I'm going to wrap up my discussion of the Ukraine with a collection of pictures, some panoramas, from its capital and largest city, Kiev. Lots of big pictures below the fold... (Note: some of the pics have been 'squashed' to fit the frame. You can right-click on the pic to view it in its original form!)
This first image is the center of the city, Independence Square. This lovely, lively square was the site in 2004 of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, in which hundreds of thousands gathered to protest (peacefully) the rampant corruption and electoral fraud of the 2004 presidential elections (theirs, not ours). In the end, a run-off election was ordered, which was won by the 'reform candidate' Viktor Yushchenko. The view here is essentially from outside a Kiev McDonald's, where I grabbed a quick lunch.
In the square is a fountain which depicts the mythological three brothers who founded Kiev, Kyi, Schek and Khoryv, along with their sister Lybid.
Here is a picture of one of the many streets in Kiev. In fact, this is a shot along the main street in Kiev, the Khreschatyk, which runs into Independence Square. In the foreground, one can see one of the numerous underpasses which allow passage beneath Kiev's treacherous traffic.
These underpasses have been transformed into large underground shopping centers, where pretty much anything from electronics to produce can be purchased. The photograph here shows a very short section of a subterranean produce market.
The most magnificent parts of Kiev are, arguably, the various orthodox cathedrals and churches. This one is my favorite, St. Andrew's Church. The church is built on the site where St. Andrew is reputed to have climbed to the top of the hill, planted a cross, and predicted that a great city would be built.
The path St. Andrew climbed the hill and came back down is now a road, appropriately named St. Andrew's descent. It is a steep, winding path which is now filled with street vendors, hawking everything from cheap souvenirs to fine art. I did a healthy amount of souvenir shopping here, and got ripped off at least once in the process.
This is the magnificent St. Michael's Monastery and Cathedral. It is actually a 1999 reconstruction of the original ancient edifice, which was pulled down by the Soviets in the 1930s. On the left side of the picture, to the left of the wedding party, is a squat, round 'tortilla warmer' building which holds some of the original foundations. The monastery is actually in use, and dark robed monks are constantly darting around the grounds.
I was dodging multiple wedding parties the day I was in Kiev. You can also see one in the St. Andrew's picture above. I spent a lot of time trying to stay out of various wedding videos while in town.
Full disclosure: the clouds above the left side of the picture (and the upper right of the St. Andrew's pic) are cut and pasted images from elsewhere in the photos. The panoramas left ugly black holes in the images, which I felt would look nicer filled in.
This one is St. Sophia's Cathedral, just down the street from St. Michael's. The building is the original; plans to destroy it by the Soviets were halted by the efforts of scientists and historians. It evidently dates back to roughly the year 1037!
Here's one more shot of St. Sophia's, from the Bohdan Khmelnytsky Square outside. Here you can see the lovely bell tower which serves as the entrance to the cathedral grounds. On the left is a statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky himself, generally considered by Ukrainians to be the father of the nation.
Remember the Friendship of Nations monument mentioned in my earlier post? Here's the statue beneath it, a Ukrainian and Russian standing together. I have no idea which is which. I find it highly amusing that the one on the right has - literally - chiseled abs. I hope my friends will forgive me for saying this, but I think that nowadays, most people would find this statue a little gay.
I conclude this travelogue with one more lovely building. I have many more pictures, but don't feel like burning all of my free blog storage space in one post! Anyway, this is the back end of the Mariyinsky Palace, which is the ceremonial residence of the Ukrainian president.
I was a little disappointed here, as the front end of the palace is under extensive renovation, and no good photograph could be had. This image of the back side of the palace shows its potential, however. When the painting and renovations are complete, it will be a spectacularly beautiful building.
That observation sums up my attitude about the Ukraine in general: it is a country with much potential for greatness and beauty, but has yet to completely fulfill that promise. I'm optimistic, though: the country has changed and opened up greatly since my last visit in 2003, and I'll be eager to see how it develops.
On this trip, even though I enjoyed my time greatly while there, I breathed a sigh of relief when I got out of the country!