Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bila Tserkva

"I love Bila Tserkva"

Many people have asked us about the city we live in, Bila Tserkva. We thought that it was time to share a little about where we live as our city celebrates its 975th anniversary and Ukrainian Independence Day tomorrow. Bila Tserkva is located about 80 km (about 50 miles) south of the capital city of Kyiv, about an hour by car. Since Ukraine became an independent nation (Ukraine declared its independence on August 24th 1991) and is no longer part of the former Soviet Union (most of Ukraine officially became part of the U.S.S.R. in 1922), the cities have all reverted to their Ukrainian names. Kiev became Kyiv, Belya Tserkov became Bila Tserkva, and so on. The official language is Ukrainian. Schools are taught in Ukrainian and everything is written in Ukrainian, but about 25% of the people in Bila Tserkva speak or prefer to speak Russian. As you go east of here, more people speak Russian and west of here, more people speak Ukrainian. Most people speak both or a mixture of the two. It can be a bit confusing at times.

The city was founded in 1032 and called Yuriev by Yaroslav the Wise, whose Christian name was Yuri. The present name of the city, literally translated, is "White Church" and may refer to the white-painted cathedral of medieval Yuriev that no longer exists. The story we have heard is that the city was attacked and everything was destroyed except for the white church. Since that time it has been referred to as Bila Tserkva.

Since 1363 it belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and since 1569 to the Crown of the Polish Kingdom. A peace treaty between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Ukrainian Cossack rebels under Bohdan Khmelnytsky was signed here in 1651.

After the Third Partition of Poland in 1795 Bila Tserkva came into Imperial Russia. It was a significant market place in the 19th century. During the Soviet times it became a large industrial center (machine building and construction industry). The city was occupied by the Germans during WW II and saw heavy fighting when it was liberated by the Soviet Army in 1944. Bila Tserkva suffered from the German’s “scorched earth policy” as they retreated.

Today Bila Tserkva is a city of approximately 215,000 people according to the last census in 1998. The river Ros runs through the city and along the city’s largest park, Oleksandria. The city has large open air markets scattered across it where you can find just about anything. We prefer to do our shopping this way. You get the freshest foods fresh from the farms there. Large Soviet style apartment buildings dominate the city skyline, but they are in sharp contrast to the small village like communities that are sometimes just across the street. Mud and wood constructed homes without running water can often be seen standing in the shadow of modern buildings and businesses. Cows and goats grazing along parkways within the city are a normal sight. The line between city and village is sometimes a blur.

Ukraine has a long history of changing borders and being invaded by foreigners. Its rich fertile land has long been recognized as one of the most desirable places for agricultural production. People have told us that the Germans shipped the rich soil back to Germany by train while they occupied Ukraine. Our favorite joke is about an old man living in a village in Transcarpathia. When asked about his life he said, “I was born in Austro-Hungary, went to school in Czechoslovakia, served in the Hungarian army and then went to prison in the Soviet Union. Now I live in independent Ukraine!” “Oh you must have traveled and seen a lot!” “Oh, no, I have never left my village!”

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