Friday, April 19, 2013

A Tour of the Ukrainian Village

       One of the most beautiful things about Chicago is our variety of cultural neighborhoods.  Not only do we have Chinatown and Little Italy, we also have Andersonville and Pilsen which make you think you have stumbled upon some kind of teleportation device to Sweden and Mexico, respectively, as soon as you turn the corner.  The Ukrainian Village is yet another one of these exceptionally cultural experiences.  Today, I led a tour through the neighborhood which showcased the area’s cuisine, religion, history and architecture.  

        Our first stop was the Holy Trinity Russian Orthadox Cathedral.  Construction began in 1899 and on this provincial style building, and it was completed four years later.  It was designed by one of Chicago’s most famous and beloved architects, Louis Sullivan (who also designed the Auditorium Building on Michigan Avenue right by the hostel!).  The first group of immigrants who came to the Village was divided emotionally over the existence of this church.  Some strongly opposed it because it was partially funded by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and relations between Russia and the Ukraine have never been particularly warm.  Others really enjoyed the aesthetic appeal of the cathedral because it reminded them of the small, intimate, rural buildings of the Old World.  Regardless of the original conflict of ideals, Holy Trinity remains an important part of the neighborhood, and still boasts a faithful congregation.
            After walking farther down Leavitt Street, we came across the stunning St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.  The building that stands now is not the original place of worship for the St. Nicholas congregation, but it has been in use since January 7th (Christmas according the Julian calendar), 1915.  The Byzantine-Slavonic architectural style was incorporated into the construction of this cathedral, and its thirteen domes stand for Jesus Christ and each of the twelve apostles.

At this point, we decided that it would be good to stop for some traditional Ukrainian food.  Old Lviv, a Ukrainian buffet, turned out to be just the place we were looking for.  It’s a pretty small restaurant, but the server is friendly, and the food is fantastic.  We had borscht, freshly made pierogies, cucumber salad, potato pancakes, and more.  Andrea came on the tour with me, and we were able to sit and have nice conversation while we ate.  She is originally from Mexico City, but she has traveled all over the world to places like Japan, India, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey.  She’s staying in Chicago for ten months in order to improve her English, and just before she got here, she spent two months in Europe seeing the sights.  Even though she had a nice job in the international department of a big company, she decided to quit and experience as much of the world as she could.  She absolutely loves Chicago, and would like to live and work here permanently if she is able to.
The next stop on the tour is the extravagant Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral.  It was built in the Byzantine-Ukrainian style from 1971 to 1973, and the structure demonstrates that style’s preference for circular patterns and avoidance of angular designs.  Patriarch Josyf Slipyj was pivotal in all of its stages of development, which instills a sense of pride among the congregation because of his role in the Ukrainian movement against the Stalinist regime.  He was the Commissioner of the Faith in the Catholic Church, and in 1945 he was arrested by the Soviets and held prisoner in Siberia for eighteen years.  Through the intervention of Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy, he was released in 1963.  The cathedral is named after Volodymyr, the Grand Duke of Kyiv, who brought Christianity to the realm in 988 AD, and his grandmother, Olha.

Finally, we arrived at the Ukrainian National Museum.  There was a temporary exhibit about two Ukrainian artists who had moved to the US, and one featured impressive mosaics depicting women, flowers, and landscapes.  Upstairs, we learned about the history of Ukraine, from the joyous tradition of painting the Pysanka Easter eggs to the horrifying facts behind the Ukrainian genocide of 1932-33.  After exploring the Ukrainian instruments, clothing, weapons, and pottery, we were ready to get on our way back to the hostel.  We took the #66 back to the Blue Line, and before we knew it, we were back on Congress.  It seemed almost like a different world after our time in the Ukrainian Village, and it was definitely good to know that we could go back and visit the Old World any time we wanted to!

By: Intern Sarah Consoer

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