We’re Inessa and Natalie, sisters and storytellers living in Kyiv, Ukraine, and the authors of the Through a Travel Lens blog. We live a busy everyday life in Kyiv, working as a screenwriter (Inessa) and a photographer (Natalie), and whenever we have time, we travel. 

This means that with traveling not being part of our everyday life, we learned how to make the most out of each trip, and now we’re sharing our travel secrets with you.

Our intention is to inspire you to make the most out of your trip. Even if it is just a day or two. Even if you don’t have the time to check all the must-do and must-visit attractions boxes while in a particular city or country.

Why you may find Through a Travel Lens travel blog helpful

In addition to popular travel destinations, we are also here to give out some of the juiciest locations to visit in Ukraine. There is so much more to this country than Kyiv, Lviv, and Odesa!

We shine a light on smaller and under-the-radar cities, write itineraries for the best hikes, and write a lot about places to go and things to do when visiting Ukraine.

Inessa, who is a journalist and a screenwriter, also writes editorials about life in Ukraine. These are not for the search engines but rather for everyone who wants to understand life in this country, its culture and people better.

We know that Europe and Asia are among the destinations that many travelers have on their lists. We’re here to say that Ukraine is also worth visiting. Hopefully, our series of Through a Travel Lens posts about Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities and picturesque nature destinations, as well as stories about the culture and traditions will motivate you to add this country to your travel agenda.

Natalie, who is a professional photographer, creates awesome presets that will improve any footage from your travels in just two clicks. In her travel photography blog section, she also shares tips and secrets about taking better pictures with professional cameras and/or mobile phones.

So hopefully, with those photography tips from Natalie, you’ll also be able to bring back from the trip not only great stories but also some great images.

Through a Travel Lens and The Castles of Ukraine

Natalie and I are also on a very personal mission to discover the castles in Ukraine. Being the cradle of Kievan Rus, Ukraine was home to aristocracies from many of currently independent states – Poland, Hungary, Romania, Russia, etc. Most of the buildings that these aristocracies owned are scattered across the country.

We remember how stunned we were to discover this beauty – the Pidhirtsi Castle, on our way to Lviv. We’ve passed the route from Kyiv to Lviv many times until we decided to make a small detour. We did not expect much, but this turned out to be a true gem. So we wondered how many more of those forgotten, noteworthy buildings are hidden around our country.

This is not an easy task. Most of the castles are off the good roads, hidden in small villages. About 90% of the heritage is in the horrific state. But it is there. It is our history. And it is exciting.

The Power of Stories… and Lot’s of Love to Our Family

We grew up in one of Ukraine’s top-5 biggest cities – in Donetsk. This is the industrial heart of the country located in its eastern part. For the last six years, which seem more like an eternity and a Black Mirror episode to the both of us, this is a war-torn region. It makes daily appearances on the Ukrainian news, with headlines about terror, casualties, shooting, and rebels.

But this is not the city we remember and love.

The city we remember, though a big industrial and business center, has a small and cozy street with only five houses on it. One of those is ours, built by our great-grandfather. It is a one-story brick house with a big backyard, a swing, walnut and apple trees, and peonies blooming in spring.

So…

…this Could’ve Been a Blog About Gardening

The backyard of our house has enough room to fit a garden with tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. All of our neighbors have those in their backyards, but our parents were never into gardening. They were into socializing. 

Mom and dad loved (and still do) having guests over. Every weekend, at least three cars would be parked near our house. Our folks would put a big table out in the yard, and they’d sit around, sharing meals and stories with their friends. 

As kids, my sister and I particularly loved the “Georgian stories” that our father was telling. These were from the two weeks our parents spent in Georgia (country, not the American state) where they traveled by car to attend the wedding of one of our father’s relatives.

And dad would tell about how they accidentally used a slip of paper with the Georgian address on it instead of toilet paper (no internet and cell phones back in the 80s to call and ask for directions). Or how they understood only two words in Georgian – those were the names of the bride and the groom – so they could not grasp what the toasts were about, but they surely knew that when the crowd saluted and said the bride’s and groom’s names, that it was time to drink.

And everybody at the table in our backyard would laugh and remember something of theirs that they’d then eagerly share.

Many Years Have Gone By

My sister and I are both in Kyiv. I moved here in 2008 pursuing a career in TV screenwriting. My sister, Natalie, ended up here in 2014 when the war started. She had a small bag with her, and not a clue as to what to do next. 

Our folks are still in Donetsk. Still living on the same street, at the same house, only now it has fewer visitors. Many friends moved to cities around Ukraine, trying to escape the horrors of war. Our mom and dad love the house and the memories that go with it too much to leave it. That’s how life goes.

And now it is time for Natalie and me to share stories. We do so via texts and photography. Or when we meet with our friends and tell our impressions about the journeys: the two months in South-East Asia (including Bali, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia), numerous visits to France, and some of the amazing findings in small Slovenia. We always send tons of pictures to our parents. Impressions about attractions that we saw when on the road, often fade away. But the stories stay.

Whether you are here for tips about traveling to Ukraine or for ideas about other destinations, or whether you are looking for advice and techniques on how to make your travel photography better – we hope you find inspiration on the pages of the Through a Travel Lens travel blog