Ukraine: an Undiscovered Gem

St Andrew's Church, Kiev

St Andrew’s Church, Kiev

I left Ukraine a few days ago for a country even less well-known among travellers, Moldova, but inexplicably overlookedUkraine was so fun that I’ve got to devote an entry and quite a few photos to the parts of this wonderful, fascinating, different country. It’s very well worth exploring if you get the chance!


St Michael's Monastery

St Michael’s Monastery



In the Lavra (Caves Monastery)

In the Lavra (Caves Monastery)


Close-up of St Michael’s Monastery

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The notorious Reactor Four at Chornobyl

The infamous Reactor Four at Chornobyl

In a kindergarten near Chernobyl, abandoned after the accident

In a kindergarten near Chernobyl, abandoned after the accident

I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on September 11th 2001: laying on the bed in my old apartment in Beitou listening to a CD of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony on my Walkman (iPods weren’t around in those days). I was in the middle of the slow movement (which is probably one of the profoundest statements in Western music, by the way), when David rushed in and told me what had just happened. As we watched the news the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center and my last vain hope that this was some kind of catastrophic accident were dashed.

Fifteen years earlier, I can’t recall what I was doing when news first started leaking of the nuclear accident at Chronobyl on April 26th 1986, but the following days, as the cloud of radioactive debris began circling around Europe and the extent of the disaster became known, are  still pretty clear in my memory.

Like 911, the Chornobyl accident is a prominant landmark in recent world history, yet it’s surprising how little I actually knew about it until on my present trip to Ukraine (and the Balkans) this summer I had the perfect chance to learn much more about it. Chornobyl and the surrounding exclusion zone can now be visited (although it still scares most people off – only 14,000 visited in 2012!), and despite all the rumors that it’s a risky or dangerous excursion, it’s quite safe with a qualified guide, and is an absolutely, humblingly, enlighteningly fascinating experience. Continue reading