Tuesday, 18th September/Wednesday, 19th September 2018 – Kyiv, Days 2 and 3
Day 2 was manic and intense work-wise, and the only sightseeing that was done was from the seat of a mini bus taking us back and forth from the hotel to the office, mostly while stuck in traffic that wasn’t much going anywhere. We did still manage to spot the National Circus of Ukraine, which has its own rather wonderful 1960s building, in grand Soviet style. Well, I say spot; it would have been hard to miss really.
Additionally, there were more of the fantastic murals to be seen (excuse the photo quality – these were all taken from inside a minibus moving at a variety of speeds). And no, I’m not sure what the significance of an inflatable dolphin is, but I was struck by how brilliantly executed it was.
Wednesday the Danish and German contingent would be flying out late afternoon, while those of us from London were not leaving for another day. Thus, we two found ourselves back at the hotel at around 16:30 with time on our hands and an ambition to keep going on the sightseeing front. We set off round the back of the hotel this time, eying up the stadium and realising just how big it actually is.
The nearby lamp posts are decorated with planters made to look like footballs, which amused us.
From there we passed a small park with what I now know is a memorial to Solomon Naumovich Rabinovic, better known as Sholem Aleichem (1859 – 1916), a Yiddish author and playwright whose stories about Tevye the Dairyman were the inspiration for the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof”. There were several other monuments in the same space so I may have misidentified it of course.
It’s fair to say that for the most part the history of the Jews in Kyiv (and in Ukraine in general) has been long but has not been easy or happy, and I did wonder if the mural we found is a reflection of this. However, it’s an area of history that I don’t know a great deal about (so I’m going to have to go and do some reading before our next trip to Kyiv).
The area we were now walking through obviously has quite a history and there are some fabulous buildings along the route we were taking, in a mixture of many grand styles.
We were heading initially for the Besarabsky Rynok (Бесарабський ринок) market hall because I wanted to take a look at it, and I know my colleague, A, likes that sort of thing too. It’s fabulous even at the tail end of the working day, and there are plenty of things to buy (including caviar which I don’t care for). In fact the caviar sellers seem to be very keen on engaging with you… I wonder why! It’s quite sizable, and was built between 1910 and 1912 to a design by the Polish architect Henryk Julian Gay, and is named after Bessarabia, claimed by Russia during the Russo-Turkish Wars and now part of the Odessa oblast. It has massive high ceilings…
And plenty of fresh produce.
It’s also fine looking from the outside.
From here we headed along the Tarasa Shevchenko Boulevard, which has a green strip running up the middle of it with traffic flowing (or not flowing depending on the time of day) on either side. We were aiming at the church we had only seen through the trees on our way to the office, Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral. Prince Volodymyr the Great imposed Christianity on the Kyivan Rus and in addition to a massive monument on one of the hills along the river Dnipro, also has a cathedral of his own, and a glorious thing it is too.
The building was completed in 1882 (30 years after the idea of it was first mooted to celebrate 900 years since the Kyivan Rus’ were baptised) and it was another church to narrowly avoid being demolished under the Soviets. Instead it was turned into a museum of religion and atheism, and then remained closed until after WWII, when it was reopened as the main church of the Kyiv Metropolitan See of the Ukrainian Exarchate. After the Soviet Union fell apart, it was a source of argument between two dominations, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which had autonomous status under the Moscow Patriarchy, and the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchy, the latter eventually winning control of the cathedral. If you want to know more about the history of Ukrainian Christianity, the Wikipedia page provides a useful starting point, but be warned; it’s complicated. There was a service on when we went in (me with my hair covered with a scarf because it seemed unlikely I’d be allowed in otherwise), and it’s fair to say the congregation seems very diverse in age terms, and very devoted. The singing was stunningly beautiful, and A, who is also a musician and a composer was loving every minute of it.
I concentrated on taking photos (there’s a small charge if you want to take photos – I was happy to pay it). The interior is absolutely stunning, with an art nouveau feel to the work that decorates every available surface. Where there are no mosaics, there are paintings, the mosaics created by Venetian masters, the paintings the work of a group of painters under the guidance of Professor Adrian Prakhov. The frescoes were completed by 1896. The interior taken as a whole is almost overwhelming to anyone more used to the stark beauty of Western European cathedrals. It was all we could both do not to just stand and gaze an repeatedly say “Wow!” to each other.
We left the church and headed down past Saint Sophia’s, which was looking particularly fetching in the evening sunshine and stopped to take a look at the massive monument to Bogdan Khmelmitskiy, the leader of the fight for freedom against Polish oppression between 1648 and 1654. It should have been even bigger apparently, but there wasn’t enough money for the planned sculpture, only enough to create Bogdan on his horse. For six year’s they couldn’t even afford a pedestal. It ended up being mounted on some stone blocks left over after construction of the bridge over the Dnipro in 1888! He looks magnificent enough despite all of that.
Further along we stumbled across the monument to Saint Olga (Ольга), the grandmother of Volodymyr, whose cathedral we had just seen. As Princess Olga she was Regent of Kyivan Rus’ for her son Svyatoslav from 945 until 960. The sculpture shows her flanked by Saint Andrew the Apostle, and Saints Cyril and Methodius (missionaries to the Slavic peoples). Olga was the first Christian ruler in Kyiv and was baptised in Constantinople, though the dates are somewhat fuzzy. The monument itself, which dates from 1911, was removed by the Soviets and buried under the square in which it stands, and was restored in 1996, though using a copy of the statue of Olga. It was originally intended to be part of “The Historical Path” which would have been an alley of statues illustrating the history of Kyiv.
From here we crossed the road to take a look at the beautiful blue church we had spotted on the first day. This turned out to be the recreated Saint Michael’s Cathedral (or Monastery). There has been a monastery here since the 11th century, founded by Prince Isyaslav of Kyiv. It was his son, Sviatopolk (or Michael) who had a new stone church to Saint Michael built in the monastery precinct in 1108. With its golden roofs it was unsurprisingly known to all and sundry as St. Michael’s Monastery of the Golden Domes. It was added to, and decorated over the centuries, but in the 1930s the Soviet People’s Committee had the bell tower and several other buildings demolished, blowing up the monastery in 1937, leaving behind nothing but a pile of rubble. Between 1997 and 2000, post the fall of the Soviet Union, it was completely rebuilt and it looks incredible.
The Ukrainian authorities managed finally to persuade the Russians to return 18 of the 29 mosaics that had been taken from the original building, and were also able to obtain the return of the remaining frescoes from the Hermitage Museum. We didn’t have time to go inside but were able to roam the “territory” and admire the buildings, including the refectory, which is one of the few buildings that survived the Soviet period.
Behind the complex, we discovered the Kyiv funicular, which takes you down to Podil (you can walk but it was a hot, sticky evening and we fancied the look of the funicular, which opened in 1905).
Having discovered that the funicular is part of the Metro system, and that it takes contactless payments for the 8 hryvnia fare (a stunning £0.24, 0.22€ or $0.29 US) we rode down to Podil just as dusk was falling. Podil runs along the bank of the Dnipro and is the old mercantile quarter. It seems to be where all of Kyiv fetches up for an evening stroll, cycle ride, run or simply to sit and watch the river. There is a row of street food stalls, cafes, and hotels, with various amusements thrown in.
The Chernobyl museum is down here, but again we were far too late to go in. And we needed a beer. We chose a cafe that looked promising and sat out on the terrace watching the world go by. Shortly afterwards we noticed that there was some sort of light display being played out on one of the bridges.
Beer done with, we caught the funicular back up and headed back towards the hotel in search of dinner.