Ukraine’s Greatest Show on Earth

Gravity defying acrobats. Dancing bears. Juggling clowns. Little has changed since circus performers spun their talents for Egyptian pharaohs and Roman emperors and like hundreds of countries around the world, a Ukrainian’s love for the circus still endures. Travel to any city with a population greater than 500,000 and a resident circus may be found.

The first professional circus came to Kiev in the middle of the 19th century. Originally constructed from wood, the brick venue resides today on Victory Square. State supported circus venues in Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev during the Soviet years thrived both at home and abroad. Ukraine’s independence has not been particularly kind to the circus financially. However, Ukraine’s national circus has rebounded in recent years. Ticket buyers marvel at leopards riding horses, bears driving miniature cars, and porcupines balancing on barrels. Much needed additions to the troupe’s animal cadre including four tiger cubs and a baby lion have rejuvenated efforts to present the greatest show on earth Ukrainian style. Circus performers spend years perfecting their craft at the Kiev Circus School before joining a resident company.

Circus antics are not the only popular public art form in Ukraine. Marionette masters act out classic Ukrainian fairy tales and explore local folklore throughout the year. Vertep, the Ukrainian Christmas Puppet Theater tells both the story of the Nativity and amuses viewers with short, humorous vignettes designed to entertain children in particular. Ukrainian puppetry companies like their circus counterparts employ many more performers and rely on physical acumen more than mechanical equipment to excite their viewers. Resident circus and puppetry theaters are often closed during the summer months so if you want to take a walk through the annals of childhood, plan your travel to Ukraine accordingly and do not forget to pack your wide-eyed sense of wonderment.