One of the things I enjoy most about Kyiv is that I discover something new nearly every day. Last week I was walking in the Golden Gate district of Kyiv with friends and we stopped by Pejzazhna Valley to sit on the steps and listen to an outdoor piano performance. Misha, a young virtuoso of Western pop hits by the likes of Coldplay and Maroon 5, and Ukrainian tunes like люди (people) by Бумбокс (Boombox) plays piano in the shade of the park’s old stone staircase every night.
Misha is a 20-something long-haired Kyivan complete with the backwards baseball cap and gleaming white trainers. He plays requests from an eager audience sitting shoulder to shoulder on the stairs and those passing by drawn from around the park. Folks often stop for a few songs, make suggestions on what to play next, and even sing along – especially with the Ukrainian songs.
Misha clearly loves what he does, and actually makes a modest living through the Hryvniasstuffed into his hat beside him.
The Keys to Kyiv
Misha is but one example of the strong focus on culture in Kyiv and indeed a Ukrainian Renaissance across the country. In fact, there are three pianos near the stone staircase as part of an initiative called the Ukraine Culture Crawl. Pianos have been placed in parks all over Ukraine enticing anyone to stop and tickle the ivories anytime.
Last night we were sitting on the steps, sipping white wine while enjoying incredible music and the warm summer evening. Eventually, Misha needed to take a break and recharge, so he surrendered the piano to the crowd. The audience included an enthusiastic contingent of young students from one of the many musical academies in Kyiv. A young girl immediately jumped up and began playing the piano while her talented friends sang along with voices that were obviously blessed with operatic training.
Culture where? Everywhere!
Just a few blocks away is the Kyiv National Opera Academy and I always make an effort to wander past any time I can. Especially in the heat of summer, you’ll hear someone practising a flute, cello or an aria from Tosca.
A walk along Kyiv Hill to enjoy the view of the mighty Dnipro River that bisects the city includes the Alley of Artists in the shadow of the spectacular Baroque Church of St. Andrews. Artists from across Ukraine flock to the alley to hang their paintings, drawings and photographs on the wall that runs straight down the centre of the pathway. Perhaps they’ll sell a work to tourists or a local looking to decorate their flat. The Alley of Artists is just a portion of a kilometres-long pathway that includes a walk across the glass Arch of Freedom of the Ukrainian people to the Park Bridge that crosses the Dnipro to the beaches of Trukhaniv Island.
Kyiv has been the cultural capital of Ukraine for over a thousand years and you can see the evidence everywhere. What began with a church on a hill to establish Kyivan-Rus, developed into a deeply-rooted desire to express the culture of the region through music, art and design.
Putin’s illegal and unjustified war is an attempt to extinguish the unique heritage of the Ukrainian people, but it only takes a stroll through the leafy parks and streets of Kyivto know that he will never succeed.
Slava Ukrani! Heroaim Slava!