Ukrainian cities attract tourists from all over the world not only with architectural glory and sightseeing. Every cities has its unique traditions, forming the city image. Usually, tourists can learn about the traditions from local citizens, but in the modern world some of traditions become outdated or replaced.

In one of his interview, famous historian and member of the Kyiv history museum Dmytro Malakov complained that native Kyiv residents are vanishing species, and that due t change of mentality capital's traditions have either disappear or transformed into something ridiculous.

ForUm has decided to recall old Kyiv traditions and find out whether any of them has survived to the present day.

Kontraktova fair

In 1797 Pavel the First re-located Contracts meetings from Volyn city of Dubno to Kyiv. The fairs became very popular and were held annually till 1917. The name "Kontraktova" derives from merchant deals (contracts) being made during the fair. Back then there was no fast transport or emergency communication, thus such meetings were the only way for merchants of the region to join the market. The fairs were popular among merchants from all Europe - Austria, Prussia, Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Greece. The fairs were bringing quite a profit to Kyiv residents.    
In 1817, the Contracts House was built on the square for brokers and public notaries to register deals. Moreover, there was a special board to inscribe names of regular debtors to prevent further frauds.

The fairs used to sell various products, including books, brochures, jams, icons and cypress crosses made by local craftsmen, products of leather-dressers and potters. Kyiv residents monopolized spice cakes and candies trading. Bakers usually baked them in the shape of comic characters and sold as souvenirs. In the evening the fairs hosted balls, masked balls, plays and concerts of famous artists from Europe, including pianist Ferenc Liszt, violinists Henryk Wieniawski and Karol Lipinski, singer Angelica Catalani. The fairs were visited by Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Honore de Balzac, Adam Mitskevich, Taras Shevchenko and Nikolai Kostomarov. The fairs also attracted card sharks and  pickpockets, famous in all Europe. They say that even great Liszt himself once lost all his money earned for a concern in Kyiv.

With technical progress - railway roads, stock exchange, daily press and telegraphy communications - the Contracts fairs lost their importance in the city life and were held mostly by local merchants. The Contracts House was used as a reserved warehouse for "emergencies" or rented. The First World War, revolution of 1917 and civil revolts paralyzed the fairs completely.

In the beginning of 1920s Bolsheviks resumed fairs hoping to revive domestic trade turnover after the war. The fairs resisted till 1930 but disappeared with the collapse of the new economic policy (NEP). In mid 90s the Contracts House was occupied by Interbank Currency Exchange, which stays there till present.

In 1994 the fairs were resumed under the name "Kyiv international contract fair", but its work includes exhibitions only and has nothing to do with the deal-making process, as it used to be.
From time to time the city authorities organize theme-based fairs, but they are no longer popular as before. In the near future it is planned to reconstruct the place - to remove kiosks and tram rails, to build several buildings, designed back in the beginning of 19 century and to dig out the original layer of old Kyiv to place it under the glass. There are also talks to resume true contracts fairs, but according to the plans of Kyiv officials, an ordinary trade center will be build on the Kontraktova square.

Contracts House, 1911

Kontraktova fair, 1925

Kontraktova square, present day

Sacred processions

One ironic traveler of the beginning of 19th century once wrote that Kyiv held sacred processions almost every day and on any occasion. It is an exaggeration, of course, but processions were indeed quite popular in the capital.

There were three cathedral processions for blessing of the water (from Bratski monastery to Dnipro on January 6; from Podol Uspenski cathedral to Samson well on August 1; from Sofia Cathedral to Kreshchyatyk well on May 29 - Midpentecost) and five parish processions:

- around Lavra on August15 - Assumption Day;
- around Sofia Cathedral on May 1 in memory of great martyr Makariy, Metropolitan of Kyiv;
- around Mykhailivski monastery on December 4 - St Barbara's Day;
- from Podol Christmas church to Khreshchyatyk well on July 15 - St Volodymyr's Day;
- from Petropavlovska church to Bratski monastery on Willow Saturday.

Within the time some processions disappeared, others changed the routes or turned from parish to cathedral.

Thus, the sacred procession on St Volodymyr's Day became cathedral in 1861 by the initiative of writer Andrey Muraviyov. Believers from all regions headed by local church leaders used to walk established routes to the holy place. The solemn ceremony of water blessing was held near Khreshchyatyk well, where the prince Volodymyr is believed to baptize his sons.

