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Kyiv city guide

Described as the "joy of the world" by medieval chroniclers, Kyiv has emerged from its tumultuous past as a vibrant, arresting modern city with an obvious passion for sport.

Kyiv city guide
Kyiv city guide ©UEFA.com

Province: Kyiv Oblast
Population: 2,820,000
Area: 839km²
Altitude: 124m above sea level

There is a monument on the right bank of the Dnipro river depicting a boat carrying the four Slavic siblings credited for founding Kyiv. The sister, Lybid, is at the bow like a figurehead, elegantly erect against the elements as Schek and Khoryv, stand proud and vigilant behind her, spears at the ready. The third brother Kyj, who gives his name to the city, wards off the past with his bow.

It is an iconic image of a place that, since its fifth-century foundation as a trading post, has been punctuated by war and turbulence, yet remained graceful throughout. Nominally Ukraine's capital since taking the mantle off Kharkiv in 1934, Kyiv is now a city of arresting contrasts.

Described as the "joy of the world" by medieval chroniclers, between the tenth and 13th centuries Kyiv was the capital of the eastern Slav's first great civilisation, Kyivan Rus. The city enjoyed great prosperity from 989 when ruler Volodymyr the Great decided to align with Constantinople by marrying the emperor's daughter and adopting Orthodox Christianity. Kyiv became a cultural and political centre of renowned beauty, but the glory days were short-lived and the decline became terminal when the Mongols sacked the city in 1240.

Over the ensuing centuries, Kyiv suffered from numerous invaders. Having survived destruction by the Mongols, the city became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th century and subsequently the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In time, Kyiv was occupied by Russia, and until the end of the 20th century, like all of Ukraine, was part of the USSR. Kyiv was on its knees after Nazi occupation between 1941 and 1943, but the post-war years brought rapid industrialisation and the construction of tenement blocks (80% were homeless in 1943).

The city may have been founded as a trading post but it was not until the Russian empire's industrial revolution in the late 19th century that it really prospered. Now Kyiv is the largest city in Ukraine in terms of both population and area, and is the country's business centre. It is the scientific, educational and industrial capital of Ukraine, specialising in building materials and aircraft manufacture. Since the 1986 accident in Chernobyl, 100km north of Kyiv, hydroelectric sources have grown.

• Kazimir Malevich, artist (1879-1935) – pioneer of geometric abstract art and the originator of the avant-garde suprematism; famous for his Black Square painting.

• Igor Sikorsky, engineer (1889-1972) – aviation pioneer and designer of the world's first mass-produced helicopter.

• Mikhail Bulgakov, writer (1891-1940) – best known for The Master and Margarita, an account of the devil's visit to atheistic Moscow, he also wrote Heart of a Dog and The White Guard.

• Golda Meir, politician (1898-1978) – the original 'Iron Lady', Meir spent her first 15 years in Kyiv and became Israel's first woman prime minister between 1969-1974.

• Volodymyr Horowitz, classical pianist (1903-1989) – regarded as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.

• Milla Jovovich, model, actress, musician (b1975) – born in Kyiv to a Serbian paediatrician and Russian actress, the family left when she was five.

Kyiv is a modern city with many monuments, more than 100 museums, 33 theatres and 141 libraries. The country's leading universities are also concentrated here, including the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, one of the oldest educational institutions in Europe.

Around the corner from the Valeriy Lobanovskiy Stadium, Khreshchatyk street runs through its heart and getting dressed up and strolling down it is a Kyivan pastime, especially at weekends when it is closed to traffic. The street was razed during World War II and rebuilt in imposing Soviet style, but the city is not short on aesthetics. St Sophia Cathedral's incredible eleventh-century mosaics and frescos springs to mind, the scene of coronations, countless ceremonies and Kyiv's first school and library.

Made internationally famous by Andriy Kurkov's novels, one of the most ancient city streets Andriyivski uzviz (Andrew's descent) lies in the shadow of the magnificent St Andrew's Church, designed by the same architect responsible for St Petersburg's Winter Palace. The 'Montmartre of Kyiv', halfway up is the Bulgakov museum, where Mikhail wrote The White Guard, while an artists' alley towards the top turns into a giant outdoor art gallery at the weekend. Further afield is the incredible Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra monastery, set on 28 hectares of hill over the Dnipro.

Much of the left bank lies on reclaimed land and a perhaps unforeseen benefit was the creation of city beaches. There are some on Trukhaniv island and on Hydropark, with incredible views of the UNESCO-listed Lavra. Of a rather different tack – but no less eye-catching – is the Hydropark's free outdoor gym, a post-apocalyptic collection of apparatus fashioned from used lorry parts and scrap metal.

