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A Charming Place
There is a town in western Ukraine which is often referred to as “the Gateway to the Carpathian mountains.” The town is called Ivano-Frankivsk. Recently, Yevhen Budko and Maryna Gudzevata, Mizhnarodny Turyzm and Welcome to Ukraine senior editors, visited Ivano-Frankivsk and did discover that the town does deserve such a reference.
Mykola IVASHCHENKO, MARYNA GUDZEVATA
Ivano-Frankivsk is situated in the land of Halychyna, and the local culture clearly shows in its appearance.
We found it to be a very friendly and even charming place. When later we shared our impressions with friends who had been to or lived in Ivano-Frankivsk, we discovered that they were of the same opinion. The town has retained much of its old appearance and has not been badly marred by nondescript or downright ugly housing blocks of the soviet times. The town hall remains to be the tallest building in town.
We could not figure out what actually makes the atmosphere of the town so special. There is absolutely no provinciality in it, but at the same time there is no hustle and bustle, annoyingly typical of any major urban centre (Ivano-Frankivsk with a population of 250,000 people cannot be called a small town, but neither is it a big city). One of the first very favorable impressions for us was the price of meals in restaurants. For a gorgeously delicious dish of trout we paid two times less than we would have paid in Kyiv.
Of course, it was only one, and not the most important facet of the town. A considerably greater impression was made on us by the way the locals talk. Firstly, it is very good Ukrainian, not a garbled mixture of Ukrainian and Russian that you hear so often in Kyiv, and secondly, people express themselves clearly and intelligently. And this observation is not limited to intellectuals only. Everybody talks like this — teachers, florists, waitresses, cab drivers, and shop assistants.
A bit of history
The official date of the town’s foundation is May 7, 1662 when the town was granted self-government under the Magdeburg Law. Andrzei Potocky, a Polish land magnate, is credited with having been the town’s founder. The town was originally called Stanislaviv (in honor of either Potocky’s son, Stanislaw, or his father, of the same name).
At the site of the future town there had stood an old Ukrainian village, Zabolottya, the first mention of which in chronicles dates back to the year 1437. There is enough evidence to suggest that the history of the place goes back into still earlier centuries.
In the 17th century, Potocky had a fortress built, and later in its vicinity there arose a town hall, churches, mansions of the nobility and modest houses of the lower classes. A market place sprawled in front of the town hall.
The Potocky family left their mark on the city. One of the Potockys was a supporter of the controversial Ukrainian Hetman Ivan Mazepa, the one who, in the hope of making Ukraine independent, sided up with the Swedish King Charles XII, but was defeated together with the king by the Russian forces of Peter I. The town was badly damaged in that Swedish-Russian war. The wife of Pylyp Orlyk, one of Mazepa’s generals, for many years lived in the Potockys’ palace. Pylyp Orlyk was the author of one of the first written European constitutions (alas, it was never implemented in Ukraine); later he became a general of the French army.
In 1772, after the partition of Poland among Russia, Austria and Prussia, Stanislaviv found itself under the Austrian rule. The town if not exactly prospered but developed quite well. The Revolution of 1848 brought to it a lot of positive political and economic changes. Ukrainian national and feministic movements began to gather momentum. Ukrainian, German, Polish and Jewish schools were opened, a housing construction boom gave the town many fine buildings, particularly at the end of the 19th century. There are excellent examples of the Ugendstil (also called Sezession, Style Modern; Art Nouveau) among the town’s architectural landmarks.
Ivan Franko and Stanislaviv
Ivan Franko, a prominent Ukrainian writer, public figure and scholar of the late 19th-early 20th centuries, after whom the town is now named, never lived there but visited it quite often and found it to be a nice place. He even contemplated coming to live there but he never did. Stanislaviv was the place where the three women whom he loved, lived at least for some time.
Ivan Franko made an outstanding contribution to the development of the Ukrainian national awareness. What Taras Shevchenko started in the first half of the 19th century, Franko continued at the turn of the centuries.
The Revolution of 1917 in Russia, the subsequent collapse of the Russian Empire and the Bolshevik coup were momentous events which changed the destiny of Ukraine. The national liberation movement in Ukraine culminated in the establishment of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in the east of the country and of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic in the west in 1919. It is not accidental that it was in Stanislaviv where the decision to unite the two independent Ukrainian states into one was taken — the town was the seat of the Ukrainian National Council.
The further history of Ukraine was tragic. Its eastern part was occupied by the Bolsheviks, not without the help of the local communist sympathizers, and the western part found itself once again under the Polish rule.
