The Guide to Rivne, Ukraine for English Speakers
Travel to Ukraine is always trickier for English speakers. Not a lot of signs and menus are available in English. Locals aren’t that great at the language either. The further outside of Kiev and Odessa you go, the tougher to find English-speaker-friendly locations. Fortunately, you have us. Just because you haven’t mastered Ukrainian just yet, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy travel to Rivne. Read on to learn all the travel tips and insights that you need!
Some Background On Rivne
The history of Ukraine, as a whole, is full of controversies. Rivne is no exception, in fact, it’s the perfect example.
If you imagine the map of Ukraine, Rivne is in the West. It’s very close to Poland and Belarus. Keep that in mind when I tell you about the (frankly super complicated) history of the city.
After Kievan Rus’ collapsed, three major powers emerged. In the West of Ukraine, there was Halych-Volhynia, also known as the Kingdom of Ruthenia. The first mention of Rivne appears in the 13th century, as a place within that kingdom. Ruthenia expanded on lands that are now part of South Eastern Poland, Southern Belarus, and Western Ukraine. Historian George Vernadsky says that at the time Galicia–Volhynia, Poland and Hungary belonged to the same psychological and cultural world.
That was about to change.
In the 14th century, Rivne was conquered by Lithuanians and then in the 16th century it became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
After that, following the Second Partition of Poland in 1793 Rivne became a part of Russian Empire.
And We Get To The World Wars
At the beginning of World War I, Rivne was a part of Russia. During the war and it the chaos that followed, it was briefly under German, Ukrainian, Bolshevik, and Polish rule. It was the temporary capital of Ukrainian People’s Republic. Ultimately, though, it ended up a part of Poland (the Polish Volhynian Voivodeship).
That only lasted until World War II.
In 1939, at the very beginning of the war, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union formed a pact. It was a treaty of non-aggression and they also divided Europe between themselves. The East of Europe, including Rivne, was Stalin’s.
Of course, Germany eventually broke the treaty. On 22 June 1941, they launched a massive attack against Soviet territories. Rivne was among the first cities to be captured.
But here is the sad thing:
Half of Rivne’s inhabitants were Jewish.
What followed was one of the bloodiest mass killings in the war. About 23,000 of the Jews were taken to the Sosenki pine grove and killed. It only took them three days – between November 6 and 8.
The remaining 5,000 Jews were sent to a ghetto. They didn’t get to live there long. In July 1942, 9 months after the initial killings, they were sent 70 km (43 mi) north to Kostopil where they were killed.
Soviet forces reclaimed control over the city in 1944 after the Battle of Rovno (or Rivne). The city remained a Soviet territory until the break-up of the Union in 1991.
Why I Wanted To Tell You All Of This
Complex and bloody history is the stereotype of all of Eastern Europe. Sadly, cheap vodka and pretty girls are a bigger stereotype (not that it’s not true, or that there’s anything wrong with either).
For a lot of foreign visitors, Ukraine is just a place to live that Soviet nostalgia, party like a Slav, and hook up with as many girls as possible. Once again, there is nothing wrong with either of those things.
However, it’s always great to make an effort to understand the people of wherever you are travelling to. In Rivne, history is very much a part of everyday life. The place has been occupied more times than most of us can count and has seen enough brutality for the next hundred thousand years.
Within Ukraine, Rivne remains a controversial place. It’s a place where foreign violence over Ukrainians has existed for centuries. It’s a place where you can feel the thickness of the air and you can almost see the blood on the cobbled streets. Rivne is much more than a city to go get drunk at. For that reason (and for the sake of not being a dumb tourist), it’s great to know a bit of history. Besides, now you know why there are…
So Many Monuments In Rivne!
There are few cities with more monuments than Rivne. The Macedonian capital of Skopie comes to mind but then again, most of the figures there are statues and not actual monuments.
