Mikhail KALNITSKIY, historian.
Specially for “Prime Excursion Bureau”.
The most famous site in Kiev for performing different weird witches’ Sabbaths in Slavonic folklore is likely Lysaya Hora (Bald Hill). At the same time it is acknowledged that its “classical” location is under Kiev. Even in the respectable prerevolutionary paper Kiyevlyanin one could read: “According to a popular belief on Bald Hill in Kiev witches from all over the world gather to celebrate, together with vampires, a Sabbath and ride in the air..; here new witches get acquainted with old ones and learn various magic from them”.
Although in different times at least 5 Kiev hills were named Bald Hill. Nowadays it is impossible to say assuredly which one was a favourite site for evil forces. Many sources point out a left-bank hill in the area of the present day Vigurovshchina-Troyeshchina which was levelled long ago. And at present under the same name there exists a hill on the southern outskirts of the city, not far from the place where the Lybed river flows into the Dnieper.
Even if it was not the hill of witches, it still remembers rather gloomy times. Since 1872 on Bald Hill construction works took place. That was a grandiose plan of the famous engineer-fortificator general E. Totleben, according to which Kiev was to be surrounded by 27 defence forts. Although, as it occurred, Lysohorsky fort happened to be the only one out of those built according to the above plan.
The upper plateau of Bald Hill was dug up the length and breadth, earthen ramparts were built, inside which there were tunnels for artillery. Until now there preserved “autographs” of sentries for many decades who, being bored, left them on brick coating of tunnels. By the end of the 19th century the Kiev fortress lost its military significance and Lysohosky fort became a site of execution, Here they hanged criminals and shot people for military crimes. The most resonant was surely the execution on the night of September 12, 1911 when Dmitri Bogrov, an assassin of the prime minister of the Russian empire Pyotr Stolypin, was hanged. The oriented place, where a scaffold was, is visible near half demolished garages of the former military station on the hill. Those who want to let adrenaline go could come here at night to check if ghosts of the executed haunt the site...
Not so long ago “a jammer of hostile radio voices” was in operation here, masts of which today are being used for other purposes. At present Bald Hill is not a forbidden zone. In 1982 to commemorate the 1,500th anniversary of Kiev a landscape park was laid out on the hill but works on its beautifying haven’t started yet. And not long ago somebody tried to arrange the likes of a pagan temple in an out-of-the –way corners of this hill.
Kiev evil forces in the literature
At the beginning of the 19th century various mystical literary works were published under the name of “Porfiriy Baiskiy”. It was a pseudonym of the writer Orest Somov, born in Ukraine in Slobozhanshchyna. He kept a lot of local legends in his memory. Moving later to St. Petersburg, he actively got engaged in literature, bringing most willingly Ukrainian folk motives. For readers of the Russian capital it was a rather exotic read, especially when it was heavily seasoned with mysticism.
One of his short stories, for example, is called The Kiev Witches. Its character, a young Kievan Cossack Fedor Blyskavka fell in love with the beautiful Katrusya and married her. But not once he noticed her strange behaviour and in the long run managed to see how one night she boiled some magic herbs, rubbed mysterious balm in her body and flew straight into a chimney. The brave chap followed her example, repeating magic procedures, and after that occurred in the middle of the Sabbath on Bald Hill. Somov describes the performance quite realistically: “On the very top of the hill there was a flat site, black as coal, and bare as a hairless head of an old man, hence the name of the hill - Lysaya (Bald). In the middle of the site there was a scaffold with seven stairs, which was covered with a black cloth. On the stairs there sat a huge bear with a double monkey mug and a goat’s horns, a snake’s tail, a hedgehog bristle all over the body, with arms of a skeleton and a cat’s claws on its fingers. Around him, farther from the site, there was a lively entire bazaar of witches, magicians, vampires, werewolves, wood-goblins, water-sprites, house-spirits and different monsters unseen and unheard”.
