Chernivtsi, or the Ukrainian Paris as you’ll hear people call it from time to time, can be easily reached by train. Travel from Kyiv will take approximately 14 hours. While it does seem like a long trip, you are immediately rewarded the moment you step onto the platform, as this city is a masterpiece in architectural diversity, with highly cultural and well-educated inhabitants who are more than happy to tell you about their hometown. Thanks to its cosy little area, you won’t even need any public transport – all of the historical attractions are easy to reach on foot.
The Cradle of Western Ukraine
Remnants of Trypilskan culture demonstrate that people inhabited this territory as early as 6 – 3 thousand years B.C. Various legends say that in the 12th century, King Yaroslav Osmomysl founded a city on the banks of the river Prut, and because of its black wooden walls, people soon started call the area Chern or Chorniy Horod (Black City).
Its first official mention is actually found in chronicles that date back to 1408. Suffering invasions, attacks, and raids from the Poles, the Moldovans, the Turks and the Tatars, it would take another 300 years before the city actually began to prosper. Unfortunately, it became a thoroughfare for Hetmans Bohdan Khmelnitsky and Ivan Mazepa and their troops, as well as for soldiers of the Russian Empire, which negatively influenced the city’s development.
In 1775, the Austrian Empire took advantage of the Russian-Turkish War and annexed the territory and small 1,200 population living there. With a new flow of foreigners, its economy and culture flourished, and soon became the centre of the Bukovyna region. After the Austrian revolution of 1848-1849, Chernivtsi and the whole of Bukovyna became an autonomic region, leading to rivalries between Ukrainian and Romanian ethnic groups. This ethnic diversity was not a bad thing, however, as education surged forward, introducing many new schools teaching both Ukrainian and German.
With the end of WWI, the region was given to Romania, regardless of the fact that their citizens wanted to belong to the Ukrainian National Republic. Becoming a powerful industrial centre in the 20s and 30s, Chernivtsi possessed great influence in the region, and everyone wanted a piece. Taken over by the Bolsheviks during WWII, it would remain under Soviet ownership until the early 90s.
Today, Chernivtsi is a rather provincial little town, with well developed infrastructure and landmarks that attract thousands of tourists every year.
Diversity in Everything
Chernivtsi is very proud of its poly-ethnic community, with residents boasting Russian, Romanian, Moldovan, Polish, Belorussian and of course Ukrainian roots. The architecture found here bursts with influences from other countries and other times. Built in 1875, the pearl of the city has to be the former Residence of the Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans. Converted into the Chernivtsi National University, the building was adopted onto the UNESCO World Heritage just last year.
This city is made for walking tours, which you will quickly learn as soon as you arrive. Head to the main square, where you’ll find City Council and a monument to Taras Shevchenko side-by-side. With the pavement decorated in charming coats of arms of neighbouring cities, the narrow streets of Chernivtsi also add to the city’s unique charm. Compared to those of Paris and Prague, they create a fabulous European atmosphere, what with all of the boutiques and cafés from which to choose. Just make your way to Olhy Kobylyanskoi Street – it’s the perfect place to enjoy a lazy afternoon. Of course, no one wants to spend the whole day surrounded by concrete walls, so if ever you feel the need to put a pause on your city centre sightseeing, head to their 182-year-old Central Park.
Having done the whole 408km trek from Kyiv, make sure you visit the Khotyn and Kamyanets-Podilska Fortresses, very easily accessible by bus. With a set daily schedule, taking tourists to and from the old citadels, the three hours it takes to get there and back will just fly by.