Khreshchatyk May Become UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Cultural Heritage department of the Kyiv City Council is planning to submit an application to UNESCO
It’s considered one of the shortest central streets. And the history of Khreshchatyk Street dates back about 200 years.
At the times of the Kyivan Rus, it used to be a dense forest, where princes went hunting.
“When I bring people to a suburban forest, I tell them: just imagine, this is how Khreshchatyk looked like a thousand years ago,” tour guide Valeriy Lysenko said.
Khreshchatyk received its name in 1869. To this day, historians argue about the origin of the name, which is derived from the Ukrainian word for “cross.” According to one version, Khreshchatyk was a place where ravines intersected. The other version suggests that the street was named in honor of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus.
“The Baptizing of the Kyivan Rus took place not far from here, in the Dnipro River. And gradually the name “Khreshchatyk” started to be used for this part of the city,” Lysenko said.
City life gradually moved here from the district of Podil. At the beginning of the 20th century, Khreshchatyk became the center of Kyiv. Banks, shops, and restaurants started to pop up there.
“There was a famous cake shop at this place, where a flagpole is located now. And in 1917, some 100 years ago, during the war, Jaroslav Hashek, along with a group of drunken soldiers, broke into this cafe and caused a huge problem. Then they were detained by military police and sent to a military prison. And in this military prison, where Jaroslav Hashek was held for 10 days, he wrote the first chapters of his famous novel ‘The Good Soldier Švejk,'” Lysenko said.
The first skyscraper in Kyiv was built on Khreshchatyk, as well as the first electric tram line in the Russian Empire. And the first major recording studio. Its melodies can still be heard a hundred years later.
The five best cinemas, a central post office, a City Council building, two large department stores, the five best restaurants and cafes, a circus, a pawnshop, five large hotels, and over 100 best shops later burnt down. Many libraries, interesting documents, and valuable things were destroyed.
During World War II, Khreshchatyk was burnt to the ground by the Soviet troops while they were retreating. The first landmines exploded near Prorizna Street. The neighboring buildings blew up in a moment. Then, the entire city center caught fire. The Germans weren’t able to extinguish the flame – the Bolskeviks had destroyed the waterworks and moved out the firefighting equipment. Russia still doesn’t admit the crime.
“They say, ‘It was the fault of the Germans. We haven’t been here.’ You know, there is such a popular political slogan now, ‘We haven’t been to Donbas; you voted in Crimea on your own, we haven’t been there; we haven’t been to Syria,’ It was the same story 1941: we haven’t been there, it has happened on its own,” Lysenko said.
The reconstruction of Khreshchatyk started in 1943, after the liberation of Kyiv. Almost all the city’s residents helped to clean up the debris and rebuild the street.
Since then, Khreshchatyk is made of stone. Only several buildings at the end of the street, where the fire didn’t reach, remind people how it looked before the war
“Here are very old buildings. Relatively, for Kyiv, they are old, as they are more than a hundred years old. And a wonderful building of the Besarabsky Market – built in 1911 by the best European standards of that time,” Lysenko said.
The reconstructed Khreshchatyk soon reclaimed its role as the center of the city life. Numerous performances, festivals, and military parades are held there.