Kyiv’s markets offer homegrown food, secondhand treasures, books and much more
Compared to Kyiv’s 50 shiny shopping malls, the city’s markets might seem shabby and old-fashioned, but they do offer some treasures that can’t be found anywhere else. Apart from home-grown organic fruit, vegetables and home-made cottage cheese, jams and honey, shoppers can come across rare books, vintage clothes or hand-painted Christmas decorations.
In fact, markets in Ukraine have always been more than just places where goods are bought and sold — they are also places to share the latest news and gossip, and to meet friends. Many people still go to them to socialize, as well as to stock up.
Here are the four best Kyiv markets near the city center for shopping for food, books, and second-hand goods.
Zhytniy market, nestled among colorful residential buildings in Podil, is hard to miss. It is a massive, gray construction built in 1980 and featuring a concave roof, although to Western eyes it seems older than its 40-or-so years. In fact, the market’s history dates much farther back than the building, to the times of Kyiv Rus, when there was an outdoor market at the site.
The first floor of Zhytiy market resembles the inside of a supermarket, with display stalls covered with vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, jars of jams, nuts and dried fruit.
Some people don’t even get as far as the interior though, as the sidewalk near the entrance has been also turned into a spontaneous market, with people selling produce from their own gardens: from flowers and mushrooms to fruit, vegetables and berries.
Volodymyr Polegenko has been selling his produce at Zhytiy market for 30 years. He is 52, and says that there are fewer buyers since modern supermarkets started to open in Kyiv at the beginning of the century.
“However, here one can surely buy products of high quality from the garden,” he says.
Along with other vegetables, Polegenko sells the biggest
pumpkins at the market — almost 40 centimeters in diameter. He says some Kyiv’s restaurants order vegetables from him.
Back inside the market, the second floor features clothes, especially lots of Ukrainian traditional embroidered shirts and costumes. The market also has stands offering services like dry-cleaning, clothes and leather bag repairs, and tool sharpening.
The market is now being partially renovated, so the second and the third floors remain half-empty. Next year, cafes and houseware stores are expected to open there. The Sovietera facade will also be modernized.
Zhytniy market. 16 Verhniy Val, Mon-Sun 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
There are two theories about the origin of the name of Bessarabsky market. According to the first one, the market was named after traders from Ukraine’s southern region of Bessarabia. The other theory says the market takes its name from homeless people, called bessarabs, who used to live at Bessarabska Square several centuries ago.
While the origin of its name is uncertain, it is well known that Bessarabsky market is the most expensive market in Kyiv — prices here can be up to three times higher than at other markets or stores. The reason for this is probably the market’s prime location in the city center, and its popularity among rich businessmen, lawmakers, and celebrities.
Iryna Gissar, 45, has been working at Bessarabsky market for 15 years. She owns a large garden in the suburbs of Kyiv and sells fruit and vegetables she grows there. Gissar used to work in other markets around the capital, but has settled at Bessarabsky and says it is the most exciting.
“Interesting events are held here. For instance, there was the opening party of this year’s Yalta European Strategy annual conference, organized by oligarch Viktor Pinchuk. It showed foreigners Ukraine’s agriculture,” she told the Kyiv Post.
The best time to get a bargain at Bessarabsky market is to come after 5 p.m., when everyone’s tired and some start packing. It’s then that prices start to go down.
Bessarabsky market also offers street food such as sandwiches, Vietnamese and vegetarian dishes, Georgian baked goods, coffee, craft beer and more.
The market works almost around the clock, from 6 a.m. until 4 a.m., but that mostly concerns flower kiosks and coffee shops. Many food counters work until 11 p.m., but some close earlier.
Bessarabsky market. 2 Bessarabska Square, Mon-Sun 6 a.m.-4 a.m.
Petrivka book market
Petrivka book market is the biggest in the country for books of all genres and topics, including fiction, history, psychology, culture, painting, numismatics, the art of tattooing, classical literature, school books and more. Old and new magazines, newspapers, posters, maps, postcards, stickers and office supplies are also to be found here.
While new editions are stocked on shelves in market stands, second-hand books are packed in boxes and piled in heaps around the stands.
Second-hand bookseller Dmytro Drobin, 48, has been trading among such piles of boxes for 18 years.
Drobin says his job is to spot printed treasures among mounds of literary trash. His family owns three kiosks at the market, where he and his partners stock about 10,000 books.
“The most remarkable book I have ever had was a two-volume gilded world history of pornography starting from ancient times to the Second World War. I got these books in the early 90-ies from the Institute of the Physical Chemistry. In the Soviet Union, there was a private library only for physicists and chemists, and there were a lot of foreign publications that were forbidden in those times. The books were published in Europe. I sold it the same day I brought it to Petrivka book market,” Drobin says.
Aside from books, DVDs and CDs, Petrivka market offers a variety of other goods, including clothes, shoes, household chemistry, bath and toilet equipment, houseware, towels, bedlinen, tools, bicycles, travel equipment, electronics, souvenirs and more.
Petrivka market. Petrivka metro station. Tue-Sun 11 a.m.— 6 p.m.
Kurenivsky flea market
This flea market looks shabby and is full of junk, but among the piles of second-hand goods sitting on sheets lying on the ground, there are some real treasures hidden.
Vendors sell pre-war clothes and suitcases, vintage lamps, Oxford shoes, oil paintings, plates, spoons, cups, children’s toys, guitars, loudspeakers, selections of old knives, jewelry, and more.
Kurenivsky pet market, located next to the flea market, sells all kinds of animals, along with bird cages, toys and pet food. The market has come in for lots of criticism by animal rights activists, who accuse vendors of cruelty and mistreating animals, but the market vendors deny the accusations, and say all of the animals are well cared for.
A woman waits for customers to buy fruit and vegetables from her at Bessarabsky market in Kyiv on Sept. 19. (Oleg Petrasiuk)
Petrovka market in Kyiv on Oct. 10. (Oleg Petrasiuk)