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4 July, 2012  ▪  Oleg Kotsarev

10 Emails from Rivne

The Ukrainian Week invites you to a virtual journey to Rivne

Subject: Underground water

Every city qualifying as old has to have a legend about a hidden underground river, whether it actually has one or not: Lviv, Kyiv, Paris… The story is even better if it flows beneath a local theater. I was told about one such river in Rivne as we walked through a corridor under the stage of the Rivne Music and Drama Theater (photo 6) surrounded by complete silence, a few sounds from the rehearsal on stage barely breaking through. Drafts would carry the scent of tobacco from time to time from endless rooms whose purpose no one knew. A sand box was in the middle of one room. A poet named Mark who brought us all there kept gesturing to us to keep quiet. He stopped us in front of the stairs and said: “Here is a river buried beneath the earth, right under the theater.”

Later, when I mentioned the river to locals, they seemed surprised. The Streets of Rivne, a book about the city, does not make it clear if that was where the river once flowed. But I choose to believe in it; I like the thought of a Volyn Styx under the foundation of the grey Stalin-era theater. While vaudeville passions overwhelm the stage, unknown monsters swim in the murky waters below while the ghosts of actors fish …

Almost forgot… The theater was the first place I saw a bathroom where the light is always on.

Subject: Rivne’s Architecture: frozen music of the soviet and pre-soviet eras

In terms of architecture, Rivne is your typical soviet city (photo 1). It has many interesting buildings that survived World War II. The victims of 20th century “progress” included a beautiful palace of the Liubomyrsky magnates L. Otherwise, the city is full of earthy beige “boxes” and well-maintained private houses.

Yet, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to see in Rivne. Petliura Street is cute. Earlier, it was called Aptekarska, Pharmacy Street (just like a small street in Kharkiv where I was born and grew up J) with nice secessionist buildings of the early 20th century, including the Ulas Samchuk Literature Museum. The same street hosts a Puppet Theater (photo 8) built during soviet times with scary statues of fairy tale characters adorning the façade. There is also the wooden Church of the Assumption on Shevchenko Street (photo 3) built in 1756. Rumors have it that Ivan Gonta, one of the leaders of Koliyivshchyna, an armed rebellion of Cossacks against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, once prayed there. Some features of the church resemble the shape of the Holy Resurrection Cathedral built almost 150 years later. The church also served as the inspiration for the name of the city’s main street—Soborna, or Cathedral Street.

The front part of the neo-Gothic Church of St. Anthony built in the late 19th century hosts organ concerts (photo 5) while the crypts—the church dungeons—house an Internet café. The good thing is that the church was not ruined, even if its towers are now half their original height.

Subject: The Crocodile

In addition to its marvelous willows, ponds, and out-of-place sea gulls, Rivne’s “hydro park” has astonishing sculptures. They resemble fairy tale characters gone wild and left to the elements. The Crocodile (photo 2) is king here, guarding one of the ponds. Local gopnyky (young delinquents) can be found drinking beer in his shadow J. Beside it flows the perfectly normal, non-legendary river Ustia flanked by a children’s mini railway (photo 11). It has just two stations: Partisan Station (endowed with a historical double meaning) and Lake Station.

Subject: Rivne/Rovno

Once an important center for the UPA—the Ukrainian Insurgent Army—Rivne is now one of the most de-sovietized oblast centers. Its streets named after Bandera and Petliura, leaders of the Ukrainian liberation movement, are a nightmare for proponents of the “Russian World.” There is even a monument to Ulas Samchuk, a non-soviet writer of the 20th century (photo 10), which is a rarity in Ukraine. And no monuments to soviet leaders! Rivne almost perfectly fits the stereotypes of “pure Western Ukraine.” Meanwhile, the city has a proactive and visible Russian-speaking minority mostly composed of former soviet military servicemen and their children, who are far from the national democratic views common in the area. Even during the interwar period under Polish rule, the city used to have a Russian preparatory school.

Subject: Slightly surrealistic

I found two surrealistic spots in Rivne (in addition to the crocodile J). The first one is a coffee shop called Salvador Dali (photo 4). There, coat hooks look like forks, a palette adorns the ceiling, the downspouts resemble serpents or fish, and the entire decor is softly surrealistic. Salvador Dali often hosts concerts and photo exhibitions.
The second surreal spot is Rivne’s complex of bazaars overflowing with commerce. Two markets seem to swallow up half the city, one almost flowing into the other. Another half of the city is dominated by an extremely long underground passage with kiosks and boutiques. Rivne’s location at the crux of a huge bundle of highways is probably the reason for its booming bazaars.

Subject: A night at the museum

Besides Salvador Dali, Rivne is home to the Hobby Pub, a mix between a bar and a museum-café. The walls are full of money from different eras and countries, postage stamps, posters, photographs, and other antiques. Sometimes the pub hosts concerts. As for real museums, the city has plenty of them as well, from the Local History Museum to the Museum of Amber. Rivne also has an art gallery sometimes dubbed “the smallest gallery in Western Ukraine” or “the narrowest gallery in Europe.” Officially, it’s called “The Crevice.” In fact, the gallery is in an extremely narrow room that looks like a crevice. It most often hosts contemporary art shows, but also occasionally hosts events.

Subject: Re: Underground water

Some say that Volodymyr Korolenko, a well-known Ukrainian-Russian writer, wrote about Rivne’s underground corridors in his book Children of the Underground, although others say the same about Zhytomyr.

Subject: Re: Re: Underground water

Northern Ukraineis full of rivers, lakes, springs and swamps (photo 7). This must be the reason why Rivne is home to Vodnyk (boatman), a university for water and natural resource management transferred from Kyiv to Rivne in 1959. It has students from all over the country, while the locals mostly go to Ostroh Academy, one of the oldest colleges in Ukraine, for more popular degrees, often in the humanities.

Subject: The name? What’s it to ya?

The city name translates as “even” or “flat,” which would seem to be self-explanatory J. Yes, it does come from the flat area it is located in.

P.S. Another version is that the city name comes from the word riv (“moat”), suggesting that it was once protected by a moat.

P.S.S. And there is one more version. According to legend, a landlord owned 99 villages. He was one village short of a hundred and called the 100th village Rivne (“even”) when he finally got it.

Subject: Not the exotic north!

Even though Rivne is a city traditionally associated with the woodland region of Polissia, don’t expect to come across any exotic northern swamps and woodlands there. It may have original wooden architecture, but it resembles the Volyn region more than anything else. You’ll have to go farther north to find exotic Polissia. The city has no visible traces of Polish or Jewish culture even though these two ethnicities represented a majority in the city for many years. Nor does it show traces of once having been the capital of the German occupied Reichskommissariat Ukraine during World War II. For that, you’d have to rummage through history books, encyclopedias and Google.

Enjoy your trip to Rivne!


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