Kiev: Pogrom, Missing Persons, Cake, Puppets, Geeks and Botanists

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September 1st 2016
Published: September 1st 2016
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We found it difficult to travel direct from Moscow to Kiev, probably because they're at war with each other. So using we arranged air tickets with RUT Russian airlines from Moscow to Vilnius, Lithuania, then from Vilnius to Kiev with Ukrainian International Airlines.

So we spent from 7am until 7pm travelling in a gentle but tiring way yesterday. The most exhausting bit was an airport shuttle from Kiev Borispol to the Southern Station which took 55 minutes and was very hot. We walked the three blocks to our 'Hermitage Hotel', which was fine, but mostly uphill To finish the hotness off....

After a vodka and tonic and crab crisps! from the corner shop, we felt settled in our lovely room and when ready went next door to a Spanish tapas restaurant (!) .... Food and wine good and rock bottom prices.... It's going to be cheap to live a few days in Ukraine.

This morning we rose late and breakfasted in a Ukranian restaurant, opposite.... a full menu on offer 24 hour service, we were very conservative in our tastes but finished with cheese curd pancakes!

Then walking alongside the Botanical Gardens (we failed to find an open entrance gate.... this becoming a theme), we passed the University Metro Station and lots of University departments, through Shevchenko Park, where the trees have eyes to see, then downhill to the Bessarabs'ka Market, a high domed space full of meat, veg and caviar. Underground is a huge complex of clothes shops and other outlets.

We crossed the road to the Pinchuk Arts Centre, whose exhibition space was devoted to a remembrance of those shot in the Nazi massacre of Babi Yar. The exhibition is called 'LOSS'.

The first room was very dark and accessed along a corridor lined with small, rusting, metal box files with numbers on. As you turned the corn in to the main(but cramped) space you saw a huge pile of black clothing. On the next level were piles of animal hides..... very visceral..... no smell, but fatty, bloodiness that gave the sense if mass butchering....

Here's the story of the terrible pogrom summarised from Wikepedia.

On 19 September 1941 the German XXIXth German Army Corps and the 6th Army entered Kiev, after a stiff Soviet defence that had lasted forty five days.

Over 875,000 people lived in the city, of whom 20 percent were Jews (175,000). Some factories important for military purposes and their workers, among them approximately 20,000-30,000 Jews were evacuated by the Soviets. The exact number of evacuated Jews is unknown since no count was taken at that time. Perhaps 130,000 Jews remained.

The Kiev population remembered the last German occupation in 1918 and were convinced that the occupiers would act in a civilized manner, indeed it was anticipated that the Germans would restore the rights and property of the populace abolished by the Soviets.

On 24 September 1941, and in the following days, several bombs were detonated on Kreshchatik and Prorizna Streets destroying some buildings in the centre of the town, including the army headquarters and the Hotel Continental, where German officers resided. Hundreds of German soldiers and officers were killed. These bombs had been placed by a special command of NKVD agents who intentionally remained in Kiev for this purpose.

Alfred Jodl Chief of the Operations Staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces testified at his trial in Nuremberg: "hardly had we occupied the city when one tremendous explosion after another occurred. The major part of the inner city burned down, 50,000 people were made homeless. German soldiers were used to fight the flames, and suffered considerable losses, because further large amounts of explosives detonated during the fire...

German troops caught and executed a Jew on Kreshchatik Street, when he cut a water hose that was being used for fighting the fire. That may have been the excuse the Germans needed to accuse the Kiev Jews of being responsible for the explosions.

They decided that the appropriate response to this sabotage should be the elimination of all Jews in Kiev. A large ravine, called Babi Yar was chosen as the killing site. This ravine was located at the edge of Kiev, around 10 km northwest of the centre of the city, beyond the Lukyanovka Jewish cemetery. Today Babi Yar lies within the city precincts. On 26 September 1941 the German 637th propaganda company issued an announcement throughout Kiev published by the printing office of the 6th Army, ordering the Jews to report within the next three days at Lukianovska, Degtiarska, Lagerna, and Melnikova Streets.

"All Jews living in the city of Kiev and its vicinity must come to the corner of Melnikova and Dokhturovska Street by 8 o'clock on the morning of Monday, September 29th 1941. They are to bring with them documents, money, valuables, as well as warm clothes, underwear etc. Any Jews not carrying out this instruction and who are found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilian entering apartments left by the Jews and stealing property will be shot."

