Those who have been following my blog know that my biography about Angelica Balabanoff The Strange Comrade Balabanoff: The Life of a Communist Rebel has been published by McFarland Publishers in June. To celebrate the book launch for the past few months the articles in my blog More Then Red have been devoted to Angelica : her lifestyle, friends and recipes. Today I would like to devote a few words to Angelica’s hometown – Chernigov, today’s Ukraine, – which is about to celebrate its City Day on September 21. Angelica’s life story starts in Chernigov, hundreds of miles away from Paris, Rome and New York, cities where she would spend most of her life. Because the research on my book about Angeica was sponsored entirely by my own funds, I could not afford to go to all the places I needed to see. I had to abandon the idea of a trip to Chernigov. The journey promised to be interesting but long and expensive. Going there without knowing in advance what the trip might entail was rather complicated. I decided to continue looking for more documents about her childhood, while remaining in Paris, contacting the archives in the Ukraine by Internet, collecting any information I could from Google and reading Angelica’s memoirs. However I’m sure had I decided to go to Chernigov, I could have found a lot of most fasinating information about her family and childhood. (I ended up contacting the staff in the Chernigov archives by phone and they were most friendly and helpful sending whatever information they could find by mail).
Historically Chernigov is a part of the Ukraine. It was one of the epicenters of the 11th century Kievian Rus and hometown of its aristocracy. However, during Angelica’s days the 19th-century Chernigov was a part of the Russian Empitre. The town was of little regional importance. It was a quiet and provincial place with “two hospitals, several bank branches, a pawn shop and a society of mutual credit”. The nearest railway station, Kruty, was nearly 50 miles (at that time a four-hour trip) away from town. Most of the business activity was generated by the markets at which merchants from the nearby areas sold food, clothes and domestic animals. Market days took place four times per year and went on for one or two weeks. However, they remained local, attracting only citizens of Chernigov, compared to the markets of the nearby town Nezhin, which attracted the whole region. Angelica’ family owned buildings, some of which have still survived, lands and at least one factory.
Today the town has an estimated population of about 300.000 people, ten times more than during Angleica’s days and has a large wollen and wallpaper industries. Angelica is listed among the known citizens of Chernigov. Much destroyed during the WWII, most of the archietcture in town is modern though there are some 19th century buidlings in the center, some of which belonged to Angelica’s family. In all there is an agreable historic atmosphere with a number of interesting monuments, churches (The Saviour-Transfiguration Cathedral – the oldest Orthodox church in the Ukraine or the the Ukrainian baroque style Troitsky (St. Trinity) Cathedral built in the 17th century – see the photo above), parks (Kotsyubinskogo Park) and mini-parks to visit. The town can be easily visited in one day from Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine (140 km – two-hour bus drive, 5€ return ticket). If you find yourself in Chernigov, please let me know how you liked it.