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Chapter 2

Kiev--Its protecting Saint--Intellectuality and trade--Priests
and education--Wherein lies the strength of Russia--Industries--A
famous Monastery--The Catacombs of St. Theodosius and St.
Anthony--Pilgrims--Veneration of Saints--The Dnieper
river--Churches--A luminous cross--Kharkoff--Agriculture--Horse
fairs--Rostoff--Votka drunkenness--Strong fortifications--Cheap
and good travelling--Baku.

Tradition tells us that Kiev was founded before the Christian era, and its vicissitudes have since been many and varied. It has at all times been considered one of the most important ecclesiastical centres of Russia,--if not indeed the most important--but particularly since St. Vladimir, the protecting saint of the city, preached Christianity there in 988, this being the first time that the religion of Christ had been expounded in Russia. A century and a half before that time (in 822) Kiev was the capital city of the state and remained such till 1169. In 1240 it was captured by Mongols who held it for 81 years. The Lithuanians came next, and remained in possession for 249 years, until 1569; then Poland possessed it until the year 1654, when it became part of the Russian Empire.

Kiev has the name of being a very intellectual city. Somehow or other, intellectuality and trade do not seem to go together, and although the place boasts of a military school and arsenal, theological colleges, a university, a school of sacred picture painters, and a great many scientific and learned societies, we find that none of these are locally put to any marked practical use, except the sacred-picture painting; the images being disposed of very rapidly, and for comparatively high prices all over the country. Hardly any religious resorts are great commercial centres, the people of these places being generally conservative and bigoted and the ruling priestly classes devoting too much attention to idealism to embark in commercial enterprise, which leaves little time for praying. Agriculture and horticulture are encouraged and give good results.

The priests make money--plenty of it--by their religion, and they probably know that there is nothing more disastrous to religion in laymen than rapid money-making by trade or otherwise. With money comes education, and with education, too powerful a light thrown upon superstition and idolatry. It is nevertheless possible, even probable, that in the ignorance of the masses, in the fervent and unshaken confidence which they possess in God, the Czar and their leaders, may yet lie the greatest strength of Russia. It must not be forgotten that half-educated, or half uneducated, masses are probably the weakness to-day of most other civilised nations.

Some business on a small scale, however, is transacted at the various fairs held in Kiev, such as the great fair at the beginning of the Russian year. There are many beet-root sugar refineries, the staple industry of the country, and next come leather tanneries, worked leather, machinery, spirits, grain and tobacco. Wax candles are manufactured in huge quantities, and in the monastery there is a very ancient printing-press for religious books.

Peter the Great erected a fortress here in a most commanding spot. It is said to contain up-to-date guns. A special pass has to be obtained from the military authorities to be allowed to enter it, not so much because it is used as an arsenal, but because from the high tower a most excellent panoramic view is obtained of the city, the neighbourhood, and the course of the river down below.

But Kiev is famous above all for its monastery, the Kievo-Petcherskaya, near which the two catacombs of St. Theodosius and St. Antony attract over three hundred thousand pilgrims every year. The first catacomb contains forty-five bodies of saints, the other eighty and the revered remains are stored in plain wood or silver-mounted coffins, duly labelled with adequate inscriptions. The huge monastery itself bears the appearance of great wealth, and has special accommodation for pilgrims. As many as 200,000 pilgrims are said to receive board and lodging yearly in the monastery. These are naturally pilgrims of the lower classes.

Enormous riches in solid gold, silver and jewellery are stored in the monastery and are daily increased by devout gifts.

But let us visit the catacombs.

The spare-looking, long-haired and bearded priests at the entrance of the catacomb present to each pilgrim, as a memento, a useful and much valued wax candle, which one lights and carries in one's hand down the steep and slippery steps of the subterranean passages. All along, the procession halts before mummified and most unattractive bodies, a buzzing of prayers being raised by the pilgrims when the identity of each saint is explained by the priest conducting the party. The more devout people stoop over the bodies and kiss them fervently all over, voluntarily and gladly disbursing in return for the privilege all such small cash as may lie idle in their pockets.

Down and down the crowd goes through the long winding, cold, damp, rancid-smelling passages, devoid of the remotest gleam of ventilation, and where one breathes air so thick and foul that it sticks to one's clothes and furs one's tongue, throat and lungs for several hours after one has emerged from the catacombs into fresh air again. Yet there are hermit monks who spend their lives underground without ever coming up to the light, and in doing so become bony, discoloured, ghastly creatures, with staring, inspired eyes and hollow cheeks, half demented to all appearance, but much revered and respected by the crowds for their self-sacrifice.

Further on the pilgrims drink holy water out of a small cup made in the shape of a cross, with which the liquid is served out from a larger vessel. The expression of beatitude on their faces as they sip of the holy water, and their amazing reverence for all they see and are told to do, are quite extraordinary to watch, and are quite refreshing in these dying days of idealism supplanted by fast-growing and less poetic atheistic notions. The scowl I received from the priest when my turn came and he lifted the tin cross to my lips, is still well impressed upon my mind. I drew back and politely declined to drink. There was a murmur of strong disapproval from all the people present, and the priest grumbled something; but really, what with the fetid smell of tallow-candle smoke, the used-up air, and the high scent of pilgrims--and religious people ever have a pungent odour peculiar to themselves--water, whether holy or otherwise, was about the very beverage that would have finished me up at that particular moment.

