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з усіх сил, питання 11/09/2011

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
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St. Sophia's Cathedral

Floodgates burst when the Soviet Union dissolved and freedom spread through the east. Freedom is a heady wine, one which quickly went to the head of many Ukrainian factions long bent under a cultural yoke. Ardent Christians freed from state-imposed atheism it must have felt as like the second coming.

Riots erupted in 1995 outside of St. Sophia’s Cathedral. At issue was the final resting place of Vasily Romaniuk, or Patriarch Volodymyr, a gulag survivor cum exile who led the newly founded Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Due to multiple claims (drunkest of the bunch are the Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek Catholic churches) of ownership the government retains possession of St. Sophia’s and allots different faiths different periods of liturgical access. The state refused the burial of Patriarch Volodymyr and barricaded the monument.

St. Sophia's Cathedral

On July 18th a parade bearing a coffin marched on the gates of St. Sophia’s. Police repelled waves of robed priests, average citizens and fun-seeking thugs from the nationalist party. Flagstones beneath the main bell tower were broken and the coffin deposited. Out-maneuvered, the government decided to allow Patriarch Volodymyr to stay as interred, a proper stone being installed after the teargas had cleared.

Towards the end of last winter protesters linked arms and surrounded St. Sophia’s again, fearful that administrative transfers of power would leave the cathedral under Russian Orthodox control.

Poor Saint Sophia would be shaking her head, but historians claim the name comes from Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), the 6th century cathedral in Istanbul which reigned as the world’s largest for a thousand years.The Kyiv rendition was commissioned by Yaroslav the Wise, distant bastard-son of founding father Volodymyr the Great, in the early 11th century.

Yaroslav may wish to shake his head, or at least roll over in his grave inside the cathedral. The beloved regent of Novgorod, Yaroslav ascended to the throne though typical fratricidal means, backed by a confederation of powerful allies. He created the Russkaya Pravda (Russian Justice), a series of laws for feudal times that assigned rights and value to various strata of social classes while handling more basic tooth and nail issues such as crime and punishment. He expanded territory into modern Poland and Estonia and fortified the southern borders against roaming bands of Turks. The foundation of St. Sophia’s may very well have been laid in celebration of a decisive victory over the Pechenegs.

The Square

Janice and I crossed the barren square to marvel at baby-blue walls and intricate white molding, but little old ladies hawking scarves at the entrances kept our curiosity at bay. Thirteen golden cupolas crown this staggering architectural feat, towering over mosaics and frescos that have survived since the church’s inception.

The exterior has fared worse. Proto-Russians and Mongol hordes took turns sacking Kyiv during the 12th and 13th centuries. By the time stewardship was assigned to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church after allegiance shifted from the Byzantine to the Roman hierarchy St. Sophia’s was a crumbling relic. A Moldavian graduate of the Pechersk Lavra brought Italians in for renovations in 1633 who rebuilt the cathedral’s upper reaches while preserving the interior. By the middle of the 18th century work was finally completed, the same which visitors see today.

Visitors almost didn’t. Stalin decreed destruction during his formative years with designs on increasing Kyiv’s already considerable parklands. Historians and diplomats begged for St. Sophia to be spared, and instead it was spiritually sacked and converted into a museum.

The Square

Squaring off from the city’s most enduring landmark is a casting of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the noble-born Cossack who accidentally liberated Ukraine. After taking education from Jesuits in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth he followed his father into war against the Ottomans. Tragedy saw his father killed and Bohdan captured, resulting in two years’ slave labor before freedom through escape or ransom, depending who you ask.

Bohdan to climbed the military ranks, conferred with French conspirators, and rubbed shoulders with Polish royalty. Trouble began to brew when leadership back home changed hands and the local Polish overseer requisitioned Casa de Bohdan. Despite faithful service and personal relationships no aid from on high was found.

During this period the Cossack population was feeling taken for granted, useful for martial exploits but substandard in their own lands. Riled by personal injustice Bohdan fell in with a growing movement, meeting with community leaders throughout Ukraine. After arrest and eluding execution he led an open revolt, seizing control of the nearest fort and heading west to do battle.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky

By the winter of 1648, due to popular support and help from Crimean Tartars, Bohdan swept into Kyiv. What had begun as an ethnic uprising had transformed into a fight for independence.

Skirmishes along the newly cut borders kept Ukraine from gaining any significant ground. The Tartars played both sides of the table for their own gain. Bohdan appealed to the Ottomans, even entertaining thoughts of becoming their vassal, but the incredibly Christian locals would have raised hell. In 1653 the Russians began to send envoys.

The Treaty of Pereyaslav was signed the following year. Bohdan quickly became subordinate to another foreign power, pitted against the Polish-Lithuanians for the greater glory of the Czar. Today he as hailed as the man who reunified the Rus, the man who gave the Ukraine its first fledgling experience in independence, the man who murdered Poles and Jews, the man who sold the peasantry out to the Tartars, the man who condemned his people to centuries of Russian rule.

In 1888 a statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky was placed in the square by Russians, and there he sits and stares across a broad expanse of brickwork, watching tourists buy scarves from old ladies and robed priests fight riot police. We were tired. We were thirsty. The morning’s vodka had worn off. We sat with him a moment longer before heading back to our hotel.

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