In the third story of our series on famous Ukrainians and their hometowns, pop singer Pavlo Zibrov introduces Kyiv, the city that now feels like home to him. Despite its thousand-year history, Kyiv is not a hostage to established tradition: its historic landmarks coexist harmoniously with more modern features. Bogdan Logvynenko, founder of the Ukraїner project, joined the ‘godson of Khreshchatyk’ to see and feel what Ukraine’s capital city is like today.
— Do you remember your first visit to Kyiv?
— It was summer. My mother brought me here on a trip, it must have been 1966, I think I’d just finished the first grade. She said, “If you study hard, I’ll take you to Kyiv – I’ll show you around, we’ll eat ice-cream, go for a boat trip on the Dnipro and ride the children’s railway on Dorohozhytska Street.” So she took me to this children’s railway. I remember it well: we had a ride in the carriages, then we dropped in to a musical boarding school for gifted children.
— Is it in the same neighbourhood?
— Yes, there was a dance college, an art college – it was a whole complex, with a 10-year study programme. This happened about 3 days before September 1st.. The principal was there. “Please audition my boy, we’ve come a long way,” said my mum. He said yes, and asked her to wait in the corridor. He gave me an improvised 5-minute test. I just started singing, tapping out a rhythm. He said, “Good boy, give me your documents – we’ll take you!” In those five minutes, my destiny was sealed.
— What does Shevchenko Park mean to you?
— I live nearby. Well, I lived here before. For me, Shevchenko Park is a very warm place. Why? Because my daughter Diana grew up here. Back then, when my wife Maryna was pregnant, we used to come here in the evenings, at 10pm, at midnight. There was no one there, no one to recognise you, no one to ask you for a photo or an autograph. But back then there were no mobiles and no selfies, you know, because now everyone has a mobile phone, and everyone wants to take a selfie – well, that’s just life. I think it’s a great joy to be recognised. I remember at one point I shaved off my moustache and no one recognised me – I was 35. I shaved it off twice.
— Was it some kind of experiment for you?
— Experiment? It’s what they call making a fool of yourself. I just wanted to please Maryna, to look younger… And she got off the train and didn’t recognise me. Then, for a month, she didn’t let me anywhere near her. She told me: “You sleep in the kitchen. I won’t let you into bed with me.”
— How does your wife feel about your stage persona and all the attention from your fans?
— Well, if my wife took it all seriously, she’d have lost her mind long ago. She understands it’s part of my work, nothing more. She’s used to it.
— What would you recommend to a foreigner visiting Kyiv for the weekend? What should they see first?
— Obviously “the crosses of St Sophia’s and the Lavra”, just like in the song ‘Khreshchatyk’ – lyrics by Yuriy Rybchynskyi, music by Pavlo Zibrov – Immortal Khreshchatyk! It was from this very spot, 20 years ago – no, 25, 26 years ago, that we filmed the video for the song ‘Khreshchatyk’. We had a cabriolet, but it died. It was old and broken. I was saying, “Be careful with it, because if it stops, you won’t start it again – so don’t stop! Keep going for at least 5 or 10 kilometres.” And it died here. We – the operator, the assistant and me – pushed it from this square, it started going full speed ahead, as they say. And we were like, “Phew, thank God!”
— Who came up with the idea to shoot a video for the song ‘Khreshchatyk’?
— I got an offer to make a music video for ‘Khreshchatyk’ from my friend, the businessman Petya Mikhailov. He was a successful businessman, a contractor and a builder. Petya Mikhailov said: “Let’s shoot it! I’ll pay for everything!” That’s how it happened.
— Was it expensive to shoot a music video in those days?
— I found myself a sponsor. I don’t know. Well, in those days, 5 to 7 thousand dollars was like 20 thousand dollars in today’s money.
Among the many symbols of Kyiv is Bessarabsky Market – one of the capital’s oldest markets. The early 20th-century building has been preserved and is almost unchanged to this day. However, the market itself, like a living organism, changes all the time. Alongside the usual produce stalls, trendy new spaces and food outlets have popped up, giving Bessarabka a modern twist.
— You’re a fan of the most expensive market in Kyiv, right?
— It’s not about the prices – it’s about the high-quality products, which come from all over Ukraine. A lot of the vendors I’ve known for almost 20 years!
