Ukraine’s Parks Preserve Love and Poetry, Flora and Fauna

Gladiators spar with Greek Gods. A lion creeps through the fall leaves ready to pounce. On a bench an iron coat lies abandoned. And if you whisper at one end of the white colonnade amidst the bare trees, another will hear your secrets 34 meters away. Oleksandriya Park had always been a place of solace and melancholy, joy and relief through the centuries, and this natural Ukrainian hideaway offers travelers an opportunity to quietly walk through a country’s long history in an undisturbed, peaceful environment.

Presented as a gift by the Polish aristocrat, Count Ksaveriy Branytsky to his wife, Duchess Oleksandria in 1797, the Duchess spent four million gold rubles to turn meadows and woods into one of Europe’s most recognized natural masterpieces. Created by a few to give joy to many, emperors and royalty, bards and poets, once walked the circuitous paths. Indeed, Pushkin and Shevchenko are purported to have summoned their creative muse under the park’s tree canopies.

Simultaneously charming and enigmatic, major features typical of 18th and 19th century landscape design have been preserved. An arrangement of trees, sculptures, and intricately constructed buildings unfold over a so many acres, a guide is recommended. Equal to the majesty and beauty of the gardens of Versailles, the central glade measures the size of several football stadiums. Light rays cascade through the trees during the early morning hours and cast spooky shadows along the paths at dusk. The trees speak of history, too. From the ground, one can gaze into a tulip tree, the oldest tree in Ukraine, circle a 350 year old oak tree, and meander through exotic bushes and flowers cared for by the students and staff of the Bila Tserkva Agarian University.

Symbolism is central to the national park’s features. A pelican feeding four fledglings were once said to symbolize family and loyalty. Among the architectural landmarks, the God Mercury guards the Echo Colonade, a semi-circle of ten columns, where visitors can experience a curious acoustic effect similar to one in Rome’s Pantheon. Stand at one end, whisper, and your fellow traveler can hear you across the row of columns. Originally intended to become part of a mausoleum for Duchess Oleksandra’s uncle, the plans were squashed by Catherine the Great’s son, Peter, a man carrying a great hatred for the Duchess’s favorite mentor.

Musical strains of Mozart and Vivaldi once filtered through the park during 18th century summer concerts. At the time of the park’s construction, Chinese art was also the rage and the park’s Chinese bridge resembles a gazebo with squatting statues welcoming visitors at the entrance.

Dotted with ponds and ravines, on weekdays, visitors to the park can enjoy solitariness, but even on weekends and holidays, though the park teems with parents seeking a moment of respite, children playing out their imaginary games, and old age pensioners taking a moment to sit on one of the many benches, a quiet place can be found. Though a small admission fee is required for entrance, the amount is worth it for the opportunity to take a walk through Ukraine’s royal past.