Founded in the 17th century as a military garrison, the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, 250 mi/400 km east of Kiev, was built on the edge of the steppes, at the confluence of three rivers. Since then, Kharkiv has grown to become the second-largest Ukrainian city and a significant industrial and trading hub. It was also the capital of Soviet Ukraine from 1918 to 1934. It's a pleasant city with a mild climate (the surrounding forests shield it from strong southerly winds). Kharkiv abounds in orchards, gardens and tree-lined avenues.

Freedom Square, considered the largest in Europe, is the heart of the city. Beside the square is the 18-story Palace of State Industry, the first skyscraper built in the U.S.S.R. Go up to the observation deck to get a view of the city. From there you'll be able to see the huge Memorial of Glory, dedicated to the Ukrainians who died in the "Great Patriotic War," which is what Ukrainians call World War II. Near the memorial, in a lovely park, is the statue known as the Mother of Ukraine.

For fascinating people-watching, be sure to drop by Kharkiv's mineral-water wells, located at the western end of the park, next to the Hotel Mir. City residents go there to fill all kinds of containers with fresh drinking water. Also worth visiting in the city are the great bell tower of Uspensky Cathedral and the Pokrovsky Cathedral fortifications. If you stay overnight, see a performance at the city's Opera and Ballet Theater.

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