Posted in Photography, Travel, Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian history

Feodosiya, Ukraine (Феодосія, Україна)

Copyright Виталий Тенякшев (Vitaliy Tenyakshev)

Feodosiya (also called Teodosiya) is a Crimean resort town on the Black Sea. It enjoys a Mediterranean-like climate due to its location, and even in February, the coldest month, temperatures are frequently above zero. Beach season lasts for about 114 days, from May till October.

Greek colonists from Miletos (a city near the modern village of Balat, Turkey), one of the richest and greatest cities of Ancient Greece, came to the area in the mid-sixth century BCE and called it Theodosia. The city grew quickly due to its prime location on trading routes, fertile land, and its perfect harbour, which could hold up to 100 ships. Greek merchants sold olive oil, jewelry, utensils, and wine, and bought bread, fish, skins, and wood. Life was wonderful in Theodosia.

Copyright Canyon2000

Alas, the Bosporus Kingdom went to war against the city, and in 355 BCE, King Levkon I’s troops captured Theodosia. The environs became a constant battleground, and the city was renamed Kafa. More invaders came in the first few centuries of the Common Era—Huns, Sarmatians, Goths. Theodosia was sacked and destroyed by Huns in 370.

In the fifth century, the Alani tribe arrived and renamed the city Ardabda (Seven Gods), and in the seventh century, the Khazars and Byzantines took control. The scourge sweeping all of Eastern and Central Europe, the Mongol Horde, conquered the city in the 1230s.

Copyright Alim The Great

In 1266, the Republic of Genoa bought the ruined city from the Mongols and built a new fortress named Kaffa nearby. Kaffa soon became a thriving settlement, a near-monopoly of Black Sea trading, one of Europe’s biggest slave markets, the largest multinational Medieval city, and the biggest transit centre for international trade. The Great Silk Road may have passed through it as well. Kaffa was wealthy and expansive beyond belief.

Italians, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Tatars, and Crimean Karaites (not to be confused with Karaite Jews) lived in enclaves throughout Kaffa, each with their own churches, synagogues, and mosques. There were over 20,000 houses, 100 houses of worship, 100 fountains, a complex drainage well system, grottoes, pools, bazaars, taverns, workshops, and immense palaces and temples. The city grew so large, a second fortress wall had to be added.

Copyright Роман Днепр (Roman Dnepr)

In 1347, the Mongol army was stricken by bubonic plague while under siege at Kaffa, and used biological warfare by catapulting infected corpses over city walls. Kaffans fled to Italy, taking the disease with them. And thus the Black Plague entered Europe, helped along by stricken ships in several other Mongol-controlled Crimean ports and Asian traders.

After Kaffa recovered from the Black Death, domestic turmoil threatened the city. In the 15th century, at least four uprisings broke out due to ethnic, religious, and class tensions. Then, in the summer of 1475, Ottomans invaded, sank all ships, and burnt wooden buildings. Kaffa was completely destroyed once more and renamed Kefe.

Kefe became the Ottomans’ main Crimean stronghold and the sultan’s residence. The new rulers rebuilt the city, restored its former glory, and nicknamed it Kuchuk (Little)-Istanbal.

Mufti-Jami Mosque, Copyright Деревягін Ігор (Derevyain Ihor)

Many Ukrainians were taken prisoner by Ottomans and Tatars and sold in the slave market, including Anastasiya Gavrylivna Lisovska, one of the most famous women in Ukrainian history. She was renamed Roksolana and became the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

Ukrainian Cossacks began to fight back against their people’s captivity in the early 17th century, and gained control of several Turkish cities. They soon destroyed the entire fleet at Kefe and freed thousands of slaves.

The city passed back into foreign hands in 1771 during the Russo–Turkish War of 1768–74. Kefe was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1783, and Catherine the Great restored its original name, Feodosiya (the Russified spelling), in 1787.

