The Foreigner’s Guide to Dnipro, Ukriane
Remember our article on off-the-grid cities to meet your future Ukrainian girl? We called Dnipro the ‘The Forbidden City of Ukrainian Women’.
Needless to say, that spiked some interest. So this time around we are giving you a full guide to Dnipro.
This huge city is entirely off the grid because it wasn’t until recently that foreigners were even welcome. As the military industry centre of Ukraine (and one of the industrial capitals of the Soviet Union before that), the whole city was off limits to travelers up until the 90s.
Dnipro is exactly what you would expect from an ex-Soviet industrial city. A lot of concrete, monumental buildings, and a cityscape in a billion shades of grey.
Why They Closed It Down
This is the story of how you get a million people to keep a secret for you.
Back in the 40s the Soviet decided to build a large military machine factory, and then in the 50s Stalin thought this could be the perfect place to make rockets. The automobile plant opened a new secret design office. It’s building was South of the main one, hence the name “the Southern Machine-building Factory” (Yuzhnyi mashino-stroitel’nyi zavod).
Russian lends itself to abbreviation quite nicely and soon the place was known as Yuzhmash.
But when I say ‘known as’, that only includes the people who worked there.
No rockets or spaceships were mentioned to the general population. All the citizens of the Soviet Union knew about Yuzhmash was they made tractors and kitchen equipment. Not that these two products have anything to do with one another, but I guess nobody really asked (or they just knew better not to…).
Dnipro was the centre of missile design and production.
This became very significant during the Cold War. If an active conflict were to break out, Yuzhmash would become a major target. A tractor plant, not so much. The only problem was that at this point over 60% of the population worked in the plant. They knew they were making missiles and not kitchen equipment. How do you get them to keep a secret for you?
Close Down The City
It is not ideal but you could simply stop people from coming in. This is at a time before the Internet.
Yes, maybe some of the citizens had family outside the city who would learn. But even Soviet citizens were not allowed in without an official permission. Word did get out, of course, and the city got nicknamed ‘the closed city of rockets’. Still, the secret remained relatively safe. This region of Ukraine is known for coal production and machine industry. Even today, most Eastern Europeans go ‘I don’t know, they were making some sort of machines, right?’ when asked about Dnipro.
Public secret or not, Dnipro was not open to foreigners until the 90s. There wasn’t much incentive to make it nice for visitors. There were no visitors.
About The Name
Dnipro was actually known as Dnipropetrovsk up until May of 2016. They got rid of the Petrovsk part because it is after a Communist official. It’s a fairly large city that people have heard of.
Ask a Russian, though, and they would not recognize the new name. Don’t worry, I’m not sending you to some imaginary place.
Is Dnipro Safe To Visit?
Ukraine is a place of ongoing military conflict. It’s an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless. That being said, Dnipro is not a war zone,and it’s not close to the front either. Things were getting a bit heated in 2014—but now it’s pretty much back to normal.
The pro-Russian protestors are now outnumbered.
The city’s Lenin Square was renamed “Heroes of Independence Square” in honour of those who lost their lives during the protest. There is even a monument dedicated to the Ukrainian military fighting in Donbass.
For the moment being, the biggest ‘threat’ is offending a local. Leave your ‘funny’ USSR souvenirs at home. No fluffy hats with the red star, no T-shirts with Putin’s face and a ‘Nas Ne Dogonyat’ print, no nothing that can be considered too Russian-friendly. Emotions no longer run too high in Dnipro but there are still men that would pick a fight for sympathizing with the Russians.
Also, be considerate and have some common sense.
Always have a charged phone with you.
Know the address of your hotel.
Don’t get blackout drunk.
Don’t head over to ‘explore’ some random neighbourhood at night.
Just general safety tips.
Oh, and be prepared for sob stories and money requests from absolute strangers (in the bus, in a coffee shop, even in the club). They don’t happen to everyone, Ukrainian people are not all beggars, but if they do happen to you, as cynical as it is, walk away.
Sights And Landmarks
There is not too much to do as a tourist in Dnipro.
Start at the main square and visit the Preobrazhensky Cathedral. Commissioned by Catherine the Great and designed by prominent French architect Claude Geruax, the construction came to an abrupt end as the Russo-Turkish war broke out. When they finally got around to building the cathedral they needed a new architect. This time around a Russian was picked. Whether that was Ivan Starov or Andreyan Zakharov remains unclear. Either way, the cathedral is an interesting mix of styles and influences.
A fun fact about the Preobrazhensky Cathedral is that between 1975 and 1988 it served as a state museum of atheism and religion. Don’t you love it when you can learn about God being dead right in the middle of a place of worship? Anyhow, it is back to functioning cathedral now. If you want to walk around freely, don’t go on a Sunday morning. No local would appreciate you clicking around with a camera as the priest delivers his sermon.
Down By The River
From the main square, head down the main boulevard. At the river bank, you will find the Monument of Glory overlooking the Dnieper. It’s a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, the downside being that at winter the wind around the river can freeze you to death.
Time For Nature
There are not a lot of trees in Dnipro. When the city gets too much, head over to the islands. Yes, there are islands inside the river and they were mercifully spared from urbanization.
Shevchenko Park is a great place to get a breath of relatively fresh air.
In summer they install a funfair of sorts. Most of the rides are for kids but it is still a fun place to spend the afternoon. Also, the caramelized popcorn. I know they are not a Ukrainian speciality but trust me when I say Ukrainians do them well.
Where To Stay?
Picking a hotel in Dnipro is relatively straightforward. You want a good location and free high-speed Wi-Fi (not available everywhere, surprisingly).
Our favourite is the Tsunami Spa Hotel. They have a fully equipped wellness centre designed to look like an underground cave (they get extra points because it looks cool). You are close to the city centre but still in a relatively quiet part of town. There are a bunch of very good restaurants nearby.
Try the Papa Karla restaurant across the street from the military museum. It is a local favourite with a decidedly aristocratic feel. Their menu features both typical Ukrainian dishes and international fare. They also make great cocktails, as weird as it might be to order a mojito in Ukraine.
Clubs And Bars
Dnipro doesn’t offer too much variety in terms of nightlife. There are a couple of cool bars around the centre – the Banka Irish Pub is a good place to start, the nearby One Dollar Bar is another option. From there, try the Rasputin Klub by the river bank or the Angels club under the bridge. Both play top 40 style music.
For EDM or the occasional live performance by a local band, try Labirynt, which is a couple of blocks away in the city centre. Expect some really glitzed up girls there and dress accordingly. This won’t be the first time we are saying it, but nightlife in Ukraine is all about showing off (and also having a good time but first showing off).
It’s not that they won’t let you in if you are not dressed appropriately,but you just won’t feel comfortable in sneakers and a random T-shirt.
How Much Time To Spend In Dnipro?
Dnipro doesn’t need a full week for you to explore.
A day, maybe two or three tops are enough. Of course, if you are going down there to meet up with a girl, it might be a longer stay.
Speaking of which, are you already on the best Ukraine dating websites of 2018?
As usual, I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Dnipro, traveling around Ukraine, and dating Ukrainian girls in the comments below. If you have any stories or extra insight about Dnipro to share, even better.
PS: You can meet Ukrainian girls in Dnipro on this website.