Of all the amazing things that Kyiv has to offer, one of the city’s best museums is a compact little venue tucked about in the massive cathedral ‘lavra’ complex on the banks of the Dnieper River. Its compact size is fitting, as it is, after all, a museum of micro-miniature objects. That’s right. The objects aren’t just miniature, they are micro-miniature. Back during the Soviet period a Ukrainian artist named Nikolai Siadristy produced a collection of tiny tiny tiny crafts that can only be viewed under a microscope, including a multi-page book, a chess set, a working clock, a portrait of his mother, and an the fox and prince figures from The Little Prince. There are only about twelve items on display on any given day, but this is actually a good thing, because each item is some intricate and seemingly impossible that you really want to spend time looking at each little thing. To give you an idea of what I mean by intricate, here is an image of the chess set (courtesy of i-kiev), as it appears through the microscope, on the head of a nail:
In short, if you are in Kyiv, I highly recommend a trip to this place. But I will warn you: it can be quite tricky to find. In fact, this was my second attempt to visit the museum. When I tried last summer, armed with both a good map and the address, my journey ended in one epic fail. I ended up overshooting the entrance, walking all the way to the step embankment of the river, and being too tired, achy, and cranky to try again. I was pretty darn disappointed, because the place had been heavily promoted by the landlady I rented a space from the first time I lived in Moscow. A professor of biology, she personally hailed from the city of Evpatoria, in the Crimea, and knew a thing or two about what to do and see in Kyiv. And if she said it once she said it a thousand times, “You have to visit the Museum of the Micro-miniature!!!” In my experience feisty Russian landladies tend to give accurate advice, so I was resolved to try again the next time I was in Kyiv. I mentioned my failure to find the place to my friend S., who has also spent a lot of time traveling in the Former Soviet Union, she said, “Oh. Well. The thing is, it’s inside the Lavra complex. There is no entrance from the street. You buy the ticket at the Lavra ticket booth, but then you actually have to go inside the cathedral complex to find the museum.” Ah-ha! Turns out she was exactly right. Keep this in mind if the idea of the micro-miniature interests you: You buy an entrance ticket at the main Lavra ticket booth. You go inside the complex. And then follow the signs to the Museum, which is tucked away into a rather far corner, so don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. Then, when you do find it, you will need a separate entrance ticket, you buy right at the museum. The tickets themselves, even full-price, are entirely reasonable. But if you have a disability…They let you in for free. I have mentioned the Soviet tendency to offer steeply discounted tickets to ‘invalids’ once or twice in a previous post. Usually, though you are required to present a stamped and signed government issued document attesting to your invalid status and underscoring your invalid category. (There are two categories of “invalids” in the Former Soviet Union. To put it roughly, the second category is reserved for those who can still get around on foot, the first category is for those who rely entirely on wheelchairs. Sometimes a bigger discount is offered to those in the first category.) Obviously, as I am not a post-Soviet citizen, I have no such document. I do however have an I.D. card from Big Post-Soviet University in Moscow. So I got that out, and started counting out the necessary cash, which I was happy to fork over in order to support such a cool and unusual museum. But then, the Ukrainian babushka manning the ticket booth wouldn’t take my money. I tried again, saying “Here is my I.D. from Big Post-Soviet University.” And she grew more emphatic. “No no no no no. Your ticket is free,” she said as she gently guided me into the exhibition hall. Well, okay. Honestly, I always feel awkward in situations like this. The price of a ticket with a university I.D. was ridiculously small. The museum is pretty accessible for someone with walking aids (Wheelchair access, however, would be trickier, though, I think, not impossible.) And clearly the place can use the money for maintenance and hopefully in the future, improved access. I wanted to help support it. But when a babushka is refusing your money and hustling you along toward the display, what can you do? Well. You can thoroughly enjoy the museum, and then buy postcards and pamphlets that illustrate its story. A win win compromise; I now have something truly unique from Kyiv to share with the folks back home. And I supported the museum. Like I said, win win.
After the Museum of the Micro-miniature and a pleasant walk under Kyiv’s famous chestnut trees, I went straight to bed, as I had a ridiculously early train the next morning to the south-eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Ukrainian Railways is now–drum roll–offering a fast train service from Kyiv to Kharkiv (as well as Lviv and Donetsk). Ukraine is not a small country. It is roughly the size of France, and so if you use the old Soviet style trains, which trust me go really really slowly, and do not necessarily provide comfortable or accessible seating, you will be riding, likely in a painful and cramped position, for quite a long time. It is an experience to be sure. But the fast train from Kyiv to Kharkiv? Gets you there in a little over four hours in a reasonably comfortable seat. (Note: It is not quite Deutschebahn or the Russian Sapsan, which was built, like all Deutschebahn trains, by Siemens, but still, it’s good.) And since it’s a day train you have a chance to see something of the Ukrainian countryside and its famous fertile “chernozyom” or black earth. Seriously, they aren’t kidding about that. The earth is so rich and so black in Ukraine, that at times I thought, “Surely this is not simply soil. It must have been the site of a recent fire. It must be burnt?” Not no. Just rich black earth. Here are some images from the journey. Wheat. Corn. And sky.