Kharkiv city guide

Kharkiv, or Kharkov in Russian, is one of those characteristic cities that blossomed during the Soviet Union era. It’s a typical industrial giant built to fuel the old war effort. So think of a lot of concrete, factories, and monumental buildings. Wealth followed the industry and the rich built beautiful apartment buildings. They somehow reminded me of Kevin Spacey’s home in House of Cards. Post-Soviet cities often have a lot of green areas and beautiful parks as well. They function as the green lungs of the city and offer its inhabitants opportunities for leisure and relaxing. Living and working in an industrial city becomes otherwise too stressful. The Park of Maxim Gorky (officially: Maxim Gorky Central Park for Culture and Recreation) is the most famous one in Kharkiv. Trees were initially planted in a row with a horse-racing track in mind. It kept growing until the Second World War when many trees were cut down. Consider it just a minor setback. The community loves their park and they wouldn’t stand for this disarray. Gorky was rebuilt and now it’s better than ever. There’s an amusement area for kids, a cable cart, and all sorts of goodies. It’s remarkable clean and trash is one thing you won’t see here; not even one cigarette butt. Seeing how people from all generations take care of their shared space is very heart-warming.

Temple of The Myrrh-Bearers in Kharkiv

The Temple of the Myrrh-Bearers in Karkhiv: destroyed and rebuilt on many occasions and hailed as one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches in the country

Kharkiv is a university city with students from all over the world. This gives out that unique contrast of the soviet seriousness and youthful joy. Take the otherworldly block of the Opera House as an example. It looks like one of those Weyland-Yutani spaceships from Aliens. Watch all those kids skateboarding, socializing, and having fun. The Temple of The Myrrh-Bearers, also named the Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral, is visible from the Opera. It’s one of the most beautiful orthodox churches in Ukraine with a very common history behind it. It was built as a wooden temple, destroyed by the Soviets, and rebuilt. They added towers over the years, and changed names a bunch of times. The usual drill when it comes to churches. Boring. The Annunciation Cathedral is a far more interesting place of worship. This curiously patterned building is the main orthodox church in Kharkiv.

Sharivka Palace is a site with a cool story. It stands in the middle of a forest some 60 km from Kharkiv. It was built by some random nobleman named Olhovsky, but ended up in possession of a German baron Leopold Koenig. He fell in love with a very sickly woman. It was a Beauty and the Beast kind of a love story. The arboreal park around the mansion was built to ease her pulmonary issues. There’s even a story of him ordering tons of sugar for her to ride her sled on. I’m not buying it. I think some details were lost in translation. The couple was chased away by the Soviets who turned Sharivka into a sanatorium. Another myth is that no infectious pulmonary bacteria can survive in the area. I’m not buying that either. The wife died, the occupants left and the palace just stands there. It’s abandoned but not forgotten. Some say it’s haunted, others say they feel “mystical energies”. I would say it’s a real treat for urban explorers.

Front view of Sharivka Palace, about 60 kilometers from Kharkov

There are many intriguing legends surrounding the Sharivka Palace, located in an ancient forest about 60 kilometers from Kharkiv

Another thing with these post-soviet industrial cities is that they all have elaborate metro networks. Supposedly because they were all built as bomb shelters. Stations are many and they’re all beautifully decorated. Even the imposing Derzhprom complex is a marvel of modern architecture. It was officially the largest building in the world when it was built in 1920. Naturally, because it was the first Soviet skyscraper and they had to one-up the USA. Locals hate it though. The general attitude is that it looks great from the outside but is infested with rats on the inside. I’m not sure whether they mean it in a metaphorical or literal sense. Kharkiv is full of art; it’s a city of creative minds. The murals are stunning and the cafes are modern and designed better than some in Western Europe. You wouldn’t believe that Russia is just around the corner.

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