Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kharkov Tour I

Holodna Gora church. Construction began on June 24, 1892. Blessed on October 23, 1901.
One sunny afternoon in May we meet with Jack, a former student who had offered to take us on a tour of the city. We meet Jack at this church in Xolodna Gora. Dressed in white linen pants and a white polo shirt, this day he looks every inch the doctor that he's poised to become. It's a pleasant surprise to see not only him at the meeting point, but also his friend Yaroslav and his sister and brother-in-law, also doctors, visiting from Africa. (It's popular for Ukrainian doctors to work abroad in order to earn more money, as salaries for medical professionals here can be between $100 - $300 US a month. If Jack ends up going abroad for work I'll always remember all the effort and enthusiasm he put into this- and the next- tour!)

So, when this city tour was proposed I thought it would just be a casual thing, Jack pointing out whatever he noticed as we wandered the streets. Instead, after the introductions and nice-to-meet-yous, he pulls out two handmade and bound tour guides: Харьков- сегодня и сто лет назад. Kharkov today and a hundred years ago. 20 pages of old photographs and background info! With these in hand, we enter the church grounds and circle the building. There's a priest in black outside on a bench and women covering their heads with scarves as they approach the imposing front door. Children play nearby, girls skipping together, boys crouched under a tree. Passerby cross themselves on the street as they walk down the sidewalk. I still feel timid around Ukrainian churches.

Next we head to a stadium/field perched above the city. Xolodna Gora, cold mountain, is not quite a mountain but definitely a hill. My favorite version of the naming story involves a Russian tsarina passing through town and bestowing the name upon the hill. No idea if that's even remotely true :p Anyways, through a rather large hole in a concrete barrier and voilà, we arrive at the viewpoint.
Our group admiring beautiful Kharkov!
I could easily spend all day here. Several people appear to be doing this: couples chatting over picnic baskets, teenage boys drinking beer and kicking around a soccer ball. But soon enough it's time to leave to continue the tour.

We hop on a tram and for about 18 cents ride down the hill, over the train tracks, and along the highway until the tram stops at the Lopan river. Here we see citizens lazily rowing around in little rented boats, which ends up inspiring another adventure later on. The red-and-white-striped Annunciation Cathedral, one of Kharkov's main cathedrals, is a short walk away along the riverbank. I cannot stop photographing this amazing church!!!
Built in 1888, blessed in 1901.

Then back across the river to take a stroll through this open air market. It looks like a good place to get souvenirs and artwork. Not far from the vendors is Kharkov's eternal flame monument to "those who gave their lives in the October revolution."

Across the street from all of this is the Assumption Cathedral, older than the Annunciation Cathedral by 100+ years. For a long time this was the tallest building in town. Take a look for yourself!

We conclude the tour by continuing into downtown Kharkov. Jack and Yaroslav point out a lot of unusual architecture, especially the intimidating Stalin-era stuff. Can you picture this as a building from George Orwell's 1984?
Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Love, or Ministry of Plenty?
Yes, that's a leftover sickle and hammer
It's not all scary, though. There are a lot of beautiful places and statues of gods and goddesses. Click over to my Facebook album for the rest of the photos!

Click here to read Kharkov Tour II.

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