Khersones: Preserving the Past to Respect the Future

Posted by: Rachel Atwood Mendiola, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

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Ukraine’s long and diverse history is highlighted by the recent recognition of Khersones as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Joining numerous other UNESCO sites in Ukraine, Khersones stands in testimony not only to Ukraine’s ancient past, but also to the role of multiple civilizations, over many centuries, in this land.

Founded about 2500 years ago in the Sixth Century BC by Greek settlers from Heraclea Pontica, Khersones has a long history.  Its name comes from the Greek word, Chersonēsos, meaning “peninsula.”  It is located on what is known today as the Crimean Peninsula (in ancient times it was called Taurica), near present day Sevastopol on the shore of the Black Sea.

The Greek colony began as a (mostly) democratic society ruled by elected officials called archons and a council called the damiorgi.  As time passed, they became more oligarchic, with power concentrated in the hands of the archons.

After those first few hundred years, the colony changed hands numerous times.  In the late Second Century BC, it became a dependency of the Bosporan Kingdom.  Next, it was subject to Rome from the mid-First Century until the 370s AD when it was captured by the Huns.  In the early Middle Ages (sometime around the Fifth Century), Khersones became a Byzantine possession, withstood a siege by the Gӧktürks in 581, then fell to Kievan Rus in the 980s.  After the Fourth Crusade, which ended in 1204, the colony became dependent on the Empire of Trebizond before coming under Genoese control in the early 13th Century.  The armies of Nogain Khan sacked the city in 1299 and about a century later the colony was destroyed by Edigu and permanently abandoned.


Under Roman and Byzantine rule, Khersones was a popular place of exile for those who angered the current government.  In fact, it became the place of legends.  According to one famous story, after Vladimir the Great captured the colony, he agreed to evacuate the city only if the sister of Basil II (Byzantine Emperor from 976-1025) would be given to him in marriage.  However, in order to be able to marry the imperial princess, Vladimir had to be baptized into the Christian faith.

With such a long and interesting history, it is no surprise that Khersones has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The certificate was prepared in Paris, and presented at a ceremony in Sevastopol on September 20.  U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt congratulated everyone attending the ceremony with the following statement:

“On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, I would like to congratulate the Khersones National Preserve and its staff for their impressive accomplishment in getting the cultural and historical monument entrusted to their care recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  When the ‘Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora’ was inscribed on UNESCO’s List on June 23, it was a great day not just for Ukraine but for everyone in the world influenced by Classical Greek civilization where the idea of democracy was first born.

I’m also very pleased that the Institute of Classical Archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin under the leadership of Centennial Professor of Classical Archeology Joseph Carter played such an important role in helping to put Khersones on the world map and bring it to UNESCO’s attention through their excavations, publications, and continued close cooperation with the Ukrainian staff at the National Preserve.  This is a wonderful example of what a successful U.S.-Ukrainian partnership can accomplish for the benefit of the entire world.

Last year, the U.S. Embassy was able to bring John Jameson – a Senior Archaeologist with the U.S. National Park Service who specializes in interpretive program development – to the Khersones National Preserve in order to explore new ways to make the site more accessible to the public while minimizing the impact this increased attention would bring.  I look forward to visiting Khersones myself soon and seeing what else we might be able to do to help you preserve your site for the world.

Earlier this month, I was thrilled to travel to Drohobych where I presented a U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation grant to the Church of St. George which was one of eight Ukrainian wooden churches inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List on the same day that you received the same great honor.  In the same way that we are helping save this amazing wooden masterpiece in the Carpathians for future generations, I look forward to working together with our Ukrainian and American partners to keep this Crimean architectural wonder alive and well for its next 2,500 years.  Congratulations!”

It is a great accomplishment that so many historical and cultural sites in Ukraine have received world-wide recognition.  Hopefully, the naming of Khersones as a UNESCO World Heritage site will support its preservation and increased research for the benefit of future generations.

The Positive Power of Hip-Hop in Ukraine

Posted by: Arthur Evans, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

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IMG_1810Recently I joined Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, his family and an audience of over 10,000 on Independence Square to watch the World Breakdancing Championship.  Sponsored by Burn Battle School, hundreds of young Ukrainian b-boys and b-girls “battled” (competed) in four categories: best youth b-boy, men’s, women’s and team or “crew.”  I was blown away by the popularity of the event and amazed at the skill level of the Ukrainian breakers.  Even more impressive was that, although competition was fierce, the atmosphere was positive — even festive — a bit like watching a college football game in my native Ohio.

IMG_2483Because our Embassy was one of the event’s sponsors, the Ambassador awarded the first place prize in the youth category.  The winner was a 10-year old dancing tornado from Kyiv: Andrei Kirilin. Taking first was no small feat on Andrei’s side.  The youth division included kids as old as 16, and many of the contestants were almost twice Andrei’s size.  But in breaking, where preparation, innovation and speed trump strength, “Davids” often best “Goliaths.”  Andrei’s victory was a testament to years of training and the support of his studio, Kinder Crew of Kyiv.  Backstage, many of Andrei’s Kinder Crew friends were there to support him along with older b-boy mentors, coaches, and family.

Hip-hop and, by extension, breaking, has always faced an up-hill battle in the image department, partly due to a “gangster” motif that has eclipsed other aspects of the movement, and partly due to misconceptions of what b-boying is really about.  If my experience on the Maidan showed me anything, it is that breakdancing can set a positive example for young people in Ukraine.  No matter how hard two “crews” “ battled”, and no matter the color of their skin or where they were from, when the music stopped and the winner was announced the competitors always came together in the center of the stage, shook hands, embraced and showed signs of mutual respect.

