Kyiv’s urbanistic alchemy. The city, born during the Revolution on Granite

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Journalist and publicist Dmytro Krapyvenko, who is currently defending Ukraine, talks about contemporary Kyiv and how it rebelled against its Soviet provincial fate back in 1990.

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Kyiv is driven by ambitions: personal, corporate, party, public, and geopolitical. Such is the fate

of this city – to be at the intersection of many dreams and interests. Kyiv boils and rages like a big cauldron, in which an invisible alchemist (or the Lord God himself) wants to melt the ideal Ukrainian capital.

Modern Kyiv is a middle-class person aged 30+ (that’s how long during recent history, the city has been living in the status of a sovereign state’s capital), who has satisfied its basic needs and is starting to work on making his life more comfortable. The ambitious task is to organize the legacy of its ancestors encompassing one and a half thousand years, to complete the «European-style repair», to take care of transport and the comfort of the next generations. It was in this state and, let’s call it, in this psychological age that Kyiv met a full-scale invasion and, like the rest of Ukrainian cities, went to the front and even became the front for a while. Later, we will get back to peaceful work.

From time to time, social networks throw up ads for groups where people are nostalgic for the old (read Soviet) Kyiv. How neat it was, they say, green, without traffic jams and barbaric construction of the high-rises. I met the city like that for a while at the end of the 1980s, preceding the turn of the era. Yes, Kyiv of that time was an attractive capital of the Soviet republic, which could compete with Minsk or Tashkent and win against their background. It was forbidden to compete with Moscow in that coordinate system. 

An eloquent story is the construction of the «Ukraine» palace, which was supposed not to surpass its counterparts in the capital of the USSR. This episode is well described in Oksana Zabuzhko’s novel «The Museum of Abandoned Secrets». No, this hierarchy never meets Kyiv’s ambitions, so all the latest revolutions will begin here, in the central square of the city – Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square).

Born in the 1990 student Revolution on Granite, modern Kyiv rebelled against that

provincial fate and began to realize its ambitions. Since ancient times, the city was different: princely, monastic, merchant, artisan. Now it is the most diverse and tolerant in Ukraine, and therefore, closer to the current Europe in spirit. Although its architecture has recently been dominated by the «bird shit style».

Is Kyiv developing or degrading? I have a very simple answer to this: if it attracts people who want to live here, then the city is attractive, it is «doomed» to grow and improve. Sometimes, there are attempts to «mold» Kyiv into a kind of «Ukrainian Moscow»: a pathetic capital, unfriendly to provincials, which seeps through its teeth: «Why did they arrive?». That’s false! Kyiv welcomes, gives opportunities, and disappoints only those who wanted to see here as their native district or regional centre with high salaries. The capital is big, it contains considerable distances and appreciates punctuality. Of course, there are also disadvantages, such as traffic jams and expensive housing. This is the condition of the problem, and whether to solve it or not is a personal matter.

Even in the darkest ages, Kyiv remained the centre of gravity. Pilgrims always came here to the Lavra for a miracle. Perhaps, even today, those who go to «conquer» the capital dream of their miracle. Just like me, who arrived here as a 17-year-old boy with the ambition to become a famous writer. It wasn’t that I believed in miracles; I just understood that the writer (later, the priorities changed towards journalism and publications) has to live in the centre of events, to be their witness, or better – a participant. Kyiv gave me plenty of this.

When I was just thinking about entering the Taras Shevchenko National University, people from my Russian-speaking environment at the time warned me: «This university is a ‘nursery’ of Ukrainian nationalism!» And they were right. It was the university environment that allowed me to find my identity. I switched to Ukrainian in the mid-1990s, when it was not yet mainstream.

Kyiv has always been Ukrainian, even when its space was reduced to dissident kitchens. Today, he has straightened his shoulders, laughing at the eyes of Pushkin and Bulgakov: we took it, go to the trash you, builders of the empire! Kyiv is a phoenix because here, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy is being revived on the place of the «Naval Political College». Here the Arsenal becomes artistic, because culture is a weapon, here modern creative hubs are emerging on the ruins of the old industry. Kyiv adheres to a philosophical opinion: nothing is taken from nowhere and nothing disappears without a trace.

Concentrated Kyiv is a triangle: the Mykhailivskyi Zolotoverkhyi Cathedral (another phoenix) – Independence Square – Shevchenko Park. For the last 100 years, Ukrainian history has been taking place primarily here. The city code is hidden in these symbols: strength of spirit (the bells of Mykhailivskyi heralded the Revolution of Dignity), the strength of the community (Maidan as

viche), and the power of the word (in the Greek sense, «logos» means teaching, education, hence – the university). On this we stand.

You can fight for a long time over the question «who the real Kyivans are, and how many generations of their family must live in order to be called indigenous.» For me, these are empty conversations that lead to Adam and Eve, or Andrew the Apostle, if we are talking about our city. For me, a good Kyivan is someone who creates the city’s future. Like the activist Roman Ratushnyi, who in his short life managed to inspire the people of Kyiv to defend Protasiv Yar from the constructive companies. The capital’s residents know how to unite and make themselves heard. In this lies the guarantee that no external enemy, no predatory capital will destroy our city. And the alchemy of finding the ideal capital will continue. This is an exciting process!

By Dmytro Krapyvenko, translated by Vitalii Holich

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.


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