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Exotic landmarks of Ukraine
A Hill That Used to Be a Fortress
In the Land of Rivnenshchyna
The moat that goes around
Close to the village of Tarakaniv, not far from the town of Dubno, there is a hill which would hardly be worth paying any special attention to if it were not for the fact that inside it hides what used to be a great fortress.
Close to the end of the nineteenth century, the Russian Imperial Government began to strengthen the western borders of the Russian Empire (at that time, Ukraine was part of it) and building strongholds in accordance with the latest advances of military science.
The fortress in the vicinity of Tarakaniv, in the valley of the River Ikva, was built in 1885–1890. The general design was supplied by General Edward Totleben, a prominent military engineer. Cement, concrete and metal were used to build the stronghold (officially, it was called The Dubno Fortress, and locally it was known as Tarakaniv Fort). The doors were airtight, which was a greatly advanced feature at that time.
The fort was surrounded by a moat, thirteen metres wide and 6 metres deep, provided with escarps and counterscarps; each side of the rectangular moat was about 230 metres. There was a sort of a sophisticated drawbridge to cross the moat, which could be easily withdrawn into the fort in case of attack. The fort itself was made to look like a hill with bushes and trees planted here and there. The fort had everything a stronghold should have, including gun emplacements and casemates. The only structure of the fort that could be seen on the ground was a two-story sturdy building that housed barracks, a church, storerooms and the commander’s headquarters. The fort could accommodate up to 800 servicemen and was provided with its own electric power unit, telephone, independent water supply, a hospital, a morgue. The state-of-the-art ventilation system made it possible for the defenders to stay inside as long as it was needed. Machine guns and big-calibre guns made the fortress an extremely powerful defence point.
The only structure of the fortress
But it was never used by the Russians for the military purpose it was built for. Up to 1900, the fort was used as a depot for ammunition, military equipment and supplies. In 1915, during the First World War, the Russian troops retreated leaving the fort to the Austrians who did use it for the purpose it was originally built for. In the ensuing battles, the fort was damaged. In the civil wars of 1918–1919, the fort changed hands several times but its location proved to be lacking in strategic importance. During WWII, the warring sides just passed around the fort rather than fought for it.
At present, the fort is completely abandoned and visited only by occasional tourists and those who organize “war games” in and around it. The many kilometres of underground corridors have not been properly explored since the fort had stopped functioning as a military facility. Prowling around on your own is fraught with great dangers.
A Church in a Brick Casing
In the city of Poltava
Photos by V. UDOVYCHENKO
InSpaska Street in Poltava there stands a small church which, at first glance, does not look unusual at all. But what appears to be an ordinary church made of brick hides a wooden church of the early eighteenth century.
The Spaska Church was built of oak in 1705–1706 at the site of another church that had burned down. The local priest with the support from Colonel Iskra, a prominent local public figure, had the new Spaska Church built in what was then the centre of town. In June 21 1709, shortly before the battle of Poltava (when the Russian troops defeated the Swedish army led by King Charles XII and the Ukrainian army led by Hetman Mazepa, the Russian victory put an end to the last vestiges of Ukrainian independence which was finally regained only in 1991), a religious service was held in the church and prayers were said for the victory of the Russian army. According to tradition, the Russian Emperor Peter I attended the religious thanksgiving service held at the Spaska Church. There is a monument near the church erected in 1849 to mark the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava — it is in the shape of a nine-metre high pyramid with a bas-relief on one of its sides representing a sleeping lion.
Passage between the brick casing
The timber of the Spaska Church proved to be badly affected by the inclemency of weather and the only way to save the church from ruin was to provide a cover for it. It was done in 1845 after the heir to the Russian throne Tsarevitch Alexander Mikhailovich (the future tsar Alexander II) had donated a sum of money to the church’s reconstruction. The “case” built to protect the church looked like a church in its own right, crowned with a dome. The architect Andriy Ton who supplied the design and supervised the construction, left some room between the outer brick walls and the inner wooden structure and the passages are now used for some technical purposes. The church also had a new bell tower built but it was torn down by the atheistic Bolsheviks in the 1930s.
The Spaska Church is warm inside even in the coldest of winters thanks to the brick casing. Services are held there all the year round.
In the Land of Khmelnychchyna
Inthe town of Medzhybizh which is known for its castle and mock tournaments of knights, you can find a lot of other things than can serve as tourist attractions. Among them are two columns of unknown purpose, one of which can be found in the upper section of the Old Town, and the other one in the section of town which is situated to the south-west of the castle.
Both columns are built of brick, each provided with a pedestal and crowned with a capital. One of the columns is square in plan, and the other one is round. In the shaft of the columns you can see decorative niches. The columns must have been built during the years 1672–1699 when Medzhybizh was in the Turkish hands (in the seventeenth century, Turkey made several attempts to obtain large portions of the Ukrainian lands in military actions).
There is some evidence that suggests that, originally, there were three columns and they were dedicated to three high-ranking Turkish officials who died of plague, which struck the region after the Turkish invasion, and decimated both the local population and the Turks themselves. Three metal coffins were reported to have been found in the basement of the castle but no further exploration in the basement was done because of the precarious condition the basement was in; later, most of the rooms and corridors in the basement caved in, putting an end to any hopes to conduct any further exploration.
Similar columns are known to have existed in other lands of Ukraine.
By Olena KRUSHYNSKA.
Photos by the author.