Kiev’s’s Open Air Museum Delights History Buffs and Casual Visitors Alike

The 21st century may be bombarding everyday lives around the world with technological gadgets that promise salvation through “connection”. Books may soon be obsolete and libraries may lose their status as institutions of learning in favor of becoming “gentle read” facilities. Still, with all the efforts to move into the future at all costs, people hunger to understand their past. How else can one explain the genealogical research craze or reenactment festivals that woo tourists around the globe each summer?

Ukraine has not only seized the mantel of history and making sense out of the past, but has become a cultural expert. The country is dotted with a plethora of “open air museums”, life size models of days gone by. By far one of the most popular museums is located southwest of Kiev in the picturesque setting of the village of Pirogovo – the Museum of Ukrainian Folk Architecture, Rural Life, and Folk Art.

Stretching on the vast territory of 150 hectares, this open air museum is divided into seven “villages” representing everyday life between the 17th and 20th centuries from every region of Ukraine. In one afternoon, you can travel from eastern to western Ukraine to the southern coast of the country and admire traditional homes, furniture, and textiles.

Founded in the late 1960s, while the country was still under the thumb of the Soviet regime, the museum opened to the public in 1976. To date, the museum has over 200 individual structures including wooden churches, a mainstay of the country’s ecclesiastical history, thatch cottages, farmsteads, and windmills. The oldest wooden church is Naddnepryanskaya Church, dating back to the year of 1742. A collection of windmills are on the top of a hill overlooking the landscape.

The museum’s exhibition is divided in two main areas: Architecture and Life in the Ukrainian Village before the Revolution, and Folk Architecture and Life in the Socialist Village. The section depicting life before the Communist revolution represents a more agrarian lifestyle. The revolution in the early part of the 20th century lead to drastic changes and some would argue the abandonment of a rural way of life formed over many centuries. Old folk traditions were banned and a new social order, tools, techniques, and building materials were mandatory. The Folk Architecture and Life in the Socialist Village exhibition occupies over 13 hectares, where houses and domestic buildings, dating from the ‘60s and ‘70s of the 20th century, are arranged according to old Soviet principles.

Visitors roam the paths lined with traditional flower and vegetable gardens, and take a time out on the green with a picnic hamper in hand. The museum has over 40,000 ethnographic exhibits exhibited in the cottages, among which are folk costumes, fabrics, embroidery, carpets, ceramics, articles of metal, wood, glassware, musical instruments, paintings, tools and household articles.

Summer months bring entertainment as well as education when museum workers enact village roles, carving wood, throwing ceramic pots, and stitching intricate embroidery. Special craft festivals welcome blacksmiths, potters, coppers, weavers, carpet makers and other craftsmen of the present to demonstrate how the masters of the past created their masterpieces. Restaurants and food vendors sell Ukrainian food and musicians play traditional music on the weekend.

If you are harried by the stresses of 21st century life, if you are traveling in Ukraine, take a break and see what life in a simpler time was like – if only for an afternoon. Kiev’s open air museum may be just the ticket for a beleaguered soul hungry for a break from the present.