Kievskaya: Seedy, Soviet, and Loaded
Text and photos by Katrina Marie
The environs enveloping Kievskaya Metro station bring to mind swarming markets, high-end shopping, and the seamy underworld known to all major train stations. But the district of Dorogomilovo (район Дорогомилово) was born centuries ago, being first mentioned in the annals in the 14th century. Once the patriarch’s fishing village, it witnessed the march of the Russian Army to meet Napoleon, and then Hitler. Later it grew to become the most affluent neighborhood in Soviet Moscow.
This suggested outing guides you through this historically fascinating district, beginning with the Kievskaya Metro station.
Perpetually teeming with heavily laden travelers and shoppers, it may be necessary to wrestle one’s way through the crowd for a closer glimpse of the colorful mosaic panels inside the station. Ukrainian motifs are present throughout. Built in 1954, the station is a classic example of the “museum” showpiece that marks the Metro’s best stations. The gorgeous gilding and high arches add a rich extravagance to this aged beauty.
Follow signs toward Kievsky Vokzal (train station) and head up two sets of escalators, traversing a round vestibule decorated with scenes of glittering Ukrainian folk life, set in colors of deep red, white and gold.
“Sveti, rosi… sveti, rosi…” Like an Amazon mating call, the sing-song echoes from one toothless peddler to the next upon exiting the Metro station, just adjacent to Moscow’s renowned flower market and opposite the popular Yevropeiski Mall.
This site was once home to Moscow’s second largest cathedral (after Christ the Savior). Built between 1898-1910, the Dorogomilovo Cathedral, like the cathedral of Christ the Savior, was neo-Byzantine in style and featured a dominant single dome. After the Revolution, the church’s gold and silver were seized, leading to the Dorogomilovo Riot of 1922. The cathedral was subsequently closed and destroyed in 1938.
Head toward the train station. Arguably one of Moscow’s most captivating, Kievsky Vokzal bears a seductive, almost mystical air for those enigmatic destinations once behind the Iron Curtain: Kiev, Bucharest, Prague, Sofiya, amongst others. Indeed, Hollywood sought to capitalize on this element in the film “The Bourne Supremacy”. A sign of the times, Kievsky also now serves the modern Aeroexpress to Vnukovo International Airport.
The station was designed by notable Russian architects E.M. Shukov and Ivan Rerberg and was built between 1914 and 1918. It is particularly notable for its impressive clock tower and modernist arched glass roof suspended above the rail tracks.
Surrounding the station is the somewhat shady Square of Europe, dominated by a circle of flags of the European Union and Commonwealth of Independent States. A modernist sculpture of twisted steel sits upon a ringed tier of fountains.
Walk toward the Crystal Bridge at right, which connects Dorogomilovo to Krasnaya Presnya and is an optimal point for area orientation. The bridge offers superb views of Moscow’s riverfront and the dominant Hotel Ukraina (now the newly renovated 5-star Radisson Royal)—one of the Stalinist “ Seven Sisters” buildings, which we’ll visit next.
Depart the bridge, passing through the square and toward the intersection of Yevropeisky Mall and Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya street. Cross the street, turn left, and then right onto Ukrainsky Boulevard, which leads to Kutuzovsky Prospekt via a charming tree-lined park.
The “old Smolensk road”, now Kutuzovsky Prospekt, witnessed the 1812 march of Field Marshal Kutuzov’s soldiers to the Battle at Borodino (as well as their subsequent retreat). As with much of Moscow in 1812, Napoleon’s soldiers entered a district of fire, passing neighborhood upon neighborhood burnt to the ground as the Russians withdrew.
During World War II, troops again marched along this route to battle Hitler’s invading forces. Under Khrushchev, the area underwent a massive renovation and became one of the most exalted neighborhoods in Soviet times—home to renowned scientists, foreign diplomats, and much of the Soviet leadership (including Brezhnev and Andropov).
At Kutuzovsky Prospekt, turn right and walk toward the gargantuan Stalinist building which is now the Radisson Hotel.
Designed by distinguished Soviet architects and built in 1957, this is the second tallest of the “Seven Sisters”, standing at nearly 200 meters. Occupied by the Hotel Ukraine, it was one of the tallest and largest hotels in the world. In 2007, the Hotel Ukraine closed for renovations, reopening as the Radisson Royal in 2010 (though is also still known by its original name). During the multi-year renovation, the building’s external façade was refurbished, as were the 500-plus guest rooms and apartments.
The lavishly decorated hotel features more than 1,000 original paintings and sculptures by prominent Russian and Soviet artists, in addition to a must-see diorama of Moscow on the first floor. For a bird’s eye view of the city, check out one of the several dining options on the 30th (and higher) floors. And for a real splurge, Ginza Project has opened the restaurant Romantik, large enough only for two, at the tallest (and smallest) point of the hotel. Encased in windows all around, this is truly the pinnacle.
Return to Kutuzovsky Prospekt and turn right, walking parallel to the river in the direction of a visible obelisk dedicated to fallen soldiers. At No 12 is the Badayev Brewery, in operation since 1875. While industrialization of the Dorogomilovo District was slow due to frequent flooding, the brewery was set on a slight hill which allowed some relief. During the torrential flooding of 1879, brewery workers floated to safety on beer barrels.
Walk to the obelisk on the square of Dorogomilovskoi Zastavy, which marks the mass grave of 300 soldiers killed in the War of 1812. This area was formerly one of Moscow’s largest cemeteries: a burial ground for plague victims of the 1700s, soldiers who died at Borodino, and it incorporated a prominent Jewish cemetery. In the 1930s, the city forced the reburial of remains to parts elsewhere, including famous Russian landscape painter Isaac Levitan (who is now buried at Novodevichy Cemetery).
In several stages, the city embarked on a massive redesign of the area, particularly Kutuzovsky Prospekt and the embankments. In the nineteenth century, a rather poor peasant region of Moscow with squalid taverns and a plethora of undertakers and cross makers, its wooden shacks and dilapidated housing gave way ultimately to colossal Soviet block construction.
Return to Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya ulitsa and turn right onto Mozhaiskiy Val street, where a brief stop at the Indian spice market and the Kristal vodka and liqueur shop is highly recommended—don’t miss the amaretto-esque (but better) “Kris” at Kristal.
At the junction of Mozhaisky Val and Platovskaya / Bryanskaya ulitsa, turn right to enter the popular Dorogomilovskiy Market. Get ready for sensory overload. Crowded in by fellow shoppers and aggressive cart pushers, early weekend mornings are best to avoid the horde. The market offers a magnificent array of exotic and regional produce, lamb direct from the Caucasus, Armenian potatoes, Georgian sulguni cheese, Caspian caviar, and so on. While bargaining is usually a must, prices can be very reasonable. And, as you wll understand from the frequent sound of axes hacking into animal carcasses, the food is quite fresh.
From market to mall to flowers, at this point, it’s highly likely you will have joined the multitude of loaded shoppers. Kievskaya Metro conveniently lies just moments away.