There was a time when walking about in Kyiv’s parks was a privilege. Well, at least it was true for the well-kept and landscaped parks. At the start of the 20th century, Kyivans had to pay 10 to 40 kopecks to walk in a park, or spend a night there.
Visiting the best parks was a privilege of the rich before the 1917 revolution, when 10 kopecks would buy two kilos of bread or a bucket of tomatoes. For 40 kopecks, you could buy in excess of one kilo of meat.
For those who could afford it, the price was worth it as it included entertainment by various singers and theatrical troupes.
One of those high class parks was called Chateau-de-Fleur, or Castle of Flowers, which occupied the space now taken by Dynamo Stadium. Another park was Kupetsky Sad, or Merchant Garden, located on one of the Dnipro’s hills.
It is the Merchant Garden, overlooking the Dnipro River and its pristine left bank, that you can see in the black-and-white-photo taken in the early 20th century.
The park owes its name to the Merchant Assembly House built in 1882 by the famous Russian architect Vladimir Nikolaev. In its early days the building served as a club for Kyiv merchants and housed numerous concerts, balls, masquerades, charity lotteries, family parties and many other events. Its pillared concert hall was famous for the best acoustics in the city. And that is precisely the reason why it has since been turned into a National Philharmonic.
The beautiful domed building and lacy carved wooden galleries in the middle of the old picture is a Summer Theater. In the warm season, it hosted performances and concerts as well as the small shell-shaped stage to the right did. These days, the same park has an open stage under the Arch of Friendship (middle of the modern picture), while a smaller shell-shaped stage is hidden in the depth of the park closer to Mariyinskiy Palace.
Nowadays the park, now called Khreshchaty, is free for all and famous for a rainbow-shaped monument, Friendship of Nations Arch, built here in 1982. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)
Kyiv’s rich enjoyed spending their time in paid-for public parks such as the Merchant Garden.
The parks that were free of charge often had no benches, their alleys were weedy and security was poor. They often attracted homeless people.
There were exceptions to that rule, however. Volodymyrska Hirka Park, also visible in the foreground of the old picture, is one of them.
“The only place more or less comfortable for free walking was Volodymyrska Hill,” Oleksandr Pataleev, a merchant from the 19th century Kyiv, recalled in his memoirs. “But even here Kyiv hooligans and poor lightning from kerosene lamps made it so that middle-class couples did not consider this place respectable enough.”
With time both Volodymyrska Hill and the Merchant Garden, now part of the Khreshchatiy Park, became safe enough and loved by Kyivans – as well as free of charge. While Volodymyrska Hill was covered with lush trees over time, Kupetsky Garden changed more radically.
In 1982, a tall, 50 meters in diameter, rainbow-shaped titanium arch appeared in the park. It was unveiled there to symbolize unification of Russian and Ukrainian nations and was called Friendship of Nations Arch. This landmark monument was made by sculptor Oleksandr Skoblikov and several Soviet architects.
Underneath the arch one can see two groups of sculptures. One depicts a Russian and Ukrainian workers holding the Soviet Order of Friendship of Peoples. Another portrays participants of 1654 Pereyaslavska Rada, including Ukrainian hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the Russian envoy, boyar Vasily Buturlin. Due to this treaty part of Ukrainian territory was gradually overtaken by the powerful Russian Empire. Therefore some Kyivans jokingly call this monument The Yoke.
At night, the arch lights up with the colors of the rainbow, which the younger Kyivans interpret as the symbol of the gay community and a sign that Kyiv is slowly changing.
Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Faryna can be reached at email@example.com.