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Battles’ reenactments staged in the ancient town of Kamyanets-Podilsky
Oleh ZHARIY went to Kamyanets-Podilsky to take photos of the old fortress there, to enjoy the medieval atmosphere and to watch re-enactment of battles of the past.
I was born in Kamyanets-Podilsky, I lived there for some time, and after I moved elsewhere I used to spend my vacations in Kamyanets-Podilsky every summer. But then my visits became more sporadic and the last time I visited Kamyanets-Podilsky was nine years ago.
I arrived in Kamyanets-Podilsky by train on October 5. It was Friday. My relatives came to the railroad terminal to greet me.
As we were passing through the city in a taxi, I could not help noticing the changes that had occurred since my previous visit — parks looked much better taken care of, storefronts proclaimed their modernity, a new church of impressive architecture had been built. Leaving my things at my aunt’s place, I went to the city council where I got some booklets and fresh information about the re-enactment festival. From there I walked to the fortress. Crossing the Novoplanivsky Bridge, I stopped to take in the panorama of the canyon through which the fast river Smotrych was flowing.
I noticed many signs of restoration and reconstruction. Kamyanets-Podilsky is closely connected with the history of the neighboring Poland which has also contributed to the restoration effort.
The Smotrych makes a loop over which you can cross the Zamkovy Bridge. It connects the fortress with Stare Misto — Old Town. Though I saw the fortress from all possible angles so many times, it never fails to impress me. This time I fully understood why the fortress had been put on the UNESCO World heritage list.
I saw quite a few tourists in the fortress — they were all over the place, climbing to the top of the towers or descending into basements, or taking a leisurely walk around.
In the fortress you can see a wax figure of Ustym Karmelyuk (1787–1835), head of the peasant uprising, notoriously known for his robbing and plundering exploits (being a sort of Ukrainian Robin Hood, he was believed to give away the plunder to the poor); he had been imprisoned several times in the fortress but invariably he had made spectacular escapes. This time it looks he will stay in the fortress for good.
In the courtyard of the fortress you can practice archery — you’ll have to pay a hryvnya for a shot.
After a delicious lunch at my aunt’s, I returned to the fortress in the late afternoon. I like to take pictures in the sunset conditions, so advantageous for photography. I like the color scheme of the sunset hour — flaming reds, the green patches of some plants, and the grey of the walls. Probably, even more impressive sights open up in the dark when the lights are turned on. The fortress acquires a mysterious feel.
I knew that at the time I was wandering around the fortress that night, the participants of the re-enactment festival were enjoying themselves at a friendly banquet at which you could not yet tell who would be the Cossacks, janissaries, musketeers, hussars or strelets (seventeenth-century Russian soldiers).
The next morning was foggy but the fog cleared up closer to noon. I found a position from which I could have an unobstructed view of the march of the participants of the 3rd International Terra Heroica 2007 re-enactment festival and take good photographs. Over three hundred men and women, wearing colorful national dresses from Poland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Russia, Slovakia and Spain gathered at the central square of the city where they were greeted by the mayor and distinguished guests of the festival. Young dancers performed a beautiful minuet and the participants displayed their arms and readiness to do battle.
The main event of the day was “the Storming of the Fortress.” The best viewing point was the Zamkovy Bridge which was tightly filled with spectators. Shortly before the mock battle was to start, an old tractor delivered ancient guns. It looked so incongruous in the historical setting that it caused laughter.
At last everything is ready. Troops are lined up, trumpets blare, drums roll, puffs of smoke from many guns announce the beginning of the engagement. Guns keep firing, sabers clash. From a distance it looks as though the troops on both sides are fighting to death — but in reality, they are very careful not to do any bodily damage.
Horses were also part of the re-enactment. They had been delivered by the Polish Society Towarystwo Jazdy Dawnej (Society of Ancient Riding), and they introduced an element of great demonism to the battle.
It was friendship that won. The participants left to celebrate their victory at restaurants but crowds of the spectators continued to mill around the fortress. They were waiting for a gala concert, which was to take place in the fortress. Among the participants of the show were ethnic music groups Burdon and Propala Hramota from Ukraine, Musica radicum from Russia, Stary Olsa from Belarus and Zdob si zdub from Moldova. They were very well received by the enthusiastic audience, some of whom even tried to climb onto the stage.
Next day which was Sunday, early in the morning I went to Khotyn, which is situated at a distance of about twenty kilometers from Kamyanets-Podilsky. I hitchhiked all the way to Khotyn, which is another old fortress of a very forbidding appearance. I crossed the Dnister River at a place where three Oblasts of Ukraine converge — Khmelnytska, Chernivetska and Ternopilska.
I took photographs and returned to Kamyanets-Podilsky just in time to watch the closing ceremony of the festival. Dozens of souvenir stands offered their wares in a great selection.
The troops ,wearing their colorful costumes and carrying their arms, filed by the viewing stands in a picturesque march. Then they engaged in another mock battle which was smaller in scale than on the previous day but I could get much closer to the combatants and take my pictures the way I pleased.
When the show was over, the mayor thanked the participants and invited them to come and take part in the Terra Heroica festival next year.
The Terra Heroica 2007 Festival was organized by the Kamyanets-Podilsky city council, a department of military history of the Archeology and Anthropology Society and the Festival Agency Ratusha.
Among the participants were the Kyivsky reyestrovy kozatsky polk (Cossack unit from Kyiv), Podilska povstanska kupa Morozenka (a unit from Podillya), 9 Polish military history groups, 2 Czech military history groups, and 2 Russian military history groups.
Among the guests were musicians, artisans, artists, ancient arms makers and a lot of tourists.
Photos by the author
Polish Hussars attacking the Cossack infantry
A mock battle between Polish and Cossack troops
Musketeers from the Red Regiment of the Military
Musketeers from Regiment Altblau,
Participants of a battle re-enactment
Jaroslaw Struczinski, curator of Castle