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26 September, 2012  ▪  Vladyslav Vozniuk

Thrill Seekers Find Adventure In Ukrainian Cities

Extreme city tours reveal a different Kyiv
Gallery: Urban Exploration (photos: 28)

Urban explorers have found a unique alternative to the routine of housework and peaceful beer sipping in pubs. Their hobby is a radical kind of city tour. They might climb a 136 metre high bridge over the Dnipro, descend into metro tunnels or discover an abandoned bunker – all within their own city.

UNDERGROUND WATERS

The bigger the city, the more exciting its sites, such as abandoned houses and labyrinths of old courtyards. Most of the extreme tourists who enjoy this sort of exploration are photographers. In pursuit of a unique shot, they forget their fear and end up in places that very few people have the privilege of seeing. Some view this as a great way to relax, admire urban beauty or plunge into extreme adventures without even leaving the city. Once the urban explorer emerges from the city’s depths, he or she can be at home taking a warm shower within less than an hour.  

The hobby can reveals new horizons within cities that seem so familiar. Few Kyivites know that their city has nearly 60 underground rivers mentioned in ancient chronicles. Long ago, the place that now hosts a modern megalopolis had been home to wooded hills with deep ravines where small rivers and streams ran. As the city grew and expanded, the clear waters turned into sewage channels completely concealed under concrete. These modifications were made a long time ago, so the underground reservoir tunnels often have interesting old designs or carefully built brick walls. The most attractive underground rivers are Klov, Hlybochytsia and Nevodnychi. Klov, Khreshchatyk and the rapid Klovytsia run into a single river called Prozorivsky. The Khreshchatyk stream runs in an old brick tunnel under Kyiv’s central street. Construction of the tunnel was launched in 1888. Until then, the place that would once host the central street was often flooded during heavy summer rains. According to some sources, people and horses even drowned there.

The names of the Verkhniy and Nyzhniy Val streets (Upper and Lower Wall) come from the earthen retaining walls built along the Hlybochytsia river (the Deep River) that now runs beneath the centre of the boulevard. Hlybochytsia was straightened in the early 19th century and later hidden under asphalt. The name of Hlybochytska Street also comes from the stream flowing under it.

Kadetskyi Hai or Cadet Park, a small river under the Railway District, is also surrounded by solid walls. They form a spacious modern box of iron and concrete. Since the water flows under the railway in many places, engineers used some unique solutions when designing the reservoir.

If you prepare to travel underground you should bring rubber boots, a construction hard hat and old clothes you are not afraid to stain. Two headlamps are a mandatory element. The tour may turn out to be fatal: rain can fill the tunnels with water. They serve as storm drainpipes, sending rainwater to the Dnipro. Four urban explorers have already died in the Prozorivsky reservoir during heavy rains. Following some rules (see Safety Guideline) will help you avoid the threat.

Explorers often encounter security guards while in pursuit of exciting sites. Every interesting place in Ukraine is most often hidden from sight, while any place open to the public inevitably has some annoying attributes, such as crowds of people and chaotic hot-dog and souvenir kiosks. Urban explorers always choose the first option – no matter what the outcome will be. As Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

ROMANCE NEXT DOOR

Where is the most romantic place in town? A roof! Yes, it’s that simple – romance is at arm’s length. You can savour the sunset with your sweetheart or enjoy meditation in solitude. The easiest way to get to a roof is via the fire escape, yet not everyone will risk doing that. Even experienced roof-hoppers consider this extreme. Another way is to find a building under construction in the downtown or on top of a hill and ask the guards to let you climb to the roof. Just come around on a weekend when the builders have the day off and spend a day on the roof for just UAH 50. Many entrances to the roofs are open – it just takes some time and effort to find them.

Abandoned houses merit special attention. Clearly, one will find no treasures there, yet the special ambience is often worth it. Everything is interesting and mysterious there, from the smell in the attic to spacious empty rooms with high ceilings and deep multi-layered cellars. Most abandoned houses are guarded because they are often owned by someone who does not care what happens to the building itself. As a result, architectural sites often fall into disrepair. They are eventually demolished and the owner gets what he wanted. The guards are there to ward off squatters who occupy houses without title, right or rent payment. A curious explorer may wander through the rooms and corridors, provided that nobody sees him. Without guards, hordes of homeless people quickly turn the buildings into trash piles. Moreover, marauders and metal hunters are frequent guests there, and running across one may be dangerous.

OVERCOME THE BARRIERS

The Internet hosts many websites where urban explorers share insider info about interesting objects, arrange tours and discuss anything related to their hobby. They post guidelines and a code of conduct on locations, as well as safety guidelines. For instance, urban explorers are not allowed to take away anything they find in abandoned houses, leave garbage or destroy anything there. In fact, the urban exploration trend has all of the elements typical of a subculture, such as art dedicated to it, concerts and exhibitions in unusual places, and tours for urban explorers from other countries.

In terms of legitimacy, an explorer may go anywhere that is not locked in Ukraine. Issues with guards are largely solved on the spot. The latter often look at urban explorers they run across as insane and let them go because they see that the tourists have no criminal intentions.

SAFETY GUIDELINES

1.      Never go underground alone – you should always have someone to save you if you get into trouble.

2.      Your family or friends on the surface should know where you have gone.

3.      Go to the underground only in dry weather with no possibility of rain. The best time to do this is in winter.

4.      Light is your life so you need reliable headlights.

5.      Before going anywhere, think twice about how you are going to get out of there.

6.      Do not drink any alcohol prior to or during your expedition.

 


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