Eurovision brought me to a city I never considered visiting - Kyiv. A city I very quickly fell in love with. Obviously Eurovision wasn’t quite going to match up to the previous year’s Swedish Eurovision dream, but the city of Kyiv definitely has a lot to offer. The architecture is gorgeous, the gold accented buildings and the remains of the soviet era are just so stunning to see, and although the city is flat and wide with the introduction of Uber it’s never been easier (or cheaper) to see Kyiv!
Kyis is without a doubt the cheapest place I have ever been, an hours uber from the airport to the city centre cost £6… mind blowing! So obviously Uber is the best way to travel Kyiv, just throw a couple of pounds here and there and you can literally get anywhere. The cost of food as well, was shocking. The first thing we purchased was beer (essentials only of course), which came to 0.60p for TWO, and they weren’t half bad beers! The amazing cost of Ukraine meant we were able to go to, what I would say is that poshest restaurant I’ve been to in about 4 years at least, enjoy a 3 course meal with 3 massive fishbowl margharitas and walk away having only spent £15 - in London that would get you a starter!
Our accommodation was a short walk from the exhibition centre where Eurovision was being held, so it was super simple to and fro. Stockholm is obviously quite Eurovision mad, so there was never going to be a massive stadium for Ukrainian Eurovision like there was the year previous. I didn’t expect it to be as small as it was however, the venue had a capacity of around 10k visitors, but the theatre cordoned off inside was only about a third of that… and it was not full on any night except the live finale! Tiny!
My favourite for the show was Bulgaria’s Kristian Kostov, a 17 year old who took to the stage alone and managed to have such an impressive stage presence that no one else was able to muster even with special effects or backup dancers or whatever other gimmicks they tried. The show did however unfortunately go to Portugal, so it looks like I’m off to Portugal in 2018!
Of course, I couldn’t go to Ukraine without visiting Chernobyl! There’s a 30km exclusion zone operated by the military that prevents you from just heading there, so you need to go with a licensed tour group and go through passport checks and security clearances and the like. The entire place is completely surreal - it’s eerie to see towns and supermarkets that were flourishing and are now just decayed and overgrown once the people abandoned them. The site itself is not harmful, you can spend a full day there and it’s still less radiation than a long haul flight, a few people live within the site but they are mostly maintenance or operating the motel within the confines.
It was properly like stepping back in time though, seeing the soviet era graphics and designs, cabinet rooms, and an incredibly strange radio transmitter that suddenly appeared out of absolutely nowhere despite being 100m high. This structure, the Duga Transmission Tower was a cold war missile early warning system, and was built in the middle of a forest to the knowledge of nobody bar the military and government. Once it began transmitting there were signals being picked up, but throughout the end of the soviet era it had mostly remained as rumour - it was that well hidden!
Very bizarrely though, the nuclear power station at Chernobyl is still in use! With planned continued use! Obviously Unit 4, currently resting in it’s huge metal sarcophagus. The only part of the nuclear power plant you’re allowed to photograph once you’re in it’s compounds is the monument that lies in front of Unit 4, with your photo facing the sarcophagus - no other photos allowed!
The town of Pripyat is probably the most famous other part of Chernobyl, known for it’s amusement park with abandoned dodgems and ferris wheel. It was built to be the golden city of the soviet empire, a template for the way forward for the soviet life. It had everything you’d ever want, schools, sports facilities, the soviets very first supermarket, an amusement park… life couldn’t be sweeter! The theme park was opened for about 3 hours, as a way to distract the people from the explosions that had rocked their town through the night, before it was shut down and everyone told to evacuate. The school and sporting areas were used as decontamination buildings when the cleanup was progressing - the school has a massive room where the last of the gas masks (hundreds of them) have been left and since covered in dust and debris.
The pictures above are again of Kyiv, you can see the beautiful cathedrals adorned with gold and some of the other famous landmarks. One of my favourites was The Motherland Monument, a huge figure set on top of the WWII museum of a woman holding a sword and soviet shield. The whole surrounding area has tonnes of old military vehicles and tanks which are all super interesting, and tonnes of other soviet sculptures from the end of WWII. You can also see the Rainbow sculpture, which you could see all the main down the main street of the city - it was erected to celebrate the LGBT community but after outcry from the far right the project was abandoned…. it wasn’t completed, or disassembled… it was just left half done… classic!
I’d never had any interest in going to Ukraine before Eurovision but I will definitely head back, it was beautiful, the people were lovely, and it was dirt cheap! Maybe I’ll come back when I make it to Russia.