With the adoption of the citywide sacred procession on St Volodymyr's Day, another blessing of water ceremony in memory of Christianization of Rus', celebrated on August 1, gradually lost its cathedral status. 

Before the year of 1834, on this day city troops held parades and marches with participation of local and imperial authorities, finishing the day with feasts in the town hall and all Podol guilds.

At the moment of blessing in Dnipro waters, the troops saluted and artillery fired funs. After the ceremony the chaotic firing of guns and rifles started all over the city. The troops went back to the magistrate and were dismissed for evening festivities. The city head and governors used to give speeches, accompanied by salvo.

Processions with hallows used to be very popular during city disasters or threats. Thus, processions with hallows of St Barbara were held during plagues, procession with icon of Uspeniy - during Polish revolt of 1831 and menace of Turkish siege in 1677, as well as during cholera epidemic in 1847. 

Moreover, solemn processions used to be in 17-18 centuries by students. On Willow Sunday evening, students of Kyiv college used to take willow branches and go to visit the Metropolitan after the service in George's church. The Grace was listening their speeches in Latin, blessing and letting them go back to the Academy.  On the way students sang songs and having arrived to the college were met by a student-orator, who delivered a sermon while the choir was singing concert.

When Magdeburg Law of rights was cancelled the August festivities were cancelled as well, including the scared procession on Willow Saturday.

Nowadays, the majority of processions are held locally on the territory of churches and cathedrals. Sometimes believers combine processions with protest actions to express their reaction to public events.

Procession in memory of St Volodymyr, July 15, 1888

Sacred procession in memory of execution of royal family of emperor Nikolai II, July 17, 2012

May day meetings in Kadet grove

The first of May is unofficial day of old Kyiv, as back then the whole city regardless of religious beliefs, nationality or social status used to hold festivities, including picnics. The picnics were usually held in groves or parks. The legendary Shchekavitsa hill used to be the first favorite place for May day meetings, but when the area was developed into cemetery, the festivities moved to Kadet grove - old park on the territory of residence of Kyiv metropolitans in Shulyavski district.

The initiative of residents was supported by the Kyiv charitable ladies' community, which moved its spring fests to the grove as well. During festive crushes the grove was divided in two with a thick rope to separate nobles from peasantry. The entrance to the "noble side" was charged. Local merchants were selling drinks and snacks, and the means collected during the feast were given in charity.  No feast goes without a scandal. According to chronicles, people were drinking day and night, and in the morning police often found hundreds of drunks, men and women, sleeping in ravines, half naked for the most part.

In soviet times the first of May acquired ideological meaning. The first revolutionary May meeting was held in the grove by workers of Kyiv engine car repair plant in 1894. After the revolution of 1917, the holiday became official. On May 1 people started going to demonstrations and rallies, but on May 2 continued honoring the tradition and went for picnics.

During the civil war Kadet grove was deforested and later built up with multistory residential houses. Kyiv residents had no choice but to move to neighboring groves, and in 1950s Pusha-Vodytsya was among the favorite.

Nowadays, the majority of resdients prefer to celebrate May holidays on Trukhanov Island, Minister's lakes, Holosiyevski park and Hydropark.

Railroad in Kadet grove,1990s


According to contemporary witnesses, among all the cities of the former Russian Empire Kyiv had the most developed charity activity. There were numerous committees, communities and unions engaged to charity activity, like free of charge shelters for homeless, hospitals for poor people, poor-houses and cheap apartments, kindergartens, day lodges for workers' children and schools. The most famous philanthropists include brothers Nikola and Fedor Tereshchenko, Grigoriy Galagan, Mikhail Degtyaryov, brothers Lazar and Lev Brodski, married couple of the Popovs and others.

Charity activity and patronship were given every encouragement. Regular sponsors of hospitals, colleges or lyceums were awarded with titles and decorations. Large-scale charity activity gave a possibility to get a rank of government employer and in certain cases even nobility. For example, merchants Nikola and Fedor Tereshchenko were elected honoured residents of Kyiv. Nikola became a privy councillor, while Fedor - an actual state councillor, and one of the street was named after him.

In fact, the first Kyiv museum was built at sponsors' cost, and as the city budget did not provide any means for collecting items for the museum, its showpieces included mainly donated objects. Moreover, sponsors purchased various rarities and paid for the delivery of unique objects collected by Kyiv archeologist Vikentiy Khvoiko. Those collections are the basis of modern museums of Kyiv. Thus, the archeological collection of Bohdan Khanenko was a "founder" of the modern National art museum, while the museum of Russian art started from the private collection of Fedor Tereshchenko.