In March 1939, in still another bid for independence, Zakarpatska (Trans-Carpathian) Ukraine proclaimed itself independent and its army, Karpatska Sich which included many volunteers from Halychyna, operated in western Ukraine against the Polish troops.
When the Soviet troops occupied eastern Poland (in accordance with a secret protocol of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939), they were enthusiastically welcomed in Stanislaviv. Little did the people of Western Ukraine know what was to follow — firing squads, deportations, concentration camps and other features of the soviet regime imposed upon the “liberated” lands.
Stanislaviv was turned into a regular Soviet town with a monument of Lenin in its centre. Brainwashing from the pre-school age to the grave was introduced, and “struggle against the Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism” was launched.
The town was given a new name commemorating Ivan Franko who was considered by the soviets to have been “a revolutionary” and as such worthy to be remembered.
In 1989, two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ivano-Frankivsk saw yellow-blue Ukrainian national flags hoisted at its main square. The Ukrainian national movement was gaining momentum, Ukrainian independence was near.
Rynkova Ploshcha (Market Square) is one of the three squares preserved from old times in Ukraine: there is one in Lviv, one in Kamyanets-Podilsky and one in lvano-Frankivsk. The 50-meter tall building of the town hall is relatively new — it was built in 1935; the three previous ones were destroyed by fires and wars. The block, a place for beheading people, sat in the square as late as in the 18th century. Now fountain that peacefully splashes water right at the spot where this “block” had stood, does not remind us in anyway of its macabre predecessor. The roof of the town hall is gilded which makes it quite unique among other town halls of Europe.
In the 1970s, the old section of town adjacent to the Market Square was under a threat of being torn down but the public opinion was dead against it, and it was saved from destruction. Later, restoration work began, and by now almost all the houses have been restored.
The oldest surviving church in Ivano-Frankivsk dates to 1703 (its construction was begun in 1672). Several of the Potockys were buried in the vaults of the church. The Potocky Castle, dating from the end of the 17th century, is another landmark that keeps the memory of the past alive.
The Armenian Church (1742–1762) in the late Baroque style, was turned by the Soviets into a propaganda museum of history of religion and atheism. After Ukraine regained independence in 1991, it became a place of worship again, but since there were practically no Armenians left in town, the church was given to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. From the earlier times, the church preserved frescoes executed by a Polish painter Jan Soliecki and wooden sculptures carved by the Ukrainian artist Matviy Poleyovsky.
The Svyatovoskresensky Cathedral of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church boasts an imposing iconostasis which was created in 1901. Andriy Sheptytsky, a prominent church figure and ardent Ukrainian patriot, conducted religious services in this cathedral at the time when he was bishop of Stanislaviv.
Scenic parks of the town are among its most attractive features and as such should be mentioned. The lake in one of the parks with the “Island of Love” in the centre of it makes it a particularly picturesque place.
The Fest of Blacksmiths was first held in Ivano-Frankivsk in 2001, and since then it has been held annually. In fact, it’s an international event with blacksmiths coming from across Ukraine and from abroad to show their skills. The Fest, held in May, lasts for several days and is one of the biggest events of its kind in Eastern Europe.
It has become a tradition for the smiths who come to attend the Fest to create all sorts of metal sculptures. For their contributions, the smiths are awarded all sorts of prizes and appreciation certificates.
The sculptures are then presented to Ivano-Frankivsk on the Day of the City which is also celebrated in May. In this manner the smiths demonstrate their skills and art, and express their gratitude to Ivano-Frankivsk for hospitality.
The sculptures are installed at the picturesque places in Ivano-Frankivsk and add a nice touch to its streets and parks. The unveilings of the sculptures attract a lot of locals and guests.
As to the town’s charm which we felt right at the beginning of our sojourn there, we came to the opinion that it is not so much the town’s architecture and parks but rather the people of Ivano-Frankivsk that create this special atmosphere of friendliness and benevolence which one can’t help experiencing.
Rotunda with a fountain and the figure of the Virgin Mary was built at the Sheptytsky Square to mark the 2000 years of Christianity.
Monument to Ivan Franko in the city center.
Sculptures presented to Ivano-Frankivsk by artists who take part in the annual Fest of Blacksmiths.
In the Ivano-Frankivsk Art Museum (formerly a Catholic Church, a burial place of the Potockys).
Nezalezhnosti (Independence) Street, the central street of Ivano-Frankivsk.
In the city center of Ivano-Frankivsk.