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You're reading: Then & Now: Kyiv’s top square connects medieval with modern times

Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Ukraine’s central square, changed its face and name several times throughout history. Here is one of those faces, depicting the oldest part of Independence Square at the beginning of the 20th century.

Nowadays, Maidan is one of the biggest squares in Kyiv. But between 1876 and World War II, the Kyiv city council – or duma — stood right in its center, occupying a great part of the square. It was then known as Dumska Square.

After the construction of the Duma was finished, landscapers created a small park behind it. In 1909, this patch of greenery was reconstructed. It was decorated with a cast iron fountain, quite typical for Kyiv in those days and still present in the city center.

The black and white photo "Dumska Square in Kyiv" was taken between 1909 and 1917. It is a courtesy of Central State CinePhotoPhono Archives of Hordiy Pshenychniy.

A photo of present day Maidan below was taken by Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Faryna.

“You can see that the small park on Dumska square was fenced around it. Almost all gardens in Kyiv, they were not called parks then, used to have fencing,” Kyiv historian Vladyslava Osmak observed. “A garden in city architecture derives from the idea of the biblical Garden of Eden. It’s not wild nature it symbolizes, but orderly space, a safe place, a place of escape. The present-day Maidan is open and therefore is extremely uncomfortable. It is desolate, no matter how many people are on it.”

Between 1909 and 1917 an unknown artist chose to take a photograph at the moment when the square was not covered by the shadow of the Duma building. Instead, it was nicely illuminated by sunlight. Most likely standing on the balcony of the Duma, he may have asked people on the square to take certain positions, as early photographers used to do, and then captured the scene.

The square was rebuilt and got new fountain in 1935 and survived through World War II, unlike the Duma building, which burned down in November 1941. The small park continued to exist until much bigger fountain, 30 meters in diameter called “The Friendship of Nations,” appeared on its place in 1981. After the last reconstruction of Maidan in 2001-2003, the fountain was also torn down and replaced with glass cupolas covering the underground shopping mall Globus, as well as an asymmetrically located baroque style gate.

One can imagine that Archangel Michael, the guardian of Kyiv, flew down and settled on the gate after losing his home on top of the city council 80 years ago. The Duma also used to be decorated with a 2.5 meter gilded statue of Kyiv’s patron until it was replaced with a red flag by the Bolsheviks in 1921. In post-Soviet times, city authorities decided to install the new statue of the archangel closer to the place where it once stood and after a number of experiments perched him on the top of the gate.

The gate itself has moved around the square frequently. It once was supposed to remind us that, rather being in the heart of Kyiv, the gate stood at the city’s edge.

Most historians agree that somewhere around its current location, Liadsky gate was located several meters below, as one of the city’s fortifications. The Liadsky Gate is considered to be the one through which Tatar and Mongol troops attacked Kyiv in 1240. In the 18th century, the Pechersky Gate was built in this place. It existed until the 1830s, when the old fortification banks and the gate itself were ruined and Kyiv began to expand.

One of the enduring and endearing traits of the square is clearly in both the old and new photographs. In both ears, radial streets go up from modern Maidan to St. Sophia and St. Michael’s Squares. There represent our historical continuity. The paths or streets existed since the medieval city of Prince Yaroslav. The Soviet-looking buildings of the 1950s and early 1980s face Maidan, but those paths still lead you to the hill where the princely city was located.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Faryna can be reached at

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