With Khreshchatyk closed on the weekends, the fountain at the bottom of Khmelnytskoho, peering up toward the National Opera Theatre, seems the perfect place to stop for a moment and admire the view. From here, plan to spend the next few hours heading uphill, as you learn about the buildings along one of Kyiv’s most historic and interesting streets.
Names and Nomenclature
History will tell you that Bohdana Khmelnytskoho Street first appeared, more or less as it is today, in the 1830s. With the Cadet Corp under construction at the time, it was given the name Kadetska Street. Experiencing rapid development throughout the next couple of decades, however, the street was renamed Funduklevskaya in 1869, honouring then Kyiv Governor, Ivan Fundukley.
Fundukley donated money from his own pocket to build the first all girls’ school in Kyiv, which took in children of all social classes. Found on the corner of Khmelnytskoho and Pushkinska at ?6, the offices of Naftogaz Ukraina reside there today. Of course, it looked a little different back in the 1860s, with records suggesting that the well-known poetess Anna Akhmatova studied in this very building.
Just across the street, another building is reminiscent of the days of Fundukley – Theatre Bergonie, or what we know today as Lesi Ukrainky Russian Drama Theatre. In addition to the incredible architecture found within, drop in any evening to take in one of a fabulous selecton of performances always at your disposal. Rather appropriately, Teatralna metro station is found just outside the door of the theatre, while just a few steps up, there's one of the most talked about buildings in Kyiv – ?7 Khmelnytskoho.
Just a few years ago, flowerbeds flourished on this very spot. Then, construction on a business centre began. After long and loud discussions between residents, city council and private businessmen, the building was generously presented to Kyiv to house the city’s very own Museum of History.
Museums and Business Centres
Having taken time to visit the many layers of Kyiv in our very own city museum, we wouldn’t fault you for feeling a little peckish. Cross the street and take your pick from the various venues that have recently appeared along this road.
Having eaten, return to the street where you’ll find yourself in the perfect position from which to stand and admire the grand blue building on the other side. Built between 1914-28, ?15 was once the site of the Olhynska Gymnasium. The National Scientific Natural Museum moved in in 1966, and today unites five unique museums of geology, palaeontology, zoology, botany and archaeology. As a favourite of local residents, nowhere else in Kyiv will you find an intact mammoth skeleton, as well as many rare species of plants and insects.
Heading up toward Volodymyrska, a fairly new business centre has emerged. Located at ?17/52 Khmelnytskoho, work finished on Leonardo in 2008. Not unlike the Museum of Kyiv History, there was much debate about this building as well, most notably because it competes with the nearby National Opera Theatre in terms of space. While it does reflect the cloudy skies hovering above, especially in this cooler season, this multi-storeyed glass cube does house a number of important companies, such as banks, luxurious restaurants and boutiques. In fact, should you happen to be in the market for an Aston Martin, this is where you can buy one. If travel by train is more suited to your wallet, however, make your way to the Universal Travel Agency located in the same big building, where tickets can be purchased to anywhere our trains trundle.
Another Piece of History
Continuing up the street, the German Embassy is nicely nestled in at ?25 with an actual piece of the Berlin Wall situated out front. Immediately following, one of this street’s most romantic corners is at hand, Khmelnytskoho 37/2. Here, not far from the music school, a symbolic statue dedicated to Chopin appeared not that long ago – a huge dazzling white piano done all in tile, by sculptor Kostyantyn Skretutsky. The keys are not real, but if you come close enough and listen, you’ll be able to make out the music of this fine composer!
The next local peculiarity is not far – cross the street and walk about 200 metres. There, on the corner of Khmelnytskoho and Kotsyubynskoho, you’ll find a tall yellow building called Rolit (Khmelnytskoho 68). Rolit is an acronym, which deciphered, means someone who works with literature. Many a famous writer of the Soviet UNI0N lived and worked in this building at one time, many of whom will be forever immortalised on the numerous memorial plaques just out front. Back then, the street was named Lenin, as, per tradition, all main streets, regardless of the city in the Soviet UNI0N, were named after the region’s revolutionary leader. It was only in 1992 that the street was named after hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskiy.
