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15 September, 2011  ▪  Alisa Lipolz

Vasylkiv: Ancient Fortifications And Modern Jet Fighters

Steeped in history, this Kyiv satellite city is an emerging business center

Vasylkiv, population 40,000, is located 25 kilometers south of the Ukrainian capital. Its surviving historical monuments display the energy of its past. The city is especially charming in early spring and summer: numerous small houses float in a sea of greenery, while the emerald domes of the St. Antony and St. Theodosius Church and the golden domes of the Saint Nicholas Church decorate a mesmerizing panorama that opens from the mysterious Serpentine Banks.

FORT ON THE STUHNA

Vasylkiv meets every visitor with a MiG-21 military jet, reminding them that in Soviet times the city was a military aviation center. Today Ukraine’s air defense forces in the area are on alert, including fighter alert. Behind the plane is the checkpoint of an air forces military college which was founded before World War II to strengthen Soviet aviation.

A short distance away from this reminder of power is a perfectly peaceful site with a surprising name – Venice, a small park with brooks and small bridges. Though water here has a strange greenish tint, it does not take away from the park’s attraction as a nice place for a leisurely walk and a friendly conversation.

Traces of the Trypillian culture, several Scythian burial mounds and objects that date back to the era of Kyivan Rus’ were discovered in Vasylkiv and the surrounding area in the 20th century. In 988 A.D., Prince Volodymyr the Great ordered a city to be built on the Stuhna River and fortified with a high embankment and moats. He used his Christian name (Vasily) to name the settlement and called it Vasylev. For centuries the fortified city was a line of defense protecting Kyiv against invaders and a strategically important post in the ancient Rus’ state. In 1157, after Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy seized the Kyiv throne, he granted Vasyliv to his son Vasylko. Since then this city, one of Ukraine’s oldest, has been known under its contemporary name – Vasylkiv.

The city's walls withstood many an attack by nomads from the steppe. The Serpentine Banks are a series of formerly gigantic earth banks stretching across the local terrain for many kilometers. According to ancient legends the mounds were formed when the ancient Rus’ hero Kirilo Kozhumiaka overcame a Serpent, harnessed it and used it to plough the earth to mark the boundaries of his land. Completely exhausted, the beast drank from the river, groaned and died. Since then, the river was called Stuhna (from stohin ‘groan’) and the mounds, the Serpentine Banks. According to another, more prosaic legend, the name was suggested by the form of the banks.

Only a few fragments of the Serpentine Banks have survived. If you want to take a look at them and ask a passer-by for directions, you may be sent on the way to a centrally located café-cum-pizzeria with the same name rather than the historical monument. So you need to be careful.

WATER FROM THE SAINT THEODOSIUS SPRING

Vasylkiv has several outstanding specimens of architecture including St. Antony and St. Theodosius Church and St. Nicholas Church. The former is a Baroque-style church with snow-white façades, emerald-green domes and golden spires with elements of Classicism. It was built by Stepan Kovnir, an architect from the Kyivan Cave Monastery, in the mid-18th century. The church’s major relict is the miracle-working icon of the Three-Handed Mother of God.  St. Nicholas Church features an ancient spring in the yard at which Saint Theodosius, the founder of the Kyivan Cave Monastery and a Vasylkiv native, is said to have quenched his thirst.

A small chapel was built around this spring in 1832. It stood for 100 years until being destroyed by communist party functionaries. It was only in 2001 that the chapel was restored and reconsecrated. Locals believe that the water from the spring has special qualities. When you cross the church yard, you can climb wooden stairs and see yet another monument – both historical and spiritual – Dytynets. Its territory is yet to be fully explored by archeologists.

HEROISM AND MYTH-MAKING

In downtown Vasylkiv, next to the mayor’s office, stands a memorial sign commemorating the Decembrist revolt against Russia’s imperial order. It is a reminder of what happened here in the winter of 1825-26 when the 29th Chernihiv regiment, then quartered in Vasylkiv, rose up in arms. The revolt against the tsar and serfdom was led by Lieutenant Colonel Sergey Muravyov-Apostol, a descendant of Hetman Danylo Apostol, who, just like his comrade-in-arms Mikhail Bestuzhev-Ryumin, was hanged after the revolt was crushed. Fifty insurgents were killed and another 100 were condemned to penal servitude in Siberia.

The city added one more curious page to its history, although in a somewhat artificial manner when a film-making crew came to town. The local Krystal stadium was turned into a Kyiv stadium existed 70 years ago. Universitetska Str. was hung with signs saying “Khreshchatyk.” Vasylkiv was chosen as the site for shooting episodes for a Russian movie, Match smerti (Death Game). The presence of the film crew created a stir in the city, and anyone willing to earn UAH 80 per day of shooting was invited to participate in crowd scenes.

The movie’s plot is based on a legend about a game the Kyiv soccer team played against the Flakelf squad of German pilots in Nazi-occupied Kyiv on August 9, 1942. According to the Soviet version, the Kyiv athletes won and paid for it with their lives when they were shot in Babyn Yar. Historians have proved time and time again that the legend contradicted reality, but Russian filmmakers love this type of myth-making. They also added a fictional love story to the plot. The movie is directed by Andrey Malyukov and the main characters are played by Sergey Bezrukov and Yelizaveta Boyarskaya. The crew plans to have the movie ready for screening in time for the Euro 2012 soccer championship.

The stadium in Vasylkiv was chosen as the shooting area, because the high-rises around any stadium in Kyiv would be an anachronism for a movie set in the 1940s.

HOSPITALITY AND GOOD PROSPECTS

The locals in Vasylkiv combine the friendliness in conversation and hospitality typical of the countryside with the ambitiousness, business pragmatism and no-nonsense style of Kyiv.

Ramin Karpov, who was born in Tehran where he lived a long time, shared the story of how he settled in Vasylkiv: “I came to Ukraine to obtain a university diploma. In 1994, I entered the Faculty of Dentistry in a medical college and, at the same time, began to import foodstuffs. I found cheaper storage facilities in Vasylkiv than there were in Kyiv, so I moved my business here. I loved this small city with its hospitable people and cleaner air than in the capital. In the 15 years that I have lived in the city, I have never felt I am a foreigner or stranger here.”

A Taras Shevchenko monument, erected in 1993, rises on Soborna Str. Shevchenko visited Vasylkiv on several occasions in his lifetime and is portrayed here full-length as a thoughtful young man. Next to the monument is the School of Fine Arts whose graduates have won numerous regional and international diplomas and awards.

Vasylkiv is a city with rich history and good prospects for the future.

HOW TO GET THERE

In Kyiv, buses and fixed-route taxis leave from the Vokzalna and Lybidska metro stations, as well as from the Pivdenna bus station. A commuter train will take you only to Vasylkiv-1, a station actually located in Kalynivka. There you can hop on a fixed-route taxi to reach Vasylkiv.

WORTH SEEING

St. Antony and St. Theodosius Church – an 18th-century Baroque-style building with elements of Classicism built by Stepan Kovnir, a serf architect from the Kyivan Cave Monastery

Serpentine Banks– fortifications possibly built in the time Kyivan Rus’, although there are many arguments in favor of later periods; their name was suggested by their shape

Memorial plaque to the Decembrist revolt– erected to commemorate the 1825-26 events when the 29th Chernihiv regiment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Sergey Muravyov-Apostol, descendant of Hetman Danylo Apostol, rose against the tsar's rule


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