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Podil, one of the ancient sections of Kyiv
Mariya Yaroshevska, a Shevchenko University French-major student from Kyiv, tells her story of Podil, one of the oldest sections of Kyiv.
For some reason, of all the sections of Kyiv, I like Podil best. The rest of the city on the right bank of the Dnipro River (the left bank is flat) sits in hills, and Podil spreads over a vast area in the valley of the river. Some historians believe that it was in Podil that initially people began to settle down more than fifteen hundred years ago to found a city that came to be called Kyiv.
Traditionally, Podil was a place inhabited by artisans, craftsmen and traders. Things have changed a lot since the early times and now Podil is just another district of Kyiv, but even a hundred years back it was considerably different from other districts — there was a concentration of shops of all kinds in Podil. You could find a jewelry shop next to a shoemaker’s; the next shop sold watches, and the next one all kinds of things made of metal. You could repair almost anything at one of the repair shops in Podil — and for a low price too. You could have a jacket made to order, or choose a hat from many displayed on the shelves of a milliner’s shop.
The place was bustling with a never stopping activity; the roads carried a heavy traffic of horse-pulled wagons delivering agricultural products and other goods. If you wanted a message delivered, you would hail one of the men wearing “red hats”— the emblem of their delivery trade. They would deliver letters, flowers, candies, cakes — you name it, to the address you indicated. Like present-day cabbies, they knew the location of almost every street in the city well.
Markets of Podil were known for their fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. The fish sold at the fish market was indeed fresh — it had been caught at night or early in the morning. There were hundreds of boats of various sizes and purpose docked at the wharves. Many of them traveled long distances up and down the river — some all the way up from the ports of the Black Sea.
Big tubs were full of splashing fish; the bigger fish were laid out on the counters. Among the fruit the apples known as Antonovka were particularly popular. These apples, without a single spot or blemish, must have been particularly tasty with no chemicals in them.
Huge water melons brought from Kherson were a hot item in August. Barges brought mountains of them to be unloaded and sold not only in Podil but at other markets of the city as well. These melons were particularly juicy and sweet.
For those who developed thirst or hunger, various food stalls offered kvas (soft drink) and all kinds of eatables that you could eat while strolling through the markets or streets of Podil. Many of the sellers behind the counters painted in cheerful colors, were plump, pink-cheeked Ukrainian women wearing typical, multicolored Ukrainian traditional dress, with ribbons in their hair, coral necklaces around their necks and sharp tongues in their mouths. You were expected to bargain while buying anything, even the cheapest items.
Homemade sausages, all kinds of dairy products, varenyky (stuffed dumplings) with all imaginable and unimaginable stuffing, salo (hard pork fat) spiced with garlic, and other foods could make your mouth water even if you had just had your lunch.
At one of the squares of Podil, Kontraktova Ploshcha (Contracts Square — the name suggests that trade “contracts” for deliveries of goods and foods were signed there), regular fairs were held at the end of winter. These fairs attracted thousands of people, and not only from Kyiv. The building of Hostynny Dvir Inn stood (and still stands, converted into a modern trade center) at one end of the square which was filled with many rows of stalls and counters. Dvir rented rooms and housed numerous shops and restaurants on the ground. Wholesalers and retailers from other cities, and even from abroad, came to Kontraktovy fairs to conclude deals.
Mounts of food stood side by side with new-fangled items such as fountain pens and “unsplashable” inkpots. Foreign traders usually stayed at Hostynny Dvir, offering their Oriental wears, Persian carpets, teas, spices and other unusual items to individual customers and trading companies.
Entertainment was provided too. Merry-go-rounds and Ferris wheels, funhouses and swings were installed at the fair’s pleasure ground. In those days, they were popular with grown-ups as well as with children. At the time when there was no electricity to drive the motors, various ingenious devices and mechanisms were invented to set merry-go-rounds and Ferris wheel in motion.
The square looked gray and abandoned after the colors of the fair were gone. In the 1930s a small park was laid out next to the square to provide a green touch, and the square was paved. Though there were no more fairs held there, traditionally people went there to sell or buy items that could be useful at home, but the wares were displayed not on the counters but on the rugs spread on the ground.
In one of the buildings facing the square, there was one of the biggest toy stores in town. Many parents, who were too poor to afford to buy expensive toys, brought their children to do some window shopping. Usually, it was a problem to “unglue” the children from showcases and windows, displaying marvels of toys.
Elsewhere in Podil, there were large and shady parks, but Podil was also a section of town with slums and poor houses. Streets were lined with trees; poplars produced flying seeds which gave some people allergy — but the discovery of causes of allergy was a comparatively recent one, and people just complained of headaches and rashes with no cures provided.
After years of neglect in the soviet times, Podil began to come back to life in the years following Ukraine’s independence — repairs and new construction have turned Podil into a place which has preserved some of the charm of the old times combining it with comforts of our age.
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