Crossing a street in the UK normally involves traffic lights and a short wait while cars stop to let you go. Sometimes it involves a bridge and some steps. Very rarely, you can cross through a tunnel that goes under the street.
However, in Ukraine, as in other ex-Soviet states – the tunnel rules and a walk in the city almost always involves a trip to the underworld.
To cross a street or road you usually go downstairs, through a dark passage and then back up again. In doing so, you will walk through a dark, cool alley of trade and commerce.
Lets compare. In Oxford, if you wish to pass from the city centre to the train station, you must wait for two sets of traffic lights and walk across a bus station. It’s not very exciting.
In Kyiv. To get from my house on Konstatinovskaya street to the metro station, you will pass under Niznihy Val and in doing so you have the change to buy any of the following products:
- Web cams, Keyboards and computer accessories
- Coffee and novelty teas Household supplies and toiletries
- Pots and pans
- Knickers, tights and pants
- Mobile phones + phone chargers and accessories
- Bread and snacks
- Make-up and cosmetics
- Electronics (radios and batteries etc)
- Novelty cutlery
- Earrings and Jewellery
- Wallets, belts, gloves and shoes
- Stuff for cleaning leather shoes and belts etc
- Pet food
- Pens and stationary
- Sunglasses and umbrellas
- Hunting and fishing knives
- National flags
- Locks and keys
- Kids toys
- Hair dryers and beard trimmers
- traditional costumes
- wooden spoons and boxes
- passport holders
- Pizza and ice cream
- greetings cards and wrapping paper
- Tablecloths and bedsheets
- Theatre tickets
- Chopping boards
- Novelty garden statues
- Novelty plastic bags
- Towels and tea towels
- Kids clothes
- Cossack clubs
- Sexy calendars
It is really quite amazing, and while its easy to pass these little shops without thinking, they are very much part of every day Kyiv life. They even have their own special sweet/damp smell which is unmistakable.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also find some musicians playing for money and a small group of Babushkas (old women) selling fruit, veg and (of course) flowers on the steps.
I was delighted to see that this has been going on since 1989. Look here