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Kyiv, a city of the golden domes, the Jerusalem of the lands of Rus is situated on the Dnipro River. Kyiv with about 3 million habitants is the capital of Ukraine. Kyiv was well known for centuries as one of the largest centers of Christianity in the world. Ancient Kyivan Rus, which reached its greatest period of ascendancy during the 11th and 12th centuries, was a center of trade routes between the Baltic and the Mediterranean. The city of Kyiv and the power of Kievan Rus were destroyed in 1240 by Mongol invaders and the lands of Kievan Rus were divided into principalities located to the west and north: Galicia, Volynia, Muscovy and later, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. Once a powerful force on the European scene, Ukraine's fate in modern times has been decided in far-off capitals. As a result, modern Ukrainian history, for the most part, has been defined by foreign occupation.
Kyiv suffered severely during World War II, and many irreplaceable architectural and art treasures were destroyed. Earlier in the 1930's the Soviet authorities systematically destroyed many churches. Extensive restoration has revived much of historic Kyiv. The city hit the headlines in April 1986, when the nuclear reactor at nearby Chernobyl exploded, but scientists generally agree that the city is now safe from radiation effects.
Despite repressions, suffering, political turmoil, and ecological disasters, Ukraine's spirit and national identity have never died. On August 24, 1991, after the aborted coup in Moscow, Ukraine proclaimed its independence. As of 1994, Ukraine has diplomatic relations with over 135 countries and close to 60 diplomatic missions are established in Kyiv. News correspondents, business representatives, and students from all over the world reside in Kyiv, and the flow of foreign tourists and official delegations is heavy year round. The resident American community consists of Embassy personnel (including dependents), correspondents, business representatives, clergy, professors, and students.
The art and architecture of Kyiv are world treasures. The Cathedral of St. Sophia, where the princes of Kyiv were crowned in the years of Kyiv's grandeur, has outstanding mosaics and frescoes dating back to the 11th century. Overlooking the old section of Kyiv, Podol, stands the Ukrainian Baroque church of St. Andrew, much beloved by Ukrainians. The Percherska Lavra, the Monastery of the Caves, a short trolley ride from the center of town, has two 11th-century cathedrals on its grounds, in addition to its world-famous catacombs, bell tower, and museum collections. Close to the center of town stands the Golden Gate, a structure which dates back to 1037. This recently reconstructed remains of the former fortified wall of the city defined the limits of the city in centuries past. Several blocks away, stands the magnificent 19th-century Cathedral of St. Volodymyr.
Theater buffs will find much to choose from here. Most performances are in Ukrainian or Russian. The recently renovated Kyiv Opera House presents very good opera as well as a broad repertoire of ballets. The Kyiv Young Theater is very popular and stages innovative plays in Ukrainian or Russian. The Ivan Franko Theater is the center of Ukrainian drama, comedy, and musicals. This repertoire has just opened its 75th season and includes brilliant versions of Aeneid and Teve Tevel, the original version of Fiddler on the Roof.
The modern center with surviving parts of the old city are on the hilly west, or right bank, of the Dnipro River. The main street, Khreshchatik, runs between two steep hills. Parallel about half a kilometer west, is vulytsya Volodymyrska, the main street of the Old Kyiv area (Staryj Kyiv). From the north end of Khreshchatik, vulytsya Hrushevskoho rises southeast along a ridge to the Caves Monastery at Perchersk. Woods and parks cover most of the steep right-bank slopes. The capital's newer sections stretch out on the flat left bank. These are characterized by large housing developments and industrialized neighborhoods.
Ukrainian pottery, embroidery, and handicrafts are available throughout the city, particularly in shops on Andrievsky Uzviz, at Percherska Lavra, and St. Sophia's church. Quality and quantity vary from shop to shop. A growing number of hard currency stores stock Western food, alcohol, clothing, and electrical appliances. Most prices, in hard-currency stores, are higher than those in the West, and availability of stock is unpredictable.
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