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Information about Kiev, Ukraine

Kiev (also known as Kyiv), a scenic city of close to 3 million people located on the Dnieper (Dnipro) River, is the bustling capital of Ukraine. The town's area amounts to 790 sq. kilometers. Woods, parks and public gardens make up over half of its area. Kiev is called one of the world's greenest cities. It is the largest political, industrial, scientific and cultural center of Ukraine.

Brief history of Kiev

Archeological excavations show evidence of the first settlements at the territory of Kiev 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. It is believed that Kiev was founded in 482 A. D. (to compare, Moscow was founded in 1147) and grew into powerful center of medieval state Kievan Rus. The most widely accepted viewpoint of historians on the origination of this first state of the Eastern Slavs is connected to what is known as Invitation of Varyags (a.k.a. Norsemen and Vikings). The first known chronicle, Povest Vremennyh Let (PVL) or Tale of the Times, tells that in 862, invited by Novgorod, konung Rurik and two brothers of him came to rule the northern Slavic lands. They brought their Scandinavian name Rus', still existing in Finn language, to call this territory Russian Land. Kiev was already a famous city then and soon Varyags came there on the way to Constantinople, to be mentioned in the Byzantine chronicle first time in 865. Their ancestors ruled from Kiev in the 9-th to 12-th centuries as a capital of huge state that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Monumental role of Kiev is that it brought Byzantium into Russia, with its religion, alphabet, culture, stress on autocracy, and a zealous devotion to the true cause. Some of the first Varyags were already Christians, however it was in 988 that Grand Duke Vladimir baptized his nation. It was maybe where the broad avenue Khreshchatik now runs that the people descended from the hills to the Dnieper River to be christened by Greek priests from Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire .


Grand Duke Vladimir built the Desyatina Church, and in 1037 his son, Grand Duke Yaroslav, built Saint Sophia (Holy Wisdom) Cathedral as a sister of the famous Saint Sophia in Constantinople. Saint Sophia in Kiev became the Mother Church of Ukraine, and for a thousand years the immortal gold mosaic wall of the Virgin Oranta has watched over Kiev. Today this is the oldest extant church in ex-USSR except of Georgia and Armenia. The Mongol invasion of 1240 and many others since then failed to destroy this "invincible wall" of Kiev. St. Michael the Archangel, the city Holy Patron, protected this remnant of Kiev's days of golden glory.

It was in the year 1187 that for the first time historical chronicles mentioned the name Ukraine in parallel to the name Rus'. Through the series of royal marriages it enjoyed relations with major European dynasties. Kiev prospered as a trade and cultural center and won a measure of international recognition. However it suffered of numerous sieges and was burned many times by the steppe nomads and by fellow-dukes of other ancient Slavic principalities. Finally the Mongols destroyed it in the 13-th century. Later Kiev became a provincial town of The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, whose rulers married Kievan princesses and thus counted their dynasty from the same Varyag family of Ruriks as the grand dukes of Kiev. They also were baptized in Greek Church and adopted Kievan Rus legislation. They had never paid tribute to Mongols, unlike the northern Russian principalities. Only a defeat from Mongols in apocalyptic battle of Vorskla River in 1399 prevented Grand Duke Vitovt from taking upper hand over Moscow in the unification of all Russian lands. At that time Lithuania made a United Kingdom with Poland, and finally Kiev and significant part of today Ukraine became the crown land of King of Poland.

Kiev managed to reestablish its leading role only at the end of the 16-th century when independence wars, which were led by the Cossacks, began. To secure his victory, The Hetman B. Khmelnitsky applied for the protectorate of Moscow Tsardom in 1654. However, his successors revoked this move and tried, for some 50 years, to fight with the aid of Polish and Swedish Kings and The Ottoman Sultans. During the reign of Peter the Great the city became one of the most important centers of the Southwest part of Russian Empire. In 1763 Kiev already had a population of 42,000. It had considerably grown in area, but in view of its peculiar historical development the city lacked territorial integrity and, as in the past, was basically made up of three separate settlements, Starokievsky, Pechersk and Podol. This period saw the appearance of first wooden buildings in the Khreshchataya Valley (present-day Kreshchatik), between whose forest-covered slopes a small stream flowed. Now the main street of the city, Khreschatik, is wide and magnificent.

Kreshchatik many years ago Present-day Kreshchatik

After the abdication of Tsar in 1917, national-oriented elite formed new autonomous government in Kiev known as Tsentralna Rada. December of that year brought Lenin's ultimatum demanding Rada to close its territory for anti-bolshevik forces gathering at the South of Russia. The Rada, divided between decisive war minister S. Petlyura and hesitating majority, never responded. This encouraged sending Bolshevik troops from Moscow and Minsk to Ukraine and a revolt of communist workers of Arsenal industry in Kiev. Although the Rada declared independence on January 25, 1918 this war led to the capture of Kiev, then having population of 350,000. After that the power changed in Kiev 16 times within three years, sometimes twice within one day. One can feel this time by reading M. Bulgakov's novel White Guard. The Bolsheviks, who got the upper hand in civil war, managed to establish themselves firmly in Kiev only in 1920. At first, they made the capital of Ukraine in Kharkov, as more reliable city. It was moved back to Kiev in 1934, and the next year was marked with destruction of ancient St. Mikhail "Golden-Head" Church - to free the place for a complex of government buildings. Under Stalin, Ukrainian political, social, economic and cultural fabric was atomized through totalitarian terror, involving purges, executions, mass hunger in early 1930's, and exile to the infamous labor camps of GULAG. During World War II, Kiev again was heavily damaged. The first bombing raid occurred on June 22, 1941. Then the citizens and Soviet troops had been defending the city against the invading Nazis for 72 days. It fell on September 19, 1941, and the next month witnessed a capital catastrophe of the front with over 600,000 war prisoners taken by the Nazis. They built two concentration camps near Kiev. In systematic extermination campaign, some 150,000 of the Jewish population of Kiev were brutally executed in the ravine Babiy Yar. Total loss counted over 200,000 civilians killed and over 100,000 deported for forced labor. Red Army liberated Kiev on November 6, 1943. The post war years in Kiev were marked by intensive restoration of the damage. The city dressed its wounds and soon developed into a major industrial and educational center. These years brought to Kiev numerous new universities and R&D laboratories of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NASU), associated with fundamental and engineering sciences.

Now Kiev is a really beautiful city with its marvelous hills and unique sightseeing. Having bunches of trees along Khreshchatik and all around it is commonly associated with blooming chestnuts. Another permanent association is Dinamo-Kiev, famous football club, which many times was the best in the USSR. Architectural landscape of Kiev is unique. One feature is Dnieper and the hills. Another is a huge number of orthodox churches due to which it is called sometimes the city of golden domes. The churches themselves belong to three competing branches: Moscow orthodox, Kiev orthodox and Ukrainian autonomous one. For example, when The Pope visited Kiev in 2001, he was not allowed to enter ancient Pecherska Lavra complex (from 1062, PVL chronicle is believed to be written here) now belonging to Moscow Patriarchat. He prayed, however, in the St. Alexander Church returned to the Catholics after 70 years of serving a planetarium. Recent celebrations of the 10-th anniversary of independence brought hundreds of official guests and thousands of tourists, who could see new face of Khreshchatik, majestic St. Mikhail "Golden-Head" monastery complex rebuilt in the 1990's, modernized train terminal, and other remarkable traces of new times.

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