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.
Having explored most popular towns and cities in Ukraine, Kitten and the Bear recently turned to a less touted corner of Ukraine, and found it no less interesting. A weekend offered the perfect opportunity to traverse a historical route called the Golden Horseshoe of Cherkasy. It led them to the very roots of Ukrainian statehood and independence.
The Bear and I had been planning our trip to the Cherkasy region for a long time, as it is known as both a unique and beautiful place. Come the day, we grab some sandwiches and a guide-book and set off in the early morning of Saturday, heading south. We’re both curious and charmed by the Cherkasy region, namely because the three most important liberation struggles took place here; one in the 17th century (led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky), another in the 18th century (the campaign was named Koliivshchyna), and the most recent one in the 20th century, which took place in the wild Kholodny Yar (cold ravine).
Given what’s going on in this country right now, we set off thinking that this trip had come at an opportune moment, and it seems like just the right time to get inspired with the spirit of freedom this area holds. And as if to prove the point, we find ourselves taking the new Obukhiv highway. Surrounded by the modern mansions of today’s new business elite, the road is predictably comfortable, given that it personally serves the powers that be.
Visiting Mother Nature
Half way there, we stop for a picnic on the shores of the Dnipro River. The view spread in front of us is of green hills and silky platinum sand beaches. We refresh ourselves in the river and finish our lunch. Just as we can feel ourselves getting relaxed and peaceful, we hear the road calling us, and begrudgingly we set off again.
Our journey is pleasant and full of surprises. We come across one such point of interest when we pull over to the side of the road for a call of nature. Heading over to some thick bushes, we discover bird-cherry trees on both sides. As we come closer, we meet a local family picking the fruit into huge buckets. “They’re rather small,” says the woman holding a bucket, as her husband rumbles around up the tree, throwing the cherries down to her. “But for preserves, they’re just perfect! There’s a long alley of bird-cherry trees along this road, so we come here every year.” We follow suit, and in the spirit of adventure we help ourselves to these small but bitterly sweet fruits. The rich Ukrainian land is already treating us generously!
Our first destination on the way is the town of Chyhyryn. As we near it we come across a huge statue depicting a strong, iron-muscled Cossack, sabre up and ready to fight. This statue looks almost magic-like, as the background behind him flickers with the golden-yellow of wheat fields and the dazzling blue sky above. It’s a perfect depiction of the kind of scenery that gave birth to the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Inspired by this inviting sign, we soon enter Chyhyryn at about midday.
Our hotel has the same name as the town and appears to be the only place here to host tourists. Situated right in the centre, in handy reach of all sight-seeing spots, it looks comfortable and friendly. We’ve reserved the room in advance – a two-room ‘luxury’ apartment costing us 320hrv per night. Apart from a spacious bedroom with lovely double bed, the living room welcomes us with a soft couch and two armchairs. There is also a tiny kitchen with a fridge, which is quite nice, because it means we don’t have to bother going anywhere if we just want to have a cup of refreshing tea. This we do, in preparation for our cultural exploration of this historic place.
Having taken a bit of rest after the car journey, we now want to see everything that Chyhyryn has to offer. The hotel manager has already warned us that the museums close at 17.00 on weekends, so we hurry up.
The Hetman’s Capital
Spreading over both sides of the Tyasmyn River, which in past times acted as a powerful water barrier, Chyhyryn was founded as a border-line fortress by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century. The town was developing rapidly due to being situated on an important trade route from Kyiv to Crimea. Unfortunately, this meant that Chyhyryn suffered numerous attacks from Tatars, which is why the fortress had to be kept in proper condition.
In 1595, not far from Chyhyryn, a boy was born into a noble military family. He was Bohdan Khmelnytsky, one of the most important figures in Ukrainian history. He studied at the Lviv Jesuit College and became profoundly knowledgeable in world history. He was also schooled in Latin, Polish, Turkish and French. When he returned home he took part in the Polish-Turkish war in 1620-21, during which he was taken prisoner, languishing in Turkish captivity for two hellish years. He managed to escape and, once back home, he enrolled in a registered Cossack detachment.
