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15 May, 2013  ▪  Oleg Kotsarev

Hopelessly Romantic

A walk through the symbols, dreams and melancholy of Sokyryntsi-Trostianets
Gallery: Hopelessly Romantic (photos: 9)

The word “romanticism” brings to mind the cliché image of a lover reciting poems under a full moon next to a lake full of mermaids. But romanticism is far more than simply passion. Among other things, romanticism describes a style of 19th century parks and manors that look like they had been designed for walking meditations. The noble manors of Trostianets and Sokyryntsi in Chernihiv Oblast, Ukraine have the charm of an emotionally soothing journey.  

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THE SECRET GARDEN

Nestled among the green hills, an elegant white gazebo rises as a symbol of the manor in Sokyryntsi once owned by the Galagans, a noble Ukrainian Cossack family (photo 2). The alternating elements of the romantic park landscape symbolize the fleeting metamorphoses of human and world sentiment as sunlit lawns flow into dark overgrown ravines, vast horizon lines end in maze-like alleys, and joy flows into melancholy and sadness.

It all begins at the traditional entryways. The one at the Sokyryntsi Architectural Park is a narrow path where a gap in the trees offers a peak at the palace, an amazing yet neglected building in the Empire style. The surrounding foliage adds mystery and solemnity to the view until the visitor has nearly reached the façade, and the beauty of the noble manor is revealed (photo 1).

The entrance path is to the Trostianets Arboretum is equally intriguing. Unfortunately, the palace was demolished in January 1918 – this date leaves little doubt as to who executed or authorized the act – and replaced by a new bust of Ivan Skoropadsky, the park’s founder (photo 7).

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Vast ponds with swans and ducks (photo 8) divide the Trostianets park into different sectors. Natural and man-made hills rise from their banks. Thanks to the thoughtful system of alleys and paths, the visitor encounters both major and minor objects in the park several times, seeing them from different angles. Each angle offers a different perspective placing emphasis on various exotic and native plants that thrive in Trostianets (photos 6, 9).

The pond in Sokyryntsi is much bigger and, unlike the Trostianets ponds, forms the centerpiece toward which the entire park gravitates. In summer, many people swim in the pond despite its emerald green waters. According to the founder, the surrounding landscapes and colours consist of harmonious forms meant to evoke love, friendship, memories and emotions – integral ingredients of romanticism. As a result, the photographers and artists who flock to this site return with nearly identical images.  

COLUMNS AND RUINS

Both parks have “pillars of sadness” inviting the traveller, guest or resident to reflect on the fleeting nature of life and the surrounding world. While the Trostianets pillar crowns a hill next to the bench for solitary meditation, the one in Sokyryntsi has a sentimental story. It stands over a tiny quiet lawn where the duke’s favourite dog was buried – just another place to reflect on friendship, love and death. Indeed, few styles apart from Romanticism add so much charm to things that seem trivial and obvious in everyday life.

Half-ruined elements from different historical periods symbolize the owners’ nostalgic and idealistic visions of the past. In Sokyryntsi, the Galagans built a Gothic bridge (photo 4). It is hard to find now, and many visitors miss it. But the park map sold at the entrance will lead you there – just take it to the right from the gazebo. In its neglected state, this nevertheless pretty bridge is a test of one’s dexterity and sense of balance.

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In Trostianets, the archaic elements include a replica of a Scythian bába, a stone statue of a woman, and the tombstone of the park founder, Ivan Skoropadsky. “Dear passer-by! I planted the garden in which you stand. It was the joy of my life. If you happen to notice a mess leading to its destruction, let the garden keeper know. You will do a good deed,” says an inscription on a light rectangular stone devoid of religious symbols. According to a legend, Skoropadsky’s coffin is down below, in an underground vault, hanging on four chains.

After he died, both the garden and the manor fell into disarray– apparently, the garden keepers were not very effective. The turbulent 20th century turned all of the adjacent outbuildings into romantic ruins, and new ones, suspiciously ill fitting, are now being built next to them. Sokyryntsi lost its churches, while the main palace – once grand and beautiful – now looks worn out. Today, it hosts an agrarian lyceum and several museum rooms for kobza music and culture, ethnography, local history and the Galagans (photo 5). On the broad alley from the palace to the gazebo in front of an old sycamore tree is the lyceum sports ground.

