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Wonders of Ukraine
The village of Kosivska Polyana is situated high up in the mountains. There are three roads that can take you there but only one of them is “a good road” — the other two are more like trails than roads that zigzag down the mountain slopes. The “good road” connects the village with the town of Rakhiv.
The land of Rakhivshchyna administratively belongs to Zakarpattya but ethnographically it is a part of Hutsulshchyna, but the church that stands in the centre of Kosivska Polyana at an elevated place does not look a typical Hutsul church at all. In fact, it does not look like a typical Zakarpattya church either. I don’t think there is any other church in the whole of Ukraine which is similar to this one.
The rectangular forms and right angles feature strongly in the architectural design of the church. Architecture historians are of the opinion that the church bears the features of “the Czech functionalism.” The windows of the church are square and pierce the facade wall in horizontal lines — it is the architect Le Corbusier who is credited with coming up with the basic idea of functionalism. But the white stripes around the windows are purely a local idea.
Functionalism in architecture was particularly popular in the 1930s, when pragmatic and rational approaches to architectural and other forms of design predominated in Europe.
Particularly widespread functionalism was in Czechoslovakia. Zakarpattya then was a part of Czechoslovakia (from 1919 to 1938). Uzhgorod, Khust, Mukacheve and other towns of Zakarpattya saw quite a few buildings constructed in the style of functionalism.
When the religious community of Kosivska Polyana commissioned an architect from Uzhgorod, Emilianu Egreszy, to do the design for a new church, this architect was evidently inspired by the ideas of functionalism. His was a tricky task — to introduce functionalism into the traditional design of a wooden church. The result proved to be a church unique in many features.
It is advisable to take a look at the church from various angles and from various distances. When I did it, I saw that in spite of considerable impact of functionalism, the church retains all the basic characteristics of a wooden church of this type, though not of the kind that used to be popular in the Land of the Hutsuls but rather in the Land of the Lemkys.
The church of St Peter and St Paul in Kosivska Polyana was built in 1935–1938, close to the spot where an old wooden church stood (a year later, this old church was taken apart). Originally, the walls of the church and of the tower were painted light yellow, and the roofs were covered with blue-colored slates, which later — unfortunately! — were replaced by tin plates.
The construction of the church was supported by the Czech Ministry of Agriculture which provided most of the financing. The 34-meter high bell tower was provided with an eight hundred kilogram bell which was made by a company from Uzhgorod. The same company produced four smaller bells for the bell tower as well.
The interior of the church was originally whitewashed but later the interior walls were decorated with paintings by the artist Ivan Fanta. I think that the interior looked better when it was white — the windows and the whiteness of the walls must have looked very uplifting, and the church inside must have looked much more spacious than it actually was.
Among the little discoveries that I made in the church was the presence of a sort of thin drain pipes that were installed under each window at the bottom of it. In the cold seasons, the windows “sweat” during the services and when the water from the accumulated moisture begins to roll down the window panes, it is taken care of by these pipes.
The church in Kosivska Polyana does deserve to be designated as “an architectural landmark” and thus be put under the state protection. I do not think there is another church like the one in Kosivska Polyana anywhere else in Ukraine, or in the world for that matter.
This church, built in the 1930s, combines some features of the style of functionalism with those of a typical Lemkiv wooden church. For comparison (see the photo beneath) —a 16th-century church in Svalyava.
Many windows provide a lot of light in the interior of the church.
The church in Svalyava.
Ruins of former splendar
Iwanted to visit the village of Moysivka in the Land of Cherkashchyna because of a majestic church that is to be seen in it. The only way to get there was by a side road that forked from the highway that connects Kyiv and Kharkiv. The twenty-kilometers of the road are so potholed that you have to move at actually a crawling speed in order not to destroy either your car or your nervous system, or both.
When I finally got to the village, I was rewarded with a magnificent sight of a red-brick church which stood out beautifully against the green background. The church did not look like anything you would expect to see in a backwater village.
In 1796, the landowners named Volkhovsky, came into possession of the village of Moysivka. They had a palace built and a magnificent park laid out, complete with gazebos, fountains, arbors and with a pond which had an island in the center of it.
The palace had a great hall which was designed to stage balls in it. These “Volkhovsky balls” became very popular amongst the aristocracy and the rich not only in Ukraine — the balls were attended by people who came from Moscow and St Petersburg. Taras Shevchenko and a number of other prominent nineteenth-century literati and culture figures paid visits to the Volkhovsky estate.
In 1808, the Volkhovskys built a church which was dedicated to St Peter and St Paul at their estate. The design combines several styles, from Romantic through classical to neo-Gothic. Pointed arches, narrow, winding stairs were a tribute paid to the Gothic. Four chapels were later erected at the side of the church, one of which became the burial place of the Volkhovsky family.
But you can’t see either the palace or the chapels — the revolutions of 1917 which were followed by the years of civil war caused the destruction of a great many lives and of a great many architectural landmarks.
But the church has miraculously survived. No less surprising is the fact that the religious services were held in it well into the 1950s, despite the soviet militant atheism. Finally, the soviets closed down the church “to stop the pernicious religious propaganda”. In 1989 the church was reopened but it is in an urgent need of restoration. The guide book for the Land of Cherkashchyna mentions the church as “a landmark worth seeing” but if something is not done very soon about the church’s preservation, all you’ll be able to see will be a complete ruin rather than a semi-ruin it is now.
Unusual architectural features in the central apse of the Church of St Peter and St Paul
A historical collonade
When I drove into the town of Husyatyn (some English-language maps spell the name of the town as Husiatyn or Gusyatin) in the Land of Khmelnychyna, I could not help noticing a strange colonnade that stood by the side of the road near the bridge. The colonnade was crowned with huge letters — Éìëüíàç. Husyatyn is a small town and the colonnade supporting the name of the town seemed to be much too pompous for it.
It was probably the rather turbulent history of the town that provoked a desire to announce it to the travelers in such a bombastic way.
The town stands on the River Zbruch that flows from north to south. The river was a natural boundary of the land in which Husyatyn was situated. Throughout history, the land was contested by several feuding powers. Many castles in the times of old and concrete fortifications in the recent times were built along the Zbruch. For some time, the river was a border between Poland and Lithuania.
In 1772, when the Russian and Austrian-Hungarian Empires divided the enfeebled Polish Commonwealth between themselves, Halychyna found itself in Austria-Hungary, and Podillya went to Russia. After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, the Bolsheviks, who captured the power in Russia, began to re-assemble the empire. Poland was one of the newly-founded states that strongly resisted the Bolsheviks’ intent to re-incorporate it into the new “Soviet state.” The Zbruch, after several years of civil war in Ukraine and after a Bolshevik military failure to overrun Poland, became the border between Poland and the sovietized Ukraine. In September 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland and annexed vast territories which were joined to the then Soviet Union.
But before it happened, the colonnade had been built for the letters of the name of a small town to be installed upon it. Its pomposity was supposed to suggest the greatness of the land that the foreign travelers were about to enter.
During the Second World War, the Zbruch was also used as a demarcation line by the Nazi Germans in their Lebensraum plans.
Husyatyn itself happens to be an ancient town which, probably, deserves to be proclaimed to the world in a conspicuous way. As early as the fifteenth century it was granted the Magdeburg Law. The town boasted an imposing building of the city hall, several churches and a castle.
This side of the colonnade used to be the front side when the Zbruch was the boundary between Poland and the Soviet Union.
By Olena KRUSHYNSKA
Photos by the author