|Discovering Your Ukrainian Roots
UNDER THE AUSPICES OF UN VETERANS ORGANIZATION
To e-mail us:
Like Kyiv and a few other old Kyivan Rus towns, Chernigiv still harbors an ancient
majesty within the modern city it is today. Though its name is still a mystery, its
antiquity is not. As one approaches the city from the highway, the Boldan hills are first
to be seen, with golden tips of kupoly (domes) shining in their brilliance against the
sky. This territory has been a sacred place for centuries, even dating back to pagan
times. However, it was in the 11th century when Chernigiv became an important
center for spiritual life in the Kyivan Rus empire.
Chernigiv’s first mention was documented after a victory over the Greeks in the year
907, when Prince Oleg signed an agreement between Rus and Byzantine. Though
archeologists are able to date Chernigiv to the 7th century, coins found on the Val
date it even further—to the times of the 2nd century Roman Empire.
Mstislav the Brave, son of the Kyivan Prince Vladimir the Great (baptizer of Kyivan
Rus), became prince of Chernigiv in 1024 A.D. During his reign, a huge Chernigiv-
Seversky principality was formed, and the political and cultural center of the capital
was founded on the Val, an ancient fortified embankment on the right bank of the
Desna River with 12 strategically placed cannons (18th century). The Val served as a
venue for siege as foreign princes from far away lands tried to capture Chernigiv for
many years. Behind its walls were moats, mansions of princes, merchants, and
common folk. The palace and the magnificent cathedral Transfiguration of Our Savior
(Spaso-Preobrazhensky) were erected on the Val during Mstislav’s reign in 1017.
This cathedral is as old as the Saint Sophia Cathedral of Kiev (built by Mstislav’s
brother Yaroslav the Wise) and still stands in its splendor. However, Mstislav the
prince died long before seeing his creation to completion. Standing as a strong
fortress, the Val protected Chernigiv up until the Tartar invasion of 1239, when the
city was burned and lost its military and economic importance. Kiev fell a year later.
Subsequent princes of Chernigiv continued to adorn the area with construction of
many temples and monasteries. Two of these include the monastery founded by the
Kiev-Pechersk friary at St. Anthony’s Caves (where the St. Elijah cloister was based)
and the Illinsky monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God.
In the 11th century, chronicles say that Archimandrite Anthony came to Chernigiv
from Kiev, escaping Prince Izayslav’s anger. Archimandrite Anthony came to like the
Boldan Hills, and after digging out a network of caves, the Bogorodytsky (Mother of
God) monastery was founded there. This cave settlement was a consequence of a
rivalry between two cultural and political centers of the state: Kiev and Chernigiv. At
the time, the Kiev Pechersk cave monastery was thriving, and St. Anthony’s caves
were developing for over 100 years, until the Tartar-Mongol invasions began. A stone
church near the cave entrance testifies to this event. The complex of underground
passages total to 350 meters and are between 2-12 meters underground. Visitors are
able to enjoy the site, as it now is part of the Chernigiv architectural-historical
Situated between the Val and the Trinity-Illinsky monastery, and also on the right
bank of the Desna River, the Eletsky-Uspenky monastery completes Chernigiv’s
enchanting panorama. This monastery was founded by prince Svyatoslav
Yaroslavich, after an icon of the Virgin appeared in a fir tree in 1060, about the same
time St. Anthony’s cave cloister was founded in the Boldan Hills. In the place where
this icon appeared, the prince erected a brick temple in honor of the Virgin. It was a
monumental architectural structure seen not only by the locals from all corners of
Chernigiv, but from all the nearby villages as well. Though the cathedral was
neglected during the Mongol-Tartar invasion, it did not perish. Later, when the
Moscow rule took over, a cloister was restored there. However, when Chernigiv was
taken under Polish rule in 1618, the domes of the Uspensky cathedral came crashing
down. For a short period soon after, the monastery was handed over to the Jesuits.
By the mid 17th century, Chernigiv was liberated from the Catholic Poles and became
an Orthodox cloister again.
Since time immemorial, Chernigiv has been part of the holy Rus, and even today it is
still considered so. Many pilgrims and tourists come to see its magnificence for
themselves and learn about its grand historical importance.
To get to Cherngiv, take the Kyiv metro to the Chernigivska station near the end of
the red line. Marshrutkas depart frequently, and the ride lasts about 2 hours.
Hotels in Chernigiv include the Hotel Ukraina (aka Slovyansky) downtown or the
Prydesnyansky Hotel near the Desna River.
Along Prospekt Myru through the center of town, you will find a number of good cafes
& restaurant. Mama Mia has good Italian food & Two Geese has regular Ukrainian
cafeteria-style fare. Next door to Two Geese is a decent sushi restaurant. Further up
Prospekt Myru towards the Val is Coffeemania (upstairs) on the right and a bit further
down is the Celentano’s pizza on the left. If you can find the “red bridge” crossing the
river, follow a path to the right along the river to Koliba, which has the best authentic
shashlik (BBQ shishkebabs) in town. And waitress dressed in ethnic Ukrainian
clothing. The menu is good, inexpensive and the beer is always cold.