The Day of Kyiv is celebrated each year, at the end of May, when the city is in its best vernal appearance, with blossoms of innumerable chestnuts and lilacs filling the air with wonderful fragrances. No particular historical day is celebrated. It is just joy of life, of beauty, of pride for a wonderful town that needs a festive expression.In recent years, the celebrations have gradually turned into a festival of arts which lasts for more than a week, the apogee reached over the last decade of May. This year’s celebrations were particularly lavish. One of the reasons is probably the mayoral election that took place on May 30. Another reason is the feast of the Pentecost, Whit Sunday, also May 30. It added a solemn note to the celebrations. In the Orthodox Christian tradition it is one of the most important feasts of the year.
In the past few years, my daughter Olga has been living and studying in Britain. She did come to Kyiv on occasional visits, but her stays were short, few and far between. This year, she arrived just a couple of days before the Big Day for the city of Kyiv when the whole town, in fact almost literally, was celebrating. So, we decided we would take a walk, a long leisurely walk, to see the most important events of the celebrations on the one hand, and to give Olga a chance to reacquaint herself with her native town.
She is a very enthusiastic and ebullient person, so almost at every step she would stop and cry out exultantly: “Wow, look at this!” “Wow, look at that!” Naturally enough, we began our “promenade” by walking through Khreshchatyk, the main street of Kyiv. New shops on both sides were commented on as “looking quite European”. We walked into a supermarket and my daughter’s “wow!” began to attract attention. She was truly amazed at the choice of food offered there. We did not buy anything though, just had a look around. In fact, as far as food was concerned, on that May day, the downtown looked like an enormously huge bazaar with hundreds upon hundreds of stands and booths offering a staggering amount and variety of food, mostly typically Ukrainian: all kinds of pastry stuffed with meat, cabbage, fish, berries, what have you, sausages cooked in very special ways, cakes, from small ones the size of your finger to huge, multi-tiered ones, almost your height, to name just a few things! Pyramids of fruit, local and exotic, beautifully arranged and carefully washed vegetables, mountains of juices in boxes and bottles, rows upon rows of soft drinks in plastic bottles. And beer, beer everywhere, mostly Ukrainian made. My daughter, who is slim, but who sometimes goes into bouts of uncontrolled eating and then can gorge herself with food, had to be literally restrained from trying at least to taste all those things she forgot even the names of.
She likes beer too (I don’t), and she told me that Ukrainian beer of some brands tastes better, as far as she was concerned, than a lot of famous brands she had tried in Britain.
The central street was closed to traffic, so you could stroll leisurely right in the middle of the road which is quite wide. But on that day, the number of people out in the streets was so great that even Khreshchatyk seemed to choke with slowly moving masses. Thousands of multicoloured balloons above the heads, funny masks many young people were wearing, cheerful music playing from innumerable loudspeakers, women’s perfumes, their dresses, their sparkling eyes and joyful laughter - all of it created a truly festive, easygoing, exciting atmosphere of a major holiday.