Church of St. Catherine, Copyright Sergey Ashmarin

Church of St. Catherine, Copyright Алексей Задонский (Aleksey Zadonskiy)

Feodosiya’s population shrank as many inhabitants left the area. Crimea itself became practically empty after mass Muslim immigration to the Ottoman Empire. By the end of the 18th century, only 325 people remained.

In 1798, Tsar Pavel granted duty-free trade to the port, hoping to encourage resettlement. Foreigners were guaranteed free land on condition they built houses, planted gardens, or established institutions in selected areas within five years. The plan worked, and Germans flocked to the city, establishing the Forstadt district.

The first Crimean museum, the Feodosiya Museum of Antiquities, opened in 1811.

Nasypne Church, Copyright Jbuket

Armenian Surb Sarkis Church, Copyright Деревягін Ігор (Derevyain Ihor)

The city’s growth accelerated with the arrival of a railway station in 1892 and a new seaport in 1895. By 1904, there were 30,600 residents, up from 3,700 in 1829. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many magnificent mansions were built.

During the Russian Civil War, thousands of people fled to Crimea to escape the Bolsheviks. Feodosiya sheltered many intellectuals, writers, artists, musicians, composers, and poets, and served as one of the main ports of White immigration in autumn 1920.

Dacha Stamboli, Copyright Алексей Задонский (Aleksey Zadonskiy)

Dacha Milos, Copyright Алексей Задонский (Aleksey Zadonskiy)

Under Bolshevik rule, Feodosiya declined again, and during WWII, it changed hands four times. Almost the entire Jewish population of 3,248 was murdered by Nazi firing squad in the last two months of 1941. The Nazis also destroyed the railway station, seaport, hospitals, cinemas, schools, museums, and many houses and buildings.

Stalin gave Feodosiya 19,352,000 rubles to rebuild, and thousands of people brought their beloved city back from the rubble to its former beauty.

Kino Krym (Crimean Movie Theatre), Copyright :ru:User:Russianname

White Basic Watertower, Copyright Derevyagin Ihor

Today Feodosiya is a thriving resort town of 69,000, with many beaches, mineral springs, mud baths, hotels, rest homes, sanatoria, cafés, and restaurants. Though most Crimean beaches are lined with pebbles, Feodosiya’s 15-kilometer Golden Beach is made of little seashells.

The city is also home to many monuments, museums, historic churches, schools, dachas, and parks. Another highlight is the art gallery established by native son Ivan Konstantinovich Ayvazovskiy, a prolific painter of Armenian origin.

Ayvazovskiy Gallery, Copyright Kiyanka

Golden Beach, Copyright Yellowhummer

Posted in Photography, Travel, Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian history

Drohobych, Ukraine (Дрогобич, Україна)

Copyright Дмитро Калужний (Dmytro Kaluzhnyy)

Drohobych, a city in western Ukraine, has been settled since at least the 11th century. Its earliest known mention came in 1106, in a document which later found its way into the Kyiv-Pechersk Pateryk chronicle. The city is believed to have been found in 1091.

Because of an abundance of salt springs, its main source of wealth and industry have always come from the salt trade. To this day, many streets retain names derived from the process of salt extraction. The city’s coat of arms also features nine silver salt furnaces.

The city is known as Drogobych in Russian, Dragobych in Belarusian, Drohobycz in Polish, Drohobytsch in German, and Drahavytsh in Yiddish.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky Park, Copyright Мокрицький Павло (Mokrytskyy Pavlo)

From 1339–1772, Drohobych was part of the Kingdom of Poland. In 1506, the city’s Magdeburg Rights were confirmed, allowing internal autonomy. After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the city became part of the Habsburg Empire. Upon the dissolution of that empire in 1804, Drohobych passed into the Austrian Empire’s hands. In 1867, the city became part of Austria–Hungary.

During WWI and in the years immediately following, Drohobych was fought over between Austro–Hungarians, Germans, Austrians, Poles, Ukrainians, White Russians, and Bolsheviks. Many bloody battles were fought in and around the city, and it was occupied by foreign armies several times. The city was also beset by riots and pogroms.

