Exploring Kiev’s Pechersk Lavra: On the grounds and underground

The Pechersk Lavra, a monastic site on the southern edge of Kiev’s city center, has a history going back to the 11th century. The monastery has served the Russian Orthodox Church since that time, despite suffering damage and attack over the years due to fires a well as incursions by the Tatars and Mongols, among others. The site was nearly wholly rebuilt in the 17th century and once again suffered grave damage in the 1940s. The buildings are back now and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site which should keep them in decent shape for the future.


Walking the grounds left us with plenty of impressive sites. From monks pacing the grounds (on their mobile phones as often as not) to various visitors to the stunning scenery of the churches themselves, there was plenty so see and do.


But the scenes above ground were severely outshined but what we saw underground. There are two sets of caves in the complex and we went exploring through both. I also managed to suffer a rather awkward misunderstanding of language and actually didn’t realize that I wasn’t supposed to be taking photos down there until half-way through the visit when a monk admonished me. That was, needless to say, a bit awkward. For what it is worth, I wasn’t using my flash; I definitely know better than that.

The catacombs now operate as tombs. There are scores of bodies entombed throughout, each one a place for reflection and prayer. The monks and other pilgrims visit the tombs daily, praying at each of the many sites as they pass through the underground halls. Watching that happen is quite impressive.


And in addition to the tombs there were also a number of other decorations on the walls. There was a church with space for no more than a dozen devotees which was packed with visitors. And there were scenes like this one on one arch:


Incredible beauty pretty much at every turn.

After a few hours on (and under!) the grounds, including visiting some of the museums in the smaller buildings, we were finally done for the morning. It was off to find sustenance and to plan the rest of our time in town.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Yes I remember being down there and being admonished for even talking… Quite interesting. Curious to know why you are visiting Ukraine? I am from there myself, and my husband and I had many adventures on the trains, subways, and back country roads there. Thanks for the pictures-they bring up good memories! Love your site, by the way. Looking forward to the one world seat availability search tool coming online!

    1. We’re visiting Ukraine because we can.

      Seriously, my view on traveling is that I want to see more places, not fewer. When I have the opportunity to go somewhere different I’ll take it. In this case there were some historical sites in the area that my wife also wanted to see so that started us towards this area. And once that ball started rolling I managed to fill out the 10 days here without much trouble. We’re on the overnight train tonight headed south to Odessa. Should be interesting to see the differences in the regions.

  2. I’ve been to the caves a few times and everytime my immediate thoughts turn to what a potential fire disaster that is. I once accidentally burn a bit my own headscarf with a drip from the candle. With no light in many sections aside from the candles, extremely tight space with no escape or place to maneuver and labyrinthine layout, the chances of one accidental trip up turning into an inferno are very high.

    1. I’m not so worried about the fire hazard, Yana. While any one person might be in trouble the caves themselves aren’t going to catch fire from a few candles. So, yes, your scarf might burn, but nothing else will if you take it off and throw it on the ground and let it burn itself out.

  3. I am enjoying your trip report since it has been many years since I visited Ukraine. My interest is piqued and I can’t wait to read about the rest of your trip.

  4. Seth – what I mean about the fire situation is the panicked crowd in the dark that doesn’t think logically. In many fire situations people don’t die from the actual burns but from being trampled to death while trying to get to the exit. I am glad that you enjoyed the site though – a few of my friends refused to venture down there. Also, if you have time, take a side trip from Kiev to the ethnographical outdoor museum – it has many old buildings and implements brought together in the fields. On a warm day, it is nice to wonder around and see how life was back in the day.

  5. I too am enjoying your report as it has been a few years for me too since I was in Kyiv/Kiev. In the middle of winter to boot! And the world’s fastest escalators. As close to 6 Flags as one can get riding those down into the subway. Plus everyone is a taxi. Need a ride, I’ll take you – fantastic.

    Did you get a chance to visit any of the other parts of the monastery, specifically the museum of miniatures? That was a neat little museum.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip

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