SKELETONS IN FAMILY CLOSETS

Everyone who visits a romantic manor like this expects to learn something mysterious, strange or shocking about its former landlords. The one in Sokyryntsi has plenty of such rumours. A guide in the local mini-museum will tell you a sentimental story often mentioned in books and online sources. “The Curse of the Galagans” is about Cossack colonel Hnat Galagan. He was among the Cossack commanders who betrayed Ivan Mazepa in the Great Northern War and switched to Moscow’s army. He earned his ill fame for the violent attack on the Cossacks who remained loyal to Ivan Mazepa. The Cossacks cursed his family to the seventh generation, the legend says. Indeed, Pavlo, who was the seventh generation and the last descendant of the colonel, died at 16. His grief-stricken parents founded the College of Pavlo Galagan, now well known in Ukraine, in his memory. Apart from its legends, the Galagan mansion also offers the remnants of the family’s art collection, including a beautiful nativity scene, a collection of weapons, and statues that survived earlier turmoil.

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The Trostianets mansion also has a sort of a family curse. The Skoropadsky family gave Ukraine two hetmans, and both came to power at hopeless times when they had no chance of changing anything for the better in their homeland. Ivan Skoropadsky was proclaimed hetman right after Cossack commanders betrayed Mazepa in the 18th century only to fulfil the orders of the ruthless Peter the Great. All he could do was quietly disapprove of his most notorious initiatives. In 1918, hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky tried in vain to deal with the revolutionary chaos but his efforts were as effective as petrol in a fire.

MEMOIRS OF THE ARTISTS

A wealthy, respected and romantic manor was unthinkable without frequent visits by artists and outstanding figures of the time. Both Trostianets and Sokyryntsi enjoyed plenty of such visits. The well-known historian, writer, ethnographer, poet and composer Mykola Markevych stayed at the Skoropadsky’s place. Painter Mykola He also visited from time to time. The house theatre saw performances by composer and pianist Vladyslav Zaremba. The Galagans often hosted the renowned Taras Shevchenko, writer Panteleimon Kulish, composer Mykola Lysenko and painter Lev Zhemchuzhnikov.

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Ostap Veresai (photo 3), a famous kobzar[1] of his time, lived in Sokyryntsi and performed there on a regular basis. The life of this uneducated yet talented musician from the poorest class whom the landlords were eager to support is a reminder of the gap between the poor majority and wealthy minority of the time. Today many say that they cannot enjoy the beauty of old mansions built by the hands of serfs. Indeed, the luxury Ukrainian nobility and Cossack commanders enjoyed was largely based on the oppression of the peasantry. By this same reasoning, however, we would have to reject the entire legacy of the Roman Empire or Ancient Greece, let alone the wonders of ancient Egypt.

HOW TO GET THERE

Both manors can be reached from the Kyiv-Pryluky-Sumy highway. The easiest way to get there is by car or a bus from Pryluky.

INFO

Make sure you find the right Trostianets – Ukraine has several places with this name

A town in Sumy Oblast is also a tourist attraction with several churches, a palace where Pyotr Tchaikovsky once stayed, a picturesque mini-fortress and a mansion called Neskuchne – the name translates as “not dull”. It is the hometown of writer Mykola Khvyliovyi

A town in Vinnytsia Oblast is known for the violent battles that took place here in the 17th century and a sugar plant founded by magnate Potocki in the 19th century.

A village in Volyn Oblast is mentioned in chronicles from as early as 1593. It has an old church and a mill. Its sad history includes episodes of violent revenge by the landlord Chetvertynsky on the local peasants after the Khmelnytsky Uprising, a Cossack and peasant war against Poland and Polish serf-owners.

A village in Ternopil Oblast has a 19th-century church and Trostianets spring waters

A village in Cherkasy Oblast is located near two discovered settlements of the Trypillian culture

A village in Chernihiv Oblast is close to the Skodopadsky’s Trostianets.

There are more villages with the same name in Lviv, Zakarpattia, Rivne, Odesa, Khmelnytsk, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk and Vinnytsia Oblasts

 

 

[1] Kobzars were traveling bards, often blind, who sang ballads to their own accompaniment on kobza, a traditional lute


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