This past trip to Latvia, Ukraine, and Georgia was a real winner winner chicken dinner in terms of our kitsch haul. I make no apologies for my borderline hoarder tendencies, and will admit to bringing back an entire duffel full of treasures from our various shopping expeditions across the CIS. Some markets, like Latgales Tirgus in Riga and the Dry Bridge Market in Tbilisi, were as great as we remembered. In other places, like Chernivtsi and Kharkiv, individual vendors would appear sporadically with items haphazardly strewn across a blanket.
It was in Kyiv, however, that I met my ultimate match: the monthly Kyiv Antique Market.
Rewind a bit to when I was in initial planning stages for our trip. We travel fast, so I like to do as much research before we hit the ground in a new place as possible. Luckily, I found this site, giving locations of various flea markets in Ukraine’s (and Russia’s!) major cities. (Note – none of this site is in any language approaching English)
I had read about a mysterious monthly flea market in Kyiv, and had found what I thought was its location in the Expo Center on Kyiv’s Left (east) bank. However, if we had followed the internet’s instructions, we would have been on the opposite side of the city from where the market is held. It had happened that, just a few days before arriving in Kyiv, we had stumbled upon an antique shop in Kharkiv*. There, we arrived to an empty shop – its proprietor, Oleg, was making the trip to Kyiv for the monthly fair. Having heard unsubstantiated rumors of a potential change of location, I asked him to share the location of the market via WhatsApp, and lo and behold, it had moved to Nyvky just a couple of months earlier. Oleg gave each of us an old Soviet coin and said he’d see us there.
The market itself is sprawling and located in a convention center.** We initially thought we were in the wrong place because all signs in the campus pointed to a jewelry exposition – not exactly our bag, despite my constant promises to David that I’m going to upgrade his wedding ring. But, after scouting the surrounding area, we realized that we needed to look in more than just the expo center’s main building. The building that held the antique market was located deep in the center grounds, and featured about a million men smoking outside the entryways. That’s the surefire sign you’re in the right place – the droves of smokers.
Once inside, you’ll pay 50 hryvnia for an entrance ticket, and they’ll stamp your hand, like you’re entering da club (only without face control). After you get your ticket and enter, there are immediately stalls selling food and drinks (more like pickles and kvass, but whatever). A best practice is to hydrate and eat before you enter. We stayed in the market for three hours, meandering up and down the aisles and haggling with vendors with varying degrees of patience for my extremely broken Russian. It was exhausting, and we’re glad we brought snacks and a camelback.
What we found when we were there was that the more expensive items (prints, authentic medals, rare Soviet collectibles, carpets) were located on the far end of the auditorium (on the right as you enter). I’m not sure if there is a rhyme or reason to this, but as we started there, I was initially concerned due to the high prices I was being quoted. I was also sad because there were some really rad collector plates (who doesn’t love beautiful, useless collector plates?) that were going for a hundred dollars or so each. I checked back again at the end of the day, much to the chagrin of the older man selling the items, and the prices hadn’t gone down in an end-of-day rush.
That said, we began to find winning items as we marched onward, through the throngs of shopkeepers eager to fill the extra duffel we had purchased in preparation for our visit. I found a toy tank in original packaging for my father, a number of medals, old Soviet metal signs, a Ukrainian SSR flag, and several sets of vintage postcards. We even ran into Oleg, our friend from Kharkiv, who was gracious enough to let me try on some of his wares.
After a few hours and many negotiations on both ends of the success spectrum, we succumbed to hanger and bee-lined it out of there to grab some Georgian food – our addiction to khmeli suneli, or Georgian allspice, was still full blown – and sort through our loot. For collectors of kitsch, the Nyvky Antique Market rivaled some of our favorite markets from trips past – particularly the Bitaka Flea Market in Sofia, Bulgaria. And while you may not plan your trip around a monthly flea market, it’s a great stop if you happen to be in Kyiv the last Saturday of the month.
The Kyiv Antique Market runs on the last Saturday of every month, starting as early as 4am. Our concrete tour guide (more on this soon), Ivan, said that it actually runs most Saturdays, but it’s the last Saturday of the month that attracts antique sellers from all over the country (like Oleg, our friend from Kharkiv).
To get there, take the Kyiv Metro to Nyvky Station, on the Sviatoshynsko Brovarska line, eight stops west of Arsenalna Station where we were staying. If you’re staying somewhere near the Maidan or in Podil, you’ll have to transfer. The expo center is an easy walk from Nyvky, about 15 minutes north on Shcherbakova, then west on Salutina. Or you could take pretty much any marshrutka traveling north from Nyvky, and get off at Salutina. You can’t miss the expo center, but note that there will likely be multiple events happening in the several pavilions – like the jewelry show happening on the day we were there. Seriously, just find the hall with all the old dudes smoking outside, and you’ve arrived. You’ll pay 50 Hryvnia to enter, a small price compared to the additional hundreds of Hryvnia you’re bound to spend once inside.
UPDATE: 22 JUNE 2017
**Oleg reached out to me after publishing this post, and let me know that the market is moving from Nyvky back to Kyiv’s left bank. The monthly Kyiv antique market is now held at the International Exhibition Center, MVC Expo Hall – near the Livoberezhna metro stop. This actually is far more convenient for folks staying more in the center of Kyiv, as it’s only three stops (as opposed to seven) from Arsenalna station (near the Hotel Salute, Motherland Monument, and the Lavra).
*Note on Oleg – if you find yourself in Kharkiv, do pay a visit to his shop – contact and location information are here. He tells me that an international site will be available for English speakers within a few weeks. If you’d like to reach out to him directly, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.