Klitschko’s Kiev

Vitali Klitschko

The former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion is now Mayor of the Ukrainian capital, and tells us why we should come.

Kyiv, as it is locally spelled, (pronounced Keev or Ky-eev), is the capital of Ukraine, a country with an air of mystery that has been fought over for centuries, and is being, sadly, partly fought over now.

Ukraine actually sits in the geographic center of Europe, making it a meld of East meets West. Finding its independence from the Soviet Union less than 30 years ago, it’s also still a fledgling country, again. Soviet monuments and buildings dwell alongside those left behind from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, amongst others who once occupied great swathes of the country.

It’s the second largest country in Europe, although still not quite as large as Texas, and has a population around 44 million. It also has the second highest mountain range on the continent, the Carpathians, and a sizeable grain export sees it referred to as the breadbasket of Europe.

Kyiv is located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River and was founded 1500 years ago.

To find out more about this special, storied place I spoke with the extremely charismatic, doctorate holding, six-time World Champion boxer Vitali Klitschko, who hung up his gloves in 2013 to become the Mayor of Kyiv.

What are you working on as Mayor of Kyiv?

I am fighting now for my city. To make people happy. We have many projects: medicine, education, transportation infrastructure and touristic infrastructure. Many different plans. We have four million citizens and are one of the largest cities in Eastern Europe. All changes happening in Ukraine come from the heart of our country, in Kyiv.

The mayor’s office has just had a grand opening with new buildings with touch screens, with information for every citizen. It’s very modern, interactive, very friendly for everyone who comes to the mayor’s office.

Is it safe to travel to Ukraine?

Yes actually it’s safe to go to Ukraine. Everything that happens happens east of Ukraine, 700 km east of Kyiv, in the port of Russian federation. It’s the Russian media right now who deliver information regarding Ukraine. It’s nationalists, fascists, radicals.

I talked to my relatives in Russia and the Russians are swamped in propaganda. Ukrainians are very friendly people. It’s the goal of Russia to destabilize the whole situation in Ukraine.

But everyone who comes to Kyiv will be very happy.

How did you transition from boxer to Mayor?

Many people know me as a former sportsman — not so many people know that my first job was as a guide. I make excursions for the people. Three years long I work as a guide and make my first money. I know Kyiv, I know Ukraine very well. I am very happy to represent Kyiv.

I see that people come to Ukraine afraid, and wonder what’s going on as they have pictures from TV screen, but they leave Kyiv very happy. They are very surprised that it’s a European city with European culture, there are very friendly people who live here, and we are very happy. I am very happy as mayor.

I’m happy because the number of tourists coming from outside the country is going up, for example in 2015 one million visitors, and 2018 close to three million visitors from outside the country visit just Kyiv.

Do you feel you are Eastern Europe meets west?

Yes, we are at the center, we connect south and east and north and west. Our international airport, Boryspil in 2018 saw almost 12 million passengers, one of the largest numbers of Eastern Europe.

For everyone who is interested to invest in the city I am very happy. Sixty percent of investment in Ukraine last year was in the capital. And yes of course I have touristic skills and that’s why I invest so much money to make our city much more attractive for everyone who comes, because we have beautiful treasure from our architecture, from our history, from nature, we have a big river, a lot of islands. It’s a very green city.

We have almost 300 parks and we have a lot of squares and sometimes in the park you feel like you’re not in the big city but deep in the forest.

What are your favorite things to do in Kyiv?

It depends what you want to see. If you want to see architecture, the history of the city, Kyiv is more than 1500 years old. We have a lot of old old buildings. You can go to the Lavra — go underground and see where the monks lived many hundreds of years ago, which is very exciting. We are Greek Orthodox.

We have the largest sports park in Europe, with wakeboarding, surfing, canoeing, everything that you want.

In the middle of the city we drive on bicycles through the parks, more than 50 km of trails, and coming back to the middle of the city, people are very surprised, they tell me not every city has this much space for traveling on bicycle. We have off roads, cross-country roads, a lot of things.

On the river we have a lot of beautiful islands. It’s interesting traveling by boat on the Dnieper, many different directions if you try to take the time. We have many hotels from one to five stars. My brother Wladimir Klitschko [also a former heavyweight world champion boxer] also is involved in the hotel business. He has a boutique hotel.

We have a pretty hot summer, sometimes over 30 degree C, [that’s 86 F to save you looking it up] and winter 20 to -30 degrees C [that’s -22F as a low, which, to be obvious, is very low]. In the summer there are many kite-surfers on our river, and snowkiting in winter.

Which is your favorite month in Kyiv?

I love great, golden October. I also love springtime so much. In Kyiv it’s so beautiful.

What’s your favorite Ukrainian dish?

Borscht – everyone loves so much!

We have different kinds: red borscht, green borscht, and Ukrainian dumplings with different things inside, curry, potato, different, different stuff, it’s difficult to explain, you have to try it. I am sorry, I am not cook.

What is your favorite restaurant in Kyiv?

The city hotels have great restaurants on top of the roof with great views around the city and we have a very interesting national restaurant of typical Ukrainian food: Tsarske Selo.

Do you personally feel as if you have to balance the west and the east, because your parents are both Russian and Ukrainian and you’re stuck in between those two flavors of commonwealth?

It’s not about East and West, it’s not about Ukraine or Russia, it’s a question about values. It’s a question of the future of our country. We see Ukraine as part of the European family, with a European family quality of life, with rules, with human rights.

I spent a lot of time in Germany, also in the United States and I know what I am talking about and also, I am from the Soviet Union. The question is that Russia wants to rebuild the Russian empire again and want to put a part of the Russian empire in Ukraine. We were in the USSR and we don’t want to go back to the USSR.

And not a question of nationality, not a question of language, not a question of religion, a question of where we will be in the future. I don’t see our future as part of a big empire, I see our future as a part of the European family.

What is the future of Kyiv? ...

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