During my strolls around Old Kiev, I invariably ran into St. Sophia’s Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is not surprising given its convenient location in the heart of Old Town and the striking views its13-cupola sanctuary offers the casual passer-by.
St. Sophia’s was built in 1037 and is Kiev’s oldest standing church. It escaped the fate of many of Kiev’s sacred places of worship as a result of the USSR anti-religious campaign (1921-1928) after Kiev became the capital of the newly formed Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922.
For example, the Church of the Three saints, one of Kiev‘s holiest edifices which was built in 1183, was destroyed by he Soviet regime. In its place the regime built the colossal Ministry of Foreign Affairs building.
While I was standing in front of a sign on this building that now says “Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine,” two American men in business attire who had just exited the building passed close by me in deep discussion. I thought at that moment, if the local government can’t replace the church, at least they are putting a remnant of this Soviet legacy to good use – that of helping to facilitate better international understanding.
One afternoon, while downtown, I met *Servas day host Iryna. She lives with her husband in a high-rise building in Kiev’s suburbs. I gratefully accepted her kind invitation to her flat for a home-cooked traditional Ukrainian meal.
As we left her Metro station, we approached a massive complex of high-rise apartment buildings which are part of a community which houses over 300,000 people. I was surprised to learn that this complex was built in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She said that most Servas travelers she brings home think, as I did, that it was probably built during communist times. Her small, efficient apartment was similar in layout and size to the Soviet era flats of Servas hosts I had visited recently in Poland and Budapest.
For ten years during Soviet times, she and her husband and two children, lived with her Father, Mother, and brother in a three room flat. They were so pleased when, in 1991, they finally found the small flat they are currently living in, that they bought it immediately. Her daughter, who married a German, now lives in Germany, and her single son lives in Poland. Iryna is of Polish heritage and her children speak Polish. Her son feels he can do better financially in Poland than in Ukraine in his technology business. Also he feels comfortable with the language there. She often travels to these countries to visit them.
By the way, her lovingly-prepared, home-cooked Ukrainian meal was delicious!
The Russian legacy also lives on in the language. I constantly hear Russian spoken all around me in Kiev by all ages. I know a few basic words of Russian and am finding them useful, since I know even less Ukrainian (if that’s possible!). Occasionally I get into a discussion with Ukrainians who speak English (mostly the young) about their use of Russian and Ukrainian languages. Interestingly, they said that they often bounce back and forth between the two languages within a single conversation.
During a **Free “Reds” Walking Tour, we visited the Friendship of Nations monument. The interesting complex sits on a viewing platform overlooking Kiev’s left (east) bank and the Dnieper River
Under the Friendship Arch is a social-realist statue of a Ukrainian and a Russian worker with arms raised in solidarity. While standing there, I said a prayer for peace between the two Sovereign Nations.
*Servas – A non profit international peace organization of hosts and travellers www.USServas.org
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