Basilican Monastery of Sts. Peter and Paul, Copyright Haidamac

For a too-brief time, Drohobych was part of the free Western Ukrainian People’s Republic, but this was no utopian paradise. Food shortages, typhus, and hyperinflation plagued the people, and the fighting between rival nations hadn’t stopped.

In 1919, Drohobych became part of Poland, and Polonization was forced on the people.

Choral Synagogue, Copyright Romankravchuk

A fledgling Jewish community was first mentioned in 1569, though people had lived nearby since at least the 15th century. Their primary industries were selling and brewing beer and other alcohol, which challenged the city magistrate and Church officials’ monopoly. Thus, King Stefan Batory of Poland passed an antisemitic edict forbidding them to live and trade in Drohobych in 1578. Any Jews passing through town could only stay for three days.

In 1634, the community in the suburbs were given 18 barren hectares to build a synagogue and houses. This formed the city’s historic Jewish quarter, Lan. Heartbreakingly, it was destroyed during the antisemitic campaign of Bohdan Khmelnytskyy and his Cossack goons in 1648.

Synagogue Oseh Chesed, Copyright Oleksandr Malyon

Permission was granted to rebuild the synagogue in 1711, but it burnt down two years later. In 1726, permission was granted again, on condition the new synagogue not be taller or bigger than the old one. It finally was rebuilt in 1743. A choral synagogue was added on an adjacent wall from 1842–65.

During WWII, the occupying Nazis used it as a stable. Since almost the entire 15,000-strong Jewish population of Drohobych (40% of the city) was murdered, and the new Soviet régime was atheist, the synagogue was used for various warehouse purposes after the war. At one point, it housed a furniture store.

The Jewish community regained ownership in the late Eighties. Disgracefully, it was looted and set on fire twice. While the synagogue undergoes restoration, the building is being used as an art gallery.

Church of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin, Copyright Vesel

In 1944, Drohobych was liberated by the Red Army, and when Poland’s new borders were drawn up by the victorious Allies in 1945, the area became part of the USSR. Under Soviet control, many factories and schools were built, and the traditional salt industry continued.

Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Copyright Elke Wetzig (Elya)

Today the city has 36 schools (gymnasium, lyceum, secondary, colleges, universities, extracurricular schools, seminaries), an airport, many parks, nine libraries, a philharmonic, a music and drama theatre, a literary club, two museums, eight newspaper offices, countless churches and historical monuments, preserved old houses, a palace, and a sports stadium.

St. George’s Church, Copyright Olkko

Drohobych Museum (formerly Villa Bianka), Copyright Archeo16

Posted in Photography, Travel, Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian history

Chornobyl (Chernobyl), Ukraine (Чорнобиль, Україна)

Copyright AwOiSoAk KaOsIoWa

Chornobyl was named after a type of wormwood, Artemesia vulgaris, mugwort, or common wormwood. The Ukrainian word chornobyl comes from one of two possible Proto–Slavic roots, *čьrnobylъ or *čьrnobyl, both of which are compounds of *čьrnъ (black) and *bylь (grass). In modern Ukrainian, chornyy means black, and bylo means stalk. This word distinguishes it from lighter wormwood.

Besides the familiar Russified name Chernobyl and the native Ukrainian Chornobyl, the city is also known as Charnobyl in Belarusian, Czarnobyl in Polish, and Tshernobl in Yiddish.

St. Elias Church, Copyright JøMa

Side view, Copyright Burliai

Archaeological excavations reveal Chornobyl was settled at least as far back as the 10th century, though it wasn’t mentioned in any documents until 1193, as a ducal hunting lodge for Prince Ryurik Rostislavovich. This document found its way into the Kyiv Chronicle arranged in 1199 or 1200, which covers the years 1118–1200 and continues the chronicle A Tale of Bygone Years. Eventually these priceless compendia joined with the 13th century Galician–Volyn Chronicle and became part of the Ipatyev Chronicle of the 1420s.

