He experienced the horrors of two wars and during this time he also covered an immense geographical area. The trip described in this blog is an attempt to retrace his steps from Prague across the Eurasian continent to beyond Lake Baikal in Siberia. The first part of the trip will follow the precisely described route of Josef Švejk, Hašek's inspired literary creation. I left home on April 30 2010 and was back on October 29.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Tourist in Kyiv

My reason for visiting Kyiv was of course Hašek, but this letter is largely written from a tourist's perspective. And Kyiv deserves far  more visitors than it gets. Perhaps EURO 2012 football tournament will serve as an eye-opener for "westerners"? The Ukrainian capital is a vibrant and welcoming metropolis, with many fine churches and monuments. It also has an attractive location on the banks of the river Dnieper.


The practical arrangement was easy: everything was organised by Halja Karpenko, the Mother Theresa of Lviv. She had contacted a friend of hers, Tamara Cheradze, who had arranged accommodation for me on the western outskirts of the city. I was picked up on the platform on the impressive Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi by Tamara and her husband, and even driven to the hotel. The hospitality  was impeccable but I never saw my benefactors again, so had little chance to express my gratitude. The hotel was clean and functional although the location was not ideal (but at least I became a seasoned metro-traveller).

Digression: Georgia 1987

Stalin guarding the railway
station entrance in Gori (1987).
It struck me that this was the first time in many years that I had met a "grusin" (Georgian). The previous time was in 2002 when a waiter on a Greek island declared that Stalin was "our father". I found it futile to argue and oppose this  paternal reverence, although I let the word mass-murderer slip.  I had visited Tblisi already in 1987 as member of a travel group. At the time travelling in a group was the only practical option for tourists who wanted to visit the Soviet Union.

One day in Tblisi two of us departed from the group, and set off for Gori, the birthplace of a certain dictator. Here one of the few remaining museum and memorial of the mentioned  dictator could be found. The rest had been removed during Khrushchev's de-stalinisation. When I asked our Danish-speaking guide if we had the "KGB's approval to go there", he said with a grin: "Ja. Fordi jeg er KGB" (Yes, because I am the KGB). At Gori station a portrait of Stalin welcomed us, and on the city square stood a huge statue. There was also a museum, located in the house where he was born. Around the house was erected Greek columns, and the whole thing looked decidedly ridiculous. The price item on exhibition was a railway carriage (inherited from the Romanovs) where Stalin met Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta in 1945. Inheriting a railway carriage from the Romanovs remind me of motives from George Orwell's "Animal Farm". The museum is still operating, but the statue was removed  from the square  in 2010. 

Apart from this it was pleasant enough to be a tourist in Georgia, with friendly people, good weather and good food. An engineer who found out I shared his profession wanted me to get hold of Intel microprocessors for him, an undertaking I politely declined.

Kyiv city centre

Former Hotel Praha, where Hašek (at times) worked as
editor of "Čechoslovan" from July 1916 to February 1918.
Back to post-soviet Kyiv. The metro is efficient but very crowded. Built in the 1960s it seems to be modelled on the Moscow metro, at least with respect to decoration. It is by far the most convenient way of getting around. Buses are often ramshackle and even more crowded. I spent most of the time in Kiev in the city centre, admiring the fine churches and other landmarks. Still I dedicated time to places associated with Hašek, i.e. the few I was aware of back in 2010.

The focal point of the former POW's activities in the city was Hotel Praha on Volodomyrska 30 (now 36), which housed the offices of "Čechoslovan". The building is now closed, but the plaque with Hašek's name is still there. The location is in the centre, not far from St. Sophia cathedral (Собор Святої Софії) and the monument to Bohdan Khemlnytsky and other places of interest nearby. Close to it is also the university where the reserve units of the Czech volunteers had their barracks. This is surely the spot where Hašek was "superarbitrated" in 1916 (again I wasn't aware of these circumstances in 2010).

