Thousands of performers, journalists and fans will descend on the Ukrainian capital next month for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. They will likely arrive with low expectations, having been convinced by years of negative news coverage and Russian propaganda that they are about to encounter a poverty-stricken, war-torn city overrun by fascist mobs and criminal gangs. The reality of Kyiv in May will leave them pleasantly surprised, to put it mildly.
1. A peaceful place of effortless elegance
Ukraine has been engaged in a hybrid war with Russia for the past three years, but the fighting is restricted to a relatively small portion of the eastern borderlands, many hundreds of kilometers away from Kyiv. Like 95% of this vast country, the Ukrainian capital is untouched by the conflict. There are no tanks or bombed out buildings. Instead, Kyiv remains one of the loveliest cities in the world, full of sweeping cobblestone boulevards, lush parks, ornate churches, and wedding cake palaces. It is an elegant city with a decidedly feminine ambience befitting its historic role as the mistress of Eurasia. Eurovision could hardly be coming at a better time of year, either - Kyiv is at its blossoming best in mid-May.
2. The World’s biggest Russian-speaking city
Many Eurovision guests will arrive in Kyiv having heard all manner of nonsense about Ukraine’s allegedly oppressed Russian-speaking minority. Such misconceptions are the result of journalistic laziness as much as deliberate disinformation. The international media has sought to simplify the war in Ukraine by painting a black-and-white picture of a country split neatly along linguistic lines. In this dumbed down version of Ukraine, Russian-speakers in the east lean towards Moscow, while Ukrainian-speakers in the west favor Europe. In reality, most Ukrainians are bilingual, while language has never been an accurate indicator of political affiliations. The situation in Kyiv highlights the folly of portraying Russian-speaking Ukrainians as Kremlin supporters. Russian is the dominant language throughout the Ukrainian capital, both in the media and on the streets. This makes Kyiv the biggest Russian-speaking city in the world outside of Russia itself, and yet it remains a staunchly patriotic Ukrainian city. Kyiv residents simply see no contradiction in being a Russian-speaking Ukrainian patriot.
3. Europe’s cheapest capital city
Kyiv has recently come top in various annual surveys to identify the world’s cheapest cities. This is hardly surprising. The Ukrainian currency crashed in 2014-15 during the height of the hybrid war with Russia, and although the economy has since returned to growth, prices will take years to reach pre-2014 levels in dollar terms. As a result, the cost of everything from dining out to taking a taxi is still often ridiculously low. Prices are likely to be hiked significantly for the Eurovision Song Contest week itself, but nevertheless, most visitors will be amazed at how far their foreign currency goes in today’s Kyiv.
4. The fashion world’s latest hipster hotspot
For the first decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the post-Soviet world struggled to shake off associations with chronic bad taste. Ladies faced criticism for wearing too much makeup and not enough clothing, while men often appeared to be dressed as extras in a cheap mobster movie. This is no longer the case in Kyiv. Ukrainian designers are currently among the hottest trends in world fashion. They take their inspiration from the stylish wardrobe choices and originality on display in everyday Kyiv life. The Ukrainian capital is also a hipster haven where beards and tattoos are virtually ubiquitous. Barber salons and painfully fashionable popup cafes are two of the most common features of the post-Euromaidan Kyiv landscape, reflecting the relentless march of this growing hipster domination. With Berlin now gentrified and Prague long since lost to the stag party scene, underexposed Kyiv could well be next in line to serve as Europe’s hipster capital.
5. Paradise of parks and beaches
Some European capital cities have parks. Some have beaches. Very few have both. Kyiv is the exception. The Ukrainian capital has a wealth of green spaces. There are so many trees within the city limits that the adopted symbol of Kyiv is the chestnut leaf. This has helped generate a garden city atmosphere very much in keeping with Ukraine’s reputation as Europe’s fertile breadbasket. Eurovision guests will be even more surprised by the city’s kilometers of sandy beaches. Most Eurovision guests will arrive at the event venue on Kyiv’s Left Bank via metro. As they travel across the Dnipro River metro bridge, they will witness a stunning panorama of islands and beaches unfolding before their eyes. This explosion of exotica is the last thing most visitors will expect to see. It will go a long way to dispelling any lingering stereotypes about a drab and joyless Soviet city.