Friday, May 23, 2014

Kiev, Part 2

Church and monastery buildings of the Pechersk Lavra

The second day in Kiev, we visited the Cave Monastery (Pechersk Lavra), a site where about a dozen early Christian monks settled in the 11th century with the intention of spreading Christianity throughout Kievan Rus. After viewing several of the monastery buildings, we descended through a long, narrow tunnel carrying candles. We passed by several caskets, presumably containing the mummified bodies of those thousand-year-old monks. The caskets had glass lids, and the bodies were wrapped in robes in such a way so that no part of the actual body was visible, so the “natural mummification” that occurred in the caves had to be taken on faith. We emerged (were disgorged) from the cave/tunnel into a shopping area where I purchased an egg painted with an icon (virgin & child).
Guide describing the Chernobyl atomic plant melt-down

During the afternoon, we visited a museum dedicated to the Chernobyl disaster, which occurred some 30 – 60 miles north-east of Kiev, at a site near the borders of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. I hadn't realized that it was so close to what is now Russia. A person involved in the early clean-up and remediation of the area spoke to the group through our guide, Evgeny.
That afternoon, we also visited Baba Yar, a pit where 100,000 Jews were “disposed of” by the Nazis early in WWII. The fact that the victims had been Jews was covered up after the war, and the area was memorialized by the Soviets as the site of the massacre of 100,000 Russian citizens. Later, we also visited a synagogue – not on the itinerary, but a couple on the bus asked if we could stop there. It was in our Guide to Kiev.
Grass covers the earth over those massacred
at Babi Yar

The following day, I didn't go on the tour of the folk museum, but rather stayed in the room and wrote postcards and read until early afternoon. Afterwards, I went to the post office and mailed the cards (and a couple of other cards to Lis’ family) which was something of an adventure, for which I used my spotty Russian. Then I walked on my own through a part of the city we had seen on the bus tour the day before – past the Great Gate, past Saint Sophia, across the square towards St. Michael’s, looking for the Ukrainian National Museum.
I finally found it--buying a T-shirt and a Ukranian blouse for Ella Diane along the way--but there was only about an hour left to visit the rooms before it closed. It was clearly a remnant of a Soviet-era museum, with the main entrance room, up a staircase, exhibiting a red flag with hammer and sickle and shining works depicted on either side of it. There were also a couple of paintings on either side depicting awful winter mud and chaos – perhaps illustrating the great patriotic war, which is what the Russians call WWII.
Soviet-era Ukrainian National Museum near Kiev's main square

The rest of the rooms exhibited pretty straight-forward, historical museum-type displays, with artifacts of the period ranging from pre-historic to recent times: paintings of nobility and Metropolitans (Eastern Orthodox bishops), swords, chairs, crockery, an ox-cart, etc. I hadn't realized how significant early (Aegean) civilization was in the area, but there were many early (5 – 3 centuries BC) Greek vessels and plates and amphorae.
When the museum closed, I took a quick trip to a small, wooden, rather make-shift building nearby that housed numerous gold-rimmed icons in the Eastern Orthodox style. Could they have been stored in the basement of the museum and brought out for exhibit after Ukrainian independence? No one could tell me the history of that small, wooden chapel-like structure near the museum, a huge church looming behind it on the main square of Kiev.
Small building full of icons next to the museum.

I walked so much that day that I developed a charley-horse in my left leg (calf), and it has been giving me trouble ever since. And the right leg (hip and knee) have been bothering me since the beginning of the trip (back in Berlin), so walking is becoming something of a problem, quite apart from the problems I've had breathing, especially after catching the cold in London. It seems to be improving now, though.