Kyiv is one of Europe's most beautiful cities. Built on the banks of the Dnipro (Dnieper) River, the city abounds in parks, open spaces, historical buildings, ornate Orthodox churches and streets lined with chestnut trees. It is the capital of Ukraine as well as the country's business and cultural center.
The roots of Kyiv – Київ in Ukrainian and Киев in Russian – reach back more than a thousand years. Although first settled in the 6th and 7th centuries, Kyiv's present-day identity can be traced to 860 when it was taken over by invading Vikings (Varangians) who made it the center of the East Slavic state of Kievan Rus. In 988, Volodymyr I (Vladimir I) accepted Christianity and founded the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Kyiv became an important religious center. The Viking invasion was followed by many others over the centuries. The Mongol armies of Batu Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan) sacked and destroyed the city in 1240. A century later, Kyiv came under Lithuanian rule. In 1482 the city was invaded by Crimean Tatars, and in 1569 it became part of Poland. In 1686 Kyiv was annexed by the Russian Empire. In the 20th century, Kiev saw fierce fighting in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in 1917. During the rule of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, many of Kyiv's landmark churches were intentionally razed and during World War II some 40% of the city was destroyed by occupying German forces and by the Soviet army that eventually routed the Nazis.
After World War II (known as the "Great Patriotic War" in Ukraine), the center of Kyiv was rebuilt and further rebuilding – especially of churches and Independence Square – began after Ukraine declared independence in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The city's main boulevard, Khreshchatyk Street, today is a grand, tree-lined avenue that is closed to traffic on weekends and makes for an excellent place to stroll, people watch and shop. At one end of Khreshchatyk Street is Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), a broad open space that is a favorite gathering place for residents and visitors alike. Under Independence Square is a modern shopping mall. At the other end of the pedestrian area in Besarabian Square is the lively Besarabskyy Rynok, an indoor bazaar stocked high with all types of fresh food, flowers and other products.
Among the main attractions in Kyiv are the many Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches. With their golden domes and ornately decorated exteriors (and interiors) these churches are quite different from those in western Europe. For a view, check out the separate page: Churches of Kyiv.