Dmytro Malakov, famous Kyiv history researcher, former deputy chairman on scientific work of the History Museum of Kyiv, author of numerous books and publications dedicated to the capital, often speak and writes about special nature of people living in this city. ForUm has met Dmytro Vasyliyevych and learned about local traditions, Kyiv intelligentsia and differnece between modern Kyians and their predecessors.
- You have dedicated your whole life to study of Kyiv. Why Kyiv?
- It is simple. I was born in Kyiv, and our family never left it either during the Nazi occupation of after the war. I studied here and worked here. And then there was the time of Hstory Museum.
However, me living here all my life is not the only reason of my interest to Kyiv's history. The fact is that my family taught me to take interest in the city I live in. My mother moved to Kyiv 1913, when she was a little girl. Her family lived on Taras Shevchenko boulevard, and the first thing they did was buying the map of the city and a set of picture. When I was a kid, my favorite game was to lie on the map and watch small pictures of monuments, cathedrals, streets. That's how my interest to Kyvi emerged.
- The capital has always had a particular culture of backyards. Did it influence self-perception as a city dweller?
- Back then people lived in shared accommodations and the backyard was a place for communication and playing with peers. Children of the house played various games together and even shared games. We had only one ball for all, and checkers instead of chess, as they were cheaper. We used to go to play football to the neighboring backyard, and it was like to go abroad.
I remember a boy once arrived to that neighborhood from Moscow and it turned out he spoke different language and behaved differently. I don't say that we spoke literal Ukrainian, more a mix of Russian and Ukrainian, but still Moscow accent was new for us. Back then the idea of being different from other people took shape.
- What differs Kyiv from other Ukrainian cities?
- First of all, Kyiv is a traditionally capital city. It is located over Dnipro valley, and that is what Kyvi prices liked most - to come out and overlook their land. Our city has natural dominant position over surroundings, and it was one of the factors that formed the mentality of the residents.
There used to be a tradition to sit in Dnipro parks and enjoy the panorama from above. The travel guide of 1913 says that "It is worth coming to Kyiv just to spend one evening on the cliff in Tsarski garden or take a ride along Dnipro." Our predecessors were brought up on romanticism, art and poesy. There is still an old gazebo staying on Volodymyrski hill to observe the panorama, but modern people are somewhat grounded and do not go often to view Dnipro. In fact, even Dnipro is no longer the same. Instead of large river described and praised by many writers and poets we have a serious of reservoirs with still water...
However, Kyiv still has a unique characteristic which differs it from other cities. You can abandon polluted streets and find yourself among wild life in 20 minutes, take off your shoes and walk on the grass or take a swim in Dnipro waters. And despite every effort of greedy site developers Kyiv has managed to preserve untouched places.
- What does Kyiv lack in your opinion? What would you like to restore?
- We should make Kyiv parks more attractive to public. We all know Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro - beaches on one sides, hotels on the other. Kyiv has similar possibilities. We just need to develop a smart project and landscape the area in Dnipro parks. I don't understand why officials don't understand that Left bank view can work on the city economy.
Moreover, we should install paid telescopes on Kyiv hills for tourists and residents to observe the city. The whole world has already done that.
It also wouldn't hurt to restore cheap catering. Before the resolution there used to cheap diners where students, workers or pensioners could take a decent meal at low cost. Kyiv markets used to have the so-called eating rows, where people could take a cup of tea, eat hot pies, soups, sausages. The tradition existed even during Nazi occupation. But after the collapse of the society system people were too busy making money to keep this tradition.
Besides, I would remove all banks, boutiques and numerous pharmacies from the ground floors of street buildings and restore regular groceries as it used to be.
- How do postwar Kyivans differ from their predecessors?
Any capital traditionally absorbs all the best that the state has, as well as its nation and people. The most smart, talented and agile people always wanted to move from rural to urban areas. This is a natural widespread phenomenon throughout the world.
