Do you like the drinking decadence? Do you love mafia stories? Want to see the most beautiful girls on Earth? Crocked officials? If you do, that’s something good to start, but Ukraine has much more to offer! Deep Carpathian forests, extensive plains full of water, old medieval towns and castles and the wonderful seaside in Crimea and Odessa.
Yes! That’s it! Ukraine is not just cheap beer and promiscuous big-boobbed girls! Funny train rides, gypsies and drunken Cossacks, dried fish near the sea and the smoke of the water pipes. While fat babushkas are still wearing traditional dresses, the dishes are filled with meaty soups with cream and soon you get used to the strong smell of Ukrainian lard. If you look for recent history, you’ll find plenty of key spots from the World War II near the Black Sea, and if you like hiking or fishing, the Carpathian Range is just for you. Ukraine has much to offer, just go there and see!
The first peoples known in today’s Ukraine were Iranian speaking Indo-Europeans, Scythians and Sarmatians influenced by the Greeks from Crimea, until the Romans came and dominated the south. Goths and protoslavs settled in the land during the 1st millennium, mixed with Turkish and Finno-Ugrians like Huns and Avars, among others. But the Slavs took advantage for dominate the zone with the foundation of Kyiv within their territory.
During the Golden Age of Kyiv, the Kievan Rus’ was the biggest state in Europe, comprising the territories between the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, Oka River, Volga River and Northern Carpathians. But the state fell in decadence by the 12th century and finally was conquered by the Mongols in 1240.
Under the Mongol rule, the Galicia–Volhynia state was created, until Poland occupied the land in 1349, letting the Tatars stay near the Black Sea. It was during the Lithuanian – Polish dominion when the Cossacks , composed mostly from orthodox farmers who rejected the catholic Polish rule, organized themselves. Poland tolerated and used them in wars against Tatars and Turks, but finally several Cossack uprisings, helped by Moscow, ended with the Polish rule. The territory created was named Ukraine for the first time.
In 1709, Peter I of Russia invaded Ukraine and the Cossacks became vassals of Russia who used them in the fight against the Ottoman Empire, which occupied the south of Ukraine. Since then, the Ukrainian territory was parted by the biggest European empires, Austria, Hungary and Russia. A strong nationalist movement emerged in the West of the country, but Ukraine remained shared between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires until the 1917 Revolution.
While the Russian Revolution and the 1st World War were harming Russian and Austrian Empires, Ukraine made the most of the opportunity and declared the independence of the Popular Republic of Ukraine in 1917. Three years of independence and turbulent changes were finished by the Bolshevik’s Red Army taking the control of Kyiv in 1920 and the annexation of Ukraine by the USSR in 1922. The occupation lasted until the collapse of the Union and the declaration of independence in 1990, ratified in 1991 in a referendum.
Places to visit
The best from Kyiv are the different sensations it emanates. The old churches are mixing with neoclassic buildings seemingly shadowed by the colossal communist concrete blocks, while the new glass fashion buildings find their place among them all.
Kyiv highlights can be easily listed: take a tour through the many parks lining the Dnipro River, follow to St. Sophia Cathedral and Zoloty Vorota, St. Andrew’s Church and go down the hill through Andriyivsky Uziz. Maydan Nezalezhnosti (Independence square) also deserves a look before taking the metro and heading to the monastic complex of Lavra, filled with golden looking churches. Cross the Dnipro Park until Rodina Mat and the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Finish the sightseeing with the Chernobyl Museum and Babyn Yar, and go for a lazy lay down in the sandy beaches by the Dnipro. The recreation zone of Hydropark is also a good idea while you are waiting for the night. If you go on a budget, feed yourself with business lunch: they are incredibly widespread, good and cheap in Kyiv.
As one of the biggest cities in Europe, Kyiv have plenty of international connections. Look at the Borispil and Zhulyani airports websites for more information. If you go by bus or train, there are connections to all the surrounding countries.
See the main article Around Crimea (soon)
Crimea is simply the joy of Ukraine. Vacation place for Russians throughout the Tsarism and communism until nowadays, it have everything for an average holidays. In just a piece of terrain, there are historical sights, mountains and crowded beaches filled with restaurants and nightclubs. Take a breath of history in Livadia Palace, Alupka Palace, Yalta and Sevastopol, without forgetting the secret Soviet submarine base of Balaklava. Cliffs and amazing rock formations are waiting for you in Sudak and Kara-Dag, topped by the deserted rocky Mt. Ay-Petri and the peak of Roman-Kosh (1543m). Head to Bakhchisarai Khan’s Palace to enjoy the last remain of the Tatar Crimean Khanate, just before heading to the beaches of Koktebel, Novy Svit, Feodosya and Alushta, between others.
