So, after a gap of 10 years, I am once again in the Ukrainian capital. A lot has changed, but a lot has also stayed the same. And that tension reminds me so much of returning to Belfast in 2005/6.

But let’s focus on this city for the moment.

One of the first things I notice is the insistence on the ‘new’ spelling of Ukraine’s capital. In actual fact the government of Ukraine adopted the Ukrainian spelling Kyiv in 1995, but last time I was here it didn’t seem such a big deal to continue to use the Russian “Kiev”. Now it seems rude and ignorant. And “Kyiv” is pronounced differently, more like “Kieeve”.

A city with two names, where have I come across that before??

And that duality continues. Kreschatyk, the main shopping street through the city centre, is still as impressive. The same elaborate lofty neo-classical apartment buildings rub shoulders with modernist Soviet post-war slabs, like the department store TSUM.

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Further along is Maidan Square (pronounced My-dan), where modern Ukraine was created during the 2014 revolution. In case anyone forgets that momentous time, the independence monument soars into the sky here, a 20-foot victory column topped with a gold female figure holding a branch of Guelder Rose, a plant with much significance in Ukrainian folklore.IMG_1994

Turn your back on the monument and look the other way, and you see an array of Soviet style buildings and hotels. But any confusion as to which decade you are in is soon dispelled by the sight of the McDonalds sign on one of them.

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Stroll back along Kreschatyk and you’ll see the same homogenised range of shops apparent in most international cities – here is a Mango, a Benetton, and a Zara. But the two-story store I’ve just bought the most beautiful coat from boasts that all its stock is designed and made here in Ukraine.IMG_2018

Many local people, especially the young, speak excellent English. But, despite the continuing war with Russia, there is also no antagonism towards using Russian, as I do, getting by with my five phrases!

So, different but the same? In some ways it feels that Kyiv has managed to preserve some of what was unique and distinctive, while still allowing modernity to flourish.