— But there are no prices anywhere at the market, are there?
— There are no price tags anywhere – this is a market, after all! It all depends on your eyes, on your wallet, how much you’re buying, whether or not you’re buying in bulk… It depends whether or not you pay the ladies a compliment… The price they throw at you depends on all that. At first they quote you a high price, and start giving you discounts from there.
— Do you often meet friends here at Bessarabsky market?
— Well, all of Ukrainian high society comes here: you might see Mayor Klitschko, members of parliament, government ministers, sports players – a whole lot of famous people. Come here on a Saturday or Sunday at 9 or 10 in the morning and you’ll see the entire Ukrainian elite here.
— Do you remember the moment when people started to recognise you as you walked down Khreshchatyk?
— After the song ‘Khreshchatyk’ – yes! That was when I started feeling like a star, although I already had the song ‘White Blossoms of Viburnum’. You come into the market while you’re on tour, you hear music from the speakers – loud, modern songs – and suddenly ‘White Blossoms of Viburnum’. And 3 or 4 songs later, there it is again, “White blossoms of viburnum, White blossoms of viburnum…” And then someone gives you some sour cream for free. Someone else treats you to a slice of salo (cured pig fat – ed.), another gives you a slice of meat, another honey, another jam. The director of the market finds out within 5 to 10 minutes that Zibrov is around – this was 1990 or 1991, or 1989 – and naturally, you’re invited to his office for breakfast.
— You were immensely popular – did you ever hope to go into politics, or perhaps run for president? Or mayor of Kyiv?
— So many times I was encouraged to stand as a parliamentary candidate. But no, artists have no place in politics. We’re musicians – we should create art. We’re creators!
— What about the head of the railways, at the very least?
— Yeah, “Lova-Lova, Polish Railways” (lyrics from one of Zibrov’s songs – ed.). That’s cool!
— How did people react to that song in Poland?
— They said: “Now you’ve became a popular chanteur, and we know one more Ukrainian chanteur – Mykhailo Poplavskyi.” There. Some people might laugh, but Poplavskyi is a pretty famous showman in Poland.
— How does Pavlo Zibrov feel about social media?
— Not bad. Nowadays, you have to have a social media presence! If you don’t do anything, young people will overtake you, and some will just walk all over you. They’ll attack you, so you have to be alert at my venerable age. To be ‘on trend’, as they say. Not to be afraid of new ideas. That’s why opera singer Pavlo Zibrov started rapping. I sing opera, operetta, variety and chanson.
— What can you share, what can’t you share?
— Oh, you share your everyday life, don’t you? Nowadays most people aren’t so interested in your art, but they want to see you cooking Cossack Кulish, sharing recipes, taking your dog for a walk, going fishing – whether you caught anything or not… How I cut down trees, put fertiliser on the garden – that’s what people are interested in.
Kyiv River Station, closed for restoration since 2012, reopened to the public seven years later. Today, thanks to a partial renovation, the first floor of the building has been transformed into a space for art installations. The building’s vestiges of 1960s modernism provide a fitting backdrop to the contemporary art displayed here.
— Have you visited the River Station since it became an art space?
— I think they just want to save money. They want to save money on whitewash, on cement, and they call it an art space! There’s something here I don’t quite get.
— When you were shooting the video to ‘Khreshchatyk’ in the stormy 1990s, where did you use to go out? There weren’t many places to go at that time, were there?
— No, there were hardly any nightclubs! My first concert was at Chicago, a club near Livoberezhna metro station. The owners were racketeers, who also truly cared about artists, because back then you needed to have protection. There were maybe five clubs in total. Nowadays there are tons of clubs like that, but at that time there were very, very few.
— Were there any cafes where you would just meet up with friends?
— To be honest, we preferred to visit each other. I was always going over to Likhuta’s place, to Haryk Krychevskyi’s, and Haryk would come over to mine. Volodya Bebeshko, Yura Rybchynskyi… We preferred to meet in private, where no one could see or hear us. We didn’t like to show off, like people do now.
— Finally, what do you love most about Kyiv?
— [singing] It’s impossible not to love you, my Kyiv! Fall in love with Kyiv! Come to Kyiv! You’ll discover a whole new world. Good feelings, and good, kind, bright people – that’s Kyivans for you.