Kilikia beer and lahmajoun. In Kiev? When I thought of my upcoming visit to Kiev, I thought of bristling revolution in Maidan Square and the tragedy of MH 370. I didn’t realize I would be whiling away my afternoons chatting away with Armenians, slurping Armenian coffee, and snacking on hummus with hot pita.
Founded in 482 A.D., Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, straddles the Dnieper River. This cosmopolitan city numbers 3 million souls. The country was previously part of the Soviet Union until its independence in 1991, the same as Armenia. Ukraine has been the site of several revolutions in the recent past, including the Orange and EuroMaidan Revolution. Currently, there is a struggle over whether Ukraine will be part of Europe or revert to being a Soviet satellite.
As a tourist there is much to feast your eyes upon. And with all the negative press centered on Ukraine, it is a great place to visit while escaping the crowds of other European capitals. One of your first visits should be Maidan Square. This grand and historic square is a great place to see the former vestiges of Soviet architecture and to people-watch while eating an ice cream cone.
Another required stop should be the Kiev Pechersk Lavra. This UNESCO church and monastery was founded in 1077 and is considered one of the holiest places in all of the former Soviet Union.
Kiev is great to explore with its extensive metro or simply on foot. During one of my discovery missions on foot, I slyly smiled to myself as I spied a sign for Kotayk beer—an Armenian beer I had consumed one too many times in the cafes of Yerevan. I then noted the name of the restaurant, La Majo. I knew I had discovered a slice of Armenia.
I poked my head into the compact restaurant. “Parev dzez,” I confidently stated. I was met by a furrowed brow and then a quick smile. I had just met the owner of La Majo, Garik Avetisyan. Garik is a Hayastantsi native who settled in Kiev and founded La Majo. He is pleased to bring a taste of Armenia to Kiev. After spending several days at his restaurant, whether for a meal or a snack, I realized that it served as a local club house for Armenians. I met Armenian priests from Odessa, Armenian businessman via Miami, and randomly an Armenian friend of mine who happened to be passing through from Yerevan. Garik is an incredibly hospitable and generous host and added to my pleasant stay in Kiev.
In fact, Garik insisted on bringing me around the city with his head chef, Simon Gabriel. Simon, an Armenian from Aleppo, met up with Garik in Yerevan. Simon joined Garik after he started his restaurant in Kiev. After visiting some of the highlights of Kiev, we drifted to the outskirts of the city. The highlight of the day culminated with a visit to what will be the largest Armenian church in Kiev.
Garik explained that Kiev has a small but active Armenian community. The community hosts gatherings, more recently a concert and memorial to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the genocide. A proactive Armenian ambassador helps organize the community. This beautiful church, when finished, will serve as an anchor for the community.
I have repeatedly been favored by serendipitous meetings with Armenians throughout the world. Kiev did not prove to be an exception.