Glad I was to be out in the open air again, driving through the pretty gardens of Kiev, and to enjoy the extensive view from the high cliffs overlooking the winding Dnieper River. A handsome suspension bridge joins the two banks. The river is navigable and during the spring floods the water has been known to rise as much as twenty feet.

The city of Kiev is situated on high undulating ground some 350 feet above the river, and up to 1837 consisted of the old town, Podol and Petchersk, to which forty-two years later were added Shulyavka, Solomenka, Kurenevka and Lukyanovka, the city being divided into eight districts. The more modern part of the town is very handsome, with wide streets and fine stone houses of good architecture, whereas the poorer abodes are mostly constructed of wood.

As in all the other cities of Russia there are in Kiev a great many churches, over seventy in all, the oldest of which is the Cathedral of St. Sophia in the centre of the town, built as early as 1037 on the spot where the Petchenegs were defeated the previous year by Yarosloff. It is renowned for its superb altar, its valuable mosaics and the tombs of Russian grand-dukes. Next in importance is the Church of the Assumption, containing the bodies of seven saints conveyed here from Constantinople. At night the cross borne by the statue of Vladimir, erected on a high point overlooking the Dnieper, is lighted up by electricity. This luminous cross can be seen for miles and miles all over the country, and the effect is most impressive and weird.

From Kiev I had to strike across country, and the trains were naturally not quite so luxurious as the express trains on the main line, but still the carriages were of the same type, extremely comfortable and spacious, and all the trains corridor trains.

The next important city where I halted for a few hours was Kharkoff in the Ukraine, an agricultural centre where beet-root was raised in huge quantities and sugar manufactured from it; wheat was plentiful, and good cattle, sheep and horses were bred. The population was mostly of Cossacks of the Don and Little Russians. The industries of the place were closely akin to farming. Agricultural implements were manufactured; there were wool-cleaning yards, soap and candle factories, wheat-mills, brandy distilleries, leather tanneries, cloth manufactories, and brick kilns.

The horse fairs at Kharkoff are patronised by buyers from all parts of Russia, but to outsiders the city is probably better known as the early cradle of Nihilistic notions. Although quite a handsome city, with fine streets and remarkably good shops, Kharkoff has nothing special to attract the casual visitor, and in ordinary times a few hours are more than sufficient to get a fair idea of the place.

With a railway ticket punched so often that there is very little left of it, we proceed to Rostoff, where we shall strike the main line from Moscow to the Caucasus. Here is a comparatively new city--not unlike the shambling lesser Western cities of the United States of America, with plenty of tumbling-down, made-anyhow fences, and empty tin cans lying everywhere. The streets are unpaved, and the consequent dust blinding, the drinking saloons in undue proportion to the number of houses, and votka-drunken people in undue proportion to the population. Votka-drunkenness differs from the intoxication of other liquors in one particular. Instead of "dead drunk" it leaves the individuals drunk-dead. You see a disgusting number of these corpse-like folks lying about the streets, cadaverous-looking and motionless, spread flat on their faces or backs, uncared-for by everybody. Some sleep it off, and, if not run over by a droshki, eventually go home; some sleep it on, and are eventually conveyed to the graveyard, and nobody seems any the wiser except, of course, the people who do not drink bad votka to excess.

Rostoff stands at the head of the Delta of the Don, a position of great strategical importance, where of course the Russians have not failed to build strong fortifications. These were begun as early as 1761. Now very active ship-building yards are found here, and extensive caviare factories. Leather, wool, corn, soap, ropes and tobacco are also exported, and the place, apart from its military importance, is steadily growing commercially. The majority of shops seem to deal chiefly in American and German made agricultural implements, machinery and tools, and in firearms and knives of all sizes and shapes. The place is not particularly clean and certainly hot, dusty and most unattractive. One is glad to get into the train again and steam away from it.

As we get further South towards the Caucasus the country grows more barren and hot, the dust is appalling, but the types of inhabitants at the little stations become very picturesque. The Georgians are very fine people and the Armenians too, in appearance at least. The station sheds along the dusty steppes are guarded by soldiers, presumably to prevent attacks on the trains, and as one gets near the Caspian one begins to see the wooden pyramids over oil wells, and long freight trains of petroleum carried in iron cylindrical tanks. The wells get more numerous as we go along; the stations more crowded with petroleum tanks. We are nearing the great naphtha wells of Baku, where at last we arrive, having travelled from Tuesday to Sunday afternoon, or five days, except a few hours' halt in Kiev, Kharkoff and Rostoff.

The first-class railway fare from Warsaw for the whole journey was fully covered by a five-pound note, and, mind you, could have been done cheaper if one chose to travel by slower trains on a less direct route!