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6 August, 2013  ▪  Oleg Kotsarev

A Land of Chocolate and Palaces

The Ukrainian Week travels to Sumy Oblast in search of knights, nymphs and the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s The Storm

Trostianets is located on the Sumy-Kharkiv highway and the Kyiv-Kharkiv railway route. The government’s latest “improvement” initiatives reduced the number of trains going there, but the town is still accessible by public transport. Even if you don’t travel there by train, you should take a look at the local railway station – an original architectural experiment of the late 20th century. The station is named Smorodyne after a village that was located nearby at the time it was built. It now displays a renovated steam locomotive and hosts new ‘railbuses’ for short local trips.

The Round Yard

Well known outside Sumy Oblast, Trostianets’ trademark attractions include a chocolate factory and the Round Yard that hosts the large annual Old Fortress (Stara Fortetsia) historical festival as well as rock fests. The Round Yard looks out of place in this northeastern corner of Ukraine. The city’s central square reveals a view of what looks almost like a citadel – yellow, round and crowned with towers. Surely the re-settlers from the Hetmanate who founded the town in the 17th century must have built it for a particular purpose (the Sumy part of Ukraine’s Sloboda region is less russified than nearby Kharkiv and Luhansk Oblasts, and rather westward-leaning in terms of election preferences). In the 18th century, Trostianets was handed over from Colonel Ivan Perekhrestov, notorious for raider attacks on land and property, to clergyman Tymofiy Nadarzhynskyi. His children founded the Round Yard in 1749 for theatre and circus performances.     

Today, this tradition continues. The Stara Fortetsia festival is the town’s key cultural event. It attracts scores of participants and spectators from all over Ukraine to watch knightly tournaments, learn about ancient crafts and clothing, and practice archery.

Next to the Round Yard are the Church of Annunciation and the landlord’s mansion. Built in 1750, the church combines typical elements of baroque and classicism and has a tranquil, melancholy appearance.

The bear and The Storm: local museums

The mansion dates back to the 19th century when Trostianets belonged to the Galitzines (also pronounced as Golitsyns), one of Russia’s largest noble houses. Its most famous occupant, however, was composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky who lived there in the summer of 1864. While staying at the Galitzines’, he composed his overture The Storm. Based on a play by Aleksander Ostrovsky, it was his first large-scale orchestral piece. Tchaikovsky’s teacher, Anton Rubenstein, did not like the overture, so it was not performed until after Tchaikovsky’s death.

Today, the right wing of the palace is devoted to the genius classical composer. The museum is fairly well kept but the collection is quite modest, an eclectic fusion of Soviet mothballed grandeur and elements of the national liberation movement. The most original piece is a mounted bear that collects donations for the museum.

The central rooms of the palace host an art gallery exhibiting landscapes by local painters and artists who used to come to Trostianets regularly to paint en plein air. The patio displays wooden sculptures made in the 1980s. The rooms that now host the art gallery had long stood neglected but were restored several years ago. The rooms are also used to host concerts of classical music. The patio displays a sculpture collection, a romantic gazebo, a fountain and a strange piece with a heart and a quote from Love, a poem by well-known Ukrainian poet Vasyl Symonenko.

The left wing of the palace hosts a chocolate museum. Its most interesting pieces include an old machine for wrapping chocolates, a bust of a Native American made of chocolate, and a collection of Soviet candy wraps.  

As you follow the town’s main street south from the palace, the Round Yard and the Church of Annunciation, you will find the Church of the Ascension built in the pseudo-Byzantine style of the late 20th century. Also nearby is the house where Mykola Khvyliovyi, the brightest writer of the Shot Renaissance, was born, although he hardly mentioned his hometown in his works.

The grotto of nymphs and sylphs

If you exit the palace from the patio where the heart sculpture stands, a road to the left will take you to another local attraction, a park called Neskuchne  – “not boring”. It was created in the 19th century after dams were built in a picturesque section of the Trostianka River (researchers believe that this was the town’s namesake).  It was then that the grotto of nymphs, a mysterious construction resembling Romantic ruins, emerged. Local lore claims that it was also used for theatre performances where mythical nymphs and sylphs once danced. And, of course, there is a legend about an underground tunnel that starts in the grotto and leads all the way to the neighbouring town of Okhtyrka.

The park is a nice place to wander between old trees and ponds, drink fresh spring water or admire the Art Nouveau house where the landlords’ estate manager once lived. Built in the 20th century by sugar tycoon and estate owner Leopold Koenig, it now hosts the local branch of the Forestry Institute.   


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