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Ukraine

September 9, 2017

Filed under: life,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 08:53

I visited Kyiv, Ukraine for the first time in July. It was an eye-opening and intensely interesting experience. The Ukrainians are friendly and Kyiv is safe. Many of the restaurants in Kyiv were full, suggesting that people have discretionary money to spend. The streets and many of the buildings are beautiful, even though much of the city was destroyed in World War II. City planners did a great job with the architecture and feel of the buildings and streets. A recently built area of the city is stunning.

To some, Ukraine is best known for Chernobyl, which is 130 km (80 miles) north of Kyiv. The 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident was the most catastrophic nuclear disaster in history. At the time, Chernobyl was a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union. The city was evacuated 30 hours after the accident. Chernobyl is almost entirely a ghost town today, although a few people currently live there. Two general stores and a hotel are available for tourists.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyiv remained the capital of Ukraine. In November 2013, a wave of demonstrations and peaceful protests began in Independence Square. My hotel was adjacent to the Square, so I walked around the area a few times. Russia’s Vladimir Putin pressured Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from forming close ties with the European Union, which Putin had long opposed. The protests in Kyiv led to calls for the resignation of Yanukovych and his administration for this, along with corruption, abuses of power, and human rights violations. This led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Special riot police were ordered to take over Kyiv, although the Uranium people dug in their heels. Scores of innocent people were injured and killed.

Hundreds of thousands, including my host and his wife, came to Independence Square, some for weeks or months, to join the protest. Some who did not, or could not, such as my host’s mother, prepared food for those demonstrating. In mid February 2014, the riot police finally gave up due to the extraordinary resilience and determination of the Ukrainian people. Yanukovych and others in his administration fled the country and headed to Russia in late February. The strength and will of the Ukrainians helped to make them stronger and define who they are today. A very good documentary, titled Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, is available on Netflix. It chronicles the sequence of events with horrifying detail and video footage.

My visit to Kyiv could not have gone much better. The food, people, history, sight-seeing, and hand-crafted products made it a fascinating place to visit. Ukraine is in territorial dispute with Russia over Crimea, which is in the south. In March 2014, after the revolution, Crimea was taken over by pro-Russian separatists and Russian Armed Forces. Eastern Ukraine is facing conflict, violence, and war with Russia. When returning to Ukraine, I will stay away from those parts of the country. In addition to Kyiv, my hosts told me that western Ukraine is beautiful and has a lot to offer.