Steve Cardownie: Kyiv worth a trip for more than Champions League final

Vitali Klitschko says Kyiv is safe to visit despite the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine (Picture: Getty Images)
Vitali Klitschko says Kyiv is safe to visit despite the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine (Picture: Getty Images)
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The City of Edinburgh is twinned with several major cities throughout the world such as San Diego, Munich and Kyiv to name a few and there has been a two-way flow of information and exchanges which have been of benefit to the participating municipalities.

The idea of city twinning was born out of World War Two and was intended to promote understanding and friendship between different cultures and former foes as an act of peace and reconciliation and is prevalent world-wide.

This year Kyiv is gearing up for a major sporting event, namely the European Champions League Final, which is to be held in the National Sports Complex (NSC) on26 May. The city council, as representatives of Kyiv’s near three million inhabitants, is knee-deep in preparations as it looks forward to hosting the final between Real Madrid and Liverpool.

Used to running a bustling metropolis, it is not fazed by the expected influx of fans and, with two airports and a public transport system that boasts of an expanding metro, buses, trolley buses and trams, it is well equipped to deal with the potential headache of moving visitors through the city’s hot spots and attractions. A Champions Festival will take place over a few days with footballing legends, DJs and live bands all making an appearance.

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Kyiv has many attractions in its own right with the cobbled St Andrew’s Street (one of its oldest streets) being a highlight. A long curving street with St Andrew’s Church at the top, it snakes its way down to the old Jewish district of Podil and provides a marvellous setting for the artists who show off their work down both sides of the street.

There are many Ukranian bars and restaurants, as well as those boasting an international cuisine. Add to this the many theatres and galleries and places of natural beauty and the cultural bedrock is laid to ensure that the visitor never runs out of things to do – with the Champions League Final the icing on the cake. The main street, Khreshchatyk, cuts a swathe through the city centre and provides another opportunity for bars, restaurants, department stores and small independent retailers to flourish, particularly at weekends when it is closed off to traffic and the street entertainers take over into the wee small hours, accompanied by a backdrop of drinks and food being available round the clock.

Ukraine has not had its problems to seek over the last few years with tensions between it and Russia at their peak, particularly in the Donbass region in the east of the country where armed conflict is ongoing. The self-declared, and reputedly Russian backed, Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics are seeking closer ties to Vladimir Putin’s Government. However Kyiv continues as normal and daily life is largely uninterrupted by the forces that cast a dark shadow over the country’s eastern borders.

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On a private visit just over a year ago, I was invited to meet Vitali Klitschko, the former three-time world heavyweight boxing champion, who is the mayor of Kyiv. He was at great pains to point out that the country is doing its best to resolve the crisis in the east and the daily life of Kyiv continues as normal so potential visitors should not be deterred as the city has much to offer for young and old alike in a safe environment.

He was immensely proud of his Ukranian heritage, especially since it has shaken off the yoke of Soviet domination, and wants to continue to promote his city’s reputation internationally in an effort to harness a reinvigorated tourism sector to boost the economy and enhance Ukraine’s profile.

Kyiv now has the chance to demonstrate to the world just what the city has to offer, with the UEFA Champions League providing an opportunity to showcase its hospitality, culture, history and sporting pedigree.

I am confident that Vitali will see the city flourish and make him a happy man.