(Corrects to remove any reference in paragraphs 47 and 48 to
historical buildings being destroyed)
By Natalia Zinets and Richard Balmforth
KYIV, June 4 (Reuters) - A large digital clock, inexorably
counting down to the kick-off of the month-long Euro 2012 soccer
feast, looks out onto a broad Kyiv boulevard where metal
barriers are going up to corral Europe's football faithful.
This is a giant pedestrian 'fan zone', where outside screens
will enable thousands of spectators to satisfy their soccer
hunger through the month of June.
The epicentre of the Euro invasion will be Maidan
Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), a place of bubbling
fountains and a soaring statue to independence. It is Kyiv's
The last time thousands of people massed here in these
numbers was in the winter of 2004-5 when the Maidan was 'ground
zero' for the Orange Revolution protests.
That upheaval brought, for a while at least, a realignment
of political forces in the former Soviet republic.
The square rang then to the oratory of Yulia Tymoshenko. At
the losing end of her fiery rhetoric was Viktor Yanukovich,
whose suspect election as president brought tens of thousands
onto the streets.
Seven years later, after a reversal of fortune, she is down
- serving a jail sentence for alleged abuse-of-office as prime
minister. He is up, and in power as president.
But all this is a footnote in a city, where Russian
orthodoxy was born and whose 1,000 plus years of existence has
been marked by occupation, poverty, famine and flight.
History is so close here that you can almost reach out and
Khreshchatyk boulevard - a tree-lined avenue which runs
north-south and leads into the Maidan - hems football fans in
with its heavy, Soviet architecture.
It was destroyed in 1941 by Red Army forces retreating
before the Nazi offensive.
Buildings like the cavernous central post office were a
product of Josef Stalin's reconstruction after World War Two
victory and the return of Soviet power.
So, forget the pub crawl for an hour or two and catch some
history. There'll be plenty of terrace cafes en route where you
can stop off for refreshment.
Leave the southern end of the 'fan zone' and you will see a
tent encampment stretching 50 metres (yards) along the pavement,
emblazoned with white flags bearing a red heart, and posters
calling for Tymoshenko's release.
This is a round-the-clock vigil by her supporters who say
they will stay there until Tymoshenko - in jail since last
August - has been released: history-in-the-making.
At the next intersection, turn right and there is a glossy
brown statue to Bolshevik revolutionary and Soviet state founder
Vladimir Lenin, his jaw jutting forward in a resolute pose.
Though the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukraine's
independence consigned communism to the dustbin, Lenin's
monument can be found in other Euro match cities in Ukraine.
But, apparently judged too un-cool for today's average
European tourist, his image has been air-brushed out of official
Euro promotion publicity.
Head up the poplar-lined Shevchenko boulevard, a steepish
climb in one of Europe's hilliest capitals.
Beware of the name. It's the Smith and Brown of Ukraine.
Soccer-mad though the Ukrainians are, this pleasant avenue
is not named in honour of the national team's top goal scorer
Andriy Shevchenko, but after 19th century poet Taras Shevchenko,
the father of Ukrainian literature.
Revered as the man who turned a peasant tongue into the
language of verse, Shevchenko's zeal in promoting Ukrainian
earned him both fame and disgrace with Russia's tsars.
Today in Ukraine he is the national symbol of the struggle
for freedom. The heavily-whiskered, avuncular Shevchenko stares
solemnly down from a pedestal in a park at the crest of the
hill, across to the garishly-crimson walls of the national
university which bears his name.
ER ... ANYTHING ON AT THE OPERA?
Proceed right along Volodomyrska street which is roughly
parallel to the Khreshchatyk. At the next intersection, you come
to the National Opera House.
Completed to a Viennese taste at the start of the 20th
century, Kyiv's opera house these days pumps out a regular fare
of Russian empire hardy annuals such as "Swan Lake" and "The
It is renowned too for being where the tsarist prime
minister Pyotr Stolypin was assassinated in 1911. He was shot in
the interval of a production of a Rimsky-Korsakov opera.
Kyiv's opera officials don't intend putting up any cultural
competition on Euro match nights, though Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta"
is showing on June 8 when the first tournament matches are
played in neighbouring Poland.
The street is named after Prince Volodomyr - more commonly
known to history by the Russian version of his name, Vladimir -
who ruled what was then called Kyivan Rus from 980-1015.
A convert to Christianity, he marched his subjects down to
the Dnipro where he had them dump their pagan idols and join in
a mass river baptism. It marked the birth of Russian Orthodoxy
which then swept east across Russian territories.
A few hundred metres along the street are the Zoloti Vorota
- Golden Gates - which back then marked the perimeter of the
city-fortress and its main entrance through which its rulers
A thriving hub of commerce, Kyiv was a regular target for
invading hordes and the city was finally razed by the Mongol
Tatars in the 12th century. Little remains today of the original
ramparts, apart from two massive stones, housed in a museum.