From here, the street goes down a steep hill where it is united with Olesya Honchara Street – which has a separate story all its own…
Kyiv’s Museum of History
The history of the Museum of Kyiv History is interesting in and of itself. With a plan to open in Klovsky Palace on Lypky in 1982, a grand and regal monument of 18th century architecture, authorities began gathering artefacts, relics and historical items four years prior. In 2003, however, the palace was given over to the Supreme Court of Ukraine, which meant the museum and its exhibits had to move house, and were piled onto the shelves of Ukrainsky Dim.
It just so happened that this was the same year the scandalous construction began on the plot of land at the corner at Teatrealna metro station. With a business centre in the works, residents fought to protect the land located there by planting a small city garden, and in 2006, progress on the building slowed. There were court rulings issued, social protests, and promises from the city authority that the business centre would be taken down. Nevertheless, construction continued, however slowly. With a never-ending string of unhappy residents, the authorities came upon a plan to keep the building but turn it into something for the people.
Construction came to an end this summer, just in time for the EURO 2012 Football Championship. To generate a feeling of art and history in this very solemn-looking business edifice, the façade was given statues of featureless caryatids in the style of social realism. A golden plaque below reveals the building’s benefactors as Vagif Aliyev and Vadym Stolar. Apparently, it cost them $50 million, with an additional 5.5 million hryvnia from the city, to complete the building, create a museum within it, and install all of the exhibits.
More Than 250,000
Entering the museum, you will be immediately struck by the rich marble and glass interior. On the ground floor, the first two halls have have been allocated to house temporary exhibitions of paintings and decorative art items – I am told these exhibitions will change on a regular basis.
Yulia Yushchenko, one of the museum’s guides, leads me around the place, telling me a bit more about the concept of the new museum and providing answers to any questions I have. Taking the glass elevator to the second floor (which is where the permanent exhibition begins), Yulia mentions that this is not a museum in the classical meaning. “Rather, it is more an exhibition centre. We have more than a quarter of a million items to display – there’s no way we could present them all here at the same time. It’s one of the reasons we've decided on telling the history of Kyiv through the people that have lived and worked here.”
Starting with unique archaeological artifacts from, the exhibit proudly displays an armoury, household items and some rare samples of gold earrings, the shape and style of which were produced exclusively in Kyiv. In each hall, interactive digital screens have been installed, from which visitors can glean more about about a particular epoch or someone of historical consequence. While the information at this time is only in Ukrainian, all of the exhibits also have captions in English. Yulia says they are planning to add English translations to the digital displays soon, and will also have an English-speaking guide in the very near future.
Eminent People of Kyiv
We continue taking our time to look around, and come across some books that go back to the 16th century – all original, as almost everything is in this museum. From literature and education, we continue on to a section on theatrical art to find some personal belongings of the one and only Maria Zankovetska, outstanding Ukrainian actress of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are delicate silk gloves, hatpins and a coquettish lorgnette, all of which are objects of art. Just thinking about how these accessories were worn more than a hundred years ago is utterly captivating. Another display that attracts my attention is the corner of a famous Kyiv milliner – even in the troubled years of the early 20th century, these samples displayed here verify that the ladies of Kyiv were always elegant and well-dressed.
The rooms on the third floor carry on the theme of eminent people of Kyiv, where you will find exhibits on well-known writer Ostap Vyshnya, eminent scientists Bohomolets and Palladin, surgeon Amosov, actor Bohdan Stupka, singer Nina Matviyenko, and Kyiv’s sporting glories – Valeriy Lobanovsky, Oleh Blokhin, and the Klichko brothers.
Yulia says that she gets a lot of visitors complaining that the exhibition is not in chronological order. She tells them, however, it follows the political, cultural and social life of Kyiv – and it’s true, it does. Even though I too could find fault, especially in the fact that the building is entirely inappropriate for a museum, the exhibition and the items therein do impress! And, with the museum planning to update on a yearly basis, there will always be new and exciting things to see.