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Wonders Never Cease

 

Maryna Gudzevata, WU senior editor, and Olena Kurshyn, a photographer, took a trip of touristy exploration to the Land of Kharkivshchyna in the east of Ukraine. They have made discoveries, some of which they want to share with WU readers.

 

We were invited to go to the Land of Kharkivshchyna to see what it could offer tourists and soccer fans that will come in (hopefully) great numbers to see the games of the UEFA Euro 2012 Fotball championships. Some of the games are to be played in the city of Kharkiv, so we accepted the invitation of the Kharkiv Oblast Administration to check out one of the several tourist routes that are offered by tourist agencies.

We did see and discover a lot. We were so much impressed by what we experienced that found it difficult to squeeze into the limited space of a magazine essay.

 

Neglected splendor

Our first exploratory stop was in the village of Sharivka which gave us our first touristy sight to take a good look at. There is a palace there with two monumental towers flanking it.

The palace began to be built in the 1770s, when the village of Sharivka was owned by Sava Olkhovsky whose ancestors had been in possession of the place for more than a century. One of the Olkhovskys fought against Napoleon and saw much of Europe. He must have been inspired by the sight of many palaces, palazzos and impressive mansions so much that he wanted to have his residence in Sharivka overhauled so that it would look like a European mansion in a pseudo-Gothic style, then the latest European craze. He made sure that his property was enhanced by a romantic pond and a large, shady natural park.

In 1860, the then owner of the Sharivka estate was a gambler who lost the estate in a game of cards. The new owners, brothers Hebenstrein, were land owners with progress on their mind they introduced many innovations such as the use of fertilizers to increase the yields of crops and had a steam-powered threshing machine built, the first in that area. In fact, many of their agricultural innovations were local breakthroughs.

Also, they took good care of the park they brought all sorts of bushes and trees and other plants to be planted in the park. Some of these plants were delivered from abroad, others from less distant places. A church and a school were among the social improvements that the brothers introduced. The school proved to be the best in the whole district.

In the 1880s, Sharivka again changed hands, with the Baron Leopold Kenig, a rich landowner and sugar producer, coming into possession of it. The Baron had an electrical power station, stables and other useful things built. He also carried out repairs and changes in the palace itself. Georg Kufaldt, a specialist, well known at that time for his excellent ideas in laying of parks, was commissioned to improve the park. Experienced gardeners were hired to do everything properly.

The park bordered on the forest and deer were imported to roam freely in the woods. A pheasant farm was set up; cricket and tennis courts amazed and amused the locals. Football and volleyball games unheard of theretofore! were played on the pitches especially designed for them. Alleys lined with linden trees were laid out in the park for polite promenades, and gazeboes were erected to provide places for contemplation of nature.

The baron was said to be greatly enamored of his young and beautiful wife. He indulged her every caprice and whim. Once, in mid-summer, she declared she wanted to take a sleigh ride. A considerable stretch of ground was covered with a layer of sugar so that the baroness could have her eccentric fancy satisfied.

Being much older than your wife, particularly if she is good-looking and fanciful, may be fraught with considerable jealous anxieties, disquietudes and suspicions. Its particularly painful when suspicions turn out to be well-founded.

When, for example, the baroness was vacationing in the Crimea, she succumbed to the advances of a dashing officer. The news was broken to the baron. Distressed, he took a trip to the Crimean resort where his supposedly recreant wife was staying. As his carriage was approaching his destination, the baron, to his great dismay, espied his wife in the arms of a young man, sitting on a rock at the forest edge.

The legend (and this story has come down to us as hearsay rather than a documented anecdote) says that the baron did not make a scene or challenge the officer to a duel he did not even make his unexpected arrival and presence at the adulterous scene known to his wife. Some time later, the baron had the rock shipped to his park. He probably wanted the rock to be a sort of a silent reproach...

The soviet regime that brought so much misery, suffering, destruction of churches and neglect of architectural landmarks, for some reason spared the palace and the park in Sharivka though not quite. The church was pulled down and the graveyard was bulldozed out of existence.