From his father Bohdan inherited lands in the region of Chyhyryn (Subotiv village) and lived here with his family, taking part in any and every military campaign. At the time the Ukrainian people were oppressed by their 17th century Polish lords, who controlled and owned the land, all who quashed all national, cultural and religious efforts of Ukrainians. But despite this environment, it took something personal to push Khmelnytsky into taking decisive action. His estate was attacked by servants of a Polish landlord and his property stolen. In the attack, his son was severely injured, and the grief took its toll on Bohdan’s wife, who died shortly afterwards.
It was the last straw. He gathered a band of his Cossacks and in 1647 went to the Zaporizhzhya Sich, where he was elected Hetman. He busied himself and his troops in preparation for a liberation war against Poland. He organised and united thousands of Cossacks and common peasants, who came with pitchforks and axes, ready to fight to free their land. Khmelnytsky made Chyhyryn his official residence and the town became the capital of the newly-created Cossack Republic.
Digging Up the Past
The initial complex of buildings did not survive, but we visit the newly-built historic reconstruction. Spreading out before us are tall wooden fences, huge gates and beautiful white-washed houses, depicting the architectural appearance of Bohdan’s residence. Walking inside, we see (what we assume was) the central building, while smaller houses along the sides were presumably the embassies of UNI0N estates which supported Khmelnytsky. Back in the 17th century, ambassadors from Sweden, Austria and Turkey would visit, as would patriarchs from Jerusalem and Constantinople, to establish diplomatic relations with the Ukrainian Hetman. Unfortunately, the interiors of the buildings aren’t finished; the museum staff said they ran out of money.
After seeing the complex we visit the museum, which exhibits archaeological items found in Chyhyryn, including authentic sabres and other weapons. We then venture higher, up to Castle Mountain. That served as a natural base for the Chyhyryn Fortress. At first the fortress had wooden walls, but they later (and wisely) replaced them with much more solid earthen walls. In 1678, a Scottish military engineer built a bastion on top of the mountain, which is today called Doroshenko’s Bastion, named after a Ukrainian Hetman.
The military facilities were destroyed later that same year and lay buried under the ground for centuries. It is only recently that archaeologists found the foundation of the bastion. With the help of project sketches made at the time and preserved, the reconstruction effort was made possible in 2007. I peer into the window of the bastion. The walls are more than a metre thick, and I struggle to imagine how people in the 17th century built it using just their bare hands.
We head for the very pinnacle of the mountain, where the statue of Khmelnytsky towers above the town. I look down on the panorama of Chyhyryn – a beautiful provincial town, sinking into green gardens and tied up charmingly by a ribbon of the Tyasmyn River. I try to grasp how it was right here, 300 years ago, that a new and independent state was being formed. Bohdan’s crucial mistake in signing a treaty with Moscow ultimately led to failure, and I can only wonder how different this country would be otherwise.
Meals and More
But wonder soon turns to hunger, and we consult the guide-book for a dinner suggestion. Chyhyryn has three eateries, and we see that one (Shynok restaurant) is just in front of Castle Mountain. Licking our lips, we take a seat on the terrace. As if trying to spoil a good day, we’re then told by the restaurant that we won’t be able to eat there, because an earlier party has emptied them of food! Cursing under my breath, we set off on a long search of a decent place to have dinner. We travel far and wide, first to discover that one of the three cafes is too busy, then to find the final option looking less-than-trustworthy. We eventually return to Shynok and beg them to bring us something to eat, anything! Luckily, the waitress takes pity on us and rustles up a vegetable salad, boiled potatoes and pancakes with cottage cheese. After the last hour it seems like a feast, and tastes even better when we learn it will cost less than 100hrv.