Chornobyl was next mentioned in a chronicle of cities in the Russian Empire, compiled between 1370–90. By that time, it was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Chornobyl Cathedral, Copyright Kopchiowski O.P.

Archaeological excavations have found evidence of a settlement active in the 11th through 14th centuries, on the cape between St. Elias Church and the city park. By the 15th century, a castle had been built on the banks of the Prypyat River, which was destroyed by Tatars about 1473 or 1482 and rebuilt about 1521.

The castle was burnt again when Haydamaks (people fighting for Ukraine’s national liberation, among many other things) captured Chornobyl in 1747 and 1751. One of their leaders, Col. Ivan Bodarenko, wanted to storm the city in 1768, but this was prevented when he was captured and executed by court Cossacks.

Chornobyl Castle passed through several hands until finally coming into possession of Filon Semyonovych Kmita, a cavalry captain and official of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which included Ukraine at the time). It remained in his family until 1910, and was sadly destroyed in 1918.

Abandoned synagogue, Copyright Varandej

From 1566–1917, Chornobyl was a privately-owned town, possessed by the family who owned the castle. Filon Kmita gave it to his daughter Sofiya as part of her dowry, and in the next generation it passed to Kazimierz Lev Sapiga (or Sapieha), nephew of Sofiya’s husband Count Łukasz. Then it was ruled by Kazimir Vladislav Sapiga, Kazimir’s daughter Cecilia, and Cecilia’s grandson Jan Mikolaj Chodkiewicz.

In 1566, Chornobyl became part of the Kingdom of Poland. Under Polish rule, Orthodox Christians were forcibly converted to the Rutheniate Uniate Church, and people who persisted in secretly holding Orthodox services were persecuted. In 1648, Cossacks took control and drove out almost all Polish nobles, officials, and priests.

Chornobyl was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1793, and Orthodox Christianity returned.

Abandoned house, Copyright Natis

There was a flourishing Jewish community in Chornobyl at least since the 16th century, when Filon Kmita brought a group from Poland. The first documentary mention of this community came in the 17th century. In the mid-18th century, the city became a huge centre of Chasidic life, and by 1897, 60% of the population was Jewish, making it the largest demographic. In 1898, there were 7,200 Jews in a city of 10,800.

Because of the pogroms of 1905 and 1919 and immigration after the Revolution, the population was down to 40% by 1926. The Nazis murdered what was left of the community in 1941.

Wooden synagogue in 1928

Chornobyl frequently passed back and forth between rival factions during the Civil War and Polish–Soviet War, until the Soviets finally took permanent control on 12 June 1920. As part of Soviet Ukraine, the people suffered terribly from forced collectivization and the Holodomor. The German and Polish community were deported to Kazakhstan in 1936, as punishment for fiercely resisting Sovietization.

Hotel, Copyright Paweł ‘pbm’ Szubert / Wikipedia, licencja: CC-BY-SA-3.0

A nuclear power plant began construction in 1972 and was completed in 1977. Three more reactors were added in 1978, 1981, and 1983. A fifth and sixth reactor were in process of construction but abandoned after the infamous nuclear disaster of 26 April 1986. A partial meltdown and several serious accidents had occurred prior, but none so devastating as that.

Chornobyl and nearby Prypyat had to be evacuated en masse, effectively ending the city’s long, proud history. Today only a bit over 1,000 people live there.