Fan zone: Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square)
Kyiv's fan zone, located right in the heart of in the city, will feature four giant screens and will open for the duration of the tournament from 12.00 to 01.00 local time. It is free to enter and will broadcast all 31 matches live, though at other times there will be plenty of entertainment such as football skill tests, five-a-side pitches, live concerts and DJ sets, as well as offer a full range of food and beverages.

To and from

Kyiv has two airports, Zhulyany (8km south-west of the city centre) and Boryspil International (35km east). The latter has regular services to Warsaw, Lviv, Kharkiv and Donetsk. The Central Bus Station 3km south of the centre offers longer but somewhat cheaper links to other UEFA EURO 2012 venues: Lviv (10 hours), Kharkiv (7 hours) and Donetsk (11.5 hours). The swish train terminal in the heart of the city has connections, many overnight, to Kharkiv (from 6 hours), Lviv (from 6.5 hours), Donetsk (12 hours), Warsaw (from 15 hours), Poznan (18 hours) and Wroclaw (25 hours).

Distances to other UEFA EURO 2012 venues
Kharkiv – 480km
Lviv – 540km
Donetsk – 700km
Warsaw – 820km
Wroclaw – 1,090km
Poznan – 1,140km
Gdansk – 1,190km

In and around
Public transport includes buses, trolleybuses, trams and an ever-expanding metro system. The metro is usually the fastest and most convenient way of getting around, even if the descent to the depths of the city can be a journey in itself – at 102m underground, Arsenalna is one of the deepest stations in the world. It runs from 6am until midnight and the turquoise journey tokens cost 2 UAH; a monthly pass is 95 UAH. Like many former Soviet metro systems, stations are clean and elaborately decorated, a contrast to the somewhat less reliable bus service as they have to contend with Kyivan traffic.

Kyiv is home to the dominant force in Ukrainian football, FC Dynamo Kyiv, a club founded in 1927 with the distinction of never suffering top-flight relegation – at first in the USSR and now Ukraine.

Dynamo are not the only top-flight team in the capital – FC Arsenal Kyiv, formerly the army side CSKA, and brewery-backed FC Obolon Kyiv are also resident – yet the Bilo-Syni (White-Blues) are the star attraction. The most successful side in the USSR with 13 Soviet Top League titles and nine cup wins, their dominance has continued since independence, claiming 13 of the 21 titles and nine cups.

Dynamo initially drew their players from a combination of leading footballers and amateurs from their sponsors, the Soviet secret police. They quickly grew in strength and support, and by the late 1960s they reigned supreme. Victor Maslov set them on their way before former winger Valeriy Lobanovskiy heralded an era of unrivaled success, allying domestic dominance with European glory.

Dynamo won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1975 and 1986, also reaching the European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-finals in 1977, 1987 and then 1999, by which time they had already firmly established their hegemony in independent Ukraine. It was no always so, however, and in the early years Kyiv was put in the shade by teams from Kharkiv, Odesa and Lviv.

Football was introduced to Kyiv in 1900 by foreign – mainly Czech – factory workers. The first team represented Greter and Krivanek, a machine and boiler building plant in the west of the city, and the first pitch was built nearby on what is now Dovzhenko Film Studios. It quickly caught on but Kyivan football really took off in 1934 when the capital of Soviet Ukraine was transferred there from Kharkiv.

Footballing alumni
The list of the game's Kyivans is a veritable who's who of Ukrainian football, including two Ballon d'Or winners: Oleh Blokhin (1975) and Andriy Shevchenko (2004). Oleksiy Mykhailychenko, the prolific Viktor Kanevskiy and Anatoliy Byshovets deserve mentions but pride of place goes to Lobanovskiy, who guided Dynamo to eight Soviet titles, five Ukrainian championships, and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1975 and 1986. When he died in 2002, thousands lined the streets of Kyiv as the hearse made its way to the Baykove cemetery.

Did you know?
Dynamo became the first team from the Soviet Union to capture a major European title when they lifted the 1975 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

Sporting excellence and Kyiv go hand in hand. Women's handball side Spartak Kyiv won 20 consecutive USSR championships between 1969 and 1988 and Kyivans have also had a big impact on the international stage. 'Man of Iron' Borys Shakhlin earned seven Olympic gold medals, fellow gymnast Larysa Latynina won nine. Neither were born in Kyiv but both moved there early like Valeriy Borzov, winner of the 100m and 200m sprint double in 1972. Kyiv is also the hometown of two-time Stanley Cup ice hockey victor Ruslan Fedotenko.