We get up early on Sunday morning and a 10-minute drive leads us to one of the most charming and picturesque places in Ukraine – Subotiv village. The landscape slopes down and the village sinks into the fructifying gardens. Watching this beauty I understand why Khmelnytsky chose this place for his private residence. After becoming a hetman, Bohdan built a palace and a church here, which served as a tomb for members of Khmelnytsky’s family. When Bohdan died he was also buried here, but after his death the properties endured a period of decline. In 1664 the village was demolished by Polish robbers who, in the ecstasy of revenge, raided the tombs of both Bohdan Khmelnytsky and his son. St. Elias Church was restored in the middle of the 20th century, with the hetman’s palace today revealing only the initial foundations.
The whole place is deserted this sunny Sunday morning, so we explore the complex with the help of a guide-book and our own intuition. It’s so peaceful that we lie down to rest in the shade of ancient trees, which are probably old enough to carry the memory of the great man himself. We help ourselves to the gifts of the mulberry trees and get in-tune with the spiritual harmony of this historic place.
Where the Sun Don’t Shine
We continue our trip, moving in both space and time, to another historical époque. In Chyhyryn neighbourhood there is an ancient forest called Kholodny Yar (Cold Ravine) which comprises more than 6,000 hectares of age-old trees. In these dark and wild forests archaeologists have found the remains of Scythian and Trypillian settlements. The forest is named after the legend of Melanka Kholodna, who was said to have hidden here with her children during the Mongolian-Tatar attacks in the 12th century.
As we walk under the dark and dense foliage, where sunlight barely penetrates, we feel as if we are stepping into an enchanted forest. The cold breath of the land makes it a mystical place, and as I start shivering, I realise that the name of this forest is quite apt!
The forests were also chosen as a hiding place for rebels in the 18th century. It is here in Kholodny Yar that the most massive anti-Polish revolt took place in 1768, under the guidance of Maksym Zaliznyak and Ivan Honta. The revolt was severely suppressed and its guides were put to death by Polish and Moscow governors, but the memory of those dramatic events lives on here, with the Oak Tree of Zaliznyak. This tree is a thousand years old, and served as a meeting spot for rebels. It is Ukraine’s oldest historical witness.
In the 20th century, Kholodny Yar again played an important role hiding those brave and freedom-loving Ukrainians who dared to oppose the Soviets. From 1918 until 1922 they founded an independent state here called the Kholodnoyarska Republic. Motronynsky monastery, dating back 800 years, became a centre of the 20th century liberation movement. It also played a useful role: the ringing bells were a sign for the rebels to gather in preparation for battle and be ready for the fight. The rebel leaders managed to galvanise an army of 15,000 who controlled 25 nearby villages, but insidious and decisive Soviet methods destroyed the republic in 1922, and the rebels were either killed or exiled.
Today Motronynsky is a working monastery so tourists are not let inside wearing shorts or short skirts. Luckily for me I have a long skirt on, and a scarf to cover my head, so we’re allowed into the monastery gardens. Both the church and the monastery were destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times during the past centuries, and today the whole complex looks neat and beautiful. The spirit of freedom is still here and it gives me a pang in my heart when the bell rings. The echoes fill the blue sky and reverberate through the dark cold forest beneath.
It’s time to return home. We face the setting sun on our way back, and are fascinated by the horizon upon us. The fields soar with green, gold and bright yellow in turn. The wind produces undulating waves across the wheat fields, which look almost like golden seas. The hills on both sides of the road raise a feeling of honour and gratitude to the land, which has provided us with nature’s gifts. Wanting to take a piece of nature’s wealth with us, we stop near a field of peas and gather green crunchy pods to eat – a gift of the land. It’s been an unforgettable trip. We’ve traced the paths of those who led the Ukrainian liberation struggle. And it has renewed our sense of pride as we prepare to celebrate 20 years of independence next month.
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.