Persons, places, and things from my favorite district in Kyiv
Free and always open
Month of April, 2017
Photojournalism by Rebekah Welch
Podil, podil, podil. If you ever go to Kyiv, all the Ukrainians you meet will tell you that you have to go to Podil. Once, a particularly pompous Russian professor even went as far as to say “real” Kyivans live in Podil. However, given the fact that I know several “real” Kyivans who are perfectly happy to live in the outskirts, I am going to go say that’s a bit of an unfair generalization. However, I will say, it is probably where you want to live if you’re a hip and happenin’ 28-35 year old (or a know-it-all Russian professor) who likes trendy quirky cafes a la Portlandia, bars with indoor smoking, thrift stores over shopping malls, and thinks the center center of the city is a little too mainstream. That’s right, I’m saying what you think I’m saying. It’s the hipster neighborhood, and I’m not apologizing. I went to Podil, and I went back, and back, and back. I loved it.
Not just for all those hipster things I prattled off, either. Even if you never set foot inside a business, there’s something about Podil that strikes you immediately when you step off the metro at Kontraktova Plosha. It’s truly unique from the rest of the city, in architecture, in layout, in general atmosphere. The very center is scattered with modern skyscrapers, business centers, and western European architecture, the roads are filled with cars and pedestrians alike, horns, selfies, shenanigans and general chaos that I’ve grown to cherish. Where the outskirts are a little calmer, they are still bustling all the day. Speed walking mothers with strollers and toddlers and street venders surround the bases of massive, looming apartment complexes. It’s still business, and still chaos, just a different kind.
Podil, on the other hand, is like you’ve taken a piece of a different city entirely and plopped it in the middle of all this, comfortably nestling it along the banks of the Dnipro. My first trip there was on a Sunday, and, the first thing I noticed was a type of calm and quiet I haven’t seen since I left home. Cars were few and far between, and so were people, at least, comparatively. The people that were out and about weren’t speed walking, they were sauntering. Or they were sitting, maybe even drinking beer. Although the hustle and bustle of the rest of city is isn’t a bad thing, neither is change of pace. Let’s just say to this small town girl, it was refreshing.
It’s not just the overall quiet that makes Podil feel so contrary the rest of Kyiv. There is a distinct lack of skyscrapers, the buildings are old, Soviet, even, but beautiful in that way that old and interesting things are — on these crumbling brick walls, you can see and feel the history behind them. To the curious traveler, there is nothing more appealing. Podil is also the only district of Kyiv that has a tramway, something that the average Metro riding people Kyiv who live outside Podil consider to be quirky and fun, more characteristic to Kyiv’s smaller and less business oriented neighbors, Odessa and Lviv.
Additionally, Podil is home to some of my favorite local Kyivan businesses. Zhitnii Raiinok (Living Market), the massive, less spoke-of and less expensive, but better cousin to the center’s Besarabskii Raiinok, for one, is located not 5 minutes from Kontraktova. At Zhitnii, you can buy literally anything your heart desires, from fresh produce, to a new pair of shoes, to services like repair or tailoring. There’s also a movie theater that occasionally plays Russian language films, called Zhtoven Cinema. There’s also a smattering of adorable little coffee shops on pretty much any street you might chose to go down. Although I was harsh with the aforementioned pompous professor, I believe I understand the spirit of what he meant. If you want to see Kyiv, yes, of course you have to see the center, but, if you really want the whole picture, you have to go to Podil.