There are plenty of tourist attractions in Ukraine worth visiting throughout the year. If you come here at the beginning of autumn and decide to find some place where fascinating Ukrainian cuisine complements the spirit of its ancient history, you definitely should navigate to Korosten, a small town 150 km to the North-West from the capital city of Kyiv. The Town with Dramatic Thousand-Year History
Archeologists claim that Eastern Slavs erected their first hill-fort here at the beginning of VIII century A.D. Therefore, officially the history of the town counts more than 13 centuries. The most dramatic events took place in the 10th century.
That time Korosten (formerly called Iskorosten) used to be the capital of Slavic tribe of Drevlians (literally — people of the woods). Reigned by Varangian dynasty of Rurikids, Kievan Rus was consolidated as more and more centralized state. That’s why Igor I of Kyiv attempted to tax all the neighbor tribes. In the meantime, Iskorosten duke Mal decided to reinstate independence of his Drevlians people. In 945 Igor tried to pacify prideful Drevlians and impose even higher taxes on them but was captivated by Mal. The council of Drevilans elders decided to execute Igor in a sophisticated manner — they tied his body between two bend birches and eased the trees… Even after such horrifying torture Igor was honorably buried under a high kurgan (burial mount).
Olga of Kyiv, Igor’s widow (and the first Christian ruler of Kyiv) was shocked by such news. She sent her warriors to assail Iskorosten but the assault was futile. The princess prepared treacherous plan of conquering rebellious tribe: Olga pretended she was already going to surrender but asked Drevilans to give her three pigeons or three sparrows from each Iskorosten household (as a small tribute). Later her men tied smoldering splinters to birds’ paws and unleashed them. As every bird flied back to its owner, Iskorosten burned to the ground. After that Olga symbolically washed her sin away by bathing in Uzh river.
Nowadays this place, called Olga’s Bath, is marked by the statue of her and the fountain, which are at the very center of Drevlyansky Park — the main landmark of modern Korosten. Here you may also meet other heroes of Kievan Rus, including Mal, Vladimir the Great (both as adult baptizer of Rus and as a small boy with his mother Malusha) and Dobrynia Nikitich — legendary strongman of ancient Kyiv. And if you’d like to see the artifacts of those times with you very eyes, you may find them in the Local Lore Museum, which is straight opposite to the entrance of the park.
The Rock Museum
Rocky banks of the Uzh river always served as invulnerable natural fortification, and XX century wasn’t an exception. When the Soviet Union was established, its western border lied not far from Korosten. Being afraid of attack by the Poles, Soviet leaders ordered to erect a chain of defense constructions along the frontier. In the event of war this set of earth and concrete bunkers, minefields, tank stoppers and other facilities was to be managed from local command posts. Military officials chose Korosten to allocate one of such posts and its catacombs, which used to shelter Drevlians, were converted into top-secret Soviet military base. This fully functional underground town was constructed between 1934 & 1938 and consisted of three levels of sophisticated labyrinths with autonomous air-, water- and electricity-supplying systems. Soviet troops used the base in 1941 when defending Kyiv from Nazis. After World War II the bunkers served as a hideout for local communist leaders and later as an emergency shelter for civilians.
In 2005 ‘Skelya’ (the Rock) Museum was established along the second (middle) level of the bunker. Nowadays it constitutes the long tunnel (146 m) with 36 rooms. Some of them simulates different facilities used by Soviet soldiers before WWII — barracks, armories, technical rooms for life support system, communication center (that time linked directly to Moscow) and, of course, separate offices for the commander and the NKVD (pre-KGB) commissar.
In other museum rooms you may find miniature copies of complicated defensive structures erected near Soviet-Polish border, different weapon both of WWII and of modern times, as well as other military artifacts. One hall is dedicated to civil defense and Chernobyl tragedy (which happened only 100 km far from here). And try not to panic — museum personnel like to threaten unsuspecting tourists with the sinister sound of siren.
The museum is located within Drevlyansky Park literally inside the granite rock on the right bank of the Uzh river. And don’t forget to explore the exposition of military vehicles and pieces of artillery, located just to the right of museum entrance.
Since 2008 Korosten is well known in Ukraine and abroad as the venue for Deruny Festival, held annually on the second Saturday of September. In reality Ukrainian ‘deruny’ (hash browns) are some kind of potato pancakes with different stuffing and sauces. They are wide spread across Western and Northern regions of Ukraine and neighborhood Belarus (called ‘draniki’ there), where potato is one of the prevailing crops. There are dozens of deruny recipes, for instance with different meat stuff, cheese, curd, mushrooms, seafood etc. This tasty diversity is presented to the guests of the festival.
As the festival takes place at above mentioned Drevlyansky Park, when entering it, you’re welcomed by the statue of a hash brown. Of course, deruny aren’t the only course offered for the participants. Here you can taste hot barbeque, smoke cured meat, lard, fish, brined pickles and tomatoes, different honey products and much more.
Any Slavic festivity without ethnic alcohol is nonsense. Hash browns are perfect chaser for Ukrainian samogonka, especially for its infused options (‘medovukha’ — honey-infused samogonka, ‘kedrivka’ — prepared with pignoli nuts, ‘percivka’ — samogonka on chili peppers and so on.) Different ethnic clothes (including embroidery), crockery and other handicrafts are also offered to tourists.
The festivities are always accompanied by dazzling ethnic musicians and dancers. If you’re self-confident, you can participate in special competitions: the best powerlifter should make maximum number of squats with two weighty pots filled with deruny; the most accurate thrower must precisely cast a hash brown into a pot (or hit a competitor) from the distance of 5 m. But the main tournament defines the best cook with the tastiest hash browns. Any guest is able to buy a certificate of a juror and taste deruny unlimitedly (take care of your stomach!).
Anyone who wills to take some deruny-preparing skills home may participate in special masterclasses of hash browns art. This school is headed by the town mayor, who is symbolically the host of the festival.
How to get there (from Kyiv Central Railway Station): take an Intercity train going to Lviv/Przemyśl (1.5 h), regular trains are cheaper but slower; or take a bus departing from the railway station (2—2.5 h). Drevlyansky Park is located in 1.5 km to the South-East from Korosten Railway Station.