Poet Nikolay Gumilyov dedicated to his wife Anna Akhmatova such verses:

“From the city of Kiev, from the lair of Zmiy, I took not a wife, but a witch”

In 1910 they married in Kiev; Gumilyov associated Kiev myths with Akhmatova who lived here at that time and was a weird woman indeed. Lair of Zmiy is Serpent caves where legendary Zmei Gorynich once lived according to some myths. The caves are narrow, so Gorynich might be a small dragon.

In fact Serpent caves were known before tales about heroes fighting dragons were borrowed from another culture. Obviously, the “serpent” after which they were named is not a mythological dragon. It might be something close to folklore “fiery serpent”.

Tne Big Serpent cave from inside

There is another hint in local culture were a serpent is linked to a cave. According to Kievan Cave Patericon St John the Much-Suffering dug himself in a cave and was attacked by Devil in form of dragon:

with the approach of the Great Fast, I dug a deep hole and entering it, I covered myself with sand up to the chest leaving my arms and head free. I spent the entire fast this way weighed down by the soil, not moving a single joint. Satan did much harm wishing to drive me from the pit…

I saw an apparition of a terrible and fierce serpent breathing fire and seeking to devour me. The apparition continued for several days. On the radiant night of Christ’s resurrection, the terrible serpent suddenly attacked me and, taking my head and arms into its jaws, it seared the hair on my head and beard, as you can see now”.

Illustration of the temptation of St John the Much-Suffering. Kievan Cave Patericon, 1660 edition

There was about 20 caves in this area, the entrances to most of them are covered with earth today. So called Big Serpent cave is opened now. It is much longer than is needed to hide oneself from the weather. That’s strange; they were obviously dug not as a shelters andhabitations.

Those who dug the caves might have another purpose. Probably, it was a hermit or group of hermits who needed a long cave for total isolation from outer world, and some of them had experience somethimg similar to what was described in Kievan Cave Patericon, that is why the caves got the name.

That’s just my own version, it explains why these caves are “Serpent” and are so long. Nobody really knows the truth, of course. There is a hypothesis that the caves were dug some 4000 years ago, but a cave in soft soil (they are dug at loess plateau brink) wouldn’t survive for such time.

You may hear shots on this video. I have no idea who shoots.

There were a lot of caves in Kiev, they are are constantly crumbling, at old photos we see that even in the beginning of 20 st there were literally hundreds of small caves in scarps. Serpent caves are also in the proces of decay, they should be longer in the past. You see at photos that the entrance is covered with deck. It was made by activists who care for the caves. It’s an archeological site and is protected by the state.

The entranse to Big cave

However, a bike drift jumping playground was built just above the caves and it also contributed to their destruction. As I see, the playground is not actively used now.

Bike track just above the caves
These piles of earth once were used for bike jumping

The caves are one of favorite “places of power” for locals obsessed with mysticism. That explains mysterious signs on the walls of Big cave – it’s not something ancient, just traces of modern subculture. People came here for occult purposes or for fun because they think the caves are very old and once served as a kind of an underground temple or something like this (which is not true, I believe).


I'm a freelancer based in Ukraine, l write mostly about details of life in a country during war. There won't be any military stuff, propaganda, war horrors hype or any violation of actual legislation in this blog. If you want to support my work send a donation as a friend at PayPal address unreporterua@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Here be dragons – the lair of Zmei Gorynich

  1. Such an interesting entry. I love your posts. A good way to learn about your country and city. Stay safe.

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