Kyiv. The city wrapped in something

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Kyiv is often such a non-obvious city. A city wrapped in something. In the Soviet period, with their own simulacra and myths. In kitsch. In the «city of Russian culture». In chestnut flowers, in orange ribbons, and more and more.

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«Tvoe Misto» media hub continues the «My Kyiv» project – a discussion of famous publicists, historians, writers, journalists, intellectuals, and artists about Kyiv. What kind of city was it before the Russian invasion, what shapes its image, how does the history of Kyiv affect its future and what may be its development? Journalist and human rights defender Larysa Denysenko shares her reflections.

In Soviet times, books that were borrowed from someone to read, in order not to damage the cover, were wrapped in protective paper. It could be a newspaper with a front page full of lies, a cover or pages of a magazine, or drawing paper... At that time, no one could find out what book you were reading, and some managed to hide dissident literature in this way.

Kyiv is often such a non-obvious city. A city wrapped in something. In the Soviet period, with their own simulacra and myths. In kitsch. In the «city of Russian culture». In chestnut flowers, in orange ribbons, and more and more. 

Only those who have enough curiosity and love for the desire to open a book can catch the true city.

I remember being little, when my grandmother took me to concerts at the Kyiv House of Organ and Chamber Music almost every Sunday. Even my mother had no explanation for such persistence.

No one told me that this was the Church of St. Nicholas, designed by a genius architect Vladyslav Horodetskyi. Only later did I learn that in those years, for my Lithuanian grandmother, the House of organ and chamber music was, first of all, a church, a place where she could stay in her religion. And her tears that surprised me then were about something else…

Kyiv is an underloved city, few people learn to feel it by touch, to let it into their hearts. They don’t know it because a superficial acquaintance is often enough to live in Kyiv, but not enough to live with Kyiv.

Yes, one falls in love with it, it enchants him at the end of April, when cherries and apricots appear in wedding dresses, then in May, when the aroma of lilac is replaced by the aroma of acacia, and chestnut flowers are just like signalling that the city is taking you to marriage. Then the lindens turn June and partly July for honeymoons, and suddenly – bare winds and the sky, which loses its blue dome, and love fades. The city needs deep love, and it’s impossible without knowledge, trust, and mutual respect.

I remember another story when I had a dispute with people living on Davydova Boulevard during the process of its renaming. Now, this is the Boulevard of Ihor Shamo – a WWII soldier and the author of the beloved melody «How can I not love you, Kyiv of mine?». As it turned out, most people thought that Davydov was a Decembrist, and they were very surprised that it was about another Davydov – Oleksiy, the Soviet chairman of the Kyiv City Executive Committee, who caused the Kurenivka tragedy in 1961…

I know for sure that the city is people. Now, I visit a physiotherapist, who restores my body, full of pain and stiffness. First of all, it’s because of emotional exhaustion, and due to the fact that February and much of March 2022 made me walk wrapped in my own shoulders.

Probably, other people in the city, which was approached by the occupiers, also used to walk like this. We saved oxygen, blood circulated slowly, and the city seemed anaemic with us until it rallied to give a fight back and save itself.

If you listen to your body, you can understand how it has synchronized with the city of your power. How May was felt, then August, how the gait became more confident, and how you and other people stated with surprise that your shoulders spread out majestically.

How Kyiv will be perceived by those, who in twenty or thirty years will be asked to write about it, will depend on the depth of our breathing, gait, and honesty of stories, on the people of the city and love for it, as it depends on me now.

It depends on the perception of the city wrapped in something or open, stable, merciful, impressive, and strong, such as the summer sky of Kyiv.

In order to read this Kyiv, it is enough for me to even mentally be on its hills, humming: «The tired city sleeps in a peaceful gentle sleep. There the lights, like a necklace, have blossomed over the Dnieper, the velvet of evenings, like a happiness surf. How can I not love you, Kyiv of mine!» and make up stories about how these were perceived during the autumn and winter evenings, caused by the energy terrorism of the Russians.

Larysa Denysenko

Translated by Vitalii Holich

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.

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