Looking closer the Cossack found out that among participants of the Sabbath there were a lot of his Kievan acquaintances including his mother-in-law, a beyond-the-Dnieper beekeeper, a trader, a beggar, a disabled man and the like, who he knew or saw in Kiev. All this gang of old witches and magicians were dancing so ardently that young Cossacks and young married women could be envious of. A little bit aside Fedor’s wife was standing, flirting with someone of the crowd. All that, to some extent, looked comically, but the end of the short story was sad: both the Cossack and his wife were to die soon.
One more other world theme dealt with mermaids. The main character of the same name story, The Mermaid, became a young Horpynka who lived with her mother-forester in the forest near the Kytayevo pustyn (secluded monastery). She madly fell in love with a good-looking young noble who first turned her head and then abandoned her, having deprived her of virginity. After that Horpynka disappeared. Her mother, being frustrated, found a den of an old magician beyond the Dnieper, and he revealed her how to see the girl who became a mermaid and lived on the bottom of the Dnieper river...
Orest Somov often lived from hand to mouth, got ill and died in 1833 being 39 years old. In spite of amazing plots of his works they aren’t well known to a contemporary reader. Most likely because among those who followed were such masters of literature who it was difficult for him to come up with.
Many know the poem Gusar by A. Pushkin (1833) dedicated to Kiev and fateful Kiev young married women. The poem resembles The Kiev Witches and no wonder, since Pushkin and Somov knew well each other in person. Pushkin didn’t finish it with a tragic end though, filling it with mischievous gaiety. And unfinished Pushkin’s drama The Mermaid, written after the same name Somov’s story, is close to him by plot.
One can read about witches, come across all over in Kiev, in Viy by Gogol as well. He also knew Somov who appreciated the literary debut of Gogol. Do you remember a classic phrase: “Here in Kiev all women, sitting at the bazaar, are witches”. The same Gogol, like Somov as well, vividly narrated about the search of the fern’s flower in The Evenings on the Eve of Ivan Kupala.
However the beekeeper Rudyi Panko (one of Gogol’s pseudonyms) remained in the history of literature much more firmly than Porfiriy Baiskiy. It’s quite clear: although Somov earlier than Gogol in The Terrible Revenge featured the ominous wizard, he doesn’t have such a magic description of the great Slavic river as “ Lovely is the Dnieper in calm weather, when freely and smoothly its waters glide through forests and hills. Not a sound is heard, not a ripple stirs...” And maybe the plot about the wretched drowned girl was conceived by Somov before The Night in May came out, he didn’t find such words to say: “Do you know the Ukrainian night? Oh, you don’t know the Ukrainian night!”.
Houses haunted by ghosts
In 16 Lutheran Street there is an old house which survived since the street was laid out. The plot was owned by Ulyana Sulyma (nee Vyshnevskaya). She was the wife of Akim (Yakim) Sulyma – a Ukrainian landlord, a civil servant of the ministry of people’ education. The honourable Sulymas’ clan was traced back to the hetman of Zaporozhian non-registered Cossacks of the first half of the 17th century Ivan Sulyma. Akim’s cousin Nikolai Sulyma was a general who commanded a regiment and a brigade during the 1812 Patriotic War (with Napoleon). The Sulymas owned the estate Sulymovka (now Obukhov district, Kiev oblast).
The house was built in 1833-1835 in the classicism style. As it’s known the owner participated in designing the house (he even took lessons from the renowned architect V. Stasov) alongside with the professional architect L. Stanzani. But he didn’t admire the house long, since he died early, in 1840. His widow married the general Lovtsov and under unknown reasons the main estate building was neglected for a long time. And there appeared a legend as if the house was occupied by evil spirits. And the townsfolk avoided it.
After a number of years the mystical house was managed to get relieved of the influence of evil forces though. In 1859 under the will of the deceased general’s wife Lovtsova it was inherited by the local charity society which established a shelter for the poor (that went down into the city’s history as Sulymovka) with the house church whose cross was seen on top of the rebuilt house until the 1920s.
