Journey to the East I.
Forgotten Cities of Ukraine
When someone says Ukraine in our region, most people imagine Carpathian mountains or the increasingly popular Chernobyl. However, there are more places to see. Eastern Ukraine is the economic and industrial hub of the country and there are eight cities with more than 200,000 inhabitants. But you won’t find many historical monuments here. You can see chimneys, blast furnaces, smoke, and pannelacks everywhere around. However, the concentration of mineral wealth doesn’t correspond to the wealth of ordinary people. This former industrial artery of the Soviet Union will surprise you with its poverty and diversity from anything in Europe.
Dnipro, Zaporizhia, Kharkiv, Mariupol, and Kryvyi Rih. It’s surprising, how enormous all those cities are. Despite the current population, all of them were designed for a much larger number of people. As part of Stalin’s policy, people from all over the Soviet Union moved here to accelerate the industrialization and modernization of the empire. But as utopia collapsed, cities began to depopulate in the 1990s. Now, everything gives the impression of an end.
The Soviet Heritage
The streets are lined with wide boulevards, tall buildings, and empty hotels. Unique modernist buildings are left in decay, along with the early Stalinist ones. The infrastructure seems to be developed – in many cities, you will find the metro and an extensive tram network. But you will still be confused – it all goes weird, always out of the center. Why? The main task of the lines was to take people to the factory and then back home. They were supposed to find everything they needed within their housing estate.
However, there are cities where you can’t even talk about any center. Kryvyi Rih is weirdly stretched in all directions. Urbanization proceeded according to where a new source of iron ore was found. Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro meander along the mighty Dnieper River. In Zaporizhzhia, Dnieper was dammed by the megalomaniac constructivist dam, which was once the third-largest in the world. The river is so wide here that you won’t see its opposite bank in poor visibility. The aerial promenades that line it help to escape the concrete grip of the city.
I traveled by old school trains, which drove through the eastern steppes at a snail’s pace. It was cold, and the temperature often dropped below zero. But the ubiquitous hot coffee always saved me. There wasn’t a mile where I wouldn’t come across a kiosk with an Italian espresso machine. I would say that Ukraine is real coffee power.
Accommodation was sometimes a problem. On the Booking, there were places such as “Cozy Hostel,” “American Dream,” “Hostel Paradise.” But in the end, it was often just a flat in an apartment building which was very hard to find. Thanks to a perfect city guide Volodymyr Murashkin I took my best memories from Kryvyi Rih. He had so many interesting stories to tell, and he spoke English very well. What is not a matter of course in Ukraine. This country is simply not for everyone.