Thousands of Jews followed this order. In addition, to reinforce the propaganda, the Germans spread rumours that the Jews would be resettled to labour camps. Since the assembling point was situated near the goods station Lukianovska (today Lukianivka), most Jews believed the rumours. 
 Guarded by SS, SD and Ukrainian auxiliaries, the Jews were marched in groups of 100 via the Melnikova Streetto the Jewish cemetery located near the ravine called "Babi Yar". The entire surroundings of the ravine had been fenced in with barbed wire, and were cordoned off by three rows of troops: The outer circle was manned by Ukrainian police, the second with Ukrainian police and Germans, and the inner circle with Germans only. At the killing site the Jews were ordered to undress, stack their belongings, and were then led in groups of 10 to the edge of the ravine. There they were shot (by automatic guns and machine-guns) in front of their fellow sufferers, who were unable to escape.

According to Soviet sources 100,000-200,000 people were shot at Babi Yar up until the time that the area was liberated by the Red Army on 6 November 1943.

As we saw in the Moscow Jewish Centre, this massacre was one of hundreds on Soviet soil, an estimated 2 million Jews killed in total.

A rumble of thunder punctuated our melancholy as we left the LOSS exhibition.

We continued down the wide main shopping street Khreshchatyk vulytsya. This is lined with high, stone, 'power' buildings..... Neoclassical and imposing. The pavements are scattered with kiosks selling buns, tobacco, ice cream etc. We found the Lviv Chocolate shop that John and Sarah had flagged up for us, where the man behind the counter was ladling thick warm chocolate into a a small cup.....

At the Naidan, Independence Square is the Nezaleznosti monument...... an Angel of Liberty on a column placed on a marble arch.

This is the central square where protests were held: 1989 student "Revolution on Granite", the 2001 "Ukraine without Kuchma", the 2004 Orange Revolution, and the 2013–14 Euromaidan against Soviet invasion of the eastern territories.

A light sprinkling of rain provoked umbrella searches.

Opposite the square to the west is a fan of large buildings each carrying neon signs... we took Sofivska Street to the right of MacDonalds (sigh), and the rain started to lash down so we retreated into a small cake shop spying large slices of cake within. Marion had a yoghurt cake and I went for the last slice of chocolate cake...... its age gave it a certain resistance which revealed itself at the start but I splashed a little coffee about the surface to soften the sponge and worked at the challenge until the task became a delight.....

In the rain we ascended to St Sophia's Cathedral..... an 11C multi domed pile..... like Novgorod's but with little skirts around the golden domes (as they say in Edinburgh: for to drain the rain?). There's a separate wedding cake belfry, and extensive grounds within the walls.

Inside the main cathedral building murals covered the entire surface, painted but become mosaics within the main dome. A lot of original art work is there, some what faded, with clearer colouring and detail where restoration has been undertaken.

The detail that was different to any where we've seen on this trip was the floor covering. Cast iron embossed tiles were laid on sand across all the surface area. On the second floor some were removed to reveal 17C terracotta 'tomettes', as we call them in France, and under them broken marble. The metal tiles, 50cm square, are a clever way of preserving the history but providing a durable layer to walk on.

A 4.30pm beer was uppermost on the Patterson list so we headed to the Golden Gate. The Stihl saws were buzzing away on one of the few renovation jobs we've seen in Kiev. New paving and timber annexes to the old stone portal where the Kremlin walls used to be. But we had read that there was a beer terrace around a fountain to the south side... and it was just the ticket.

A family: Grandma, Ma, 4 year old lass, and 2 year old lad were playing around the fountain. Small Boy had a red balloon which he wished to place in the pond around the fountain. Sis thought it a bad ideas, GM wished SB to have a chance to experiment, Ma was tolerant but eventually after a number of floatings left ballon behind and took crying child with her. I blame Mac Ds whole gave the balloon away to become more of the world's detritus......

But then, with the help of the excellent beer I spent a further happy quarter hour trying to capture the red balloon being scooped up by fountains, hoisted on the air fused with latex and foam entwined....... It happened lots and looked great but was always too fast for my Panasonic Lumix camera.

Soon we were home.

Later we ate at our breakfast restaurant..... liver, apple and taties on the menu for Ken, Salmon and pea pancakes(!) for M.

Day 2 Kiev

We're off to find Chimera and SwanGeese via the very deep metro system. The book says it takes seven minutes to descend to towards the centre of the earth, in the University station in Kiev. There was one normalish escalator followed by a big, big, long one be empirical. You put a plastic milk token worth about 12p into a turnstile with no mechanism to turn.... the whole system based upon trust, it seems, ....... mind you, nothing wrong with that!

We alighted at Khreshchatyc and walked over the Maidan to find the House with's in a government district and there was a protest in process so we only got to see the back, but it's an Art Nouveau palace with treasures inside and a few frogs and chimeras on the outside. They say, if you can only get inside on a rare visits, but that it is very beautiful.

