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Kyiv’s Gold Vibrations
Andriy PYROHIV tells his very personal story of Kyiv
Pavlo Tychyna, a remarkable Ukrainian poet, in a poem about Kyiv, wrote, “Gold vibrations over Kyiv…” These vibrations are born out of spring mists spreading over the Dnipro River, out of the rustling of autumnal leaves in the parks, out of the din of traffic and voices of people in the streets, and out of festive tintinnabulation soaring high from the bell towers of churches. These vibrations echo among the seven sacred hills of Kyiv and make you vibrate in unison the moment you find yourself in the heart of this city.
I cannot call Kyiv a cosmopolitan city. It is deeply and thoroughly “national” and this statement can be easily verified. At the same time, Kyiv is a city that easily absorbs all the newcomers, all the styles and trends. A “foreign body” is not rejected but is transformed and integrated. Once, quite a long time ago, West European Baroque vainly tried to decorate the Ukrainian churches after its fashion, but the Ukrainian indigenous style introduced its own ideas, eliminating everything that it found redundant. A little later, there was an attempt, following an advice given by a German architect, to straighten out Kyiv streets and introduce a geometrical grid of prospects and thoroughfares perpendicular to each other. However, Kyiv streets, with untrimmed linden and elm-trees lining them, refused to become straight and curled up. Even the part of the Kyiv population that speaks Russian, do it with a heavy Ukrainian accent.
Symphony in stone
When the soviet party bosses arrived in Kyiv in 1934 after the capital had been transferred to it from Kharkiv, the moment they stepped from the train, they were dismayed to see hundreds of church domes topped with crosses dotting the cityscape. They reacted immediately and in the usual soviet fashion — dynamite was very useful in destroying the offending architectural landmarks. They were successful in applying their destructive policies — but only to a certain extent. Probably many of the Kyiv churches, thanks to the heavenly protection, had been introduced two thousand years ago by St Andrew the Apostle who brought the word of Christ to the place which was destined to become the city of Kyiv. About half of the Kyiv churches survived, and as soon as Ukraine became independent, the churches that had been ruined by the soviets, began to be rebuilt. Three out of four major churches of the eleventh and twelfth centuries have already been rebuilt and now shine in their former glory.
Mariynski Palace was built in 1750–1755 to resemble a palace designed
As far as the most important architectural landmarks are concerned, there is nothing very special about Kyiv — it is church architecture that towns and villages all over the world are proud of. Inquisitive tourists, who come to Kyiv to see for themselves what they read in books, are surprised to find that churches of Kyiv are not lost among the new architectural projects. They are like diamond axes in a clockwork mechanism thanks to which such mechanism operates faultlessly. All the churches — with the exception of one or two — are not museums and used as houses of worship. Interiors of many churches are works of art which were created during a thousand years, from the earliest Christian times down to our days. The mosaics of the eleventh-century Cathedral of Holy Sophia are vibrant as ever, exerting a stunning visual effect which is due partly to the scintillations produced by the light catching the gold and delicately coloured cubes, and partly to the grandeur of the personages. The figure of the praying Virgin Mary in the apse of the cathedral is often referred to as The Unbreakable Wall — as long as She stands and prays for us, Kyiv will stand.
In the twelfth-century Church of St Cyril, the frescoes of the twelfth century share the walls with frescoes and icons created in the end of the nineteenth century by Mykhailo Vrubel. He must have been divinely inspired — his artistic penetration into the depths of the most profound mysteries of Christian spirit is truly amazing. But when Vrubel was invited to take part in decorating the interiors of St Volodymyr’s Cathedral, his sketches were rejected as too innovatory by the then church authorities. Nevertheless, a group of prominent painters led by Vasily Vasnetsov managed to produce an artistic and majestic result in the wall decoration on a grand scale. St Vladimir’s is one of the most frequented churches in Kyiv. As a true spiritual centre, it combines architectural and artistic brilliance with the right kind of religious aura.
It would take a long time to visit all the churches of Kyiv. Because of its churches, in the times of old, Kyiv was often called “second Jerusalem.” One of the two oldest sections of Kyiv is Podil; the word literally means, The place in the valley, and Podil is indeed situated at the foot of one of Kyiv hills, by the side of the river. Some of the neighbourhoods in Podil have changed but little from the seventeenth century.
Pechersk, so named after the famous pechery — caves in the Lavra Monastery, is abundant in buildings in the style of Ukrainian baroque with its colour contrasts, white facades and green roofs. The eighteenth-century bell tower of the Lavra Monastery rises high above the city as a daring symbol of spiritual power and architectural challenge. If you feel physically fit and the prospect of climbing hundreds of steps to the height of a couple of hundred feet is not too daunting, then you have a chance of enjoying a truly breathtaking panorama of Kyiv and its environs from one of the observation points of the tower.
