The San Juan Daily Star
For Kyiv’s residents, tunnels are both shelter and source of adventure
By Nicole Tung
Several dozen Kyiv residents donned waders and wielded flashlights Sunday for a diversion from the threat of Russian attacks, descending into a network of subterranean tunnels under the Ukrainian capital for a dank but illuminating tour led by two urban explorers.
The city was, unknowingly, just hours from one of the largest waves of Russian drone attacks of the war to directly target the capital. But it was already braced for assaults before Victory Day in Russia on May 9, and after explosions over the Kremlin last week that Moscow said involved Ukrainian drones.
Some 80 rivers flow through and under Kyiv, and the tunnels that the tour visited bring together some of them, eventually channeling their waters into the Dnieper. The organizer was Urbex Tour, a Ukrainian company that guides visitors to Cold War bunkers, catacombs in Odesa and even a missile base. Two explorers with the group, who have spent years mapping the underground world of Ukraine’s cities, were in charge Sunday.
The tour participants started by climbing into a manhole under Kyiv’s hip Podil neighborhood, armed with a sense of adventure. Their flashlights picked out arched brick walls built in the 19th century to separate the sewage system from the underground rivers, while the sound of trams above rumbled.
They walked along a steady stream of water, skirting the soft mud on its edges. In one long stretch, the ceiling dipped low, forcing them to advance in a crouch for at least 10 minutes. Rain can flood the tunnels, so the tours go ahead only when the weather has been dry.
All sorts of items surfaced: metal parts from the tramway, a rusted butter knife, old Soviet coins. A group of friends enthused about the fungi they saw growing from a concrete section of the tunnel wall.
One of the guides, Artem Forostyanyi, said the appeal of the tunnels was obvious. “People want these extreme tours to take them away from their everyday troubles,” he said.
At one point, he asked the participants to turn their flashlights off. The darkness was total. There was nervous laughter when he suggested that they try to take five steps forward.
The laughter after the tour was less anxious, particularly between one married couple, who gave only their first names, Katia and Nikita, both 31.
“My husband decided to take me on a romantic outing,” Katia said after climbing back out of a manhole into the light of Kyiv.