Kyivan Rus history says Volodymyr the Great baptized followers in the Dnipro River, converting the ancient empire to Christianity 1020 years ago. But some historians say the baptism happened in the Pochaina River, which no longer exists.
A river that made history in ancient Kyivan Rus, and that is now history itself, has been overlooked, some historians say.
If this sounds like a riddle, it’s not. It’s the story of the Pochaina River and how its waters became the place for the Christian baptism of the Slavic inhabitants of the forerunner state to Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.
With the celebration this year of the 1020th anniversary of Kyivan Rus’ conversion from paganism to Christianity, the Kyiv Post wanted to find the exact spot where Prince Volodymyr – ruler from 980 to 1015 – ordered his servants to be baptized.
Most histories teach that Volodymyr the Great sent his followers into the Dnipro River. But other historians say they went from Kyiv’s Podil district to the Pochaina River, which ran parallel to the Dnipro during that time.
So what happened to the Pochaina and what evidence of its existence lingers today?
The answers can be found by taking an Hr 30 excursion to Fishing Island, which is actually a peninsula. The place is listed on the web site of a popular tourist site called “Interesting Kyiv,” at www.interesniy.kiev.ua, which accepts registration online or by phoning 4911176.
Twenty people gathered on a recent Sunday morning near the Samson fountain on Kontraktova Square in the Podil district. The tour guide, Alatoliy Trohymovych Halepo, has been holding excursions for more than 30 years.
The journey took the group to Hryhoriya Skovoroda Street, one of the oldest in Podil, and one which survived the great 1811 fire, a disaster that ruined much of the district.
Then the group crossed Pochainynska Street, offering the first hint about where the Pochaina River existed. The waters ran parallel to the street. Then the group headed to NaberezhnoKhreshchatyka Street, along the banks of the Dnipro.
It was there that the guide looked into the waters of the Dnipro and said: “You see, Pochaina is here and it is not here at the same time. The river was parallel to the Dnipro and separated from it by a thin sandbar. Pochaina was a small river if compared with the Dnipro. It began out of Kyiv on the meadows of Vyshgorod, flowed though Podil and entered into the Dnipro where the park bridge is now. Pochaina was used as a harbor. Kyivans were baptized near the place where the monument of Magdeburg is right now.”
We walked under the newly built bridge and got to the old bridge that led us to the Fishing Island, one of the best places to look at the harbor.
“Now I’ll tell you how the Pochaina River disappeared,” Halepo said. “From the time of Kyivan Rus, ships went along the Dnipro, got to the Pochaina and, only after that, reached Podil. In 1712, to make this way shorter, city government decided to dig a channel through the sandbar that separated the Pochaina from the Dnipro.
“But then something unpredictable happened,” Halepo continued. “When they started digging, the water flowed through the channel and gradually washed the sandbar. From that time the Pochaina dissolved into the bigger Dnipro and they became one. Only a small island was left from the sandbar. But soon it also disappeared.”
Pochaina is similar to the Ukrainian word pochatok, which means beginning. And fittingly so, as Christianity spread throughout Kyivan Rus from the early baptisms in the Pochaina.
This religion brought literacy, architecture and paintings. And Pochaina’s harbor, a oncefamous trading center, is an allbutforgotten part of this history.