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Gems of Ukraine

Written by  Michael Schoenberg

EUROPE Ukraine-cover

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War era the cities of the Ukraine were viewed enigmatically. Ukraine was located on the other side of the Iron Curtain and so it seemed to be off-limits, not just a different political system, but a different world entirely. Yet, for those who dared to delve to dream of visiting the forbidden cities on the other side of the Iron Curtain, they also conjured up images from a previous age...the beauty of legendary opera houses, ancient monasteries, great literature and beautiful parks and the romance of a long ago age.

EUROPE Ukraine-smallIn the light of this background, I eagerly accepted the assignment to visit modern Ukraine and report back. When I told my friends and family that I was going to the Ukraine, the reaction was along the lines of, “What! Are you crazy...they’re at war with Russia!” I tried my best to explain to them that the fighting was confined basically to the Crimea Peninsula and that I would be perfectly safe. Since they were still unconvinced, I directed them toward the U.S. State Department’s Consular Sheet for Ukraine so they could be reassured that I was perfectly safe, and then off I went.
Ukraine is situated in the southeastern part of Central Europe. It borders on Russia, Byelorussia, Moldova, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Poland. Including Crimea, Ukraine has an area of 233,062 square miles making it the largest country entirely within Europe and it has a population of about 42.5 million. Among its many attributes is one of the lowest crime rates in all of Europe.
For this assignment I attached myself to a FAM trip that was organized by Panorama Travel ( The FAM was led quite ably by Panorama’s founder, Irene Sino.
The first city-gem on this trip was the quaint city of Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine and the seventh largest city in the country overall, with a population of around 728,350. This gem of a city should be an easy sell for any agent that markets heritage travel since through its almost 900 years, it has been controlled by the Ukraine, Poland, Germany and even Russia. In Poland the city is known as Lwow and its German name is Lemberg. Other travelers that would be interested in Lviv include those seeking culture, architecture and art, as well as those looking for a European experience at a fraction of the cost of Western European countries.

Lviv is considered the main cultural center in the Ukraine.The historical heart of the city with its old buildings and cobblestone streets that survived Soviet and German occupations during World War II largely unscathed, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1998. Nowadays, the indisputable evidence of the city’s cultural richness is the large number of theatres, concert halls, creative unions, and also the high number of many artistic activities with more than 100 festivals annually, 60 museums, and 10 theatres.
Popular tourist attractions include the Old Town and the Market Square in the city center where the City Hall is situated, as well as the Black House, Armenian Cathedral, the complex of the Dormition Church which is the main Orthodox church in the city, the Korniakt Palace (now part of the Lviv History Museum), the Latin Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, St. George’s Cathedral of the Greek-Catholic Church, the Chapel of the Boim family, the Lviv High Castle on a hill overlooking the center of the city, the Lychakivsky Cemetery and the Svobody Prospekt (Lviv’s central street). Other popular places include Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet and the Potocki Palace. The two most visited tourist attractions are probably Lychakivsky Cemetery and the Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet.

Since its creation in 1787, Lyczakowski Cemetery has been the main cemetery of the city’s intelligentsia, middle and upper classes and as a result, it is the final resting place of some notable people including famous Poles such as the writer Wladyslaw Belza, the poet Seweryn Goszczyriski and architect Zygmunt Gorgolewski. Famous Ukrainians in the cemetery include the poet Ivan Franko, the artist Jacques Hnizdovsky, and the composer Stanyslav Lyudevych.
The Lviv Opera opened on October 4, 1900 and is built in the classical tradition using forms and details of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, also known as the Viennese neo-Renaissance style. The Opera’s imposing facade is opulently decorated with numerous niches, Corinthian columns, pilasters, balustrades, cornices, statues, reliefs and stucco garlands. Standing in niches on either side of the main entrance are allegorical figures representing Comedy and Tragedy. The building is crowned by large bronze statues, symbolizing Glory, Poetry and Music.
The streets of the Old Town, particularly around the Market Square area, are where your clients will find Lviv’s lively nightlife scene. The area is chock-full of restaurants, cafés, bars and nightclubs of all kinds. Whether your clients are looking for traditional Ukrainian food, Polish food or even Sushi, they are sure to find whatever might suit their mood. Lviv is a university town with 12 universities, 8 academies and eight institutes of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine, and more than forty research institutes. The reason this might be important to your clients is because the number of students ensure that the bar and nightclub scene is hopping!

Another Gem
From Lviv, it’s just a short flight via Ukrainian International Airlines ( to Odessa, yet another gem that actually goes by the nickname, “The Pearl of the Black Sea.”
Odessa is the largest city along the entire Black Sea and the 5th largest city in Ukraine, with a population of just over one million people. The origins of the city date back to the 5th century BC when the Greeks established a village at the present site. The city received its current name during the reign of the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, and it was chosen because the Russians mistakenly believed it was the site of the ancient Greek
city Odessos.
While most cities in the Ukraine have a definite Central European look to them, Odessa looks more like a city located on the Mediterranean, having been heavily influenced by French and Italian styles. The city’s famous Arkadia beach has long been a favorite place for relaxation, enjoyed by both the city’s inhabitants and its many visitors. This is a large sandy beach located to the south of the city center. Additionally, Odessa is beautifully situated on green rolling hills, overlooking a small picturesque harbor. The best time to visit Odessa is during summer, when everything is in bloom and absolutely beautiful.
Through the centuries, Odessa has been defined by a spirit of freedom, probably gifted to her by her location and her ability to accept many different people. The city has a wide variety of people including Ukrainian, Russian, Moldavian, Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, Caucasian, Jewish, Turkish and Vietnamese.
For architecture fans, this city is a feast for the eyes, boasting various architectural styles. Some buildings display a marvelous mixture of different styles, and examples of Art Nouveau, Renaissance and Classicist styles
surround you.

Of particular note are the two most iconic structures in Odessa. The Odessa National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet was constructed by Fellner & Helmer in a neo-baroque style and opened in 1887. The architecture of the luxurious audience hall follows the late French rococo style. This over-the-top ornate concert hall also features some of the world’s best acoustics, as a mere whisper anywhere on stage can be heard throughout the
concert hall.
The city’s most iconic symbol are the Potemkin Steps (Primorsky Stairs), located at the old harbor. This unique staircase conjures an illusion so that those at the top only see a series of large steps, while at the bottom all the steps appear to merge into one pyramid-shaped mass. The original 200 steps (now reduced to 192) were designed by Italian architect Francesco Boffo and built between 1837 and 1841. The steps were made famous by Sergei Eisenstein in his film, The Battleship Potemkin.
While both Lviv and Odessa are undiscovered gems, they aren’t priced as rare gemstones. Both cities offer many 4 and 5 star hotels that have rack rates between $50 and $100 per night. While western hotel chains have not yet invaded this market, both cities boast hotels that are of a very high quality; equal or better than most found in Western Europe. Food and drink is also just a fraction of what your clients would spend in a Western European destination.
Getting your clients to Ukraine is a breeze, as Turkish Airlines ( offers an easy one-plane-change connection service to six cities in the Ukraine from nine North American gateways, via their Istanbul hub. In the event of a long layover at Istanbul airport, a free day tour of Istanbul’s most important tourist sites is available. Additionally, Ukrainian International Airlines ( offers non-stop service from New York’s JFK airport to Kiev, where they offer connections to nine Ukrainian cities.