Podvalnyi prospekt on a map from 1914.
The clock tower of Saint Sophia to the right.
I also spent time trying to locate other places associated with Hašek, without much luck. Amongst the once I missed was "Cafe Podvalská" where an incident between the author and a Russian officer allegedly took place (Radko Pytlik). In Hašek's satire The Czech Pickwick club a cafe in Podvalná ulice 1 is mentioned, and presumably is the same place. For some reason the name Podvalná has been change to Podvalská in a subsequent version of the story, but the older version printed in Jaroslav Křížek's "Jaroslav Hašek v revolučním Rusko" must be the correct one. Some times "corrections" achieve the exact opposite effect.

I even spent our looking for "Cafe Podolskoje" which Pavel Gan claims was the stage of the mentioned incident and was located by the boat landing stage at Poštova ploša. Hašek's Podvalná ulice can't be located but Podvalnyi prospekt is close enough *). It was located not far from the offices of "Čechoslovan". The small street has since passed into history: this area of Kyiv seems to have been completely rebuilt.

It is still unclear where the incident between Hašek and the officer took place as neither Pytlík nor Gan indicate their sources.

*) Thanks to Jaroslav Šerák for helping me to locate it.


View from Kyiv across towards Darnitsya. On March 1
 1918 the Czechoslovak Army Corps and the Bolsheviks
retreated across the the bridge  ahead of  the advancing
On the eastern bank of the river Dniepr is Darnytsia, a sprawling suburb of high-rise flats, in parts improbably ugly. I walked through most of it, looking for the site of the transit-camp where Hašek spent a few days after his capture in 1915. He surely also visited the camp as a recruiter for the Czechoslovak Brigade in 1916. The camp was right by the railway station, located in the pine forest. Now there is obviously no trace of it, in it's place there is a large and quite modern railway station.

Another exceptionally ugly spot is Vulitsja Jaroslava Hasheka. I spent ages finding it, and in the end what I found a wide space of litter-strewn wasteland. Houses on both sides, yes. But this "street" is some of the strangest urban sights I've ever come across. I was quite happy to jump on the train back to the agreeable centre of Kyiv.

Boryspil, a downpour and a Big Mac

Boryspil: this is where my "reserch trip" ended.
Another half day out was to Boryspil (rus. Borispol) where our hero was locked away in spring 1917 after having insulted the Imperial Russian army gravely by juxtaposing their incompetence and his own back side. Here he was apparently quite well off, "enjoying the wine sent him by the ladies of Kiev".

My own trip there again went via Darnytsia, jumping off the metro to take a bus. There were direct trains but I was incapable of locating the platform at the enormous Kyiv Passasjyrski. Presumably  it left from "primiski voksal" (sub-urban station) next door.

It was still a smooth ride but when I arrived the gates of heaven opened. In the torrential rain I sat down in a cafe, wrote on the blog, and coincidently got slightly sozzled. It is is situations like this a computer is a mans best friend. Otherwise I would have been bored to death, waiting for the rain to stop. That was all there was to my "research trip" to Boryspil. I took the bus back, had a Big Mac in Darnytsia and then jumped on the metro back to Kyiv. I never got to know exactly where my hero was locked up in 1917, and I'm still none the wiser. What I have learnt since is that the Czechoslovak Army Corps had some barracks here, so this might have been the place where Hašek was put behind bars.

Turning west

I was not going to emulate Hašek's journey step by step. The reasons were obvious: we don't know all the details of where he went. Secondly: doing a return trip to the southern Ural to follow him to the POW-camp and back would be too time-consuming. Instead I will cover Totskoye when I reach that region. For now I was happy with Kyiv, an attractive city which I could easily be persuaded to return to. After Kyiv I would attempt to follow in Hašek's steps in the second half of 1916. Therefore the next stop was to be Sarny, a six hour journey westwards on the Kyiv-Berlin express.

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