Eastern Europe has long been a go-to for city breaks, but among capitals like Prague, Belgrade and Budapest, Kiev remains an undiscovered gem. Head to the Ukrainian capital for modernist architecture, farm-to-table food and a vibrant youth scene.
In 2014, Kiev’s main square, Maidan, was all over the international news. The burning barricades at the heart of the city have become the symbol for the new turn in the country’s history. Opposing the corrupt government, the protesters supported Ukraine’s direction towards European integration, and the ideas of universal human rights and freedoms. Three years on, hopes are still high: on the city streets Ukrainian flags are often displayed next to the starred banners of the EU and Kiev is a vibrant and peaceful city open to international visitors.
In summer, Kiev has a very Southern European feel: its inhabitants spend a lot of time outdoors in parks, bars and on sandy banks of the wide river Dnieper. Walking through Kiev also means walking through complex history: from 12th Century cathedrals to grand Soviet marvels like the 100-metre-tall Mother Motherland statue. But Kiev is in no way struck in history — it’s constantly evolving and changing. The new wave of creative energy is rising, driven by the emerging generation. Ukrainian raves are making international headlines, but it’s also about art, photography, fashion and the tightly-knit creative scene. Head to Kiev with our guide and see it for yourself.
Late Soviet Modernism
Kiev is an incredibly eclectic place, but it’s the unique examples of late Soviet Modernism that make it a dream destination for architecture devotees. Scattered around the city, Modernist projects from the 1960s to the 1980s are the evidence of utopian vision and artistic experimentation. There are some completely mind-blowing shapes and structures: the concrete flying saucer of The Institute of Information, ceilings hanging on four poles at Zhitniy market and the unique construction of Memory Park (which combined science with artistic vision). There are lots of locations to explore: the new buildings of Taras Shevchenko University, the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy of USSR and the Vynogradar housing estate.
When Slava Lepsheev started his night Cxema in 2014, it was no more than a DIY initiative for friends in the post-revolution nightlife crisis. But within a couple of years, Cxema grew to a phenomenon of almost global scale (watch i-D documentary on the movement here) which raised the whole new generation of ravers, and gives a much-needed platform to local music talents. But Cxema is also about the city: past locations include disused offices, factory buildings, hotels and an outdoor skatepark on the riverbank. They always have authentic light and set design for each night. Internationally celebrated Closer is another destination — located at a former ribbon factory, it has multiple dance floors and a terrace, and its own annual festival, Strichka.
If rave is not your thing, there are plenty of alternatives for a night out. The bar scene in Kiev is thriving, and there is always a new place to go. Laid-back Kosatka and Zigzag are favourite spots for the local creative crowd, and both are steadily popular for lunch, dinner and evening drinks. For cocktails, head to Parovoz (located in the basement of Kyiv cinema, the place mimics a stream-train carriage) and Loggerhead.
New wave of Ukrainian fashion
Despite its lack of infrastructure, Kiev has its own flourishing fashion scene. LVMH-nominee Anton Belinskiy works with national iconography, material culture and the complex politics of Ukraine. Yulia Yefimtchuk is inspired by uniforms and a utopian vision of Socialism. Bevza, who debuted in New York this season, makes sleek minimalist womenswear with subtle references to her Eastern European heritage. There’s a great number of talents and looks to discover here: from Ksenia Shnaider’s signature demin to Drag and Drop’s subversive take on femininity, and from reworked Ukrainian lace to Litkovskaya’s statement coats.
Staying in one of Kiev’s Soviet hotels is a way to experience one more side of the city’s history. The iconic cylindrical building of Salute hotel, completed in 1984, is one of the symbols of the city (curiously, it was supposed to be a skyscraper but the plan was scrapped). Other notable hotels are rectangular Lybid with the ’70s-style lobby covered in fake wood panels, white and brown tower block of Express, and imposing Ukraine Hotel, two steps from Maidan square. Mostly built in the ’70s and ‘80s, these hotels were meant to be a perfect presentation of hospitality and efficiency for the capital’s visitors. These days they represent the Ukrainian vision of comfort and luxury, and although the websites are often clunky and the interior decisions questionable, these places retain a unique atmosphere.
Shopping at Kiev’s second-hand markets is not an entirely glamorous past-time, but the finds are totally worth it. The prices are absurdly low: coats and shoes could be purchased for 100 Hryvnias (about £3), tops, trousers and dresses for much less, and in remote corners of the large market (like the most celebrated Lesnoy), things go for as low as 2-3 Hryvnias. At Lesnoy, it’s easy to spend the whole day digging through piles of sweaters and trying on second-hand Italian tailoring. Ukraine is a large importer of used clothes — up to 100 thousand tons a year — and a lot of stuff comes from Switzerland, Germany and UK. Kiev is home to plenty of young eBay entrepreneurs who sell branded garments back to the countries where they came from, but the immaculate style of the local scene suggests they keep enough for themselves.
New Ukrainian cuisine
A lot of Ukrainian national dishes are known as unsophisticated comfort food, but there are places in Kiev that easily dismantle this preconception. Based at the heart of historical centre, Kanapa is the prefect place to try the new Ukrainian cuisine. Similar to the new Nordic, it relies on seasonal and local produce and traditional recipes and dates back to pre-Soviet era. Kanapa also offers a great variety of Ukrainian wine and around 300 types of Ukrainian cheese.