I didn’t do any research on Kiev before traveling there. A last-minute decision to extend my stay in Poland with an outside-the-EU border hop necessitated a quickly packed suitcase and all energies focused on successfully getting a stamp at the border. (I did.)
Knowing very little about a city before going there isn’t usually the way I like to travel; I prefer to warm myself up by reading about the history, culture and other people’s impressions of a place before I go there. But sometimes, crossing country lines completely cold is an interesting way to experience a new place. Completely devoid of any preconceived expectations, it’s possible to shape your own impressions of a place solely based on your own senses and experiences.
First impressions linger. From the moment I stepped beyond border control, the small details lining my journey from the airport to my hostel formed a chain of associations leading me straight back to memories of Moscow. Riding a cramped marshrutka (a glorified van), where etiquette stipulates that you pass your fare up through the rows of passengers to the driver, who manages to simultaneously count your change and pass it back while driving and honking at the car he just cut off; street markets outside the center selling clothes and shoes and coats; a nearly identical metro system; using broken Russian to ask for directions. Impression begot impressions, and I found myself comparing and contrasting the two cities almost immediately.
The longer I spent in Kiev, though, in a mood to simply wander the streets (probably born of that hazy, transitory, in-between visa limbo), the more impressions I gathered of a distinctive city, unlike anywhere I’ve traveled in Russia or Europe.
One of the elements partially underlying those impressions were the quirky statues and monuments I kept stumbling across as I wandered the city. Ukranian sculptor and artist Constantin Skretutsky has created dozens of eccentric and quirky statues that are scattered across Kiev. The monuments, to me, breathed a sense of color and idiosyncrasy into the city streets, making me chuckle and completely forget the anxiety and nerves that come with visa-related traveling.
Here’s a visual tour of Kiev’s quirky sculptures.