Ukrainian folk mythology is ripe with tales of witchcraft. Central to them are the mythical Bald Mountains, or Lysi Hory, where, according to legend witches gather for their “Sabbath”. Mentions of Lysi Hory can be found in the writings of Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov (who used it in his work The Master and Margarita as the mountain where the Iyeshua (Jesus of Nazareth) was crucified). The most famous of them are the Lysa Hora and Zamkova Hora hills in Kyiv. What’s On ventures to the latter in search of witches.
Zamkova Hora (Castle Hill) overlooks Andriivskiy Uzviz and despite being in the centre of modern Kyiv it is cloaked in mystery and wrapped in Ukrainian folklore. That mystery extends to its actual name, which some researchers claim is Khorevytya – the hill where Khoryv, one of the legendary founders of Kyiv, lived. Later it was the site of the 17th century wooden castle of Adam Kysel, the Voivode (warlord) of Kyiv when the city was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth lending it the name Kyselivka. And in 1857, it took the name Frolovska after the nearby monastery and cemetery. But despite its various monikers, most locals simply refer to it as Lysa Hora, proving that mythology can take on a life of its own.
Stories abound of satanic groups conducting their ceremonies there. Myself, Olga German, and a friend climb the hill and find the evidence is thin on the ground.
Under The Spell Of Romance
I meet couple Victoria and Artem at the stairs that lead up from Andriivskiy Uzviz to Zamkova Hora, who confirm it is more a place for making out than making magic. “There are a lot of couples or simply people who want to have a drink that come here. We came for a romantic picnic.”
A first-timer on the hill is Kostya, brought here by Sofia who is here for the second time and they are picnicking. They invite us to join them. They also don’t “feel” anything particularly paranormal, but believe there are some people who might. “There is nothing scary here, it is just about strong energy that affects people open to it. On Zamkova you can meet people from different subcultures, they started these stories about sacrifices and worshiping the Sabbath. People like a good story.”
Friends Yulia and Olga are philosophical about other people’s beliefs. “We haven’t met any witches here. But if you believe in it strongly enough you will see what you want to see.”
However, Artem, who is with friends Maxim and Zhenia, has a different take: “You want a story from my experiences? I was on the hill with my wife and a snow-white cat came up to us. It wasn’t a street cat, it was too clean. When my wife and I left, the cat went on to other people, he says. “Later in some news item about this place I found out that the cat basically owned the place and it was the ghost of a witch...who lived in that area.”
The stories might not be backed up by much evidence, but there is something about the atmosphere on Zamkova Hora that is spooky, especially at dusk. The stairs to Zamkova Hill are not lit making them quite creepy to walk, and I must admit that I was startled by a rather strange sounds as we ascended. But maybe it was just autumn leaves and my mind playing its own tricks. It’s worth mentioning however that my friend stumbled and fell, sacrificing her knee for this investigation. Maybe we were simply asking too many questions...
Abandoned Fortress Of Kyiv Tour
Sputnik Tours by Locals
Weekends (26 –27 October)
There exists a huge abandoned fortress just 10 minutes away from the city center, have you heard of it? It’s in the most bewitching part of Kyiv, on Lysa Hora (Bald Hill). Military forces vacated the area about 40 years ago, and now various groups meet here in the corridors underground. The most mysterious place of Lysa Hora is a huge temple built by new-age pagans in 2003. Orthodox priests attempted to burn it twice, but they were thwarted by rainclouds in both instances, as the great Svarog (a god in Ukrainian mythology) still rules over the Dnipro.
They are a point of call for the lost, the vulnerable, and the curious. They go by various names – fortune-tellers, soothsayers, astrologers, clairvoyants... What they have in common is a purported ability to tell people what their future holds. On the eve of Halloween with the air thick with the paranormal, I, Vadym Mishkoriz, put one to the test and gauge the experiences of others.
To check out what my future holds I find fortune-teller Aida, whose advert features in a newspaper. My story is this; I’m dating a girl and about to propose, but with doubts about marriage. The second issue is money, I wonder if I will get a promotion and pay rise in the near future to be able to provide for a family. It’s a typical story, except it’s a trap...
The fortune-teller tells me to bring a photo of my girlfriend and thanks to Google it’s easy to find one that will represent her. And so, the mission begins.
The apartment Aida lives in is ordinary, there’s no goat-blood spattered wall, and the air is not thick with incense. Aida takes my hand and grimaces. It’s a dramatic start. She can’t tell me who placed me at the brink of misfortune but hints it’s someone I’ve known for a long time. That circle of people is vast. I gently steer her to my “backstory”.
Retuning to my hand, Aida scrutinises it silently for 10 minutes, which seems like an eternity. She takes the photo of my “girlfriend”, tells me we were meant to be and a long life together awaits us. However, she foresees we will have problems (who doesn’t). I tell her I manage a shop and making a living is tough. Aida says I will get a promotion and the pay rise I dream about, but a big change awaits me. Aida can’t say what that “change” is as that side of my “aura” is clouded. She spouts off more like: “one of the people you see every day will deceive you” and so on.
Honestly, after 20 minutes, I start believing and automatically start thinking of who would deceive me and what that “big change” might be. In hindsight, I’m unconvinced, she fell for my “story” hook, line, and sinker, but for those who tell the truth, I can see how her “programming” might reel them in.
Other Sordid Stories
Dima is Ambushed
“My girlfriend and I were in a park when an old woman asked where the nearest bus stop was. I told her, she then grabbed my hand and asked the first letter of my name. Without thinking I told her, immediately she told me my name. With few variants, this trick was easy. She then started asking me questions and even finishing my sentences. I was intrigued how she knew so much about me. However, thoughts kept eating at me... “Keep an eye on your money, don’t show it to her and so on.” I convinced myself I would not give her anything until I heard the phrase “pozoloti ruchku vse pravdu rasskazhu” (if you give me money I’ll tell you the truth), it was hypnotic and I automatically reached for my pocket. My girlfriend stopped me. Finally she asked me to give as much as I could and disappeared. It cost 20 hryvnias. Within a couple of minutes paranoia set in and we started checking our bags...”
Sasha is a Convert
“The first time I went to a fortune -teller was a surprise. It turned out the fortune-teller worked in a hospital and was a specialist in some kind of bioenergy. I brought an egg and a jar of water as she had instructed. She rolled the egg over my body and then cracked it into the jar. I was shocked seeing how the yolk and white assumed the shape of an inverted candle. The woman looked puzzled and told me it was not a good sign and might be a curse. She explained somebody had placed a candle upside down in church sending concentrated energy against me. I felt physically ill, after the visit. I visited her a couple of times later to get rid of the “candle”. I can’t say I trusted her and I said as little as possible. Still, she told me a lot about myself I’m sure I didn’t tell her. I was impressed.”
What’s On Has Doubts
No to be outdone by Vadym, we contact another fortune-teller to find out what awaits the magazine in the near future. Gazing intently into her crystal ball, she tells us the following: “I’m seeing stars, no I haven’t bumped my head, I mean human stars and some of them will want to play for you. They are big...I’m seeing the letter “d”, does that mean anything to you? Oh and “m”...de, dep...Depeche Mode! It’s Depeche Mode. Invite them to play at one of your parties and maybe they’ll agree.”
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see...
by Olga German and Vadym Mishkoriz