Here is the complete list of memorial sites:
- Monument to the 25th Anniversary of the Liberation of Rivne from the Fascists, Mlynivs’ke Highway
- Memorial to the Victims of Fascism, Bila Street Square
- Monument to the 30th Anniversary of the Liberation of Ukraine from German Fascist Occupation, Soborna Street
- The Hero of the Civil War—M.M. Bogomolov, Pershoho Travnja Street Square
- Bust on the Tomb of Partisan M. Strutyns’ka and Relief on the Tomb of Citizens S. Yelentsia and S. Kotiyevs’koho, Kniazia Volodymyra Street, Hrabnyk Cemetery
- Monument to the Perished of Ukraine, Magdeburz’koho Prava Plaza
Communal Grave of Warriors, Soborna Street
- Memorial to Warriors’ Glory, Dubens’ka Street, Rivne Military Cemetery
- Monument of Eternal Glory, Kyivs’ka Street
- Bust of Olenko Dundych, T.H. Shevchenko Park
- Monument to Taras Shevchenko, T.G. Shevchenko Park; Statue on Nezalezhnosti Plaza
- Memorial to Warriors’ Glory, Dubens’ka Street, Rivne Military Cemetery
- Monument to the Warrior and the Partisan, Peremohy Plaza
- The Monument to Colonel Klym Savura, Commander of the Ukrainian People’s Army, Soborna Street
- Monument to Symon Petliura, Symon Petliura Street
- The Statue of N.I. Kuznetsov
- Monument to the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust – mass grave site
- Monument to the victims of the Chernobyl disaster, Simon Petliura Street
- Statue and Plaza dedicated to Maria Rivnens’ka, Soborna Street
That is a grand total of 18 monuments. It’s a lot for such a tiny city and that is not counting most of the plaques and busts around the place.
Out of these, I highly recommend the Holocaust victims gravesite and monument. There are Holocaust memorials in many places throughout Europe. There are probably more educational ones, ones that are designed better, ones that have not been vandalised. In a city that was once half-Jewish (and now has no more than a couple of Jewish families), it’s only right to go and pay your respects. Besides, there is no better site to give you a feel of the Rivne spirit.
Going into something a bit more practical, how do you choose accommodation in Rivne? There are plenty of nice options, one quick look at Agoda will prove it. Still, I thought I’d give you my three personal recommendations. As usual, there is an option for every budget (although Rivne as a whole is refreshingly affordable).
- The Hotel Ukraine is a 4-star hotel in the city centre but you wouldn’t expect 4-stars at these low prices they have. Their rates don’t go above 40$ per room and the hotel features a sauna, a decent gym and air-conditioned rooms. Buffet breakfast is available and the food served at the restaurant is simply delectable.
- The Hotel 4×4 is a perfect choice for an out-of-city vacation (where you’re still close to the city). They are just 6km off Rivno. Spend your time swimming in the warm indoor pool, enjoy Ukrainian specialities at the restaurant, or sip your drink by the fireplace. 4×4 is a wonderful weekend destination (make sure to take your girl if you’ve got one, she would love it!)
- Hotel Tourist is your ultimate budget option. Though it may not have the prettiest building (Soviet-style block of flats), it offers all the amenities you need and more for less than 25$ per night. They are a guest-friendly accommodation and the rooms are comfortable and homey. As a bonus, there is an excellent Mediterranean/Italian-style restaurant in the hotel. Eat your heart out!
Nights In Rivne
Let’s start with the food. Lublin and Ventotto are two of the local favourites. Ventotto is definitely trendier but they don’t serve many Ukrainian specialities (and you absolutely must try some).
For authentic local food (and also an authentic local experience), book Kolyba. You must make a reservation but the experience is one of a kind. The whole place is built to resemble a cabin, with the solid wood brought all the way from the Carpati mountains. They have live music most of the nights and they serve the city’s best traditional cuisine. Kolyba is a must-try in Rivne!
For some post-dinner fun, try Antiq bar ‘Servante’ just off the main street. Their prices are a bit higher than most bars but the cocktails are amazing plus this is the place to be for locals. Since Ukraine is so affordable as a whole, don’t get too caught up on the extra dollar or two that you’re going to spend.
Finally, the two largest discos are Laguna and Zov. Out of the two, Laguna is always busier but it’s a little further away from the city centre. Once again, considering the price of taxis in Rivne, that’s not too much of a problem. Make sure to dress up, locals go out to dance but they also go out to show off. When in Rivne…
And one final tip: you will not out-drink a Ukrainian so don’t even try it. You are in Rivne for a nice trip, not with a death wish, right? Be smart and have tons of fun!
As usual, let us know if you have extra tips for travel to Rivne in the comments below! Any drunken stories or fun foreigner mishaps are also very much welcome!