After the construction of the bell tower was completed, and probably after the death of the architect who designed the bell tower, a legend was born. Every day, the legend says, the part of the bell tower that was built during that day, sank into the ground, and it went on like this until the gold cross was fixed to the top of the dome. The dome began to sink into the ground, but the moment the cross touched the earth, the whole bell tower began to rise out of the ground and then it stretched in its hundred-meter entirety to its full slender height. In spite of its size it does seem to be soaring upwards, light and yet solid.
The moon rises over the city, adding its silver light to the warm
Probably Kyiv is not “the greenest city” in Europe — a claim that was so popular among the Kyivans before they started travelling around the world. But even if it is not, every spring, the city erupts in a riot of blossoming colours and scents which are impossible to ignore even in the most ultra-modern, sophisticated and air-conditioned offices. In a matter of days, numerous parks and untold numbers of trees along the streets and in the backyards turn Kyiv into a veritable “green zone” which stretches for miles from north to south.
The three central parks, Misky, Khreshchatytsky and Mariyinsky (of which Misky is the oldest) form a park chain with open alleys and secluded places so much beloved by romantics and lovers. The vistas that open on the river from the parks can move even the coldest heart.
The Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov who was born and educated in Kyiv (he moved to Moscow in the early nineteen-twenties) extolled the city in his novel, The White Guard. For him, Kyiv was The City, with the capital C, beautiful and majestic in all seasons.
There are two botanical gardens in Kyiv. The smaller one, located close to the Shevchenko University (it actually belongs to the University) and the bigger one in Pechersk have a lot to offer to nature lovers. Among their miracles you can find magnolias which are not supposed to be growing in the open at this latitude. But they do, in Kyiv botanical gardens thanks to the untiring efforts and devotion of the gardens’ botanists and attendants.
The Pechersk Botanical Garden boasts a section of lilacs which, when in full bloom, makes you dizzy with the lilac odour. There are hundreds of species of lilacs, in a wide range of colours from snow white to deep purple. From the hill on which the lilac garden is laid out, you can see the blue domes dotted with gold stars and gold crosses of the churches in the Vydubytsky Monastery that sits at the foot of the hill, and beyond the domes, a grey-blue stretch of the river, bridges that look like toys with toy trains running across them. Still further into the distance spreads the urbanized plain thickly covered with housing growth.
Azaleas, rhododendrons and other bushes and trees of the University Botanical Garden create a symphony of vernal colours — pinks, purples, whites, yellows, and greens in all possible shades play their exciting visual music as you take a slow walk through the quiet park which is situated next door to one of the busiest thoroughfares of the city.
Horse chestnuts are ubiquitous in Kyiv. They were brought to Kyiv two hundred years ago and found they liked the place so much that they proliferated in great numbers and now stand guard over almost all the streets of Kyiv. The horse chestnut cluster of leaves topped with the blossom is to be seen on Kyiv’s coat of arms. As a matter of fact, now Kyiv has two coats of arms — the newer one with the horse-chestnut blossom, and the older one with The Archangel Michael on it. This coat of arms has recently been reinstituted after many years of soviet suppression.
Horse-chestnut leaves and blossoms can be seen even in stuccowork on the facades of the buildings or on the ceilings and walls inside — something you are not likely to see anywhere else in the world.
Kyiv is particularly beautiful in May when trees begin to blossom and parks
Museums — a quick look
Kyiv is believed to have been founded fifteen hundred years ago, and for several centuries it was — and now is — the capital of a sovereign state. For the rest of the time its status varied from a major city to a backwater provincial town. Such were the twists and turns of the Ukrainian history. A considerable part of art treasures migrated or was moved from Kyiv to other big culture centres — Berlin, Moscow, St Petersburg or Warsaw (The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, for example, has an excellent collection of Scythian gold that is made up mostly of gold artefacts which were once part of Kyiv collections). But Kyiv patrons of arts, such as the Khanenko and Tereshchenko families, scholars and enthusiasts, such as Bilyashivsky and Shcherbakivsky, did a great job of collecting art for the future generations to enjoy. At the end of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth century there were in Kyiv several excellent art collections, both private and in museums. Kyiv lost a lot of its art to the museums in Russia during the soviet era, particularly in the early soviet decades, but during the final soviet period, the Kyiv art collections made considerable gains. One of the most significant and probably best known acquisitions was the Scythian gold decoration, known as “pectoral” which was unearthed by the archaeologist Borys Mozolevsky. It was placed on display among other gold objects discovered alongside with the pectoral, in the Museum of Treasures which is situated in the territory of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery. The pectoral is the star of the collection, but the museum boasts a number of other unique exhibits from ancient and more recent times. For a culture tourist, a visit to the Lavra Monastery and the museum is a must.
