As the world reacts to Vladimir Putin's Russian troops moving into Ukraine it occurs to me, not for the first time, what a difference a few years makes.
When I visited Kiev in 2010, the big news then was the opening of the InterContinental Kiev in the historical city center. The beautiful property – new but built to look Old World -- seemed to signal the official kick off of the city as a potential A-list destination.
Other hotels soon followed. Design Hotels unveiled its first Ukraine property in 2012 featuring a contemporary décor – complete with stainless steel ceiling in the lobby – and Starwood announced its intention to develop an Aloft property in the city in 2015.
This sense of excitement about Kiev made perfect sense to me as I wandered around soaking it all in. Everywhere you look, there is something beautiful to see. Churches and cathedrals are clustered throughout the city – our guide told us they were transformed into museums of atheism during Soviet rule, which made me wonder how many such museums any city would want and what on earth could be in them. One of our favorite sites was Pecherska Lavra, a kind of monastery within a cave so chock full of relics that we had to snake our way through the narrow passageways -- although I don't recommend it for claustrophobes, particularly as it's navigable only by candlelight.
Soviet era statues also abound in the city, and I found them arresting and dramatic, if grim of topic. My favorite was the 330-foot-tall Motherland Statue, which overlooks the city with an air both forbidding and awe-inspiring at the same time.
During our stay, we had two 20-something guides – both named Olga – who told us stories of growing up without the freedoms they now took for granted. One recalled receiving her first passport and traveling outside the country for the first time. The other enjoyed taking us to a kitschy restaurant called Spotykach, decorated with Soviet-era knickknacks and serving up retro dishes like potato dumplings and borscht.
Soviet rule seemed so far away to the Olgas in 2010 that they could comfortably laugh about certain aspects of their old life.
While the present crisis in Ukraine doesn't mean the destination won't regain its footing and reclaim its place in the tourism sun, it does give you pause. What a difference a few years makes.