IMG_0990These positive aspects are in keeping with breaking’s American roots. When it emerged from New York’s boroughs in the 1970s, break dancing’s “street” status meant there were no coaches, teams or leagues.  For an aspiring b-girl or b-boy, getting in was easy but getting good was hard.  You had to learn from somebody.  Talk to any accomplished “old” b-boy or b-girl about how they learned and they will smile and rattle off the names of the best b-boys in the previous generation: people who inspired them, took them under their wing, and invited them to join a “crew” that could help them reach the next level.  “Each one teach one” is a quiet mantra in breakdancing that still holds true.

Perhaps no other crew has internalized “each one teach one” like Seattle, Washington’s Massive Monkees Crew.  Our Embassy was proud to support them as our country’s entry in the Burn Battle School’s team competition.  As dancers, Massive Monkees have won at the highest international level.  But what sets them apart is how they have parlayed that success into opportunities for their community, and particularly for the next generation.  One example is their Extraordinary Futures NGO, which uses dance to teach self-discipline, boost confidence, and broaden the horizons of at-risk kids.  In recent years they have even used city support and crowd sourcing to turn their Seattle dance studio, aptly called “the Beacon,” into a community center complete with afterschool programs, toddler dance classes, music and art.  No wonder the Mayor of Seattle created a “Massive Monkees Day” in their honor.

IMG_3345Massive Monkees brought this spirit of civic activism with them to Kyiv. Over the course of three days they taught classes, visited summer camps, hosted hip hop films, judged dance contests and performed for thousands of young Ukrainians.  They talked about breakdancing’s celebration of diversity and demonstrated its ability to break down barriers and to build young people up.  But Massive Monkees weren’t alone in delivering this message. Their trip was supported by a national network of Ukrainian crews and dance studios.  At each event they were joined by veteran Ukrainian b-boys and b-girls who shared their own experience with the younger kids or were there as chaperones, trainers and mentors.

In the end, one can say that this year’s Burn Battle School was a success because hundreds of kids competed and thousands more came to watch.  But what is more important is that it proved that breaking is alive and well in Ukraine.  Clearly, local b-boys and b-girls have developed a thriving community that stretches from Kyiv to Sevastopol, Lviv to Lutsk ….And that’s a good thing.

Ambassador Pyatt’s Visit to the Honchar Museum: Showing Respect for Ukraine’s Vibrant Culture

Posted by: Larry Socha, Consular Officer

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Ambassador Pyatt Receives a Vyshyvanka as a Gift from the Honchar Museum
Ambassador Pyatt Receives a Vyshyvanka as a Gift from the Honchar Museum

“You cannot imagine a Ukrainian family without its rushnyk,” Petro Honchar told Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.  “Rich or poor, every family had one.”

Director Petro Honchar guided U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt through the Ukrainian Center of Folk Culture, Ivan Honchar Museum, on Friday afternoon, concluding the Ambassador’s first week in country.  Their lively conversation flowed through each room.  Under the watchful eyes of dozens of icons, the Director and Ambassador discussed religious imagery and the spirit represented by Cossack Mamay.  They compared the landscape styles of Ukrainian artists in the late 19th century and the motifs of artistic schools from the Ambassador’s native California.  They paused in front of a portrait of Ivan Honchar, whose private collection, spurned by Soviet authorities, became this great national treasure of independent Ukraine.  “Most museums in the Soviet period were based on class struggle.  Ivan had the idea that a museum could unite not divide,” Director Honchar explained.  “The idea of family became central to his vision.”

Almost immediately upon entering the museum, the visitor is welcomed by scores of black and white Ukrainian photographs, many over a century old.  Some are family portraits. Others depict wedding celebrations.  But one at eye level reflects back at the viewer, a mirror.  The visitor, wherever his roots lie, is invited to be Ukrainian, to understand Ukraine, from the very first moments of his visit.

Ambassador Pyatt was honored to make the Ivan Honchar Museum one of the first stops in his journey through Ukraine.  He recalled the long, rectangular cloth of the embroidered rushnyk which symbolizes a journey and the delicately stitched flowers and birds that represent Ukraine’s fertile land.  Ambassador Pyatt thanked Director Honchar for a wonderful introduction to the richness of Ukrainian cultural traditions and the country’s deep European history.  At the conclusion of the tour, Director Honchar presented Ambassador Pyatt with a vyshyvanka sewn in the colors of Acting Hetman Pavlo Polubotok – a Cossack political and military leader of left-bank Ukraine between 1722 and 1724.



Prelude to Black History Month, Part Two: Mary Wilson of the Supremes

Posted by: Daniel Cisek, Deputy Press Attaché, and Heather Fabrikant, Deputy Cultural Attaché

As part of our commemoration of Black History Month, the U.S. Embassy is thrilled to be hosting Mary Wilson in Kyiv. She will perform a concert on February 4 at 7pm at The Concert Hall of the Tchaikovsky Music Academy (tickets can be bought at the box office) and The Story of the Supremes exhibit featuring the Supremes’ renowned fashion-defining dresses and a photographic tour of The Supremes and the civil rights movement will appear at Ukrainsky Dim (open daily from 11AM – 7PM from February 4 – 14).

One of the most successful musical groups of all time, The Supremes (Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson) skyrocketed to fame in the 1960s with a string of number one hit songs. Their glamorous style and broad appeal made them the most popular female group in America at the time, rivaling even The Beatles. Continue reading “Prelude to Black History Month, Part Two: Mary Wilson of the Supremes”