clearest. 

War in Donbas:

  • The atmosphere is quite calm, but there was extra security at the airport, probably because of the war.

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