Book ahead to visit these government masterpieces

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Oct. 7, 2011, 12:22 a.m. | About Kyiv — by Yuriy Onyshkiv

Ukrainian parliament is never a dull place. Anti-NATO balloons decorated the session hall in February 2008 when the Party of Region protested against pro-NATO legislation.

Yuriy Onyshkiv

The Mariyinsky Palace's design could become one of Kyiv's major attractions if presidents didn't hog it for their own parties. ( tours of government places in the West, such as the White House in the United States or the Bundestag in Germany are popular with tourists, such excursions are less common in Kyiv. Ukraine’s capital has a lot to offer to those yearning for an insider’s look into the corridors of power. But in order to visit those tightly guarded places, you need a passport or other ID and order a tour in advance.

Verkhovna Rada

If you decide to visit Ukraine’s parliament, you will not only have a chance to spot local politicians performing for TV cameras, but will also learn how the building survived World War II.

Erected months before the war broke out, its marble columns with ornate Corinthian capitals decorate the main hall. Flowing grand staircases, immense windows and gilded chandeliers, it is hard to believe that this house was built for the ever-modest Communist Party.

The furniture and interior decorations boast precious wood, plated metal, brass, bronze, colored glass, wood and plaster carvings and mosaic. Admiring this beauty, prepare for a lecture on the history of Ukraine’s parliamentary system. If you convince your guide to visit the deputies’ cafeteria, order a sandwich with caviar and coffee with cognac (very cheap) – a staple snack for many parliamentarians.

To get inside this stronghold, around which a high metal fence has been erected to protect against protesters, a person must file a written request at least two weeks ahead of the planned visit. The group tours usually run for 20-35 people. To get a private tour, you must be a VIP.

Location: 5 Hryshevskoho St.
Duration: 1 hour
Days: Weekdays, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Admission: Free
Languages: Ukrainian
To apply, call 255-2543 or email at or

The Mariyinsky Palace's design could become one of Kyiv's major attractions if presidents didn't hog it for their own parties. (

Mariyinsky Palace

Located next to the parliament, this sprawling blue palace is a masterpiece of classic baroque architecture. Built in 1744 on the orders of Empress Elizabeth, it was a residence of the Russian tsars. After a series of fires, it underwent serious reconstruction in the 19th century and was named after Empress Mariya, hence its current name – Mariyinsky.

After the Bolshevik Revolution, it hosted military headquarters, a farm school and a museum.

During President Viktor Yushchenko’s tenure it was used for gala events and foreign receptions.

Now, it is surrounded by an ugly green fence. It has been on reconstruction for a couple of years already. When it will be completed could be a good question to ask President Viktor Yanukovych when he finishes work on the nearby helicopter pad.

Many legends surround this unique Gorodetskogo building designed as a residential house in early 20th century. (Yaroslav Debelyi)

House with Chimeras

The pearl of Kyiv architecture, the House with Chimeras in front of the Presidential Administration, is a stunner from whatever angle you look. With gargoyles, lions, whales and scores of other animals and mystical creatures hanging on the roof and propping the basement, the house was built by famous architect Vladyslav Gorodetsky.

A successful entrepreneur, he loved hunting so much he decorated every inch of his house with “wild” scenes: White bats made of plaster guard the staircase, bronze horns clasp lamps, and plaster garlands of flowers climb the ceilings.

Gorodetsky didn’t keep all that design genius to himself, letting half of the house to different tenants in the 1900s. Ukrainian presidents are not as generous as the architect and keep the house mostly for themselves to impress foreign guests, allowing tourists to wander these premises only once a week.

The tour is organized by the History of Kyiv Museum, but the tickets have already been sold out until the end of the year. So make sure to call now to be able to visit it in January.

Location: 10 Bankova St.

Duration: 45 min

Days: Saturdays only

Admission: From Hr 75

Languages: Ukrainian, Russian, English

For details, call 207-1244, 207-1255

A whale with a woman's head surrounded by the frogs sits atop the House with Chimeras. (

Cabinet of Ministers

Just like getting inside parliament, visiting the seat of Ukraine’s government will take some time and effort.

The monumental Stalinist building was erected in the 1940s for the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, which explains its menacing facades and confusing interiors with a maze of passages.

During the excursion, you will see the Cabinet’s meeting rooms and will also have a chance to peep into any ministers’ or vice ministers’ offices.

No chance to go for a chat with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov though. His workplace is off limits.

To book the tour, send a written request to the Cabinet’s communications department or to the head of the Cabinet’s secretariat.

The advantage of this excursion is that the program will be catered to your (reasonable) requests, so there’s no strict time line or a program.

Location: 12/2 Hryshevskoho St
Duration: Flexible
Days: Working days
Admission: Free
Languages: Ukrainian, Russian and many European languages
For details, call 256-7812,

The National Bank of Ukraine is a gorgeous pink palazzo housing this country’s most important bankers. (Yaroslav Debelyi)

National Bank of Ukraine

When you first learn that this ornate, Italian-style pink palazzo in the center of Kyiv belongs to the National Bank of Ukraine, it seems rather unfair. How great it would have been to have an arts museum inside these exquisite walls?

To be fair, though, the building was conceived to be a bank from the very beginning in the 1900s. Marble columns, emblems of trade and mythical lions with eagles’ heads and wings (gryphons) – antique guardians of gold – adorn the bankers’ stronghold.

The interiors host more statues of antique gods, which you may admire booking one of the two excursions on offer.

You may either sign up to see a treasury or a money museum. To see both, in Ukraine’s best tradition of bureaucracy you’ll have to file two separate written requests. Ancient weaponry, coins, plates, dishes and precious minerals are on display in the treasury.

In the money museum, which opened its vaults only six years ago, apart from different coins on display, you’ll hear a brief history of money starting from the Stone Age until now.
Getting inside is no easy task.

A group of seven to 20 visitors must be delegated by their company, which should send the request with their passport details to the bank on their official letterhead. It is also advised to book the tour two months in advance, as there is a waiting list.

Location: 9 Instytutska St.
Duration: 1.5 hour
Days: Wednesdays and Fridays after 2 p.m.
Admission: Free
Languages: Ukrainian, Russian
For details, call 253-0175,
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