Made up of largely under-visited towns and cities and huge areas of under-traveled countryside, Ukraine is often described as a true travel frontier. Shrouded from view, with its Soviet past still clinging on, conventional travel and backpacker routes seem to slip past this unparalleled and truly stunning country.
However, the region of Ukraine has been at the very forefront of recent history. Known as Kievan Rus up until the 16th century, it was the leading cultural and political center in Eastern Europe. Its fascinating story from Mongol conquest to independence can be seen in its towns and cities, with antiquity scattered throughout in the form of fortresses and monuments.
Lviv is Ukraine’s quieter city, formerly the capital of the historic region of Galicia, it has the atmosphere of Krakow and the beauty of Prague. Despite the tourism that has passed through it in the last fifteen years of its independence, it is still relatively untouched. The city’s streets are almost mystical, their architecture a concoction of central European styles and periods; some Gothic, some renaissance and a lot of it Baroque. Neat Catholic houses and high churches line the streets, the façade is looming and imperial.
However, Lviv is more than just a beautiful veneer, the city has a wide array of artistic and historical venues. These include museums, galleries and theaters; notably the widely acclaimed Neo-Renaissance Opera House, which is often compared with those of Paris and Vienna. Lviv is a profoundly cultural city and Night in Lviv, an artistic festival that opens with a breathtaking fire show twice a year, adds to this both mysterious and wonderful experience; allowing thousands of visitors to discover what Ukraine has to offer all through the night. In the form of 100 tours, 200 theatrical performances and live music, Night in Lviv is a unique opportunity to delight in a truly cultural event in the heart of the city.
In the south of Ukraine, on the coast of the Black Sea is the city of Odessa. Underneath the streets, hidden out of view and often overlooked by tourist guides, are the city’s catacombs. An astounding 1500 miles of corridors, rooms and tunnels make up the catacombs. They were formed and built from the 1600’s and into the 1800’s through the mining of the limestone that the city above is built upon. It is common for Ukrainians to tell stories about the catacombs, to do with the strange occurrences and disappearances that happen above ground. The catacombs have acted as hideouts for rebels, smugglers and the Soviets during the Second World War. Today, the labyrinth of tunnels are being explored daily and documented by semiprofessional teams and are also open to the public.
Across the map, toward the border of Belarus, stands Pripyat, a nuclear city that is both a monument of the Soviet Union and a direct passage to the past for any visitor. Left behind after its abandonment in 1986 are; hospitals, schools, gymnasiums, factories and thousands of homes. This ghost city is a freeze frame from 1986, a slice of history that neither a museum nor book can compete with. Since its abandonment, the forest surrounding Pripyat has been slowly swallowing up the city and the streets are now almost completely consumed by a new breath of nature and wildlife, giving the city an entirely new atmosphere.
Ukraine then, with its far-stretching history, fire breathing festivals, miles of hidden catacombs and deserted cities is ideal for the curious traveler. So, what are you waiting for?
How has uncovering Ukraine inspired your travel plans?