Cossack Games festival
50-1.jpg (154434 bytes) kozak.jpg (39581 bytes)It is always difficult to blaze the path, to be first to start something new. It is double difficult these days. But if one is motivated by the lofty ideas and if one believes in the better future of one's own native land, things become a little easier. The Kozatski Zabavy (Cossacks' Games) Festival took a lot of effort to launch but once it was in full swing it became immediately clear it was worth it. The Kozatski Zabavy Festival that took place in the town of Kamyanets-Podilsky (Western Ukraine) was meant, among other things, to be a fund-raising international action to help socially handicapped children. The Action was welcomed, sponsored and supported by the high official bodies which included the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Health Protection, Kamyanets-Podilsky town hall, the Ukraine-far-Children Charity Fund, the Academician Shalimov Fund, the State Committee of Ukraine for Tourism, the Ukrainian National Tourist Association, the Ukrainian Association for Qualify, the Ukrainian Culture Fund. The idea of organizing their Action had been originally put forward by the Hamalia Tourist Company. The Company had been working hard to promote the idea and have if realized.
Idea Must Be Crazy Enough

The Hamalia's President lhor Holubakha took the words of Niels Bohr, the eminent Danish physicist: "An idea to be true must be crazy enough," as his guiding line, paraphrasing them into: an idea worth realizing must be crazy enough.

One had to be fanatically enthusiastic indeed about one's idea even to try to put it into practice at the time when the country is in the grip of a financial crisis and in the face of considerable expenditures. The Cossack Games Festival was conceived as an international action on a grand scale.

It did not come out exactly the way it was supposed to. Not all the companies addressed with a proposal to get involved, had reacted favourably. But the main thing got done - the town of Kamyanets-Podilsky was given a wonderful Festival, and the children from the local orphanage, a boarding school for socially and otherwise handicapped children and several families with many children did receive humanitarian aid. A number of state bodies contributed their help. The Ukraine-for-Children Fund, for example, gave the local specialized school for deaf children twenty sophisticated hearing-aid devices as a gift.

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Tamara Ryabokon, the Director of the Fund said at an interview that any charity action, similar to the Cossack Games Festival, would always get a direct support from her Fund. The Organizing Committee did not limit itself to an exclusively charity action. The Mayor of Kamyanets-Podilsky who had done his absolute best to have the Action going, said: "In addition to providing humanitarian aid for children, the Festival is called upon to promote the Ukrainian businesses, to attract attention to the Ukrainian history, cultural traditions and forward international tourism."

Ukraine Will Persevere

lhor Holubakha, Hamalia's President, believes these words from the Ukrainian national anthem could have been taken as a motto of the Festival. About thirty Ukrainian companies (and Kamyanets is a small town) took part in the exhibition and sale of their products and this fact alone demonstrated that Ukraine does have a considerable economic and cultural potential. Each of the companies contributed appreciable humanitarian aid.

Among the participants were Doctor Vodka Company, Svitoch Confectionery Factory from Lviv, Obolon Beer and Soft Drinks Company from Kyiv, Khmelnytsk Confectionery Factory.

The Executive Manager of the Cossacks Games Festival Yuri Smetana expressed an optimistic hope at the opening ceremony: "Today we have to turn to big companies for help but one day they will come to us with requests to join our action."

The Festival's Art Director Valery Chyhlyayev in his speech reminded the audience that the Games were devoted to the 350th Anniversary of the rising of the Ukrainian people in their struggle for national independence and that this struggle was headed by the Cossacks' Hetman (leader) Bohdan Khmelnytsky. The prominent historian Orest Subtelny reiterated the fact the Ukrainian movement for national independence had caused wide-spread historical repercussions in many parts of Europe. He also expressed a regret that this date, so important in the Ukrainian history, was not celebrated on a wider scale.

Walking through the Town

For several days the town had been living in anticipation of the Cossack festival. Early in the morning on the day of the opening crowds of people began pouring into the section of town known as Stare Misto (Old Town). It seemed the entire population of Kamyanets was there. The young appeared to be in the majority. Kamyanets-Podilsky happens to be the third town in Europe as to the number of students per capita of the inhabitants. The weather was in league with the organizers and provided excellent, sunny conditions which boosted the festive mood still further.

Speeches pertaining to the occasion were delivered from the rostrum at the Virmensky Rynok (Armenian Market) Square. They were not too long and right after the opening ceremony the volleys from the old-time Cossack big guns to mark the unveiling of the Festival shook the town. The resounding noise was so loud that it left most of the people in the square deaf for a couple of minutes.

In many places around the town you could find stands with food and drink. A particularly high concentration of vendors could be observed in the vicinity of the town hall (incidentally, the building of the town hall is the oldest of its kind in Ukraine). A great amount and varieties of meat, cookies, sweets were displayed. Local mineral water is said to be good for the stomach and untold amounts of it as well as of other soft, and not so soft, drinks were being sold everywhere. In fact, at many sales you could buy pretty much of everything, from socks to long fur coats (though to buy the latter only very few could afford).

There were also several exhibitions organized among which that of flowers enjoyed the greatest success. Maybe it fell short of the high standards of the Japanese ikebana flower-arrangement art, but the sight of the sea of flowers was extremely pleasant to the eye.

