What's Going on with Ukraine and What You Should See If You Go

Ukraine Protest
Associated Press

French Revolution-style barricades made of parked cars, discarded boxes, chunks of ice, or whatever else can be found surround infinite tent-lined alleyways. In the midst of the clutter, old men gather to sing "Shche ne vmerla Ukraina," while men behind them exchange cigarettes for cups of coffee. No, this scene isn't from Ukraine's version of Burning Man. It is Euromaidan: this is what you need to know about it and what you should see in Ukraine if you're going.

So, what are these protests all about?

No doubt you've seen Ukraine in the news lately spurred by the protests that began on Nov. 21 when Ukraine's government, led by President Victor Yanukovych, suspended preparations for signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, a European integration pact that many view as opening the door for trade and modernization.

Since then protests have occurred nightly throughout the country, the largest being in Kyiv's Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) where hundreds of thousands have gathered in below freezing temperatures to voice their displeasure. On Dec. 18, Yanukovych snubbed their cries for closer economic ties to Europe when he agreed to a joint economic plan with Russia. That move, however, has done little to deter the protesters who continue to rally. Follow the action posted by Ukraine's some 18 million internet users on Twitter using the hashtag #євромайдан (#euromaidan).

Wait, this sounds familiar...

Perhaps you're remembering the peaceful Orange Revolution where thousands swarmed Independence Square in Kyiv, protesting the results of 2004 Ukrainian Presidential Election.

Any other historical things happen in Ukraine?

You know when you meet someone at a bar and talk with them for two hours before realizing you went to middle school with them? That's Ukraine. You know it - you just don't know that yet.
  • Florence Nightingale: In 1854 Nightingale served in Balaklava (now a glittering seaside resort town) where the main British camp was during the Crimean War. When she arrived she found horribly wounded soldiers who were poorly cared for. Nightingale tirelessly cared for the soldiers, making constant rounds late into the evening. Credited with laying the foundation of professional nursing, International Nurses Day is now celebrated on her birthday.
  • "The Charge of the Light Brigade": Thanks to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem -- "Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred," -- the plight of the doomed British light calvary has long been immortalized. You can visit the "valley of Death" for yourself, now a picturesque vineyard, located just outside of Sevastopol.
  • Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt Walk Into a ... palace: In the suburbs of Yalta is Livadia Palace, a Neo-Renaissance beauty that overlooks the Black Sea. Best known for hosting the Yalta Conference in 1945, here Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt came together to outline the fate of post-World War II Europe. Livadia Palace is now a museum and open to visitors.

What else should I see?

A favorite of backpackers for years, Ukraine is finally getting recognized by the outside world for what it is: a can't-miss travel destination. Here are some places to get you started:
  • "Facility 825" Naval Museum Complex, Balaklava: In the 1950s, Stalin approved the building of Facility 825, an undisclosed nuclear submarine base. Working 24-hours a day, miners quickly niched out a whole underground town and military complex. Now it's open to tourists as a Cold War museum. Walking through the complex one can't help but feel like they've entered a 007 soundstage.
  • Themed bar-hopping, Lviv: As much as the locals love their Lvivske beer, they seem to love themed bars more. Start your bar hopping inside the leaning castle that houses the fairy-tale-themed bar House of Legend. For a titillating experience, head to the Masoch Cafe where bondage-clad waitresses serve you in the S&M-inspired parlor. Afterwards, head to underground Kryjivka which mimics the forest-sheltered bunkers the Ukrainian Insurgent Army hid out in during its guerrilla war.
  • Catacombs, Odessa: Paris or Rome's may be the most famous, but Odessa's catacombs are the world's largest at 2,500 km. During the19th century, the area around Odessa was heavily mined for limestone. The resulting labyrinth would later be used by Soviet partisans during World War II for housing, hideouts and a means to transverse the city without being detected. Tour the extensive underground routes at The Museum of Partisan Glory. Just don't get lost.


About the Author

Ashley Hardaway is a freelance travel and food writer based in Washington, D.C. and the author of the Other Places travel guide "Ukraine: Discover the Real Ukraine." She also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine from 2006-2008.
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