During her visit to Canada, Antonina Grinchenko sat down with the editor of “Riding the buses” and told her about her hometown of Kyiv (Kiev), a city known for its incredible beauty. Antonina loves Kiev and loves the Ukraine but some of the changes that have taken place since independence in 1991 have not been for the better.
Kyiv, the oldest and the holiest of Russian cities, was founded more than 1,500 years ago and called “The Mother of all Russian towns”. It is situated on the banks of the Dnieper River, one of the biggest rivers in Europe, and has long been the historical, cultural and business capital of the Ukraine.
Kiev is probably best known for its majestic architectural heritage—for its cathedrals, monasteries, monuments, and palaces. The main entrance to the city, the Golden Gates, has been there for more than 500 years. It is also a city of parks and gardens.
The cathedral that bears the name “Mother of Russian Churches” is the multi-domed, five-naved St. Sofia Cathedral. It was the first architectural monument in the country. Prince Yaroslav the Wise had the cathedral built in the 11th century to commemorate a victorious battle. The cathedral, with its incredible collection of frescos and mosaics, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kyiv Pecherska Lavra, founded in 1051, is the oldest Christian Orthodox monastery and another “must-see” UNESCO heritage site. The monastery was once the center for the expansion of Christianity introduced by Grand Prince Vladimir in A.D.800 and the place of pilgrimage. Even today parishioners from all over the world come to worship here.
Andriivska, or Saint Andrew Church, is on St. Andrew’s Descent, which is one of the oldest streets in Kyiv. It was founded by the Russian Empress Elizabeth and built in the Ukrainian and Russian baroque style. It was from this church that Christianity began to spread among the Eastern Slavs. When you see this church you will understand why they say the church “lives in the clouds”.
St. Michael Golden Dome Cathedral has been completely reconstructed and is considered to be one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the Ukraine. There is a Bell Tower museum where you can see the beautiful mosaics and frescoes that once adorned its walls.
St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral was built in 1882 for the 900th anniversary of Christianity in Ukraine. The Cathedral is famous for its inner walls that were built in neo-Byzantine style and adorned with the paintings of the best artists of the day.
The Catholic Cathedral of Saint Nicholas is Gothic in style and is easily recognized by its needle-like towers. It was restored in 1980 and today is used both as a church and a concert hall.
When Russian Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, visited Kiev she was impressed by its beauty, incomparable splendor of churches and wanted to build a palace that could be used by the royal family. The Mariynsky Palace with its richly ornamental Baroque style was finished in 1752. It was named in honour of Tsar Alexander II’s wife, the Empress Maria, as Princess Elizabeth did not live long enough to see it. Today it is the official residence of the President of Ukraine.
I was brought up in the center of the city and that remains my favourite area, particularly Khreschatyk and Independence Square. Khreschatyk is a wide boulevard with chestnut trees on either side that leads you to Independence Square or Maidan Nezalezhnosti.
The Square has been renamed several times. In 1919, for instance, it was called Soviet Square. Its current name commemorates Ukraine’s independence in 1991. It has always been a place of protest.
The Square was once the commercial centre of Kiev but most of it was destroyed during World War II so many of the buildings and monuments that are there now are from the post-war period.
The statue of Taras Shevchenko, a beloved national hero, born in poverty in 1814, a leader in the fight against serfdom and one of the country’s great poets and artists, stands on the Square bearing his name.
There is also one of the few surviving statues of Lenin on the Taras Shevchenko Boulevard in Kyiv.
Opposite the Square is Kiev University, Ukraine’s most prestigious institution of higher education. According to legend, the building acquired its unusual colour in 1901, when Czar Nicholas II ordered it doused in bright red in retaliation against rebellious students who refused to comply with the draft. In fact, it was painted red to match the colour of the stripes on the Order of St. Volodymyr.
Today some people in the Ukraine are doing very well but the major part of population is finding it difficult. Skyscrapers are being built, many things are expensive, and there is a crisis of values. I love this city, this country and we badly need to do a lot of things better. But that should not stop people coming to see its incredible, magnificent sites.
This interview with has been condensed and edited. Supplementary notes provided by Antonina Grinchenko have been incorporated.
© Riding the buses 2013