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¹7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

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.


Ukraine Today
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.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

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.


Kyiv Culture

Back to True Banya Basics

A traditional Russian sauna or ‘banya’ is much more than a steamy room. It’s an essential part of national tradition and culture, and to say the least, a favourite winter pastime. For Ukrainians, the ‘banya’ is one of the traditions they eagerly share with their ‘big brother’ to the north, and in Kyiv as across Ukraine the banya is seen as an ideal venue for corrupt business deals and wild parties, and generally a favoured spot over the New Year holidays.

Local banya traditions go as far back as the time of the Kyivan Rus and beyond, with the first written records dating from the tenth century. Olga, the cunning princess of Kyiv at the time, is said to have taken revenge on a neighbouring tribe called ‘The Drevlyany’ by inviting their ambassadors to visit a banya and locking them in! Since those early records of banya culture references have found their way into literally every record left by foreign travelers of their time in Muscovy. Legends arose of a mysterious northern land where in specially devised torture chambers naked people were smoked over hot fires, flogged with birch, scolded by boiling water then thrown into the snow and plunged into the icy water. Ironically, this gruesome description is close to the truth. It describes, with a good deal of exaggeration, all the essential stages of ‘banya ritual’. One account describes the scene thus, ‘they can endure unbearable heat and tell others to lash them with hot bunches of bound twigs to such an extent that they grow red and exhausted from the heat, at which point men and women alike dash out of the banya naked, wallow in the snow and plunge into the ice.”

 A genuine Russian banya differs from conventional saunas in that it is constructed according to some traditional specifications. Today, however, few old-type ‘authentic’ public Russian banyas exist in major towns, and more often the whole ‘Russian banya’ concept is more about the ritual and it’s essential attributes: steam, a ‘venik’ (the bunch of dried, bound twigs, usually birch, oak or juniper, used to beat the skin) and, finally the ‘banschik’, an insider or specialist who can professionally prepare the steam and lash you with the venik. Other musts include icy water procedures, herbs and tea or beer. Unsurprisingly, optional (and not always healthy) attributes are vodka and girls.

 The banya ritual is as simple as it is invigorative. Predictably, all starts with stripping down. In the steam room (parilka) you’ll be immersed in steamy heat. Ladling one or two dipperfuls of water over the rocks will allow you to regulate the humidity in the sauna. The water vaporizes very quickly, and can even burn the nostrils. When the heat starts to get unbearable, take a break by dumping an ice-cold bucket of water over your head, plunging into a pool or, conditions permitting, dashing into the snow or plunging into an icy river. Generally, this outdoors ritual with red-hot naked people rolling round in the nude is not regarded as obscene and otherwise conservative people may not be perturbed by this ‘banya exhibitionism’! If the whole winter banya ritual still sounds a little exotic to you, try finding a so-called ‘black banya’ (banya po-chornomu), glorified in a well-known song by the legendary Russian bard Vladmir Vysotsky. In fact this is the oldest and most ‘hard-core’ banya option, and has been preserved intact for over a thousand years! With a ‘black banya’, the smoke emitted by burning firewood is not taken out directly through the chimney, but remains within the steam room. This banya is epitomized by a small, low door and small windows. When the furnace is being stoked, the doors and windows are left open, creating the impression that the little building is one fire! Soot naturally accumulates on the walls and the ceiling, thus creating a ‘smoked’ interior and giving this banya its ‘black’ name. In ancient times it was a popular place to give birth, while today a ‘black banya’ is still seen as a privilege for real banya gourmets in out-of-the-way rural areas.

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didn’t Know We Had

    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.

    Kyiv Culture

    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.


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