Next was a visit to the puppet theatre. Such a beautiful fairy palace with sculptures outside and numerous themed murals and ceramic pillars inside. The Academic Puppet Theatre seats 310 people and is a beautiful building for the young at heart. The company started in 1927 and have had numerous venue until this purpose built theatre and museum was built in 1990. It's all hand decorated with murals, puppet displays, ceramic columns full of colour and details, the basement cloakroom area is like an undersea lagoon with three large fish tanks, giant conch shells, hand made glass lamp shades like limpets, and the logos tiled in hand painted sea scenes.

The story told was 'The Swan Geese' a Ukrainian tale about a boy kidnapped by geese. His sister sets out to find him and meets lots a stove, an apple tree, and a river etc who set her tasks. She helps them and they in turn help her on the return journey by hiding the children from the geese.

The excellent and ingenious set took white petals/wings as the main element which were rotated to create different shapes. Then three different rotating windmills provided sky and geese motion. The two woman actor/puppeteers were great and the puppets generally had only one signature moving part that gave a characterisation to the individual. e.g. The girl's head nodded / looked up and down. Very simple but very cleverly done.

We stumbled upon a posh Georgian restaurant in the cellars of the next building within the City Garden beside the Water Museum over looking the river. The main attraction was the wood fired oven. We ordered Katchapuri: bread, cheese and egg, and watched it being made and cooked, scrummy.

Up the garden path past the Water Museum and a giant frog to a rainbow arc of titanium 'The Freedom Arch' from 1982. Underneath which are two sculptures one in pink granite depicting the participants of the Pereyaslav Council of 1654, the other blacked bronze depicting Russian and Ukrainian workers. There's a view of the river from here and a statue of Volodomir over in the next section of the park.

We crossed the road to join him, passing two pink snail coffee barrister trailers in the park to descend on the Funicular to Podil.

Podil has its own small town character with beaten up old trams, a market area and a bit of Art Nouveau gracing the apartment blocks and shopping areas.

We were searching for the Chernobyl Museum which was difficult to find. It's tucked away behind a police station and is, in fact, housed in a fire station which would have been linked directly with the Police building.

The displays are mostly a remembrance of the people list and displaced by the disaster, rather than technical and descriptive of what went wrong. It's all in Ukrainian as well..... but it felt right to understand a bit more of the event and pay homage.

Back home on the crammed metro.

1st September

I gave Marion a nip and a punch, for it is the first of the month. In Kiev the metro has been crowded with gangs of children dressed up in national costume or suits and bow ties, many girls with flowers in their hair. It's National Knowledge Day! It was started by the Soviets in 1984 and continues in Ukraine and Russia. It also marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.

In towns and villages, well-dressed students arrive at school with a bunch of flowers and children stand in line to be welcomed by the director of the school and the teachers. Senior students read poetry and perform songs and the “Первый звонок” (first bell) rings for the new comers. Older pupils hold the hands of younger ones and take them to class, nicely encouraging them.

We also discovered today that 'geeks' are referred to as 'botanists' in Ukraine..... 'The Fallen Botanist' is a pejorative nickname used to describe a statue by the University Metro station of a collapsing bowman dedicated to students who died in the Patriot War (WW1 for us) between '41 and '43.

We had brunch in an excellent Italian restaurant opposite our hotel... Eggs Benedict and Ukrainian Pancakes, freshly squeezed orange / grapefruit and coffee. Yum. Then headed past the 'Fallen Botanist' to the National Art Museum to discover that Thursday is 'sanitation day' when the museum is closed. So we sloped on to the Museum of European Art and Science. This was a very dark museum, with very dark pictures by some v. famous artists: Breugel, Velasquez, Rubens, and some v. old icon pictures from 6C and 7C.....I think it must be this museum's policy not to clean the pictures in restoration because they hall had the same nicotine stained hue. The building was the star of the visit, sumptuous decoration, oak woodwork, painted ceilings and panels, with tapestries and parquet flooring very much in a mid 19C Gothic style.... you could imagine ghosts lurking in the many shadows.

Next we went to the Synagogue which regained its status as a place of worship when it chucked out the Puppet Theatre company we visited yesterday. Bizarrely the security man on the door at the synagogue said that it was only open for massage........ There was a flat screen TV on display that showed a man in a kippa cap massaging a punter, as evidence on the work going on there.

Then to the Mariinsky Park and Palace and NW along the river view path past Dynamo Kiev's football ground, over the Friendship Bridge and on to The Golden Gate to sketch the fountain where new children now played with balloons. Marion had our first scary moment of the holiday when a couple of young adolescents followed her up subway stairs and unzipped her back pack ..... She gave them a swat and it came to nothing...... but I vowed to keep alongside her more especially down subways in Kiev.

We're off to Lviv at 5.30pm so that was the end of our Kiev Sojourn.

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