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In the Heart of Ukraine
If you happen to travel between Kyiv and Kharkiv, these two Euro 2012 host cities, allot a couple of days to enjoy the Land of Poltavshchyna, usually referred to as “the heart of Ukraine”.
Romko Malko takes the readers on a guided tour.
Photos by Halyna Ivashchenko
In the Land of Poltavshchyna in Central Ukraine you still find rivers of milk and creeks of honey, with banks of sweet jelly; witches can still be spotted flying around at night on their brooms, picking stars from the firmament, and little devils regularly steal the moon and hide it, agreeing to release it only if threatened with violence by the mighty blacksmith. It feels so good and nice and peaceful to be there, in the Land of Poltavshchyna, but it will open up for you and reveal its fairy-tail magic only if you come with a pure heart. Poltavshchyna is a land of a special charm and fairy-tale mood, where you feel that history is a part of the present-day.
The distance between Kyiv and Poltava is a little over three hundred kilometers, or about two hundred miles. If you go by car, you can make it to Poltava in several hours — if you travel non-stop, that is. If you stop here and there on the way to have a good look around or have a good meal at a cozy little restaurant or tavern, then your journey will last much longer. In fact, you run a risk of never making it to Poltava, because once you’ve tried some of those delicacies they offer, you will want to have more, and then still more, and… a moment comes when you think you absolutely cannot have one little morsel or sip more, but then they bring you something else and you realize you cannot refuse to try it. There’s no end to it, really. Well, some people may say it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it is not. If you happen to be in those parts, make sure you drop in and have a dish or two to try.
So if you do decide to make a trip there, tune your gastric system to enjoying the traditional local food. And the culinary traditions in Poltavshchyna go centuries back, into the mist of time. Little has changed in this respect since then — neither wars nor revolutions have robbed the Poltavshchyna cooks and housewives of their cooking skills.
When you’re passing through Lubny, you are likely to see the domes of the Mharsky Monastery from afar. They say this monastery used to be among the most important ones in Ukraine. It was built in 1619 in what is known as the Ukrainian Baroque style.
In 1663, Yury, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s son, spent some time in this monastery as a monk. Earlier, Yury had been elected hetman but was forced to resign; after resignation, he took monastic vows. In spite of the fact that the monastery lost much of its importance as a religious and cultural centre, it remains to be a symbol of the wild and yet magnanimous Ukrainian soul.
The Spaso-Preobrazhensky (Saviour’s Transfiguration) Cathedral, built in the seventeenth century with the money donated by Hetmans Ivan Samoylovych and Ivan Mazepa, is another architectural landmark. It is considered to be one of the best buildings erected in the style of Ukrainian Baroque, in which the architectural elements of the eleventh-twelfth centuries were combined with the elements of the West European architectural styles of the seventeenth century. In 1654, Patriarch of Constantinople was buried in the Mharsky Monastery; it is known that he was put into the grave in a sitting position — nobody knows why. The monastery boasts the “imperishable relics” of Serafim Anin, another Constantinople Patriarch, and of the Kyivan Metropolitan Yosyf Nelyubovych-Tukalsky. In 1918, the Bolshevik authorities wrought havoc in the monastery turning it into piles of stones which nevertheless proved to be possible to be reconstructed back into buildings.
Village of Dykanka, which features so prominently in Nikolai Gogol’s short stories, in “Christmas Eve” in particular, is worth a stop-over.
The first known written mention of Dykanka dates back to 1658. The Cossack commander Kochubey, the one who betrayed Hetman Ivan Mazepa and the Ukrainian cause in the early eighteenth century and whose treason helped the Russian Emperor to subdue Ukraine, had an estate in Dykanka. There are several oaks that stand in what once was Kochubey’s park which surrounded the central mansion, or palace — these huge trees have survived the centuries. It takes several people holding hands to measure their girth. Kochubey’s palace was destroyed shortly after the Bolshevik revolution. They say it had a hundred rooms, a picture gallery and a great library.
The Mykolayivska (St Nickolas’) Church is probably the only surviving architectural landmark from the times of Kochubey. It is a rotunda with two domes, one inside the other; the inside one has never been completed.
There is one curious landmark in Dykanka that is also worth seeing — a triumphal arch erected in 1820 in commemoration of the victory over Napoleon. The arch stands at the edge of the village — the only village in Ukraine, and probably in the whole world graced with a triumphal arch.
Opishnya has been known for ages for the excellence of its fictile products. Over forty kinds of clay in the vicinity of the village provide excellent material for making earthenware, and Opishnya has been producing pottery for about three centuries. At one time, practically all the villagers were potters and craftsmen.
