In 1986, the year of Chernobyl disaster, a group of enthusiasts build a bath in Holosiiv forest in the south of Kiev which is now known as “Holosiyivska Kupel”.
They were followers of Porfiry Ivanov; soon a “party” has formed – people regularly visited the place to fulfill one of Ivanov’s commandments: “swim, possibly in Nature, and before or after having swum run barefoot in the natural environment, even in winter with snow for two or three minutes”.
It was the beginning of all modern mythology of Holosiiv forest which is being formed just before our eyes. Today a lot of such stuff can be found on the web, even official site of Nature Reserve Fund of Ukraine highlights that “This is the place where… pagan rituals took place” (why not, pagan rituals might take place everywhere).
In 2004-2010 monks of Transfiguration hermitage built in the deep of forest another bath, “Svyata Kupil” (Holy bath). Monks say that in fact their predecessors built it in 1901. After hermitage closure in soviet times it went into decline and disappeared. Now monks just restored it.
It is noteworthy that though “Holosiyivska Kupel” is “pagan” and “Svyata Kupil” is “Christian” both are used in similar ways and for the same purpose – healing. There is no clear border between two worlds. It is obvious for those who visit both sites – they differ only in details.
Oaks and other plants
The most notable feature of the forest is old (300-500 years) oaks. Some of them have got a statute of botanical natural monument. Two of them were recently fenced; someone made a boar’s statue near one of these oak . Probably they are the next candidates for sacralization.
Kiev is located on the border of pine forests and oak forests zones (in botany terms – Eastern European province of mixed and broad-leaved forest and Forest-Steppe province of the oak forests, steppe meadow and meadow steppes). Holosiiv is mostly oak forest, there are also meadows on its south edge, a number of locations with pines; one block is planted with beech wich naturally grows only in western part of Ukraine.
So in Holosiiv forest you can see the main landscapes of all northern half of Ukraine.
But what really makes this place remarkable is the highest level of biodiversity in the city. It is a remnant of primary forest, it has never been cut, and economic activities were limited in this area. While oaks and other plants disappeared in the northern part which borders on multi-storey residential buildings. Central and southern parts look like this:
Probably it is the real source of inspiration for those who built holy baths or make up modern myths. People feel that this place is unusual and explain is in their own terms. Such myths are not literally true; they just express an atmospheric feel of this forest.
Sustainability of the forest
It is not quite clear to what degree its ecosystem is sustainable. Before mentioned Kyiv Ecologist-Cultural Center in its book “Negative impact of tree cutting and other human activities on Red Data Book and other protected species of flora” published in 2020 says that sanitation fellings destroys populations of some rare species in many locations in Ukraine including Holosiiv forest. In fact, sanitation felling in a nature reserve is nonsense because old trees should naturally decompose, it is a part of forest life. It is very obvious, in particular, in the video above. Decomposing trees give home to many species.
Generally this book leaves an impression that biodiversity in the forest degrades quickly though only few cases of threatened species disappearance are given.
In 2007 National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine published a monograph “Ecology of Holosiiv forest” timed to the creation of Holosiivskyi National Nature Park on the base of the forest. It gives less dramatic picture – populations of threatened species in different locations vary from year to year though, of course, scientists admit that “human induced pressures… leads to a reduction and fragmentation of populations of all examined rare plant species. Separate locuses do not show trends to expansion.”
In 2010 several subway stations were built in populated areas to the north of the forest. Property prices have risen in the area. Volume of housing construction, population and induced pressures on the forest also increased. Some real estate developers tried to obtain land for high-rise buildings at some spots just next to wooded land. Now a full-scale economic crisis begins, it should mean at least several quiet years for the forest.