Many rich Kyiv residents continue the tradition and carry on charity work, but mostly incognito to avoid paper work. But there are also sponsors, famous without any advertisement. Aleksey Sheremetiev, for example, helps to reconstruct monuments, issue books, organize exhinitions and return unique documents back to Ukraine. In turn, Oleksandr Prognimak initiates creation of various cultural awards and funds.

City museum of antiques and art, 1900

National art museum of Ukraine, present days

Scholastic debates in Kyiv Mohyla Academy

In 17th century ecclesiastical education in European countries followed the medieval practice, and philosophy and theology studies were tied up with speech craft and rhetoric. Graduation  was accompanied by scholastic debates, during which graduates demonstrated their knowledge and skills and ability to use them. In Kyiv Mohyla Academy the disputes were held very pompously. The guests included Ukrainian troop sergeant major, hetman, colonels and other people of position. Apart from theological and philosophical discussions, the program included drama plays, choir singing, declamations. Theological theses discussed at the debates were later depicted in pictures or plays. Private debates were held almost every day, public ones - no less than twice per year. All dialogues were carried on in Latin - the international language of science back then.

Nowadays, many Kyiv universities, including Kyiv Mohyla Academy organize debate clubs and forum, which remind to certain extent the old scholastic debates.  However, modern debates are held not to obtain a decree or diploma, but to socialize among students or with invited guests. Some professors of Kyiv Mohyla Academy use disputes as a format of seminar. Moreover, the Academy still holds open lectures and public hearings, but they are interesting only for students, though.

Academy's students with Latin manuscripts. Ancient plate

Public gatherings on Sofia square

The territory of the Sofia square has rich history. Legend has it, Kyiv residents defeated Pechenegs on this very place in 1036. To commemorate the event, Yaroslav the Wise ordered to erect a church in honor of the principle Greek temple of Constantinople cathedral - the Virgin Mary Orant. The new temple was named Sofia cathedral. Within the years the cathedral and square next to it withstood princely feuds, wars of Baty-khan (year 1240), raids of Crimean Tatars; were repeatedly destroyed and restored.

Starting from 16th century the Sofia square became a public center of the city and hosted fairs, markets and town's meetings - veche.

Veche meetings decided on a wide range of issues, including conclusion of peace and declaration of war, regulations of prince throne, management of finances and land resources. In 1068 residents gathered veches to oppose policy of the price. Such meetings used to have a strong hold and in 12th century participated in approval of every candidate for the throne. Veche had the authority to let the prince in Kyiv or to banish him, as it happened to Yuri Dolgoruki. If the price was approved, veche concluded the "ryad" - agreement with the prince, defining the conditions of his ruling - and performed "cross kissing" - an oath to follow the agreement. In case of violation of the agreement Kyiv people could banish the prince, as it happened in 1146 to Igor Olgovich.

In December of 1648, Kazak troops headed by Bogdan Khmelnitski entered the square, and the place became the symbol of victory over Polish gentry. In December of 1654, Kyiv residents welcomed here Russian ambassadors after Pereyaslav rada. And on January 22, 1919, separated principalities - Halychyna, Bukovyna, Zakarpattya and  Pridnepryanska Ukraine were announced united forming independent Ukrainian People's Republic. And in 1943 Kyiv welcomed on Sofia square troops of the Red Army, which liberated the capital from Nazi occupation.

In1991, on Sofia square the All-Ukrainian veche proclaimed the Act of state independence of Ukraine. Nowadays, the square hosts various meeting, rallies and protest actions. Every year the square is used to set traditional Ukrainian Nativity play and to organize public festivities on state holidays.

Sketch of Sofia cathedral by van Westerveld (17th century)

Proclamation of III Universal. Sofia square, November 1917

Sofia square, present days

As we can see, Kyiv have many good traditions, which withstood the test of time, but unfortunately, they are known only for those who are interested in the city history. The rest of the citizens, however, should remember that forgetting the best pages of the past we will hardly create good modern traditions to be remembered after a thousand years.

Anastasia Pika

References to articles of Vitaly Kovalinski, Anatoly Makarov, Mykola Zabuga

Photos from,,,,,,,,


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