If you want to see a different side to Kiev, then you could do a lot worse than visiting the subterranean world below your feet.
We came across the urban exploration guided tours on TripAdvisor and arranged to meet our guide, Vlad, at Dnipro metro station, which is only a couple of stops from Maidan square in the city centre.
Vlad took us up a track into some woodland to his ‘office’ and gave us a short introduction to urban exploration. He provided gloves, torches and soviet gum boots for us to use for our trip below the city.
We entered the Nikolskaya drainage system through a man hole near to Dnipro station, where only a few minutes earlier there had been a policeman sitting on a deck chair. According to Vlad, there are no laws in Ukraine which prohibit people from doing these kinds of activities, so it wouldn’t have really mattered if he had seen us.
It is thought that the Nikolskaya drainage system was designed by engineer and Imperial Russian Army General, Eduard Totleben, with the main construction happening in 1916, thirty-two years after his death.
After descending the short ladder, we were directed along a meter high, narrow tunnel, into a small chamber to wait for Vlad whilst he replaced the man hole cover. There were two further routes out of the chamber: a wide tunnel and a 50cm hole, up a small ladder, past a creepy looking stuffed toy sat on a ledge. Of course, we took the small hole.
High humidity combined with the exertion of stooping along 1.6m high tunnels meant that it soon got very hot and as a fan of Stephen King’s IT, I felt like we too were on an expedition to fight an evil clown.
Our first stop was at a place called the King’s Well, which is a completely subterranean well, 20 meters high and 6 meters wide. Standing at the bottom of the well it always rains because pipes at the top, drain water from the Askoldova and other systems into Nikolskaya.
As we descended deeper into the system, Vlad led us into another chamber where we were instructed to turn off our lights and sit quietly. No natural light reaches this far into the tunnels and the darkness is absolute. After a few minutes of sitting in the dark, your brain starts to create false images and sounds. We could make out the faint silhouettes of people walking past and the sound of women laughing and chatting coming from down the tunnel. Of course, there were no silhouettes because there was no light and the laughter is just your brain trying to make sense of losing one of its most important senses. The laughter, it turned out, was nothing more than the sound of constant raining in the King’s Well, echoing and distorting in the tunnels.
We continued deeper into the drain system until we came to a point where the tunnel continued vertically. Vlad went ahead to slow the flow of water that cascaded from above. When we had the all clear, we climbed the 10-meter rusting ladder into the tunnel above. After a short walk, the tunnel abruptly ended in a deep drop. Peering over the slippery edge, the hole plunged down into another tunnel far below. We had no choice but to backtrack and descend the rusty ladder again.
As we continued, the tunnels became narrower and through one section we crawled over a huge bed of cave pearls. The pearls aren’t actually pearls, but loose, small, spherical, whitish stones than have grown through years of mineral deposition, much like how stalactites form.
After an hour and a half underground, we returned to the surface via another man hole and popped up next to a motorway. Still reeling from our subterranean trip, Vlad suggested that we finish the day by getting the metro to another part of the city and having some beers on the roof of an abandoned building.
The metro in Kiev is pretty confusing unless you can speak Ukrainian, but it’s an incredibly cheap way to get around. A single journey costs around 10p thanks to the Soviets. Along with education for all, they championed for cheap travel.
When passing through metro stations, keep an eye out for a huge metal strip that runs across the floor, the walls and the ceiling. The strip in in fact a solid metal door that can be closed and sealed even to this day. It is a remnant of Ukraine’s Soviet past, where the threat of nuclear war meant that at the flick of a switch the metro stations could be turned into fallout shelters. Even the sections of tunnel between stations can be closed off and Vlad informed us that if you were to walk along the track you would see toilet blocks that would ordinarily be inaccessible.
We headed to the abandoned building, which was intended to be a medical centre until government corruption and the stealing of funds meant that construction was stopped. It was a tall, shell of a building, with a single concrete staircase that wound up to the roof, where we ended a fantastic day with beers and a sunset over the city.
Vlad’s urban exploration tours are perfect for beginners and old hands alike. What he doesn’t know about urban exploration isn’t worth knowing and he can give you information about sites all over the world. You can book tours with his company here