Kamianets-Podilsky recently hosted the 2nd International Military Historical Festival Terra Heroica.
Reconstructors, as people who recreate events from the historical past with documentary precision call themselves, did not choose this small town in Khmelnytsky oblast haphazardly. The town’s famous Old Fortress and cobblestone streets are better than any stage props for recreating the spirit of the age of Bohdan Khmelnytsky. This time Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, and Russian reconstructors wanted to get a feel for this slice of history.
At first a dramatized battle was staged on the bridge, with Ukrainian Cossacks storming the fortress, saber-fighting with the Poles, and firing on the enemy from crossbows and cannons. Gunpowder was not spared and all 700 kilograms of gunpowder brought specially for the mock battle were used. The next day the combat actions moved to the fortress, where a scene from the life of Kamianets in 1672 was staged, namely the garrison’s revolt because of delayed wages, a fight inside the citadel of the Old Fortress, a truce, and a banquet. The food that was served was as real as the gunpowder feeding the cannons.
The main rule of a reconstruction game is utter conformity to the epoch: plot, events, weapons, and equipment. The participants’ costumes were made of natural fabrics, the same kind as in the 17th century (a set of buttons on a single uniform costs between 100 and 500 dollars). Sabers, cannons, and muskets were made by modern craftsmen using ancient methods in strict conformity to the original models. Footwear based on historical sketches was made of natural leather at private ateliers. The costume worn by the Polish castellan Tomasz Sajewski cost nearly 10,000 dollars, the cost of his cape made from the skin of a cheetah.
Whereas in Western countries such historical reconstructions are a hobby of the middle class, in Ukraine it is indulged in mostly by upper- and middle-ranking managers. The most dedicated of them buy fabrics and accouterments in London, where this rich man’s hobby has long been a serious business with special stores, ateliers, and armorer’s shops.
Katia Lypa, an art historian by training and a journalist by profession, believes she and her 15-year-old son Pavlo, who is also a big fan of reconstructed battles, are lucky to have their costumes sewn by her mother. The fabrics must be authentic: velvet, cotton, wool, and tatting. Second-hand stores come in handy for Ukrainian history buffs. “There have been cases where people were expelled from the reconstruction club for allowing carnival elements in their attire, costumes made from synthetic fabrics, and ornaments that did not correspond to a given epoch,” says Katia.
In addition to history textbooks, reconstructors obtain information about the epoch from the paintings of artists who lived during the Hetman period.
“Military historical festivals are very popular in Europe and the US,” says artist Oleksa Rudenko, one of the Terra Heroica organizers, and leader of the Kyivan Registered Cossack Regiment. He says that there are “several groups of reconstructors in Ukraine who take part in these festivals. We are better known abroad than at home. Terra Heroica is Ukraine’s first military historical festival of European caliber. Although there are many cities in Ukraine that could be used as venues for this festival, we found understanding and support only in Kamianets-Podilsky.”
When asked during a press conference whether the city needs this festival, Mayor Oleksandr Mazurchak’s reply was a firm yes.
“Such festivals will make this city known elsewhere in the world, there will be more tourists and investments,” the mayor believes. “Right now 12 hotels are under construction in Kamianets-Podilsky and 80 old — style structures are being built in the Old Town to house a cafe, souvenir stores, and curio shops — all the necessary attributes of a tourist mecca, which I hope Kamianets-Podilsky will soon become.”
As if to confirm his words, another important event took place in the city on the first day of the festival. A cooperation agreement was signed by the mayors of Kamianets-Podilsky and Ponte Lambro (Milan province). Similar agreements were signed earlier with Polish and Slovak cities. The mayor of Ponte Lambro, Andrea Cattaneo, was thrilled to watch the virtual battles that he filmed with his video camera. “Many people are keen on reconstruction in Italy,” Cattaneo said. “I think it would be a good idea to have Italians taking part in the battle of the Old Fortress, with Italian tourists looking on from the fortress walls.”
Oleksa Rudenko promised to think over a new battle scenario. Local historians promptly offered their version: there is a hypothesis that Kamianets-Podilsky was founded by the Roman Empire and served as an outpost. Whether it is true or not remains to be ascertained by scholars, but this will in no way dampen the partnership relations between the two European cities.