Abandoned train, Copyright Paweł ‘pbm’ Szubert / Wikipedia, licencja: CC-BY-SA-3.0

Chornobyl Sarcophagus Memorial, Copyright AwOiSoAk KaOsIoWa

Monument To Those Who Saved the World, Copyright Martin Cígler

Posted in Photography, Travel, Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian history

Bila Tserkva, Ukraine (Біла Церква, Україна)

Copyright Роман Наумов (Roman Naumov)

Bila Tserkva, which means White Church in Ukrainian, was founded in 1032 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise and originally called Yuriyiv (or Yuriyev), after Yaroslav’s baptismal name Yuriy. The city takes its modern name from a white stone cathedral built by Yaroslav in 1050. This cathedral was high on Castle Hill and a very prominent feature of the Medieval fortress city. Though its actual name was St. George (a form of Yuriy), everyone, even the surrounding nomadic tribes, called it the White Church.

The city was constantly threatened by enemy tribes (Tatars, Mongols, Pechenegs), and destroyed several times. In the 13th century, after its final destruction, the rebuilt city was renamed Bila Tserkva in honor of the ruined church.

Modern St. George’s Church, Copyright YuriiPuhach

In 1362, Bila Tserkva became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569, when the Union of Lublin joined Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland, the city became part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Bila Tserkva was granted Magdeburg Rights in 1589, enabling internal autonomy.

That same year, burghers rose up in armed rebellion against the nobility, feeling empowered by their new Magdeburg Rights. They captured a castle built in the mid-16th century to protect the city from Tatars, filled with weapons, ammunition, and a permanent Polish garrison of as many as 2,000 soldiers and officers. The burghers held the castle for nearly a year.

Bila Tserkva Castle

Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich Ostrozskiy, part of the wealthiest and most influential family in Ukraine and Belarus, who owned Bila Tserkva, refused to recognize the Magdeburg Rights. King Sigismund III of Poland agreed with him and cancelled the city’s autonomy.

The envoy he sent to Bila Tserkva to quash the rebellion was met with anger and refusal to obey. When the uprising increased in intensity, Prince Konstantin sent in troops to suppress the rebels. It ended tragically, with the burgher leaders being executed.

Right on the heels of this rebellion, in 1591, a peasant-Cossack uprising began, led by Krzysztof Kosinski. For many years, Ukraine and Poland were embroiled in a series of constant wars between nobles and Cossacks.

Oleksandriya Park, Copyright Ростислав Маленков (Rostislav Malenkov)

During the Khmelnytskyy Uprising of 1648–57, Bila Tserkva was the centre of the Cossack regiment, and Bohdan Khmelnytskyy spent most of his time in the castle. In 1651, the Peace Treaty of Bila Tserkva significantly reduced the power and numbers of the Cossacks, and restored Polish–Lithuanian noble rule of the area.

After Cossack regiments on the Right Bank of Ukraine were restored in 1685, the city began rebuilding from the ruins it had fallen into during so many wars.

Great Choral Synagogue, Copyright Ростислав Маленков

More Cossack uprisings followed in 1702–03, during which Col. Semyon Paliy laid siege to Bila Tserkva with a detachment of 10,000. As time wore on, many peasants joined the fighting. The Polish nobles once again managed to quash the rebels, helped by Russian troops. Paliy was arrested and sent to Siberia.

Until 1774, Bila Tserkva constantly boiled with uprisings, unrest, and power struggles. One bright note during this time was the construction of many beautiful churches, financed by wealthy Cossack leader Ivan Stepanovych Mazepa.

In 1793, the Russian Empire annexed the area.

St. Nicholas Church, Copyright Kiyanka

St. Mary Magdalene Church, Copyright Роман Наумов (Roman Naumov)

A Jewish community appeared in 1806, with permission from the ruling aristocratic Branicki family. The trade, crafts, and industries they brought to the city helped with reviving Bila Tserkva. Prior, the Branickis’ lack of interest in their own residence had led to a major decline. Now Bila Tserkva was transformed into a place of important transport routes for the military, government, merchants, and postal carriers.

In 1809–14, the Branickis further developed the city, which attracted a larger Jewish population. By the end of the 19th century, they were 52.9% of the city’s demographics, 18,720 strong.

