A Walk in Kyiv

16 April 2024

Editor's note: This story is one of the winning entries from the "Teach Us about Ukraine" writing contest sponsored by VOA Learning English and GoGlobal.

As the "Przemyśl – Kyiv" train arrives for women and children, men with tears in their eyes wait on the platform with flowers. In the waiting room, a soldier says goodbye to his daughter who does not want to let go.

FILE - People take shelter inside a metro station during a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attacks on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 11, 2024. (REUTERS/Alina Smutko)
FILE - People take shelter inside a metro station during a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attacks on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 11, 2024. (REUTERS/Alina Smutko)

For 153 years, the train station in Kyiv has witnessed many emotional gatherings and partings. Since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, it is hard to imagine how many people have departed and how many will return in the future.

At the Universytet metro station, beautiful marble walls serve as a background for the white busts of famous Ukrainians. They include the scientist Olexandr Bohomolets, and writers like Ivan Franko, Taras Shevchenko and Hryhorii Skovoroda. The busts of the Russians have been removed. There will never be a place for them here again.

As you come out of the station, there is the O.V. Fomin Botanical Garden, one of the oldest botanical gardens in Ukraine. Founded in 1839, it has 22.5 hectares of plants from temperate and subtropical areas. It includes several 200-year-old trees that have survived from the time before the founding of the garden itself.

Next to the garden is the red building of Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University. The university calls itself a leading research and education center in Ukraine. Before the war, more than 26,000 students attended nearly 30 schools and centers at the university.

Across the street is Saint Volodymyr Cathedral. Built in the 19th century, the cathedral included the works of many well-known artists including Mykola Pymonenko and Viktor Zamyraylo. As the Bolsheviks came to power, Soviet Union officials banned services and took away sacred items. At first, the cathedral was turned into a museum of atheism and then a library for a teachers' training college. After the declaration of Ukraine's independence, it became a religious center for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The best-known religious center in Kyiv is Saint Sophia Cathedral. The cathedral complex, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been in the city's historic center for a thousand years. It is one of the most visited landmarks in Kyiv, and it houses the largest collection of 11th-century mosaics and frescoes.

Nearby is Saint Andrew's Church, an example of 18th-century Baroque architecture. Behind the church is the alley of artists where visitors can walk alongside hundreds of paintings and street performances. This is where the thirst for life is soaring. A monument to Volodymyr the Great is hidden under sandbags for safety. But hopefully, one day it will stand again in its glory.

A few city blocks away is Kyiv City Teacher's Building, home of the historic Central Rada. Central Rada, or council, brought together political and cultural organizations in Kyiv that started the national movement. In 1918, the Central Rada adopted the Fourth Universal declaring Ukrainian independence during the height of the Ukraine-Soviet War from 1917 to 1921.

In the battle near Kruty in 1918, about five hundred Ukrainian military cadets and students defended Kyiv against nearly five thousand Bolshevik soldiers, foreshadowing the current Ukrainian fight against Russian invasion.

At the National Opera House of Ukraine, once again, there are performances of Giselle. And performances of The Witch of Konotop are sold out at Ivan Franko National Academic Drama Theatre.

Finally, one arrives at Independence Square.

The square is the heart of Ukraine. It is the place where Ukrainian statehood and self-determination started with the "Maidan" revolution. It is the place to remember the Heavenly Hundred who died for freedom. It is a symbol of Ukraine's struggle and victory, pain and rebirth, and strength and endurance.

Recently, 12-year-old Yaroslav played violin at the square. Next to him was a sign "for buying a drone for the Armed Forces." And 10-year-old Sofia sold blue and yellow bracelets. She said the money was for repairing her brother's car -- her brother who is fighting at war.

I'm Anna Matteo.

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About the writer

Olga Labai is a teacher of English with over 20 years of classroom experience at General Secondary Education Institution "Lyceum 17 of the Khmelnytskyi City Council." She graduated from Kyiv National Linguistic university in 1996 and now teaches students from elementary to high school. She loves incorporating technology into lessons. Olga constantly seeks new and innovative ways to engage her students with interesting activities and games that help them learn English in a way that is both enjoyable and memorable. She loves her work. Besides her teaching vocation, she is fond of traveling and reading.