The palace was turned into a TB sanatorium; new ugly structures were built; the park was neglected. But probably it was this transformation from a palace to a sanatorium that saved the place from ruination.

As recently as in 2008, the sick were moved to a place better suited to be a hospital for treating the patients suffering from tuberculosis, and the restoration work began. Volunteers helped with putting the park into a better shape. The linden alley is still there, and the old red bricks underfoot that have survived on the paths, serve as a reminder of the times long past.

The local authorities promise to do a good job of restoration and of cleaning up the park to make them ready for the influx of tourists in 2012.

 

Next stop

The Spaso-preobrazhenska (Transfiguration) Church in Natalivsky park near the village of Volodymyrivka is surely worth seeing as it is considered to be unique in its kind.

Natalivka used to be an estate owned by Ivan and Pavlo Kharytonenko, father and son, both of them very successful businessmen who specialized in sugar production, and both well known for their philanthropy. Among other things, they donated money for the construction of schools; the monument to Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the seventeenth-century Cossack hetman, in Kyiv was erected with their donations as well.

Ivan Kharytonenko was an honorary member of the Art Academy in St Petersburg. His son Pavlo put together a wonderful collection of paintings; he met and befriended many prominent people of the early twentieth century, among them the British writer H.G. Wells, and the American dancer Isadora Duncan. In his mansion in Moscow (now it houses the British Embassy), he rubbed shoulders with prominent intellectuals and public figures.

The estate of Natalivka was founded by Ivan Kharytonenko in 1884 and was named either after his second wife, Natalya, or his granddaughter of the same name. Kharytonenkos conviviality, generosity and good taste attracted numerous guests, many of whom could not help admitting the progressive methods used by the Kharytonenkos in running their businesses.

The church was built in 1913. The famous architect Aleksandr Shchusev, the well-known sculptors Aleksandr Matveyev and Sergey Konyonkov were commissioned to design and decorate the church. The bell tower that stands by the church is of an unusual shape it looks like trunks of mighty trees that are crowned with a helmet. The Crucifix created by Konyonkov can be seen on one of the walls of the church, which served, in addition to its religious purpose, as a sort of a museum too. The church contained a collection of about 200 icons. What happened, after the Bolsheviks came to power, to this collection, which was considered to be one of the most precious (both as art works and expensive items) of its kind, is not known. Some of the icons might have found their way to museums of Ukraine.

There are no other buildings at the estate surviving from the Kharytonenkos time, but the magnificent park is still there, with its age-old oaks, lindens, horse chestnuts and pines creating a wonderful, contemplative atmosphere of a quiet repose.

 

Dendropark

One of the must-see stops on our tour was the Krasnokutsky Dendropark, an arboreal reserve with a fancy name. Dendrology is the botanical study of trees and other woody plants. The Dendropark is believed to have been founded at the end of the 18th century at the site of a former monastery.

The land on which the reserve was founded was granted to Nazar Karazin by the Empress Catherine II for some of his services which he had performed for the crown. Karazin was an exceptionally gifted person, with an excellent knowledge of many things, including several foreign languages.

It was one of his sons who actually founded the reserve. Trees of over 600 species were brought to the reserve from Japan, China, Americas, France, Germany and other parts of the world. Trees of only 50 species, which were new to the Ukrainian soil, managed to get adapted to the new and rather severe conditions of winter, with two of them the maples and acacia being now the trees well known and loved across all of Ukraine.

Taking a leisurely stroll through the park we spotted several trees and plants which can be considered quite exotic for Ukraine Japanese pagoda trees, cork trees, lianas, and Canadian firs. We discovered a museum in the territory of the reserve too Museum of Apples, and a botanical center where they grow excellent fruit and berries.

 

Village museum

It is not too surprising to find a museum in a village usually, its somebodys house who distinguished themselves in some field in later life and the village where that person lived preserves their house as a museum. But the museum we visited in the village of Parkhomivka is surely unique. It boasts original works by Piranesi, Picasso, Manet, Repin, Ivanov, Roerich, Malevich, Kandinsky and a number of other famous artists. The collection, in addition to great masters of west European, Russian and Ukrainian art, also includes works by Chinese painters of the seventeenth century, ancient Egyptian statuettes and other museum pieces of great esthetic and evidently market value.

