A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.
People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.
Together with Lviv, Chernivtsi is also part of the beautiful cultural centre that is Western Ukraine. In addition to being right in the middle of the marvellously indigenous Bukovyna region, a sanctuary for a number of wonderful Ukrainian traditions, it is also home to a large number of ethnic nationalities, many of which lead a naturally European way of life.
Having heard a tale or two about this beautiful place, the sun rises on a weekend Kitten and I have especially set aside for investigating all of the hidden treasures that lie in this mysterious west that is Chernivtsi. Located just 40 kilometres from the Romanian border, we hop aboard a train on Friday night and are off in search of adventure in this 600 year old city.
Chernivtsi Je T’aime
The week prior to our trip, we started getting questions from everyone regarding the choice of our destination. Wanting to know what was so special about this particular city, Kitten and I both answered that we have a real soft spot for the smaller western cities of Ukraine. Their rich Ukrainian tradition often mixed with agreeable European culture just keep us coming back again and again, and were pretty confident this next voyage was not going to disappoint. Having read a lot about the city itself, the impression we get is that it looks a lot like Lviv. Others say that this city of 240,000 could be called Ukraine’s version of Paris, Prague or Vienna. Those comparing it to Kyiv often say that the architecture found on Andriivskiy Uzviz is one and the same with that found all over its Western Ukrainian counterpart. For our side, we would have no way of knowing until we got there. However, just going by some of the previous adventures we’ve taken together, there’s one thing we’re sure of: we’re going to have a great time!
The Welcoming Committee
Pulling up to the train station the next morning, it looks small and congenial if slightly abandoned. With no one else around but those of us getting off the train, Kitten and I head towards what looks like a good smoking area. We are about to light up when we are greeted by a couple of police officers. Having lived in Kyiv for quite some time, the conclusion in situations like these never ends well. So preparing ourselves for a long drawn out lecture followed by what ultimately finishes with a lighter wallet, we greet them with smiles, hoping our pearly whites might deter them if only a little. Dazed by the simple and polite request to move on from where we are to another spot just down the way where smoking is permitted, we say thank you and look at each other slightly stunned. In contrast to our crime fighters in the capital, these men seem to know that their job description does not include bribery or corruption. We are quite fond of Chernivtsi already...
Our First Guide
It’s 09.00 and a bit chilly outside. But grabbing a cab, we stay sheltered and warm until we get to our hotel on the other side of the city. Catching our first glimpse of the small metropolis from the windows of the car, we drive through one of the older districts built by the Austrians over a century ago. It is bursting with history making Chernivtsi appear to a small city laden with ancient architecture, two-storey family dwellings and lots of chestnut trees.
One note of interest here are the trees themselves. With few tall buildings located anywhere in this peaceful place, residents have cut the chestnuts in a certain way to ensure that they do not grow past a certain level restricting their view. We’ve not seen anything like this before, so these dwarfed trees do offer a bit of comedy in our tired states this morning. And yet, they seem to fit in quite well with the atmosphere found here.
The distinction between eras is quickly seen as we roll out of the European neighbourhood and into one that looks distinctively like it was touched by Soviet hands. Other than a huge park named after Taras Shevchenko, and what looks to be an arena for playing all sorts of wintery sports, there is little that is special about it
A trip of this length in Kyiv would probably set you back 70hrv or so; double that if you accept a ride with one of the many seedy cabbies who hunt down their prey just outside the train station. But since we’re not in the capital, we dish out a measly 40hrv and tip our hat to the driver. A pretty good morning so far!
A Solid Three
Stopping just outside the centre of town, we arrive at the Cheremosh Hotel. It stands on a hill at 11 stories high, and is not only the biggest hotel, but the biggest building in town. Surrounded by a park and a couple of lakes, we sign in at reception, drop our bags in the room and head back out to the park. The weather has turned from a cool breezy morning into one that boasts a bright blue cloudless sky, making the rather immaculate greenery that much more appealing. Not only that, but there doesn’t appear to be any litter anywhere in sight. This in itself is fairly amazing, and something, coming from the capital, we rarely if ever see.
Returning back to the hotel and heading up to our room, it is simple but has everything we are going to need to be comfortable. Equipped with a double bed, TV and mini-bar, the best part for Kitten is the bathtub which I’m sure will get used at some point before we leave. We are both quite eager to see this new city we’ve just touched down in. But there is one thing standing in our way and that’s hunger. So heading down to the main floor, we take in one of the two hotel restaurants. There we enjoy and nice light lunch for a very reasonable price.
Giving the hotel a fine three stars for our stay so far, Kitten and I head out the front doors and down the path towards downtown. Finding City Hall situated right in the middle, Taras Shevchenko stands regally in front, and surrounded by trees that sway with the wind, it seems to be quite a nice square indeed. In search of a map that might tell us of some must-sees of the city, we find a bookshop not far off where souvenirs, maps and an impressive collection of Ex Libris images await consumer attention. In addition to finding what we came in for, we soon learn that shops of this sort are located all over the city, and it makes me smile to think that people in some parts of the world still have time for books.
Soap, Water, Chocolate
Breaking out the map, we head over to Kobylaynska Street, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare which will then take us to a rather grand cathedral with a monument to metropolitan Hakman. Before we get there, however, we enjoy the walk down Kobylyanska Street which itself is considered a landmark, and busy with tourists all year round, is thought to be one of the most beautiful streets in all of Ukraine. In fact, there is a legend that tells of its citizens washing the street with soap and water every day, and anyone choosing to walk it would have to do the same with their own feet. While we don’t allow ourselves to get that carried away, we do marvel at the number of lovely cafes and restaurants situated along both sides. Deciding to stop and grab a little caffeine before we carry on to the cathedral, we stop at a place called Chocolate House which serves delicious coffees, teas, desserts, and one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had!
