I crane, you crane, we all crane for Ukraine!

It was hard to know what to expect of Ukraine. Would they be nuts for boneless chicken wrapped around garlic butter? Would the place have a brilliant green glow to it when the sun went down? Would it be a land of friendly, fun loving people? I had no idea whatsoever so I was here on somewhat of an educational mission, to find out what really makes these people tick and to understand exactly what Ukraine was all about.

(I was also hoping for some radioactively triggered superpowers)

Our adventure revolved around the capital, Kiev, known to locals as Kyiv (“keeve”). Soviet remnants are still littered around the place with Lenin statues, stalin buildings and other relics scattered around the place, but with the fall of the CCCP (USSR) and independence coming to them in ’94 they’ve started taking on a stronger identity. First order was to raise the towering monument in independence square:

Frankly, the city centre itself isn’t all too amazing, but several pockets around the place contain some fun things to look at. There is the Mother Motherland statue to ‘The Great Patriotic War’, or as the rest of the world likes to call it, ‘World War II.’

Is... is that She Ra in a long dress?

The complex had a bunch of bronze sculptures and statues commemorating the fallen…

…and typical machines of war, decorated in the common stealthy camouflage shades of blue (or red) with flowers.

But with giant, imposing statues of sword wielding steel women not giving off the friendliest of vibes, the Ukes – because ‘Ukrainians’ is really much too long of a word – decided they needed something that promotes their friendly nature. The solution: build a giant arch with a couple dudes holding hands underneath. Imaginatively named the Friendship Arch.

One of the strangest, yet most brilliant things I have ever come across completely unexpectedly was a children’s playground located on a backstreet tucked away behind other backstreets. Damien and I stumbled upon it by chance, and it is seriously one of the sweetest looking playgrounds I have seen. It seemed to have a bit of an Alice In Wonderland theme to it, but whatever the case it was great to walk through.

It would be remiss of us to come all the way to Kiev and not see Chernobyl. In fact it was pretty much the main reason we went to Ukraine at all. You hear, read and see lots about the place but seeing it for yourself is just something else. It’s about a 2 hour bus ride out there and we watched a documentary on the way over. It’s crazy to learn just how much (or little, as was sometimes the case) they understood about the situation at the time, how much covering up was going on and how close they were to even greater disaster.

Most of the area is quite “safe” to visit for short periods of time, and at one point we even got as close as 300m from Reactor 4 (the one that blew up). Interestingly enough, the chimney stack is soon to be removed when they roll the new sarcophagus over the reactor, so we were lucky enough to see it in the state that it is now.

Abandoned tanks in the old soccer field. Radioactive sign nearby.

Memorial to the firefighters

One of the first buildings we explored was an abandoned pre school in a bordering town. The building was a mess and completely falling apart. As we would soon find out, this was what we could expect of most buildings anywhere in the vicinity. Still, there were lots of things that just hadn’t been touched in the 25 years since the disaster, such as books and toys strewn across the ground, and various teaching materials still hanging up. I guess it sort of drives home the point of how hastily everyone had to be up-rooted and get out of the area.

As I mentioned before, we were taken to see the building housing Reactor 4 from pretty close up.

You don’t really expect much of the building itself, and really it’s the thought of everything that went down that makes it much more awesome than the building itself which isn’t exactly ‘interesting’ to look at. Soon we moved on to the town of Pripyat which provided a lot more to explore and look at.

We spent most of our time venturing through an abandoned school which had slowly decayed, mostly due to broken windows and thus being exposed to the elements. Not surprisingly the whole place has a creepy and very eerie feel about it.

Gas masks

Last on the tour was a very short and sweet visit to the Pripyat amusement park.

Worst amusement park ever.

By this point I felt like my research mission to Kiev has just about been fulfilled. On an adventure to a restaurant with Ukrainian cuisine we discovered they did enjoy garlic-y, butter stuffed boneless chicken, the friendship arch and awesome backstreet playground proved the Ukes were a friendly and fun loving people, and having survived to tell the tale of the Chernobyl visit and a couple of late-night walks through the city failed to prove the place glowed green at night.

Still, there were a few more things to tackle, such as the museum of microminiatures, which included the world’s smallest working chess set.

This is a magnification of a chess set that rests upon a pin head. For real.

The lame part of visiting this museum was that it was housed within the grounds of a monastery, which meant paying to get into the monastery, then again to get into the museum. The not so lame part was that one of the churches had a system of caves built into/below it…

So uhhh.... this is us in the cave tunnel church thing.

…and there was also a sweet painting of Death:

As with most places considered sacred, cameras, mobile phones and inappropriate clothes are not allowed, but for some reason this church has taken an odd disliking to Bruce Willis, women and owls.

Another church seemed to take a weird disliking to balloons.

Seems Ukraine are starting to slip from that ‘fun loving’ city I originally thought it to be upon first impressions.

As for superpowers, to find out  you might just have to tune into future episodes of Happy Seizure.

Written on June 9, 2011