It was Volodomyr's successor and son, Yaroslav, who codified
customs into basic law and hence became known as Yaroslav the
Wise. The 'hryvnia' currency, now back today as the coin of the
country, was first minted under him.
Further along Volodomyrska, though, is Yaroslav's even
greater triumph - the spectacular golden-domed St Sophia's
cathedral. He built it in thanks for a significant victory over
tribal raiders and its Byzantine, frescoed interior managed to
withstand turmoil and war over the centuries.
Ravaged by time and neglect, it has benefited from the
benevolent hand of former president Viktor Yushchenko, most
nationalist of the four leaders who have run Ukraine these past
20 years. He promoted much of the internal restoration work
during his four years in power.
The cathedral still comes in for unwanted attention. A few
months ago, the young women of Femen - a neo-feminist protest
group and no respecter of conventional custom - climbed into its
bell-tower and staged a topless demo to further their cause.
Silhouetted against the skyline in front of the cathedral is
the bronze figure of a mace-touting warrior on horseback. This
is Bogdan Khmelnitsky, a 17th century Cossack leader who racked
up notable victories over the Poles, the great enemy of the day.
In 1654 he signed a landmark treaty uniting Ukraine with
Russia as a bulwark against the Polish king. To this day,
Ukrainians cannot agree on his place in history. Many reproach
him for opening the door to centuries of domination by Russia.
Beyond him, are the blue walls and golden dome of St
Michael's, a mediaeval monastery named after the city's patron
saint, which was demolished by Stalin in the 1930s but
reconstructed after independence.
At its main gates, an information board details the Great
Famine or Holodomor ('death by hunger') of the early 1930s - a
catastrophe in which millions of Ukrainians died of starvation
in a policy directed by Stalin against the Ukrainian peasantry.
Yushchenko, who was disdained in the Kremlin as an obsessive
nationalist during his four years in power, spent much energy
seeking international recognition of the famine as genocide and
won support from several world governments.
But Yanukovich, less troubled about righting historical
wrongs, has shown little interest in the issue since he took
over from Yushchenko in 2010. A law defining the Holodomor as a
deliberate act of genocide remains in force, however.
KYIV'S ANSWER TO MONTMARTRE
Facing the monastery, do a quarter-turn to your left and
head for Andriyivsky Uzviz (Descent), a picturesque
Montmartre-style cobbled street lined with souvenir stalls,
street artists and arts and craft studios.
The Church of St Andrew, built in the 18th century in
baroque style by the Italian architect Bartelomeo Rastrelli,
stands at the top of the half-mile winding street, which drops
down to the city's riverside quarters.
You can pick up here Ukrainian crafts such as hand-made
embroidered peasant shifts, bead necklaces and wooden kitchen
ware as well as a mass of Soviet memorabilia.
Also drop in on the house-museum of Russian writer Mikhail
Bulgakov - best known for his mystical classic "The Master and
Margarita". He was born in Kyiv though he ended his days in
Moscow on the wrong side of the Kremlin.
Only a month ago the Descent itself was a sea of mud and
rubble as builders raced against time to put in new drainage. It
is a tribute to Ukraine's determination, but it was not without
A separate development just off the street by a company
owned by Ukraine's richest man, steel and coal tycoon Rinat
Akhmetov, prompted street protests by members of Kyiv's cultural
community in April.
ESTA holding says that no 19th century buildings or any
building of historical and cultural value was destroyed in the
development of what is now planned to be the site of a cultural
Once down in the riverside quarter of Podil, head back
towards the city centre keeping the Dnipro to the left and after
passing some chic restaurants and drinking spots you find
yourself at the foot of a funicular.
A 1.50 hryvnia ticket will whisk you back up the hillside
you have come down and land you at the back of St Michael's from
where there are some clear views over the Dnipro and its islands
where Kyiv residents love to hold barbecues in the high season.
After checking out the view, go back to the cable car
entrance and take a track that plunges down into the woods.
Follow the path skirting the hill and, in a clearing, you
suddenly come to a majestic monument to the Christian Prince
Volodomyr, holding a cross aloft and facing the Dnipro where he
carried out his mass conversions.
Retrace your steps a bit and then take a path off left up
the hillside back to the main observatory point over the Dnipro.
From there, head down a tree-lined avenue to the main road
and turn left to drop down to European Square. You have
completed the loop back to the 'fan zone'.
The soaring, winged Monument to Independence comes into view
as you walk back to the Maidan. The stroll through the centuries
with Kyiv's historical forebears has taken a couple of hours.
Time for a borsch beetroot soup and a beer.
(Writing By Richard Balmforth, editing by)
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