Built in 1875 and preserved in all its ancient architectural beauty, we move on to the Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University. Its red bricks are a piece of real architectural art that feature impressive frescos, statues, domes, a clock tower and the Cathedral of the Three Saints. Walking around the walls that support the massive structure, life just seems to stop. There is a botanical garden not far off where it seems like every species of tree grows tall and straight with enormous branches that weigh so heavily they brush the ground creating shady hovels.
Love in the Park
Not knowing where the time has gone, we notice that the sun has begun its descent so we decide to start making our way back to the hotel. Trying to take in as many things as we can, we pass the Chernivtsi Drama Theatre and the Palace of Culture; both of which have incorporated the classic Italian Renaissance style so typical to Chernivtsi. We also take a walk through Shevchenko Park which is full of fountains and amusements and is the biggest park that can be found in the city. One of the things we really like is the huge swing located right in the middle. It is in the shape of a heart and is a very popular place for lovers to sit and have their picture taken. Not far off, there is another item where declarations of affection can be made: the Bridge of Love, which connects nothing but hearts as locks of all shapes and sizes rest upon its sturdy beams. Sounds of screams and laughter pull our attention further into the park where there is an amusement park providing loads of fun for kids young and old. Upon further inspection, there actually aren’t as many people as we thought. We are not sceptical, however, and throwing no caution to the wind, we get enough tokens, which are very reasonably-priced, to climb on the Rollercoaster, the Stella Tower (30metre free fall) and the Ferris Wheel.
Having joined in the screams of delight, we have had enough fun for one night, and with bellies that are trying to get the feel for gravity once more, we stumble on home. As well as having had a good day, we have seen a lot. But there is still tomorrow, so it’s time to rest and refuel. The Cheremosh Hotel will help us do that nicely.
A New Sight
Our second day in “Little Vienna” starts early, and having a pretty good feel for what exists in the city, we decide to take a look at what might lie outside its realm. Fortunately, not only are there many interesting areas that pique our interest – Sunny Valley, Kolomiya, Khotyn – but the bus station is within walking distance to the hotel. So after a little discussion, we opt for the small village of Khotyn. Famous for its fortress, it is after all one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine.
At a cost of 20hrv/each for a round trip bus ticket, we are on our way in no time, and arrive just as quickly 45 minutes or so later. When we first pull up, it looks to be an ordinary village, and I for one am not entirely sure why it has been given the designation of tourist attraction. At the instruction of one of the town’s residents, however, we take a fair walk, about kilometre and a half, up the road, and there we are greeted to the entrance of the Khotyn National Park.
The first thing that captures both Kitten and I is the incredible vastness of the landscape that simply opens up as we are ushered in. The area exists on the edge of a bank that features hills of all sizes and shapes off in the distance. As you look across the Dneister River, which flows just beneath, the bank on the other side is also quite stunning with its fields all full of beautiful yellow flowers, and it seems the nature alone would be reason enough to make the trip.
Stands full of souvenirs and knick-knacks are everywhere, as are restaurants serving up the local grub. It’s too early to sit down and eat, however, and gifts can wait until later, so we begin exploring this magnificent structure which has stood on this very spot since 1325.
The fortress itself has seen many rulers in the long years it’s been standing. But one of the most important events in its history has to be the Battle of Khotyn in 1621. Having been taken by the Turkish army, Hetman Petro Sahaidachniy stormed the fortress with only half the troops (50,000) to that of the opposition (estimated at 100,000). That same year a peace treaty was signed stopping the Ottoman advance and confirming the Commonwealth-Ottoman border.
One Last Amusement
As we walk around, the sheer size of the massive walls do far more than impress. Making our way through the first gates, it seems incomprehensible that the fortress could have been constructed all those years ago when so little in engineering technology existed. Inside, the yard is full of medieval items such as swords, shields, bows, cannons, as well as household goods such as jars and large pots. For those brave of heart, there is a dungeon in which to descend. You’ll have to be careful, however, because other than the natural sunlight that pierces through cracks in the ceiling, there is no light that shines down.
Having spent almost our entire day just roaming the grounds, the lessening daylight outside tells us that it is time to head back. We walk in the direction of the stop where the bus left us earlier that morning, however, the bus is not there so we decide to wait – what else can we do? After a few minutes and a few buses going in the opposite direction, Kitten and I both sigh, but we know this is Ukraine after all and we’ll just have to wait. And so we do that, 40 minutes worth of waiting.
Tired and impatient, we discuss the possibility of taking a car back to Chernivtsi, and so grab a guy heading in that direction. The driver is pleasant enough and only charges us 100hrv. And while he does drop us right to the front door of the hotel, the drive reminds us both of the roller coaster we rode the day before!
Gathering our things together so that they are ready for the morning, we enjoy one last night in Chernivtsi’s Chermosh Hotel. It has been a very pleasant couple of days, the amusements of which we will share with our friends once we return back to Kyiv. Chernivtsi and surrounding area is a lovely place. Made all the more so because of its kind residents and tourist friendly attitude.
Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.
Pulling Strings Located on Hrushevskoho Street – the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades – children’s favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. What’s On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.