Merchants’ Synagogue, Copyright Lazzzy Rider

Memorial Chapel of Rabbi Aaron Twerski, Copyright Ростислав Маленков

The coming of the Fastiv–Znamyansk Railway in 1876 contributed even further the city’s economic development. By the early 20th century, there were countless factories and mills for all sorts of industries (including foods), and eleven important fairs every year. Bila Tserkva was also the next-biggest source of Ukraine’s bread industry.

Like many other cities, Bila Tserkva was the site of bloody battles, pogroms, and unrest during the Civil War of 1918–21. Most infamous was the Symon Petlyura Uprising of November 1918, which included 493 antisemitic massacres.

During the Holodomor of 1932–33, the streets were choked with victims of starvation. More tragedy came during WWII, when almost the entire Jewish community was murdered and many bloody battles were fought.

Church of St. John the Baptist, Copyright Ростислав Маленков

Monument to Semyon Paliy on Paliy Mountain, Copyright Ростислав Маленков

Today Bila Tserkva is the largest cultural centre in the Kyiv region, with many museums, theatres, cinemas, music halls, libraries, dance ensembles, art and music schools, clubs, and festivals. The city also has many monuments, ruins, parks, churches, colleges, and schools.

Ruins in Oleksandriya Park, Copyright Константинъ (Konstantin)

Posted in Writing

IWSG—October odds and sods


It’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

This month’s question is:

In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

I absolutely cannot see myself ever actively depicting incest, and on the RARE occasion a rape scene is necessitated by a storyline (for a real reason, not the lazy, offensive “rape as character development” trope), I refrain from being very graphic. Child abuse is also a huge no-go for me.

I predict a lot of my writing this month will be creative nonfiction in the form of my posts about classic horror films celebrating landmark anniversaries this year. Upcoming films will include The Wolf Man, The Invisible Ray, Dracula’s Daughter, Invisible Ghost, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

November will feature a few more film posts, and a post about the album Imagine for its 50th anniversary. I also have a few more Dantean posts left to write. For over half of this septcentennial anniversary year, my main focus has been on researching, writing, and editing my Dantean posts, and my fiction was largely neglected. Now I’m eager to get back to it.

Shameless plug: If you’ve not seen it yet, this is the video of me reciting Canto I of Inferno in the original Medieval Florentine Tuscan Italian. I spent six months working on memorizing and mastering those lines, and thinking up body language to go along with it. It means a great deal to me that some native Italian speakers liked it and thought I did a really good job.

I’m also growing in confidence as I do more vlogs for my newly-revived channel. At the moment, my main focus is BookTube and AuthorTube, so I’m doing mostly book reviews, background information on my own books, and general writing and reading topics. Once I’m able to install iMovie on my computer, or get a new computer with enough space and the newest OS, I’ll start doing fancier vlogs with inserted images and text.

During Preptober, I’d like to finish several more chapters of my alternative history and get some more research on the Middle Ages done. If time allows, I’d also like to resume my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last. One of the prizes for winning NaNo is always a free title setup at IngramSpark, which is good through the end of March. Realistically speaking, TVL is the only possible candidate this time around if it’s finished and polished in time.

Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, NaNo cancelled all in-person events and is encouraging snitching if people discover get-togethers are being arranged. As I’ve detailed in previous posts, I’m so disappointed at the new direction they’ve gone in since their awful new webpage was unveiled. Although if all goes according to plan, next NaNo I’ll be in Israel, where lockdowns are long since over.

I’ve changed my mind several times about where I most want to live, and now I think Tzfat would be most suited to who I am. Many artists, writers, creative types, mystics, and quirky people live there, so I’d feel right at home. And the beautiful scenery would provide constant inspiration for my writing and artwork!

Yes, there really is snow on that mountain!

That’s a poster of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a very interesting person. Ironically, the Chasidic sect he founded is known for being very happy and always dancing and singing, and yet Rabbi Nachman suffered from depression throughout his life.

Have you ever taken a break from fiction to focus on creative nonfiction? Did it revive your inspiration? What place would most inspire you to write?