As we neared the central square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the crowds began to be so thick that it was a problem to move on. People were giving each other flowers and broad smiles. The smiles - that was what impressed my daughter probably most. She had never seen so many smiling faces in the streets of Kyiv before. Frankly, I have to admit, I myself had never felt such an exalting holiday spirit before, uniting hundreds of thousands of people! I could not help remembering drab, officially imposed celebrations of the soviet epoch - what a great difference between those soviet holidays and the festival celebrated in the city of Kyiv at the end of May, 1999, only eight years after Ukraine had gained her independence!
My daughter watched in great amazement dozens of kids jumping into the central public fountain in the central square, quite close to the place where the monument to Lenin used to stand. The day was hot, so why not, you would say, refresh yourself in a fountain if you feel like it? Yes, why not, but only a decade ago any stunt of this sort would land you in police custody or even in prison.
Then I decided to give my daughter, bloated already with innumerable cakes and ice creams, a bit of culture. We moved towards Andriyivsky Uzviz, a steep and winding street, which is a concentration of artists’ studios and bohemian cafes. We elbowed our way through, and nobody seemed to mind (we did keep saying: “sorry”) being pushed by. People smiled, cheered, men offered flowers to my daughter (women were not offering flowers to me, alas). We climbed up a hill (Kyiv stands on several hills) and there my daughter stopped in her tracks, speechless, as though riveted to the spot. She saw the newly reconstructed Mykhaylivsky Zolotoverkhy (“St Michael’s Golden-Domed”) Monastery for the first time. The sight took her breath away, not metaphorically, but literally.
There is a place up that hill from which you can see the glory of the Holy Sophia Cathedral with its majestic bell tower and the Mykhaylivsky Monastery, both dazzlingly shining with gold-plated domes above them. All you’ve got to do is to turn your head first one way then the other. The two miracles stand opposite each other at the distance of about half a mile. The day was gorgeous, with the intensely blue vernal sky and the splendour of the sun, not obscured by a single cloud. The combination of all these things proved to be a bit too much for my daughter — she was overwhelmed. We had to rest in the nearby small park a little before she could resume our walk. Then we moved towards the Andriyivsky Uzviz, and the closer we were getting, the more we saw of artists displaying their works everywhere: on the fences, walls of the houses, on the ground, even on themselves. And they were not amateur paintings and watercolours, mind you, they were highly professional things, executed with great and meticulous care. And the church of St Andrew’s sitting at the street’s entrance, Uzviz itself, with the glorious 18th century was an entire seething mass snail’s pace. What treasures were exhibited and of thousands of people, moving along at a offered there for sale!
One had to hundredth of what was displayed: paintings and have at least ten eyes to see one watercolours of all possible sizes and of all realism to surrealism, to abstractions, and to what you possible trends, from stark would not find a name for; amazing applied arts - innumerable folding tables were laden with creations of handicrafts and amazing needlework, pottery, ranged from very high to quite modest but probably what woodwork, weaving. The prices attracted people most was not so work of art, fine or applied, as the vibrant atmosphere of art much a chance to purchase a festival. Balladeers sang their tricks.
You could have your face painted “free style” or in songs; conjurers showed their accordance with a design or pattern of samples. And again, in spite of the enormously dense chosen by you from a number throng moving down the street paved annoyance on people’s faces, nothing but smiles. It took with cobblestones, we saw no a couple of hours to get down that two-thirds of a mile long. We felt exhausted by the colours, winding street which is about art, noise, music, we badly needed small, open-air restaurant (it produced another “wow!” from a rest. We found a quiet, Olga, not the restaurant itself but the it on a day with so many people around). We had an ease with which we found excellent sumptuous, unhurried meal with cuisine, complete with yummy borshch dishes of the typical Ukrainian (vegetable-beat soup Ukrainian style) and a fancy ice turned out to be very moderate, cream.
The price for the meal considering how big and how delicious the dishes were. awning in the breeze, we moved Having sufficiently rested under the on. As we were close to the Dnipro River, we decided a sight opened from it! On the to go to the embankment. And what water of the mighty river a racing competition of graceful watched, spellbound, the white yachts was going on. We stood and sails swooshing over the water, and their reflections distance we saw a number of moving along with them. Further in the pleasure boats, filled with festively dressed people, wanted to get on one of definitely having a very good time.
We even those boats and take a ride (you could also walk across bridge not too long a the river - there was a long suspension distance away), but we decided against it as there were other things in town we wanted to see.
We had to climb a hill - another one - again and walking through a park we heard music, loud and persistent. “Blues”, cried out my daughter. “They’re playing the blues somewhere close!” And indeed they were. My daughter loves the blues.
At first she was sceptical - can anyone play the right kind of blues in Kyiv? Her scepticism evaporated soon enough: we, guided by the sound of music, found an open air theatre and there a band on the stage was playing the blues, the real McCoy! The leading singer turned out to be an American, but the rest of the band was made up of Ukrainian musicians.
Between the numbers, she climbed onto the makeshift stage (I'd never dare to do a thing like this myself) and talked to the musicians, telling them how nicely they were playing the blues that she liked so much, could they play “The Thrill is Gone,” please? She was so excited to be able to hear her favourite music played in Kyiv. I stood and watched some young people in bizarre clothes slowly dancing to the rhythm of the blues. I saw it, I heard it, and still pursued by memories of not so distant past, could hardly believe it.The dusk was falling. I said I was so tired I had to go home and rest. Olga took me all the way home (subway, or “tube” as she put it, was free!). I stayed at home, but she, after calling some friends on the phone, was out again. “I can’t stay at home, Dad. It's too exciting outside!” And she was gone. And the whole of the next day she was prowling around Kyiv, trying to see as much as she could. She reported some of her impressions, which could be summed as one huge “WOW!” Another most often used word was “terrificIn the Trukhaniv Island she saw a mock knights’ tournament. Among the participants of tournament were Ukrainian, Russian, Belarussian and Polish “knights” wearing suits of armour and displaying feats of great valour. The Scots who were also represented at the tournament instead of armour had their kilts on. The spectators cheered as the valiant knights fought on. She cheered for the Scots who put up a good fight.
She saw a beauty contest, but in her words, it was difficult to determine who looked more beautiful, the spectators or the models parading on the catwalks. “Being a female, I find it hard to judge, really, but it seems to me that half the girls I saw around could be models all right! What a contrast to London! You don’t seem to see any beautiful female there at all! Except in advertisements,” she said.!” She said she had watched “grandiose” theatrical and rock shows with participants from many foreign cities, not only from Kyiv. “There was a carnival too! I laughed so much my sides almost burst! And people laughed looking at my friends and me! They were shrieking with laughter! I had my silly red-and-white wig on and a crazy see-through dress, and my boyfriend put another one of my wigs, a black one with a bang and he had incredibly funny multicoloured pants on. It was just hilarious! And that beer we guzzled! Real good stuff!” she enthused. And last, but not least, she saw a magnificent display of fireworks at night. She had a video camera with her and she took a lot of what she saw on video tape.

. “If I tell them in England about all this that I’ve seen here, they won’t believe it, honest. Then, I’ll show them my video. Believe me, they’ll be GREATLY amazed, and GREATLY amused, too.”
At last, at long last, we seem to have begun to feel the true joy of life. We’ve begun to learn how to rejoice, how to enjoy a holiday, human warmth. We’ve begun to smile and laugh.

By Olexandr Panasyev
Photos by Olexandr Horobets,
Yuriy Buslenko,
Olexiy Semenenko