At present, there are only about ten potters left in Opishnya who make colorful pots, thin-walled clay pitchers, fancy little clay lions and Cossacks, and other curious things. In spite of there being so few of them, the potters have begun to revive the trade of their ancestors and pass it on to their children. A museum of Ukrainian pottery was opened in the village of Opishnya with craftsmen and sculptors coming to see it not only from all over Ukraine, but from other countries as well. It’s quite a unique place, this museum, and even if you are not too interested in Ukrainian earthenware-making traditions, you may find this museum worth visiting. Among its exhibits you’ll find pieces of modern sculpture too, and archaic pieces, and traditional artifacts, and things that one can call “cosmic installations.” Incidentally, earthenware from Opishnya can be found in many museums of the world.
Poltava has always been known as a particularly hospitable place, with beautiful churches, beautiful girls and beautiful gardens. When in the springtime, cherry trees are in full blossom and young girls, discarding their heavy winter clothes, fill the streets, it is surely a lovely sight. There are also some landmarks that you may find interesting to see, but the main attraction of Poltava is its mood — tranquil, serene, and scenic. If you possess a bit of romantic feeling in your heart, then you will find Poltava a nice place to come to.
The first written mention of Poltava dates to the year 1174; at that time it was referred to as Ltava.
On June 27 1709, a major battle was fought in the vicinity of Poltava. The Swedish troops of King Charles XII and the Ukrainian troops of Hetman Ivan Mazepa who hoped that his alliance with the Swedish king would make it possible to reestablish Ukrainian sovereignty, clashed with the forces led by Peter I. The battle was lost and with it Ukrainian independence. Ukraine found itself completely absorbed by the Russian Empire.
Like in most other ancient cities of the world, the most interesting part of Poltava is its old section — the neighborhood of Panyansky uzviz and other streets where you find little gardens, little houses with wooden shutters and tall linden trees. It is there, on Ivanova Hora, that you find the restored house where the Ukrainian poet Ivan Kotlyarevsky once lived. His long and comic poem Eneyida was the first literary work written in the new Ukrainian literary language.
The building which now houses the Poltava Local Lore Museum, built in 1903–1908, can’t help producing an impression and thus is not to be missed. It was constructed and decorated in Ukrainian Modern style. It combines the riot of well-arranged colors, sophistication of details and generosity of outlines. The architect Vasyl Krychevsky, who designed the building, and the artist Serhiy Vasylkivsky who decorated the interiors, consciously introduced Ukrainian motifs to make the building look definitely a Ukrainian creation rather than a variant of Russian-style Modern or of international Art Nouveau. The Ukrainianness of the building caused a sort of consternation among the locals but luckily the building was left to stand as it was built and decorated.
The Uspensky Cathedral, built in the second half of the eighteenth century, was at that time the largest stone house in Poltava — but it was destroyed in the 1930s. In recent years it was rebuilt; the 44-meter tall bell tower was for some reason spared by the Bolsheviks and there was no need to rebuild it. Originally, the bell tower had a bell which was made of the metal from the captured Turkish cannons at the end of the eighteenth century. The bell has been placed for safe keeping in a museum. In the same neighborhood you’ll find a wooden church, Spaska, which was built in 1705– 1706. It is the only surviving eighteenth-century wooden church in the Land of Poltavshchyna.
From the top of Ivanova Hora, which happens to be a hill, there opens an impressive and vast panorama of the Khrestovozdvyzhensky (Of the Erection of the Holy Cross) Monastery and of the place near the Vorskla River. The church of the monastery is the only Ukrainian Baroque church in Ukraine that has seven domes.
There are many other wonderful things to be found in Poltavshchyna — take those embroidered rushnyky (decorative towels), for example. You won’t find better ones anywhere else.
View from the top of Ivanova Hora.
The Local Lore and History Museum in Poltava is a good example of Ukrainian Modern (Art Nouveau) architectural style.
The Museum of Local Lore and History in Poltava is lavishly decorated both inside and outside.
The wall of The Museum of Local Lore and History (a detail).
The Spaso-Preobrazhensky (Saviour's Transfiguration) Cathedral, in the village of Mhar, is built in the style which is known as Ukrainian Baroque.
The monument to Mykola (Nikolai) Gogol, a nineteenth-century prominent classic of Russian literature of the Ukrainian descent, in the village of Dykanka. Dykanka features in some of Gogol's short stories, such as "Christmas Eve," for example.
In the village of Opishnya, one of the Ukrainian centers of fictile products. Earthenware items from Opishnya can be found in many museums of the world.
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