There is a lot to see in the Museum of Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko too; in one of the rooms of of the museum four icons of a particular interest are displayed. Any major art museum would consider it an honour to have at least one of such icons. The thing is there are very few of them extant — they were painted before the Iconoclast period in the history of Byzantine during which most of the ancient icons were destroyed. The four icons from the Khanenko collection were brought to Kyiv by Porfyry Uspensky, a traveller and a prominent church figure, a hundred and fifty years ago from a monastery in the Sinai Peninsula, the Monastery of St Catherine The Martyr. The encaustic (encaustic — paint consisting of pigment mixed with beeswax and fixed with heat after its application) icons are believed to have been painted either in the fifth or sixth century AD.
The National Art Museum is a place to go to see an excellent collection of Ukrainian medieval icons and Ukrainian portraits of later times. Hetmans, Cossack leaders and other prominent personages of Ukrainian history look at you from contemporary portraits in golden frames. Some of them were called “traitors” in the tsarist and soviet times for pursuing the policies of independence and now, when at last independence came, they are shown due respect as heroes.
There seems to be a great amount of historical and art treasures to be found in Kyiv museums but when I think that it is only a small fraction of what has been lost in wars or taken away by the imperial tsarist and soviet regimes, I grieve.
Maydan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square in the centre
The theatrical season lasts most of the year. Drama and music theatres, opera and ballet, philharmonic society, and concert halls provide a wide selection of where to go practically every night, depending on where your tastes may lead you.
The Kyiv Opera House is known for the brilliance of its opera and ballet performers (in 1911, it earned notoriety for some time as the place where the Russian prime minister Stolypin was assassinated with the tsar Nicholas II watching from the imperial box). The list of singers, ballet dancers and composers who contributed to the Opera House’s fame is a long one indeed: Lysenko, Hliyer, Stankovych, Hmyrya, Hryshko, Solovyanenko, Kocherha, Lukyanets, to mention just a few. Incidentally, Dmyconsidered the staging of his opera Yekaterina Izmaylova at Kyiv Opera to be the best among all other performances of his opera that he had seen.
The Hall of the Kyiv Philharmonic Society has always been praised for its excellent acoustics. But it is not the excellence of acoustics that the excellence of the musicians of Kyiv symphonic and chamber orchestras is attributed to — Kyiv musicians have always been known as superior performers. One of the Kyiv choirs, the Chamber Choir Kyiv, is considered to be one of the best of its kind in the world, and it spends most of the time on tours performing all over the world. Unfortunately, because of its extensive and intensive touring, this choir performs only a couple of times a year in Kyiv.
The Virsksy Dance Ensemble, the Veryovka Choir, the Dunmka Choir have performed to enraptured audiences all over the world and if all the instances of thunderous applause they were accorded were united into one, then this sound blast would be heard all over the globe.
The Orange Revolution brought many changes to this country. A not so conspicuous but nevertheless a change occurred in the hearts of the music lovers who,before the revoution, had preferred only classical music and rejected rock. Oleh Skrypka from the VV rock band, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk from the rock group Okean Elzy, and other rock and rap singers and musicians who performed at Maydan (Independence Square in Kyiv) at the height of the revolution, in snow and subzero temperatures, revolutionized by their music and political message they put into it, the attitude to rock of the older generation of protestors who were among the Yushchenko supporters in Maydan.
There are night clubs in Kyiv where live rock and jazz is performed, and a sufficient number of discotheques for the young people to go to at night. But Kyiv night life is not limited to such discotheques, of course. Most of the restaurants stay open very late, or rather into the early hours of the morning. Casinos and strip bars offer their own, rather specific kind of entertainment. A number of restaurants in Kyiv specialize in Ukrainian cuisine — Lipsky Osobnyak, O’Panas, Mandaryn, Hirchytsya, Dykanka, to mention only those that can be found in the centre. In the Pyrohiv Open-Air Folk Architecture Museum, the local tavern offers fantastic Ukrainian traditional dishes, among them borsch and varenyky of a hundred kinds.
Clear spring and summer nights in Kyiv provide a glorious celestial spectacle of the Chumatsky Shlyakh (Milky Way), and the stars in the sky, the stars in the eyes, and the lights of the city all combine to add to the vibrations that make Kyiv such a special place.
“Gold vibrations over Kyiv …”
Welcome to join in and experience these vibrations!
Folk holidays, Rites and Memorable Dates in 2005
The State Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine
Ukraine, 03026, Kyiv, Pyrohyv.
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