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Interesting Facts about Kiev

Updated on April 17, 2014
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Kiev is the capital of Ukraine and the administrative center of the Kiev region. The city, which is about 1,500 years old, is situated on the high west bank (called the right bank) and low east (left) bank of the navigable Dnieper (Dnipro) River at the crossing of a railroad trunk line between Moscow and the Balkans. It is the political, cultural, and educational center of Ukraine and was one of the leading manufacturing cities of the former Soviet Union. The summers are warm and sunny and the winters moderately cold and snowy. Both Russian and Ukrainian are widely spoken.

The historical core of Kiev is situated on bluffs rising some 300 feet (90 meters) above the west bank of the Dnieper River, just south of its junction with the Desna River, one of its left-bank tributaries. Valleys dissecting the west bank divide the city core into three distinct sections: the Upper Town, Pechersk, and Podil. The high-lying Upper Town, in the center, is the historical heart of the city and is where the modern central business district and the major civic buildings are located. Pechersk, to the southeast, is dominated by an ancient cave monastery, the Pecherska Lavra. Podil, adjoining the Upper Town on the north and situated on lower ground next to the river, is the old commercial quarter.

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After World War II, industrial and residential areas spread across the Dnieper to the low east-bank area. The Kiev subway system, put in operation in 1960, necessitated the building of a new bridge (1965) across the river. It was constructed on the site of the first Dnieper bridge, which dated from 1853 and was destroyed in World War II. The river also is crossed by other road and rail bridges, and a pedestrian bridge connects the city center with beach areas on Trukhaniv Island in the Dnieper.

From its ancient gold-domed churches to the buildings of polished granite and marble along the Khreshchatyk, the city's broad central thoroughfare, Kiev is filled with landmarks. Some of the oldest sights, dating from the 11th century, are in the Upper Town on Volodymyrska Street. They include the ruins of the Golden Gate, once the principal gate of Kiev, which is said to have consisted of gilded bronze.

St Sophia's Cathedral, Kiev
St Sophia's Cathedral, Kiev | Source

The ruins of the gate were unearthed in 1832, and the gate was reconstructed in 1982. Nearby is St. Sophia's Cathedral, now a museum. A five-naved church with foundations laid in 1037, it was intended to rival the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and was used for the enthronement of the early princes of Kiev and the reception of European sovereigns. Its walls are decorated with highly prized frescoes and mosaics. The marble sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise, an early Kiev ruler, has been preserved.

Near the foot of Volodymyrska Street, on the bluff overlooking the Dnieper, stands a monument (unveiled in 1853) of Prince Vladimir (Volodymyr) holding a large cross in his right hand and the dynastic crown in his left. Vladimir adopted Christianity as the state religion about 988, and a bas-relief on the pedestal shows the baptism of the Kievan people.

Farther south, in the area of the Botanical Gardens, where Volodymyrska Street crosses Taras Shevchenko Boulevard, stands the University of Kiev, whose main, dark red building was erected in 1837–1842. Originally named Vladimir University, it was renamed in 1939 for Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian national writer.

East of the Khreshchatyk, in a park overlooking the Dnieper, is the 18th-century Mariinsky Palace, which was used by the czars on their visits to Kiev and served as the residence of the local governors before the 1917 Revolution. It was restored after its destruction in World War II and now is used for official receptions and other governmental functions.

The Gate Church of the Trinity (Pechersk Lavra)
The Gate Church of the Trinity (Pechersk Lavra) | Source

One of the more unusual sights in Kiev is the cave monastery (the Pecherska Lavra), in Pechersk along the high bank overlooking the Dnieper. Consisting of a group of buildings within a walled enclosure and underlain by a network of ancient catacombs, the monastery is believed to date from the beginnings of Christianity in Kiev. It was converted into a historical-cultural museum in 1926. The monastery's oldest structure, the Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspenski Sobor), was first built in the 11th century and was repeatedly ruined and restored. It was again demolished in World War II and restored only in the 1990s. The 12th-century Trinity Church over the main gateway into the Lavra and an 18th-century belfry, 317 feet (97 meters) high, are among the structures that have been preserved.

Among the more recent memorials in Kiev is the Babi Yar (Babyn Yar) monument, marking the mass executions of some 100,000 Kiev residents, mainly Jews, during the German occupation of the city in World War II. The original monument, inaugurated by the Soviet government in 1976, made no mention of the Jews, but a menorah was added in their honor in 1991. Kiev's Chernobyl (Chornobyl) Museum commemorates the nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986 about 80 miles (130 km) north of the city.

One of Ukraine's chief manufacturing centers, Kiev specializes in the production of complex machinery and precision equipment using steel products from the Ukrainian iron and steel mills of the Dnieper Bend (along the river's lower course) and the Donets Basin (Donbass). There are also plants that produce transportation equipment, chemicals, and textiles. Among the historical industrial enterprises is the old Arsenal arms plant, halfway between Khreshchatyk and the Lavra, which was built in the 18th century to produce artillery but now manufactures photographic equipment.

Kiev is the center of the Ukrainian publishing industry. Services, such as finance, auditing, marketing, and media, are a growing sector of the economy. The city has major rail and highway links with the rest of the country and is served by an airport at Boryspil, some 20 miles (30 km) to the east. A smaller airport at Zhulyany, on the southwest outskirts, is used for local flights.

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