"The Wind... Whirelesth About Continually,
and the Wind Returneth Again According to His Circuits."
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, Kyivs
population has always been known for their love of freedom and democratic
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 citys 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
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.