Only some 10 meters long, this tiny foot bridge links not just two parks in the Kyiv center but also thousands of hearts who once clamped a love padlock across its railing.
One of the most romantic cult places, the Love Bridge will be invaded by an army of lovers again on St. Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14.
The love lock craze is not exclusive to Ukraine: Such padlocks can also be found on fences and bridges in Moscow, Verona, Brussels and Mount Huang, China, among many other cities. With their names etched in rough metal, couples clamp the steel symbols of their devotion and throw away the keys into the abyss – or whatever there is under the bridge.
The Kyiv crossing has not been blessed with a romantic landing base for the keys. Built in 1912 by Yevhen Platon, the famous Ukrainian engineer who revolutionized electric welding, it hangs across a busy road. Connecting Mariyinsky and Khreshchatyk parks, it looks heavy on locks and stories.
Padlocks weigh down the Love Bridge in the Kyiv center but please lovers with promises etched on steel. (Joseph Sywenkyj)
The bridge was first known as the devil’s crossing. Trembling violently at the first gusts of wind, it wasn’t a favorite with early 20th century pedestrians. After some repairs, it apparently became popular with the broken-hearted wishing to take their life there and then.
There’s one legend about a student who jumped from the bridge in front of his sweetheart. Another story mentions a young couple who let go of the rails because their families disapproved of their union. Some tour guides recount that there was even a guard assigned to the bridge to prevent suicides, but apparently it did not help much. Yulia Nikishenko, a culture expert at Kyiv Mohyla Academy, argues that these tales have not been recorded anywhere but the human mind.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, the bridge was decorated with colored ribbons.
I remember they were very simple, without any inscriptions. But when there were too many, the bridge looked uninviting.”
- Yulia Nikishenko, a culture expert at Kyiv Mohyla Academy.
“I remember they were very simple, without any inscriptions,” said Nikishenko. “But when there were too many, the bridge looked uninviting.”
Locks replaced ribbons in the 1990s. By that time many bridges across the world had already been padlocked. The tradition is believed to have come from China where the Great Wall inspired lovers to cling their love onto the wires suspended from the wall.
But unlike the mammoth Chinese construction, this Kyiv bridge looks frail under the weight of love.
The municipal road authority, Kyivavtodor, started taking some of the locks down two years ago. Scrap metal with romantic inscriptions weighed nearly a ton, said Oleksandr Levchenko, the head of the road service. “Whether anyone likes it or not, we’ll be cutting them off annually. Love should not depend on a lock,” he added.
Culture expert Nikishenko is also against the steely declaration of love: “It’s a Ukrainian habit to express feelings in a practical way. Why with the help of an object?”
Padlocks may not work for Nikishenko, but there are thousands in Ukraine who believe in their power. Similar love bridges hover in Chernivtsi, Odesa, Cherkasy and Kharkiv, among other cities. Olena Bondareva, from one of Kyiv’s etching services, said that that 80 percent of their orders come from young women aged between 16 and 25. Inscriptions mainly bear names and hearts, but sometimes odd love declarations get ordered.
“Everything will pass and this will too,” read one of the Bondareva’s locks.
“Some find it romantic,” she mused. “But I think it’s a waste of money because the locks will be cut off anyways.”
Some find it romantic. But I think it’s a waste of money because the locks will be cut off anyways.”
- Olena Bondareva, from one of Kyiv’s etching services.
Tetyana Granovska from the bridge repair service in Dnipropetrovsk sounded very upbeat when asked about her city’s Love Bridge.
“We clamped the lock ourselves. My husband ordered it, and we chained it on the day of our wedding anniversary,” said 49-year-old Granovska. She noted that her service has not been removing the locks yet. “It is cool to have them all. You can even see some very large Soviet ones.”
Kyivavtodor’s Levchenko disagreed.
“Last year they had one love, this year – another, and next year, there’ll be a new one. But the bridge should remain in proper condition,” he said worrisome that road vibrations may shake the locks down and damage cars passing underneath.
Yet steel crossings continue to lure thousands of couples with a promise of eternal love. And even if the love bridges don’t live up to expectations, some think they will hold the memory of past love, which most people would not want to lose.
Kyiv Post staff writer Svitlana Kolesnikova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org