A teacher of history, Panas Lunyov, who came to the village in 1947 to teach at the local school, was a great enthusiast. He wanted his pupils to know both the local, Ukrainian and world history well, so he suggested that a museum of local lore and history be created. To found a museum you have to have exhibits to show there, and the teacher and his students began to collect whatever could be regarded as witnesses of the past icons, paintings, old books, antique ceramics, embroideries, ornaments, coins, photographs and a great many other artifacts. The word that a local teacher was after setting up a museum spread far beyond the village and people from Parkhomivka and from elsewhere began to bring things which they thought might be good for a museum to have. Of course, only a few turned out to be genuinely museum pieces but their number kept growing.

Later, the students thought it might be a good idea to have a sort of an art gallery rather than just a local lore and history museum.

Mr Lunyov and his pupils went to several major cities of Ukraine and Russia asking for works of art that these museums could loan to a museum in a village. Now it seems to be a rather preposterous idea but it worked. Letters were written to artists and collectors with the same request. The first to give their works to the nascent museum were several artists from Kharkiv. It was in 1955, and that year is considered to be the date of the museums foundation. A room in the school was where the treasures were initially kept.

Students of the local school worked in the museum as volunteers doing whatever was necessary to keep the museum running. The geography of their trips to museums expanded and they even visited the famous Dresden Art Gallery in Germany from where they brought an exact copy of the world-famous Nefertiti bust.

In 1986, when the museum had already become a staggering collection of art, it was granted the status of a state museum, that is, the state took over and provided funding and protection. Today, the museum boasts about 7,000 items and is housed in an eighteenth-century palazzo-like mansion.

The teacher who started it all and managed to engender love for art and history in several generations of his pupils is no more but the museum is there as a monument to the great quest for beauty and things spiritual.

 

Singing terraces

In the village of Horodne, we were shown a rather mysterious place which the locals call Spivochi terasy, that is Singing Terraces, or rather Terraces for Singing.

Terraces made of brick face in an amphitheater-like manner what may be called a stage. If you stand there, on that stage, the acoustics of the whole place is such that your voice can be easily heard quite well a considerable distance away. Each terrace is about 4 meters (12 feet) in height, and they stretch horizontally for about fifty meters (over 150 feet).

Nobody seems to know when these terraces were built and for exactly which purpose. A nineteenth-century archeologist, Ivan Zaretsky, mentions the site in his writings but does not mention if any archeological excavations were carried out there.

The acoustics of the place was studied with the help of special instruments and it was confirmed that the place does have exceptionally good acoustic properties.

The ideas offered for what the place might have been used for, vary from the mundane to the bizarre. The time when the place was built is uncertain either.

The place has not yet revealed its mysterious purpose. Particularly baffling is the fact that there used to be and still are fruit trees growing there. Orchards and acoustic perfection?

One hopes that some time in not so distant future a well-equipped archeological expedition will go there to probe into the Spivochi terasy titillating mystery.

 

Restoration work on the facade of the palace in Sharivka has been completed, but there is still a lot more to do.

 

 

Oleh Skrypka, frontman of the popular VV folk rock band, performs as a disc jockey, DJ OSkrypka, at the Spivochi terasy Festival.

 

The Spasopreobrazhenska Church is surrounded by birches and pines.

 

 

A romantic spot of the Krasnokutsky Dendropark arboreal reserve.

 

In the museum in the village of Parkhomivka.

 

The terraces in the village of Horodne. Neither the exact purpose for which these terraces were built, nor the exact time of their construction are known.

 

On September 6 the village of Horodne was the venue of an ethnic music festival, the first of its kind in Kharkiv oblast. The organizers of the Spivochi terasy (Singing Terraces) Festival hope to make it an annual event (go to www.spivochi-terasy.org to learn more about it).

 

Reliefs on the churchs walls.

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