Some other Kiev buildings were also connected with the presence of other world forces. Like for instance, in 1902 strange happenings in the building of 22 Khreshchatik (where at that time there was the Grand ‘Otel which hasn’t survived) caused a sensation. Even the police team, which came here, had to admit that in one of the rooms furniture was moving, dishes were being broken on their own... This is how our fellow-townsmen over 100 years ago got acquainted with poltergeist.
Magnetists and spiritualists
Even after the times when science revealed most of superstitions, in the history of the city still occurred people with extraordinary capabilities. So, in the first half of the 19th century among Kievans well-known were people with “magnetic force” (at present they are called extrasensories).
One of them, the general Dmitri Begichev lived in the street which for some time was even known as Begichevskaya, and later, when in the general’s estate the Finishing School (the Institute) was built, it became known as Institutskaya St. The general’s follower, porcelain craftsman Ivan Romanovskiy, a resident of Yurkovitsa hill was capable to cure with the help of his mysterious force. Here is one of the cases described by his nephew, Barshchevskiy, in his memoires. One of patients who suffered from headaches of many years came to him, saying: “You are rumoured that God endowed you with the force of magnetism”. Mr. Romanovskiy put his hands on the sick person’s head and held them there not less than half an hour. After the session his hands became very red. Having heard from the sick person that the pain had vanished, the healer offered his patient some tea. In the end, being extremely grateful, the patient left without being assisted, as it used to be earlier.
It should be noted that Romanovskiy applied his gift without any profit, not receiving from anybody money or presents. However one could come across with frauds – “sorcerers” and “healers” who profited of somebody else’s misfortune. Church repeatedly warned against addressing to different kind of “psychics”, “foretellers” and “fortune-tellers”. They didn’t enjoy the advantage of advertising their services like they do it today. It often occurred that their successful business was stopped after confrontation with the police. The Kiev media gave a lot of such examples.
Freemasons of Kiev
Since the 18th century in our land there was some interest toward secret organizations of “free bricklayers” – Masons. They were also associated with various mystic phenomena and rites. In Kiev there existed a rather powerful community – a lodge of “The United Slavs”. On its list one can come across with names of officers and landlords, teachers and merchants. And an honorary member of this Masonic lodge was the general, prince Sergei Volkonskiy – a future Decembrist.
There preserved a small old house in present-day 14 Grushevskiy St., about which the author of a well-known guidebook of Kiev K. Sherotskiy informed that at the corner of Sadovaya St. there was a house where the Kiev Masonic Lodge, founded in 1818 for uniting Slavic elements, that is Ukrainians, Poles and Russians, got together. An emblem of the Kiev Masonic lodge was a cross with a circle and two joint hands with the inscription “jednosc slowianska”. The Kiev lodge was closed in 1822.
However this movement reappeared in the Russian empire at the beginning of the 20th century. Among that time politicians many were masons. For example, in June 1917 three ministers of the Provisional Government of Russia came to negotiate with the Tsentralna Rada counterparts - Aleksandr Kerenskiy, Mikhail Tereshchenko (our fellow-countryman) and Irakliy Tsereteli. All three were connected with Masonic lodges. And their colleagues in Ukraine turned out to be Ukrainian masons Mikhail Grushevskiy, Symon Petlyura, Sergei Yefremov!
Among the Kiev Masons there were rather well-off personalities, householders. And in this connection from time to time there appear “sensations” when this or that strange symbol on a building’s facade is announced as a Masonic sign. Well, there are quite a few uncertainties in the symbolics of the Kiev facades. But actually Masonic lodges were rather secretive and most unlikely “advertised” themselves in such way. And it goes without saying, that rumours that a crossed torch and an axe on the pedestal of the monument to prince Vladimir are Masonic symbols, have nothing in common with reality. The design of the Kiev monument, opened in 1853, was approved by the emperor Nickolas the First. Knowing about his attitude to Masons (among Decembrists, who were against a tsar autocracy, many belonged to the Masonic lodge) it is difficult to imagine that his clerks could put him on the table a design with unwanted association?! Actually these symbols, according to different versions, can be treated as the characteristics of Vladimir the Great who defended and enlightened Rus or they mean christening “by fire and sword”.