In Stalin's time, people in rural areas were not given their passports so they could not run away from a collective farm. But the youth still tried. Having finished seven classes at school, young people went to Kyiv to study in colleges, get a passport and get the most important thing - Kyiv residence permit.
Sometimes, it was not easy for people from villages to get used to the city life. For example, they did not understand why they were not allowed to sit on the grass and even could be fined for this.
Before the revolution, people walked in Kyiv on the right side of Khreshchatyk Street. Local snobs called it Bobkin street. And those who came to Kyiv after the war, especially from the village, did not know it and walked on the left side of the road. And the name Hapken Strasse appeared for the this side. But time passed, it was forgotten. However, even now it is more comfortable to walk on the right side of Khreshchatyk, where there are old buildings with shops and restaurants and where there is still the spirit of the old Kyiv.
- What does it mean "Kyiv intellectual"? Have you met such people?
- I sure did, I was brought up among them. My father is an engineer, man of letters and dramatist. My mother worked in the theatre administration of the Culture Ministry. My brother is an artist. Actors, directors, artists visited our house many times. We used to have a small piano. My mom and her sister were playing and the guests were singing.
However, speaking about Kyiv intelligentsia, I can name you many factory workers and engineers who were true intellectuals, and not because they went to a theater or philharmonic hall every day, but because their behavior, attitude to labor and moral principle were of high level. Workers I used to know never swore in public. In my studentship it was impossible to hear a girl swearing, especially in a company of young men. People did not swear or fight in public transport, always respected the line and did not try to pass over your head.
People were going to restaurants wearing a tie, not work-a-day clothes. In fact, those who lived on salary could not afford a restaurant. The major event for a working family was to go out in a cafe and eat an ice-cream. Things have changed drastically since then.
There also used to be a tradition to address a strange woman as a lady. I remember a funny situation happened in Senniy market, when in the line for the cheapest sausage ever a man caught the arm of a woman who tried to cut in ahead of line with words "lady, where the hell do you plow through?". He was in the city, and even if this woman was a visiting farmer like him she was a lady anyway.
The rules of the city required respect and were observed. Nobody ever missed bins dropping litters.
- So what has happened to the city culture?
- World migration has happened. People from Middle East, Asia and Africa migrate into small, civilized and highly cultured Europe and change it. Ukraine, and Kyiv in particular, attracts ambitious people. it is no longer popular to follow local men of influence. In soviet times every collective farm had its Hero of socialistic labor and other farmers tried to be like him. Every plant or factory had the so-called shock worker of Communist labour. Every house, every yard had men of authority.
In our house there was a man who worked as a bricklayer. Once in a month, on the salary day, he was drinking with his team and then went home. So, his wife always went out to meet him halfway and took him by the arm to keep him straight, so nobody in the house could see he was drunk. We also had a corner in our house, and sometimes he allowed himself to have a drink - surgical spirit, I suppose. On such days he arrived home not quite straight, but always calm. My point is that both the worker and the doctors behaved adequately and in highly civilized and polite manner even in the situation when they could do it differently.
Generally speaking, earlier generations were brought up by school, radio, yard and its collective games and of course family. Not having a TV, we all knew the names of Kyiv theatre actors and football players. Those who played in Dymano were mostly Kyiv residents, and definitely not foreigners. All opera plays were in Ukrainian, and we know the words from "Aida" or "Rigoletto" in understandable language. These are the moments that are gone for good, unfortunately.
- What do you think about modern architecture of the city?
- You know, at the beginning of XX century Kyiv was hit by the construction fever. In six years (1895-1901) there were a thousand stone tenement buildings erected in the city. Residents were signing helplessly and developers were cheering. Houses were built under mortgage-based system, and credit societies were taking only 4% interest rate and giving loans for 38 and a half years. The second wave of construction fever arrived in 1907, but was interrupted by the First World War.
back then houses were built in European and Ukrainian modernist style, as well as neo-Empire style. Construction companies participated in tenders, and those who offered the lowest estimated costs, signed the contract for construction work. Bribes as a phenomenon did not exist back then. Every coin was counted and reported.
