Being in the eastern part of Ukraine, Russian is widely spoken in Kharkiv alongside Ukrainian. If you speak the former you should get along fine without any language problems, but if not, it helps to at least learn something of the Cyrillic alphabet which both Russian and Ukrainian employ. With this you will at least be able to decipher road signs etc. – although we did find that on the main roads and in the Metro there were signs in English, presumably put up when the Euro 2012 football championships were held here (although ironically the English team didn’t play here!)
If you do speak some Russian you will notice that many Ukrainian words are similar, although be aware that this could be because the sign you are looking at is actually in Russian – there seems to be quite a mix. I found the following Wikipedia paragraph about signs on the Kiev Metro interesting and suspect that the same applies to that in Kharkiv:
“Modern signs in the Kiev Metro are in Ukrainian. The evolution in their language followed the changes in the language policies in post-war Ukraine. Originally, all signs and voice announcements in the metro were in Ukrainian, but their language was changed to Russian in the early 1980s, at the height of Shcherbytsky's gradual Russification. In the perestroika liberalization of the late 1980s, the signs were changed to bilingual. This was accompanied by bilingual voice announcements in the trains. In the early 1990s, both signs and voice announcements were changed again from bilingual to Ukrainian-only during the de-russification campaign that followed Ukraine's independence. From 2012 the signs are both in Ukrainian and English.”
As we were travelling with a linguist friend he was able to point out to us some of the differences between Russian and Ukrainian, and I enjoyed dragging my limited school girl Russian out of the depths of my brain and practicing it just a little. If you can only learn please (Пожалуйста = Požalujsta – also used to acknowledge thanks, as in German) and thank you (Спасибо = Spasibo), you will find the locals very appreciative of your efforts.
Next tip: be careful when changing money
This small park lies to the west of Universytetskaya, leading down to the River Lopan between Soborky Spurk and Khalturina Spurk. I have also seen it referred to as Pokrovsky after the neighbouring monastery. The park was developed after World War Two on the site of some destroyed buildings. The city’s official guidebook explains:
”Working at the reconstruction of the city during the so called voskresniks (Sunday working days), Kharkovites unpiled the heaps of stones and bricks, cleared the ground of the debris, planted trees and bushes, and laid out flowerbeds and paths.”
When we were here this was the venue for an art market, with lots of local artists displaying and selling their work. It was quite a mix, in terms of both quality and subject matter. There were quite a few Kharkiv street scenes as might be expected, but this is a market aimed mostly at locals I think and the majority of the paintings were of various places around the world (Venice seemed popular, as did mountain scenery), as well as flowers and animals. Most were oil paintings, and figurative styles in deep rich colours seem to appeal more than subtle water-colours or more abstract or impressionist renditions. Just a few stood out among the mass for me – some delicate Chinese watercolours of insects and flowers in particular.
At the bottom of the slope, by a low wall overlooking the river, more tourist-orientated items were for sale on several stalls, but nothing that would have tempted me to buy. Some quite nice pottery decanters with small cups, intended for vodka I think, were about the best of the bunch, but otherwise most objects seemed either poorly made or rather tacky – or both! More appealing for me was the guy selling old photos of the city as it was interesting to look and pick out the streets we had been walking on and see how they had changed.
Art show or not, it is worth coming to this small park for the views it affords of the Cathedral of the Annunciation across the river, the Dormition Cathedral at the top of the slope, and the cupolas of the Pokrovsky Monastery’s churches on the other side of the wall. So let us go next to that monastery, and start with the Pokrovska Church.
I must say that I got very confused when trying to plan for and research this trip, simply because the city’s name has so many variations! Here on VT it is Kharkiv which seems to be the most commonly used spelling (Ukrainian), but often you will find Kharkov which is the Russian spelling. And there are more – the city’s information website (tvoj.kharkov.ua) also lists Harkiv, Harkow, Charkow, and I have seen Chakov several times elsewhere.
The reason for this is a combination of the city having had Russian as its official language for so long, and of course the need to translate from the Cyrillic alphabet to our own. But it makes research difficult, as whatever you choose to search under you are likely to miss something. It’s best to use both Kharkiv and Kharkov in my experience, but the others can probably be ignored, as long as when you come across them you recognise that they are all the same place!
There are several possible explanations cited for the origin of the name of the city. Some historians think that Kharkov is a corruption of Sharukhan, the capital of an ancient tribe once located in this area; others connect it to the name of the leader of mid 17th century settlers, Kharko (a diminutive of Kharyton). Most agree that it was the river that first took this name, and the city was then named after the river (one of two that flow through it, the other being the Lopan).
Next tip: getting to Kharkiv
English-speaking visitors of the city will definitely make friends at one of the intensive English schools:
18 Shakespeare Street
tel. 0572 32 21 14.
Staying in the city why not call them and volunteer to come to that school and to meet the students and teachers there...
More information on the city can be found in the official sites of Kharkiv: www.raix.kharkov.ua
(on the picture: the building of the old city cathedral that can be seen from many places in Kharkiv).
(“The Free Village Area” , a city Ukrainian newspaper);
( Champagne factory)
My experiences ( been about 5 times to Kharkov , Kiev and Lvov) show me that if you always count your fingers after shaking hands to make sure you still have five , is a good mental state to have. They are all very poor and will sell their Mothers and daughters for money. The whole system is corrupt...remember that always.
They claim the Marionette Theatre is the best one in Europe. The theatre is small in order to accommodate the diminutive size of the actors. It's a place definitely worth visit.