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Introducing Mykolayiv

The juggernaut of the Soviet Union's shipbuilding industry fell upon hard times when Ukraine gained independence, but is beginning to emerge from its malaise on the back of renewed demand for its ships – and its women. Mykolayiv (Nikolayev in Russian) is the centre of Ukraine's marriage industry, and the city's pleasant, pedestrian main drag, vul Radnyanska (although just about everybody uses its Russian name, Sovetskaya), is eavesdropping central if you're looking for a little insight into this curious subculture.

Mykolayiv is also home to Ukraine's most famous zoo, although, as with any zoo in the former Soviet Union, you should temper your expectations.

With Odesa's Ship Museum long since reduced to ashes, there is no longer any debate about which city has the best boat museum in Ukraine. Mykolayiv's Shipbuilding Museum features loads of exquisitely crafted models, through which you can observe the evolution of Mykolayiv-built warships over the last 300 years: from wooden schooners to Leviathan steel aircraft carriers. There are some stunning antique globes and extensive exhibits on the naval campaigns of the Crimean War, WWI and WWII. There's nothing in English, but it's still interesting for non-Russian speakers.

If you decide to overnight here or get stuck, the best beds in town can be found at the Hotel Ukraine Palace, a sparkly new place for well-heeled byznysmeny. Slightly lower down the hotel food chain is Hotel Kontinent, which has its main entrance on vul Radnyanska. It's especially popular with the wife-seeking set, so book ahead.

Speedy private marshrutky to Odesa's Privoz bus station (46uah, 1½ hours) leave from behind the bus station. There are also half-hourly marshrutky to Kherson from the bus station (15uah, 1¼ hours).

Mykolayiv is a jump-off point of sorts for the Nuclear Missile Museum in Pervomaysk; marshrutky zip up to Pervomaysk from behind the bus station every half hour or so (40uah, 2½ hours).