There is a monument in Kyiv dedicated to the Magdeburg Law. It looks like a tall column and stands at the foot of a hill rising from the Dnipro River bank. I don’t think you’ll find many people in Kyiv who know what the Magdeburg Law is, or what that column is standing there for. The column was erected in the beginning of the nineteenth century at the expense of the community of Kyiv. Not too long after the erection of the column, Kyiv lost its right for municipal self-government that had once been granted to it in accordance with the Magdeburg Law. This year, the capital of Ukraine has been given by parliament the right to elect its mayor, which is one of the provisions of the Magdeburger Recht. Thus, one of traditions of a free city is coming back.

"The Wind... Whirelesth About Continually, and the Wind Returneth Again According to His Circuits."
Ec. 1:6

Every city with a long history has gone through ups and downs. Like people, such cities have happy and unhappy moments, alternately become rich an impoverished. They suffer, change their appearance, decline and flourish. But through all the vicissitudes of fortune, they remain themselves. Kyiv is one of such cities.
From obscure origins Kyiv rose to prominence of a capital city. For several centuries, from the tenth to the thirteenth, it was the capital of a powerful mediaeval state. The Mongol invasion turned it into a heap of rubble. Kyiv was resurrected, achieved importance again, was a bone of contention between great powers, lost its former importance, was reduced to a provincial town, rose again to be the capital of Ukraine. Through all this, Kyiv’s population has always been known for their love of freedom and democratic aspirations.
In the second half of the thirteenth century, conditions in the eastern part of German lands were ripe for several towns to acquire a certain measure of self-government. The town of Magdeburg was among the first to successfully claim and obtain a number of rights, which included the institution of elected municipal authorities, establishment of courts of law and spheres of their competence, land ownership within the town limits, rules and regulations set up for trade, crafts, taxes, guilds, etc. In the fourteenth century a number of towns further east — in Hungary, Poland and Lithuania — followed suit proclaiming the Magdeburger Recht and instituting civic constitutions based on German law. Since Magdeburg pioneered in establishing the rights and responsibilities of its citizens and in establishing municipal self-government, it has come down in history as a harbinger of municipal independence.
In the early fifteenth century, the city of Kyiv obtained for itself the Magdeburg Law. At that time it was a regional centre of a huge state, the king of which was Yahailo, a ruler of belligerent heathen Lithuanians; the queen was Yadviha, an ardent Polish Catholic, and the language most widely spoken was Old Ukrainian.
In accordance with the Magdeburger Recht, granted to Kyiv by the king, the city acquired the right to elect its mahystrat, a self-government body, with its head and executives. The mahystrat ran the city, managing the city’s budget, police, courts of law, all kinds of municipal affairs, and even armed contingents of self-defense. People of Kyiv were proud of their Zolota Korohva (“Golden Squadron”) cavalry detachment which they maintained at their own expense.
The Ratusha (City Hall) was built in the central part of Podil, one of the oldest sections of town. Up to the middle of the seventeenth century the original Ratusha, made of wood, was replaced by a new brick one, with a tower 30 meters (about 150 feet) tall. Like any other Ratusha of the time, it had a big clock on its facade, and was adorned with a piece of sculpture made of copper — Archangel Michael, the heavenly patron of Kyiv. The building, built in Baroque style, also had a gallery for an orchestra and a choir who entertained passers-by with their music.
For almost four hundred years the city enjoyed municipal self-government under the Magdeburg Law. Even when Kyiv was incorporated into the Russian Empire, it retained certain rights, though increasingly curtailed. In 1835, the imperial government took away from Kyiv what little self-government it had retained, and Kyiv turned into an ordinary provincial town of a vast empire.
Now, at the end of the century and of the millennium, the city of Kyiv has begun to acquire some of the self-government rights it once enjoyed.

By Andriy Hlazovy