By Steve Richards
It's so pleasant here.
I arrived on Monday after a two-day/two-night “planes, trains, and automobiles” journey from Boston to Warsaw (changed planes in London and stayed a night) to Kyiv by way of a three-train overnight journey via Krakow and Przemyśl. Most everything is open, and not overly busy. People here appear to be getting along pretty well – going to work, shopping, eating out. The restaurants are open and varied. In fact, all of the closed restaurants on my list from April are open!
Kyiv has obviously adjusted to this war. It’s amazing how well they are coping given the occasional missile attacks, kamikaze drone strikes, power outages, water interruptions, etc. – all of which are documented on the news in real-time, the latest being coverage of the Interior Minister dying in a helicopter crash in an eastern Kyiv suburb.
I’ve been here close to a week and haven’t seen or heard a missile or an air raid siren. It’s downright quiet. There's solid power, cell service, and wi-fi. So far anyway it’s not at all what you might expect given the media coverage.
Ladies are back – both fashionable and otherwise. Children are being raised; Ubers are running. A ride to Bucha will cost me about $10 it looks like. The Metro is another option as the trains are running and Google Maps works great! Keep in mind though that there is an 11P-5A curfew.
What is most striking to me as I compare it to my visit in April is that soldiers and the ubiquity of their guns have largely evaporated. As are the checkpoints and associated sandbags and barricades. I saw one bombed-out building since I’ve been here. Bucha and Irpin, as with all the frontline towns, will be a different story though.
I’m staying at the Hotel Ukraine and have a GREAT room. Formerly the Hotel Moscow, it was built in the Soviet era in 1961 and is still state-owned. Rooms are most definitely available but don’t expect a hot (warm) shower until the morning since the water heater is turned off at 8 PM and the skeleton staff goes home. Power conservation is obviously in effect though it appears voluntary – no rolling or mandatory blackouts at this point. News junkies can still watch Sky News in English, though MTV is more fun and actually plays videos. At $43 per night, it can’t be beat. An extra $8 gets a huge breakfast including juices, unlimited coffee, bread, a cheese plate, three eggs, ham, apple pancakes, and powdered croissants (hot), all served at your table. This is Europe after all! Rooms are available nearby for half that if you don’t need the maid service, hair salon (I got a haircut), central location, or restaurant. On the other hand, the reopened Hyatt Regency, a short walk up the hill near St. Sofia Cathedral will charge a very American rate of $225 per night.
I have a particularly awesome view of central Kyiv’s Independence Square, the site of the Maidan Revolution in 2014 which led to the overthrow of the president and parliament after they reneged on joining the EU at the last minute due to pressure from Putin. This led to Russian troops invading in the east, the annexation of Crimea, and the current war.
The weather so far is like spring in New England. Thank God. The mild winter is a true blessing and an answer to many prayers. (See Europe's mild weather reprieve this winter may come to bite by summer | Reuters.)
Putting on my travel agent hat for a minute, for the adventurous traveler, Kyiv is a place to consider. And if you are on a budget, it would be hard to imagine any European city more affordable. Of course, you’ll need to go against the State Department – and your loved ones – advice to stay home.
You’ll certainly be helping the economy here, which for me is a prime goal, and part of the research that TheoEco is engaged in with these visits. A heightened sense of being alive and experiencing cohesion and unity of a people in wartime is a bonus. These are things I will walk away with and will be impossible to explain to my fellow Americans, especially those that are all too ready to throw Ukraine under the proverbial bus. But don’t take the media’s take on things without understanding that, generally, only the “messed-up” is newsworthy. This place is humbling, and its businesses can use the money. Just stay flexible, tuned in, and away from the front lines if you come.
And, as everyone will tell you, stay safe.
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