In childhood, when I went to my parents’ native village, I ran out to the garden wondering what was there beyond the field, across the woods, further than the pond? The world was enormous, and it seemed that every step beyond the horizon every time would bring more amazing discoveries.
I grew up. Well, now – a village is small, a city is small, the world is small. There is nowhere to hide, first and foremost, from yourself. Constantly I’m stumbling upon memories, more often new steps only confuse and disturb. There comes a time when you don’t want to go beyond the horizon – you want to hide in the thick green forests, behind old walls and the complete absence of people. To feel like a part of nature, a time stream, to forget.
“Masters’ manor” – this way locals call the estate of Polish landlords – Dahnovsky family. They owned lands around the village Leskove and the village itself since the end of the XVIII century until the beginning of XX. For a long time, there’ve been no masters or Bolsheviks, who came after them to these lands. Most residents of Leskove don’t remember the names of the former rulers of the estate, but they still call it “masters’ “. In Soviet times, there was a resort for the workers of Kyiv Shugar factory, a pioneer camp, later they made here a medical military unit and a hospital, where my grandmother’s sister worked as a nurse. Since then, the whole territory of the estate belongs to the Ministry of Defense, which doesn’t bother itself with the architectural monument. Excursions are held upon official request, absurdity in 2019, request not to take photos, the name of a local MP with promises to keep safe “our history” on a shabby stand – all this meets me at the entrance. Though my roots are from here, I don’t really look like local – one camera on the shoulder, another in my pocket, the phone with an opened notepad in my hands – all this is a great reason for a security officer to let me in the mechanism of the bureaucratic machine. A journalist ID only worsens the situation, “Official request needed.”
The territory of 89 hectares is surrounded by a 1.5-3 meter high brick wall, so I can easily find a huge breach in it. In my mind, I praise the skills of locals, who, brick by brick, for many years, have been disassembling the wall for their own needs.
Day of silence. If not for elections that have occupied this beautiful word combination completely and forever, this would be the headline of this text. Long-awaited silence, it pours through the ears, it seems, you can touch it. I’m walking down the dark alleys, bypassing ancient high oaks that hide me from the sun. Shrubs are growing between the oak trees. Once classy landscape design now has finally capitulated to nature, and all this seems like some plant bacchanalia at dusk. Alleys are buried in the ground, they are somehow similar to the maze made of brick. Beyond the trees, you can see a castle.
A few years ago I visited Florence. It isn’t really my type of city, but I was struck by the painstaking perfection of every building. A mastermind that designed the streets and blocks, a spirit of the human mind’s greatness that hovered over this city in one of its best manifestations. You don’t expect to see this sort of things in the village. On the contrary, here, nature paves the ways of life’s development. The physical strength of a human who seeks to master it needs comfort for its best manifestation, so the space around a human is exposed to him, is formed by him.
Therefore, it was so strange to spot a monument to the triumph of the human mind in the remote corner of the Cherkasy region – a magnificent two-story palace and a three-story tower in a classical style. The battlement is looking right into the sky, claiming its rights to it. You can get to the castle following the road with vases on both sides. Vases are broken, their pieces are scattered around the pedestal, relief images of people in togas are depicted on them. The desire to associate oneself with the Roman Empire and Italy, with their achievements is the cornerstone of this estate. Bricks of the foundation, like every other brick in the castle, are marked with the initials of the Dakhnovsky family. This is the only physical confirmation of their former presence here. By the way, the brick-making factory was founded just in order to build a palace. In Soviet times my grandmother was working there all her life.
The coat of arms above the main entrance was dismantled as early as in Soviet era. From the balconies and windows, instead of the Polish aristocrats, branches of shrubs and trees are looking at you. Leaves are growing through the holes in rotten window frames.
The Dakhnovsky family built this estate for generations, starting with Marian Dakhnovsky in 1770, who built the first premises in the territory. His work was continued by Alexander and Honorata after they got rich. It was them, who had an idea to build a family palace. The next generation had started the construction of the castle, a park, and a pond. Tadeusz Dakhnovsky, who became the owner of all the family lands, that is 1589 hectares of land, was very often in Europe, so he was fascinated by new developments from there. That’s how he got the idea of constructing a horse breeding farm on the territory of the estate and joining it with a castle into one architectural ensemble. They were breeding thoroughbred English steeds. Local peasants were jockeys and stable-boys. These horses were most in demand throughout Europe and Russia.
All this story is read from the stand at the entrance. It is covered, like the stand itself, with cracks and slowly passes away. In the depths of the park a bird sings, locals go to this area for fish in the pond – security guards allow them. At night, the enthusiasts who believe in the existence of the family treasure of the Dakhnovsky are sneaking inside the territory and looking for it in abandoned rooms and basements. Brick by brick locals disassemble the wall, the warehouses of the military unit have collapsed a long time ago. Now, the initials on the bricks are neighbouring the names of those who were here in the 50ies, 20ies, and 90ies of the last century.
In 1996, the Leskove castle was added to the list of historical and architectural monuments of regional significance. Later its territory was leased to a private firm that “intends to” reconstruct the estate and open it for tourists very soon. This initiative was also supported by the favourite of local elderly ladies – People’s Deputy Anton Yatsenko. You can read this on the stand, which soon will discolour and wash away with rain. In the meantime, I thank both the honorable people’s deputy and the private firm, as well as the Ministry of Defense for a great day in the complete absence of tourists and for a chance to see the castle in all its original grandeur, albeit in a certain decadence, but not damaged by our skilled contractors and restoration workers, whom state, since 2015, has decided not to bring up in its higher education facilities any more.
Locals told me a story how in the early 2000s a distant descendant of the Dakhnovsky family came to Leskove, he wanted to see family home. But they didn’t let him in. Secure area, they told, “an official request needed”. So he stood in front of the gate, in front of the shabby stand, in front of the “secure area”, the oaks, alleys, and palace hidden in the woods. Then he turned around and went away, forever.
Text and photo by Sasha Naselenko