Now, site developers construct buildings without any idea of esthetics, proportions or architectural accord with neighboring buildings. Moreover, every architect tries to overcome his predecessor. This is a characteristics mostly of non-Kyivan architects, who refuse to understand the nature of Kyiv. Thus, in 30s of last century Leningrad architect Josef Langbard projected the reconstruction of Mykhailivska square. For his project he destroyed Mykhailivski Zolotoverkhniy monastery, but what he built instead still shocks by its bad taste.
Another monster of architecture is the building of the Cabinet, projected by Moscow architects Ivan Fomin and Pavel Abrosimov. The building was intended for People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). The building stands sideways to the city and points to Moscow.
At the same time there are different examples, like the work of Ukrainian architect Serhiy Hryhoriyev, who projected residential houses on Instytutska, Shelkovychna, Tereshchenkovska streets. The buildings fit the surroundings perfectly.
- Can you name some capital's "slips"?
- I can tell you that many Kyiv monuments obtained a different meaning within the time and became an evil parody. Thus, Bogdan Khmelnitski is pointing at Moscow rather explicitly, monument to Petlura's canon is firing at Red Army's "Arsenal". Arc of Friendship of Peoples symbolizes yoke over Ukrainian people.
Architects and sculptors erect monuments not consulting with the people and it turns against them afterwards.
For example, Taras Shevchenko boulevard is called "Kyiv cross of ideological monuments". In the bottom of it there is monument to Shchors (on Petlura street), Hryshevski to the left of the junction between Volodymyrska street and the boulevard and sad Shevchenko to the right. And guess who is on top of the cross- Lenin. Clear ideological cross. Why did not they think about it before erecting them. Like this such things become an element of local folklore.
In Lypky district there is a monument to a person nobody knows any more, as he was crossed out from school history books - Manuilskiy. Moreover, monuments should be historically exact. Thus, near Shulyavska metro station there is a monument - tank T-34-85, but it is a wrong tank. Such tanks did not exist in 1943. There were T-34-76. Why do they lie to people?
- What monuments would you erect in Kyiv?
- For example to fictitious characters Taras Bulba, Zakhar Berkut and all those who fought for independence of Ukraine.
And of course we should get rid of soviet monuments. Lenin, for example, who had never been in Kyiv, stands on the place where criminals were executed during Nazi occupation. When Bolsheviks came to power NKVD officers were hanging traitors on these street lamps. In 1946 the monument to the leader was erected on this place for Kyiv residents to forget it was a place of public execution.
- Don't you think that the drop in cultural level and overall lack of taste is connected with never lasting government? Nobody stays long - take money and leave.
- Unfortunately, Kyiv has never been ruled by locals, as country has never been ruled by Ukrainians. Earlier, newcomers tried to adapt to local customs, as they were a few. But the range of modern migrations is so wide that it is not clear who is more numerous - locals or visitors. My family arrived in Kyiv a hundred years ago, but someone told me that a Kyiv resident can be considered native only if seven generations of his predecessors lived here. Who can possible figure it up? I believe that a true Kyivan is a person who does something for his city.
- What are you working on now?
- This year "Kyi" publishing house has issued three of my books dedicated to Kyiv architects Osmak, Bessmertnyi and Horodetski, and the publishing house "Varto" has issued the book "Postwar years. Memories of a Kyivan". I have two ready books waiting for an understanding investor. Moreover, I work on some other subjects, i don't want to name them now.
- What would you like to wish Kyiv residents and guests of the city?
- I wish them to love Kyiv, and even if they are new here I wish them to respect it and treat it as a native city. I wish them to feel Kyivans in all senses.
Anastasia Pika, photos by Maxim Trebukhov
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