Sponsored walk in Kyiv for BEARR grants in Ukraine

BEARR Trustee Janet Gunn was in Ukraine for a few weeks in March/April 2014, working on a project to overcome the divisions in society which have surfaced during the current crisis. Janet asks you to support disadvantaged groups in Ukraine by sponsoring her hike through Kyiv on 13 April. She said:

“In Kyiv the chestnut trees are bursting into leaf. But the barricades remain. I decided to do a 10 km sponsored hike through the parks and historical sites along the River Dnipro (Dnieper) on 13 April to raise funds for BEARR’s Small Grants Scheme. My Kyiv sponsorship will go specifically to fund projects in support of vulnerable groups in Ukraine. 

Please sponsor me with any sum you can spare. You can use the “Donate” button on the website www.bearr.org or go straight to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?charityId=1001475

Janet covered the planned distance, accompanied by a Ukrainian friend, Sasha Kovalchuk, who provided a fascinating historical narrative along the way. 043

As a gesture of solidarity and support, Arkady Tyurin, from the St Peterburg NGO for homeless people, Put Domoi (The Way Home), did a 10km run in St. Petersburg at exactly the same time on 13 April. As the photo shows, his effort was considerably more strenuous, and the BEARR Trust is very grateful for his heroic gesture. Thank you to all those who donated so generously! Donations totalled about £700, and will be used to part-fund a BEARR Trust grant to HIAS Kyiv, with HIAS International and UNHCR – details of the project are here.

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Here is the story of the walk (for an illustrated version click here)

A walk through Kyiv’s green and historical places

On 13 April, a rather cold and grey day, I set off at ten with an old friend, a long-term inhabitant of Kyiv. He had undertaken to support me in the walk and tell me about the historical places we passed on the way. Leaving the hotel where I have lived for the past 3 weeks, we passed the old Karaim Synagogue, now the Actors’ House.

We passed the Golden Gate, the ancient entrance to Kyiv,  and headed for a place few outsiders know about called Vozdvizhenka, a wooded hollow in the very centre of the city, where tanneries and bakeries once stood, hidden behind the famous Andriivsky Descent from the upper town to Podil, the old commercial and Jewish quarter by the river Dnipro. Vozdvizhenka took its name from the Khrestovozdvizhenskaya church built here in the 17th century, where writer Mikhail Bulgakov wa married. It is watched over by one of a series of “bald hills” so-called because no trees grow on them, allegedly due to spells made by witches who lived on them.

Bulgakov was born close to this place and later lived at one of three houses numbered 13 on the Andriivsky Descent. The cat in his book Master and Margarita has been immortalised in the local children’s playground. There is a Lovers’ Lane and a creaky old wooden staircase down to the Andriivsky Descent, with its exquisite Rastrelli-designed St Andrew’s Church. We stopped for coffee and Sasha told me about the founders of Kyiv and of Kievan Rus.

From there we first walked through a park called “Chateau de Fleur” which opened in 1863, then, heading south, along the wooded slopes of the river bank. The woods are not original, they were planted in Soviet times. We passed a monument to Vladimir, the first Prince of Kyiv to be baptised a Christian, in the river Dnipro. Vladimir the Great (980–1015), as he is known, introduced Christianity with his own baptism and, by decree, that of all the inhabitants of Kiev and beyond.

In the woods we came upon a monstrous modern building, constructed on land which is a national park, and which did not exist when I was last in Kyiv. It turned out to be a helipad with a vast casino below it for the elite, built for the president (the one who fled to Russia). A taxi driver suggested to me that its best use might be as a Museum of Corruption. We also saw another monument to Vladimir, which in pre-Soviet times had been instead a monument to the Magdeburg system of multicultural communities which existed in Ukraine. Kyiv was governed by the Magdeburg Law from the early 15th century. One of the charters of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Olexander of 1499 confirmed the effect of legal municipal regulations, in accordance with which the town dwellers were governed by the members of the elective self-government and the court. The Magdeburg Law was effective in Kyiv until December 1834.

As we progressed through the woods we came upon the old walls of the Kyiv Fortress, which was built on the orders of Peter the Great around the area of the Monastery of the Caves (Lavra). Peter, and the invading German forces in Worlds War II, concluded that the only way to defend Kyiv was to fortify the hill above the Dnipro at this point and remains of both sets of defences are still visible. The old walls were started in 1706 and completed much later. They are double walls, with space in between. Construction was supervised by Prince Alexander Menshikov (1673-1729), Admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy and Peter’s right-hand man until corruption caused them to fall out periodically after 1713. It was chiefly through the efforts of Menshikov that, on the death of Peter, in 1725, Catherine was raised to the throne. Menshikov was engaged to be married in one of the churches of the Kyiv Lavra.

Before we reached the Lavra itself we passed by a small church of the Uniates, also known as the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. A rather political-sounding sermon was being broadcast to the crowded Palm Sunday congregation spilling outside the church. Staunchly Ukrainian, it displayed a banner in honour of the “Heavenly Hundred”, the people killed on the Maidan on 19-20 February by snipers (their number has now reached about 140).

The Pechersk Lavra is arguably Kyiv’s loveliest treasure, dating back to 1051 A.D. and the seat of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate.

Near it are two very moving memorials to the Holodomor, the famines of 1921-2 and the 1930s. Up to 7 or 8 million people in Ukraine and southern Russia starved to death, due to forced collectivisation of agriculture, in which the secret police took from Ukrainian farmers every last grain they needed for food and the next harvest.

Another memorial commemorates the Ukrainian soldiers who died during the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-89).

It was Palm Sunday, and tradition appears to demand that not only do you buy a sprig of pussy willow or other shrubs (palm trees not being abundant in Ukraine), but you get beaten with one of the switches by old ladies. It didn’t hurt.

Our return journey took us past the barricades of the Maidan, and the Mihailovsky Monastery, seat of the Kyiv Orthodox Patriarchate.

Last but not least, in front of the Mihailovsky Monastery is the statue of Bohdan Hmelnitsky, a legendary Cossack, who led an uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Grand Duchy in the middle of the 17th century, which resulted in the creation of a Cossack state. In 1654, he concluded the Treaty of Pereyaslav with the Tsardom of Russia. His statue was cast in Russia and shipped to Kyiv, where it was discovered, to general consternation, that his mount was a mare. Cossack Atamans (leaders) do not ride mares. So, apparently, some anatomical adjustments were made to the horse, and it is now a stallion.

My warmest thanks to Sasha, my guide, and to Arkady Tyurin in St Petersburg for his supporting 10km run at the same time in his own historical city.