Ukraine’s luxury hotel GMs had really hoped that the European football tournament in 2012 would put it on the tourist map, but nothing happened. And then the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest took place in the capital, Kiev, May 9-13, 2017. The actual contest, which was indoors, went swimmingly (and Portugal won, for Salvador Sobral’s rendering of Amar Pelos Dois), but Kiev’s mayor, three times world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, had organised masses of subsidiary events, all outdoors – and it rained nonstop. On top of these tribulations, in 2014 Russian-backed separatists took over a whole swathe of the eastern part of the country and the resulting sporadic war continues. The national currency, the hryvnia plunged to 25% of its former value. It is amazing, says the gal, that anyone is still smiling.
Fortunately Kiev’s gorgeous churches and monasteries seem to shine more brightly than ever, providing a beacon of comfort for worshippers, who were mostly babushkhas (grandmas in headscarves) when I went to visit. I love St Michael’s monastery, particularly handy for both the doyen of the city’s branded hotels, the ten year old Hyatt Regency, and the InterContinental – whose opening I went to, with Jennifer Fox, back in 2010. Forward to 2017, and I walked the centre of the city, amazed by how clean the streets are – putting London to shame – and how old and new, centuries-old brick and stone work and even modern graffiti, fit together so well, the one complementing the other.
The young women seem to have longer legs than ever (how DO they turn into those shapeless bundles when they reach middle age?). There do seem to be fewer young men than women, possibly because many thousands are fighting at the front: they are now better equipped but when the war started they were sent off with no equipment; employers, including hotels, had to have a whip-round to buy helmets and other protective gear. Other young men simply leave Ukraine, say to Poland or the Middle East, to avoid going to fight, and, although it is cynical to suggest it, perhaps a few consider the church as the priests I saw were, to a man, fresh-faced and in their early 20s.
The national pastime of Ukraine, 2017 style, is taking photos. You seem groups posed in front of luxury hotels, and every monument, in every one of the city’s parks, particularly beautiful in late August when roses are in full bloom. They take photos of their families and friends, and of boyfriends and girlfriends. I loved this particular shot, when it appeared that the wrong person was taking the photo: the chic woman, with those legs and in full finery, was so much more appealing to the bystander than the bearded-wonder guy. They were standing on Yaroslaviv Val Street, just outside Radisson Blu Kyiv (the Ukrainian spelling) – I wonder if they were about to go inside for its really impressive buffet breakfast (SEE THE VIDEO BELOW)?