One Square Mile of Dnipropetrovsk
Producer, One Square Mile
Dnipropetrovsk boasts the longest river embankment in Europe and the largest Jewish cultural centre in the world.
Arriving by train in the city of Dnipropetrovsk is a dramatic affair.
Uniformed station guards stand to attention on the platform and the Ukrainian national anthem blares out of tinny tannoys.
The vast Soviet style railway station is impressive, if freezing cold, on a windy, grey day in March.
Temperatures here can vary from as much as thirty degrees in the summer to a distinctly chilly minus fifteen in the winter.
Outside the station the city itself is a hotchpotch of architecture and potholed roads. Modern European stands side by side with ornate Orthodox churches, their onion domes towering over run-down Stalinist apartment blocks.
Producer Allie Wharf was won over by the cities unlikely charms
The city itself dates back to the mid-eighteenth
century when it was originally known as Yekaterinoslav.
It was renamed in Soviet times after the vast Dnieper river that snakes through the city on its way to the Black Sea.
Dnipropetrovsk, known simply as Dnipro to those who live here, is a city of contrasts.
It lies about 400 km south-east of the capital Kiev and is best known for being the industrial heart of the former Soviet space programme.
Tourists to the Ukraine flock to the cultural and historic cities of Kiev and Lviv in the west of the country, but the charms of the east are often overlooked. Because of its top secret missile plant Dnipro was closed to foreign visitors until Ukraine became independent.
Most of its inhabitants speak Russian as their first language rather than Ukrainian.
Wandering around the city filming was a strange experience. Whilst we were there it was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. Here it’s not a day to champion women’s rights, but to celebrate beauty and femininity.
The flower shops and street stalls were crammed with men buying huge armfuls of flowers whilst the women spoke demurely of how important it is to “look beautiful and be enchanting”, all the time.
Ukrainian women are bought flowers on International Women’s Day
It felt rather old-fashioned, yet charming.
In the street curious passersby would interrogate the film crew in Russian. Helplessly, I’d put up my hands and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Russian”, followed by the magic words “BBC”. It is always surprising how many people the world over recognise those three letters.
For those who could speak a little English the question was always: “Why, what on earth are you doing in Dnipro?”
Although most of the spectators were polite, one man who’d obviously been sampling the delights of Ukraine’s national drink (vodka of course) insisted on sharing with us his limited command of English: “**** your President”, accompanied by relevant hand gestures. I think he thought we were American.
We were rescued by the delightful Dennis Davidoff, a young Dnipro native, who’d travelled the world and spoke great English. He volunteered to be our guide and show us the highlights of his hometown.
When he spoke about how much he loved the city I couldn’t initially see what he meant. But after a few days Dnipro really did begin to grow on me.
We had a series of extraordinary encounters whilst we were there – which proves the One Square Mile theory: every town and city has its own story to tell.
A visit to Yuzhmash, the rocket and ballistic missile manufacturer, was both slightly scary and fascinating.