Khreshchatyk for a weekend

09.04.2012 | By Mykola Polishchuk

This small stretch in downtown Kyiv is worth spending a whole days stroll

The main street and central square are integral symbols of any city. Kyivans and guests to the city cannot imagine the capital of Ukraine without Khreshchatyk and Maidan Nezalezhnosti its main street and its main square. Khreshchatyk is the main drag, running more or less on a north-south axis between European Square and Besarabska Square

Although the citys main artery, Khreshchatyk is by no means the oldest or longest street in Kyiv. In fact, among all central streets in European capitals, Khreshchatyk is the shortest, stretching slightly more than a kilometer, but over the last 100 years its name has been changed 7 times. Not so long ago, it was decided to block Khreshchatyk for traffic on weekends, so now the street turns into a pedestrian zone two days a week. Kyivites and their guests can stroll along for a whole day checking out the sights and shops on Khreshchatyk.

The white building with a cupola was built as a part of the all-USSR Lenin Museum (who has never been to Kyiv) PH: Ukrinform

Lenin vs. Besarabka

Khreshchatyk ends at Besarabska Square, which was named after Besarabia, a southern region of Ukraine taken by the Russian Empire after long wars against Turkey. The center of the square, not surprisingly, is Besarabskiy market, one of the most expensive in Kyiv, where average prices are about 1.5 times higher than at other food markets in the city. Authorities claim such prices are stipulated by strict control over the quality of food products, but it nothing else, the late imperial architecture of this closed structure is worth seeing.

In the late Soviet years the building of Besarabskiy market was the first place in the capital to host billboards with commercial advertisements. Kyivites used to joke about this as across from the market building there stands one of the few remaining monuments to Lenin, who was not exactly a proponent of any commerce or advertising. The granite Lenin was repeatedly vandalized by the ultra-right, and now is guarded round-the-clock by diehard Communist activists.

Panikovsky was not notable for any virtues. On the contrary, he was a petty pickpocket PH: PHL

Next to the Besarabka is the contemporary entertainment and office center Arena-City, the heart of citys night life. The building at 5 Velyka Vasylkivska St. remembers the prominent Yiddish journalist and playwright Sholom Aleichem. Today, it is the home of the museum dedicated to the writer, and the material and spiritual culture of the Eastern European Jewish community.

In the times of princedom these quarters was outside the borders of the city and defensive constructions were located on the present-day Maidan Nezalezhnosti. There was a brook called Khreshchatiy, nowadays driven deep underground, that gave the modern name of the street. A city legend has it that Prince Volodymyr used it to baptize Kyivites, but that is a myth.

As years went by, the city grew on both sides of the street: Kyivites lived closer to the Dnipro River in the Podil part and above Khreshchatyk not far from the Lavra. But only at the end of the 18th century, a part of the valley was made into a small street with buildings only on one side. It took shape in the 19th century and by the 1870s it was more populated than Podil and became the industrial, commercial and business center of Kyiv with two- and three-storied stone buildings.

PH: shutterstock

On the opposite side of the street one can the constructivism-style building of the Central Universal Department Store built by Moscow architects Friedman and Metsoyan in 1939. Marble stairs and halls with huge columns were meant to create the image of prosperity. Today, the store has a new owner who plans to rebuild its interiors, which Kyivites fear will destroy its unique interior decor.

PH: shutterstock

Monuments to people and literary characters

After the liberation of Kyiv in 1943 the street was totally rebuilt. Soon, it turned into a 100-meter wide pathway with chestnut alleys along the sidewalks. Obviously, architects were influenced by popular architectural trends as similar post-war edifices can be found from Moscow to Warsaw. The pinkish buildings were adorned with neo-Ukrainian baroque facades but on Maidan the half-ring of tall narrow building are more in keeping with Soviet post-war Empire style. Still, the local landscape with its numerous hills helped created a unique architectural atmosphere in Kyiv. Among its most outstanding structures are the City Hall Council and the multi-storied apartment block housing the Druzhba movie theater on the ground floor.

Walking a bit further we find a cozy public garden on Prorizna St. with two monuments to absolutely different characters. First, there is a statue to the Turkmen spiritual leader, a philosophical and poet Magtymguly Pyragy, built on the initiative of the Turkmeni Embassy located nearby. The second is dedicated to a literary character named Mikhail Panikovsky created by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov in the novel The Little Golden Calf. It is hard to explain why Kyivites have such an admiration for Panikovsky because he was not notable for any virtues. On the contrary, he was a petty pickpocket pretending to be blind who would rob passers-by on the corner of Khreshchatyk and Prorizna streets.

Bessarabka. The stronghold of parket economy PH: Ukrinform

The latest innovation introduced on Khreshchatyk is a huge underground shopping mall. People interested in shopping can check out underground stores, or we can cross the street and walk to the entrance of the Passage. It was built as a corridor street in 1913 1914 (the modern address is 15 Khreshchatyk St.). Passage is known for a number of small street cafes and boutiques on the ground floors of its buildings right on the sidewalk. As for entertainment, there is the Karambol billiards hall at the entrance to Passage from Horodetskoho St. and an underground shooting gallery.

Traditionally, Passage was the place of residence for the Kyiv elite. You can see hear memorial plaques to opera singers Borys Gmyrya and Ivan Hryshko, physician Anatoliy Mikhnyov and novelists Ivan Nekhoda and Viktor Nekrasov. A monument to architect Vladislav Horodetsky, who adorned Kyiv with the most beautiful buildings: the House with Chimeras, kenesa and the St. Nicolas Church.

Finally, we approach the main square in Ukraine, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), the hallmark of modern-day Kyiv. Maidan is a business, commercial and geographical center of Kyiv. The central point is marked with a small monument by the General Post Office a column with a globe on top showing the distances between world capitals and other cities of Ukraine. The General Post Office was built in the 1940s. It has huge eaves renovated after some of their pieces crashed to the ground killing many passersby at the end of the 1980s. Since that time Kyivites visited the post office with a measure of caution. In the middle of the square there is a bronze sculpture of Patron Saint of Kyiv Archangel Michael on the top of the Lyadski Gate, a backdoor entrance to the city. In the times of Kyivan Rus, as weve mentioned, the Khreshchatyk area was located beyond the borders of the city and princes went hunting to its moorlands and forests here. In the summer time it is absolutely customary to cool off in numerous fountains on Maidan.

We move on to European Square passing the Khreshchatyk hotel built for the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were partially hosted by Kyiv, and the Ukrainian House Arts Center a white building with a cupola built in the 1980s as a part of the All-USSR Lenin Museum (who has never been to Kyiv, by the way). There were four monuments to Lenin along Khreshchatyk in Soviet times. Lenins exposition is currently stored in the museums reserves and is exhibited on some anniversaries. For example, in 2010 it was shown at the event dedicated to the 140th anniversary of Lenins birthday. Today, the Ukrainian House is a modern-day expo-complex used for all kinds of exhibitions and conferences. From here you can go a bit further to check out the Kyiv History Museum.

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