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Hand-made articles of Ukrainian craftsmen in the national folk styles could be purchased at many places around the town. The crafts-men had come from many parts of Ukraine to show and sell their wonderful art. There were a lot of paintings and water-colours son sale as well, particularly those with the town of Kamyanets. Music and could be heard everywhere. A contest singing and dancing groups was par Festival. Near the Zamkovy Mist (Castle's Bridge) young mountaineers climbed face of rock to show their mountaineering skills. The climb looked high and dangerous enough to make the climbing quite an effort. The excited crowd gathered to watch the young mountain climbers perform their stunts. But the most exciting entertainment was provided at the Bizhucha Lan (Running Doe) Bridge. It was called the Runge Jump. Elastic ropes are attached securely to your and you are thrown headfirst down from the bridge which is 54 meters (over 150 feet!) above the ground. To tell the truth, were very few dare-devil fellows who the jump. The Virmenian (Armenian) Square was overcrowded to such an extent that it was almost impossible to elbow your way through and I walked into a two-storied house which according to the plaque on its wall, used to be a religious seminary, built in the 18t century. I discovered that it was now an art, seum and that I was the only visitor. I it was so only because everybody went to see and take part in the Festival. I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of excellent tings, water-colours and pieces of sculpture dating to the period between the 16tl-19th century. Though some of the works attributed to "unknown masters", I was pretty much convinced, judging by the great mastery of execution, that a number of them created by the first-rate masters. There were a lot of ancient portraits on the walls. As I looked at them, they seemed to be eager to tell their stories. And I am sure they could indeed tell a lot about the history of the Podillya land. I was told by the curator that most of the exhibits were kept in the basement as there was no room for them in the halls of the small museum. I could not help thinking that it would be great if some donators could be found who would finance the transfer of the museum to a much bigger place.

Leaving the museum I walked along Dovha (Long) Street, paved with flagstones. It is one of the most picturesque place; town, with old but well-kept buildings on both sides. In my wonderings through town I saw quite a few impressive architectural landmarks. Some of the churches were Roman Catholic. The town, at certain periods of its history, was predominantly Catholic with a number of monastic orders having their monasteries built in the 17th and 18th centuries. There is one curious architectural landmark that I saw in Kamyanets - Petropavlovski (St. Peter and St.Paul) Cathedral. I went there to listen to the concert of organ music performed during the Festival. The Church is a blend of several architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque and Muslim. It was built in the early 15th century but in the second half of the 17th century the town was captured by the Turks who renovated the church in accordance with their tastes and turned it into a mosque, and even erected a minaret by its side. In the 18th century the cathedral went through another change as it was turned back into a Christian church. A gilded statue of Virgin Mary was put on the very top of the minaret.

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I was told that seeing the fortress was simply a must. On the way there I saw a conjurer in the street showing stunning tricks. The magician was so skilled in his legerdemain that some of his tricks looked like real miracles. Reluctantly I moved on and soon the fortress came into view. It is an impressive sight indeed. It is believed to have been built in the 13th century and since then has gone through a number of renovations. At present it is a formidable-looking structure with eleven mighty towers and curtain walls. The Fortress was considered in the medieval times to be one of the impregnable citadels of Europe. It is now being restored little by little.

I walked into the inner yard of the citadel. It was thronged with people who wanted to see all the once secret passageways, tunnels and rooms. I saw a group of Cossacks, evidently waiting for something. I got into conversation with one of them, a giant of a man with an earring in one ear, wearing a typical Cossack dress. He told me he was Oleh Yurchyshyn, the director of the Zaporizhian Cossacks Theatre. The Cossacks of his troupe specialized in equestrian stunts. Recently they had been on a tour to Britain and were a hit with the audiences there. Her majesty the Queen was so impressed with their stunts that she wished them further successes.

Then the time came for the show to start. The drums announced the beginning of the tournament. The first to "fight" were the "medieval knights," both local and those from the city of Kyiv (Valentin Myslyvy with his troupe of stuntmen who had won several European champions of mock fighting). They fought without mercy to the end and the fighting stopped only when there was "no one left alive." After the "dead" left the scene it was the turn of young horse-riders from the Pony Club of Kyiv to entertain the public with their stunts on horseback. The crowning performance was the mock fight of the Cossack cavalry. I think no words would be adequate to describe what was going on. The Cossack stuntmen hacked at each other with sabers, knocked one another from the saddle with lances, picked hats from the ground at full gallop, danced on the back of the horse racing at full speed.

After the show I was invited to partake of the yushka, a traditional Cossack meal. I did feel it was high time to relax a little and have a drink or two. New Ukrainian horilkas (vodkas) made to the old recipes, were the drinks of the day. But I did not let myself be carried away as I wanted to be fit to see another show which promised to be the highlight of the concluding hours of the first day of the festival. A big stage was set up inside the citadel and elaborate lighting of it was provided. Pop songs intermingled with Ukrainian traditional songs and ballet dancing. When the night came the dark skies above the town lit with multicoloured fireworks.532.jpg (52652 bytes)

The second day of the Festival was also filled with many colourful and exciting events, one of which was a day-long rock show in which many popular rock bands took part. I felt the Festival was a qualified success and could not help hoping it was just the beginning and that such Festivals would become a tradition.

Cossack Festival to Promote Tourism

A sure way to make the festival a recurring event is to promote tourism. Kamyanets has an excellent potential of becoming an international tourist centre. There are over 200 architectural landmarks in the town, plus a very picturesque natural setting. Recently the town has received the status of "a national preserve" and has been promoted as a place to be put on the UNESCO world heritage site.

At the press-conference after the Festival the Head of the Derzhcomturizm (State Committee for Tourism) Valeri Tsybukh informed the journalists that a new tourist infrastructure was being created in Kamyanets, legal basis for further development of tourism was being provided, restoration work was in full swing, particularly in the Stare Misto (Old Town). Restoration should not alter the original look of the buildings restored and the renovated houses should be used as hotels, restaurants, shops and art galleries as there is a definite shortage of all these things, especially restaurants, in Kamyanets. It would take a lot of effort and a lot of investments but one could hope that private capital would take an active part in turning Kamyanets into a major tourist centre. The investments would surely be soon repaid.

Photos by Olexiy SEMENENKO

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