Get to Crimea by train or bus from every major city in Ukraine shouldn’t be a hassle. From Simferopol airport you can fly to quite a number of countries, while if you like the sea you can get to Istambul from Sevastopol by ferry.
Odessa is surely the most beautiful city in the country. With a center designed by French architects in XIX century, it has the neoclassic style of the Western Europe metropolis. The highlights are the Opera House and the Potempkin Stairs, which are just stairs, but became famous for the film Battleship Potempkin, where takes place the scene featuring a baby in a pram falling down the stairs while the Tsarist Army is massacring civilians. The Deryvasivka Street is the main commercial artery of the city, while the Arkadia beaches and discotheques will let you show your most glamorous side.
Odessa is well connected by train and bus to Kyiv, Crimea and the rest of the country, plus international destinations like Moldova Romania and Transnistria. There are regular ferries to Varna (Bulgaria), Istambul and Batumi (Georgia). And finally, Odessa’s airport will give you more possibilities.
Lviv and the Carpathian Range
Eastern Ukraine is the most nationalist part of the country, the Ukranian language is widespread and the people like to look more to Europe rather than to Moscow. And for tourist sights they don’t get short. Lviv have a cozy center which mixes medieval, baroque and neoclassic styles, listed in the UNESCO World Site Heritage. In Ploshcha Rynok you will see some of the main attractions of the city, like the Black Mansion and the Kornyakt House, or the Roman Catholic Cathedral and Boyim Chapel. Not far from there, you will find the royal arsenal and Dominican Cathedral and Monastery among a load of museums and little churches. Just don’t forget to reach the top of the hill to see the High Castle, take a photo with Taras Shevshchenko Statue, and then go to the Lychakivske Cemetery to breathe this haunting atmosphere and give respects to some celebrities’ graves.
If you like mountains, south of Lviv you’ll find the highest peaks in Ukraine. Mt. Hoverla (2061m, the highest peak in Ukraine) is not difficult to ascent, and you’ll find plenty of lovely spots and pleasant hiking routes all over the Carpathian National Nature Park. Around there, you can visit the cities of Uzhhorod, Chernivtsi and the colorful Ivano-Frankivsk.
From Odessa and Kiev it’s not hard to reach Lviv either by train or bus. You’ll also be able to catch trains and buses to Poland, Hungary and Romania. Lviv airport has flights to Kiev, Vienna and some other destinations. Then, you can reach the Carpathians from here.
The Azov Sea
The Azov Sea offers some of the weirdest places for tourism sites in Europe. Sandy beaches surrounded by industrial environments are the paradise for hordes of drunken Cossacks, who fill the sand and swim in suspicious (dirty) waters. It’s the low range vacation place for workers from Donetsk and the Industrial East, which make it decadent and shabby, but the fun is totally assured. You’ll be easily invited to join beer and vodka parties in the beach while a freight train passes through the seafront promenade and sleeping drunkards have to be moved away for not being overrunned.
You can experience these emotions in Berdyansk, Mariupol or Prymorsk, just before get to Donetsk, where there’s not much to see, but as a big city there are always things to do.
Melitopol is a good launching platform to get to the Azov’s beaches. You can get there from most of the Dnipro basin cities, and of course from Donetsk, where you can link to intenational flights. If your idea is to cross to Russia, you have a border post near Mariupol and another in the road leaving from Donetsk.
If you have read Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba, maybe you will enjoy to visit the Cossack cradle Zaporizhian Sich and feel yourself like a Cossack ready for eating, drinking and killing. Zaporozhia doesn’t have much more to offer, just like Dnipropetrovsk, and most of the cities of the Dnipro basin. Khariv is a more pleasant city due to its university climate, and will let you see one of the biggest squares in the world, Ploshcha Svobody. But not all cities are ugly in Central Ukraine. Poltava is a charming one, full of remains and monuments to the famous Battle of Poltava happened here in 1709.
And you can end the visit to Ukraine giving some respect to the grave of his most famous writer, Taras Shevshenko. The tomb is near the Dnipro River in Kaniv, a town half the way between Kyiv and Poltava.
Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv have airports with some international connections. If move by land, you don’t have to worry so much as Central Ukraine have a widespread network of trains and buses. Water transport is also well possible through some of the many rivers and channels which cross this flat land (but if you have to find where to buy tickets, schedules and offices, I just can wish you a good luck).