In what way are Sweden and Zmiivka village of the Kherson region alike? You wouldn’t believe it, but the language, religion, folks are the same. Descendants of colonists live in Zmiivka village. The local citizens know Old Swedish, sing psalms in German. That is how they keep their ancestors’ culture alive. Germans, Swedes, Ukrainians, and Boykos live in perfect harmony.
The history of the village
Swedish peasants from Dagö island (now called Hiiumaa) in the Baltic Sea were the first ones who settled in the village. In 1709, once the Swedish army had been defeated, the Russian Empire gained the island. Russian nobility imposed exorbitant taxes on the peasants. The community was dissatisfied with the state, as there was no serfdom among Swedes. Then, the peasants appealed to Catherine the Great to alleviate the hardship. The empress invited them to reclaim the lands of Tavria. Moreover, she promised to give every family residence and highland. The peasants agreed with the deal. In 1782, when they had reached the lands of Tavria, they found only wasteland and the bank of the Dnipro River.
The peasants built a new settlement from nothing. The Cossacks in the neighborhood helped them to grow the roots. In 1783, Catherine the Great relocated to the village 30 Swedish prisoners of war to cultivate the land. In 1787, Prince Grigory Potemkin ordered the construction of a church. It was a big day for local citizens.
In 1804, the german settlements Schlangendorf (Zmiivka), Mühlgausendorf (Mikhailovka) and Klosterdorf (Kostyrka) were founded in the same area. Shlangedorf (literally “the village of snakes”) was the largest one. In 1860, these villages were consolidated. Then, they were called Zmiivka. That was how Swedes and Germans started living together in southern Ukraine. The settlers managed the household, went to churches, and held celebrations until the early 20th century.
The First and the Second World Wars, the postwar Soviet period have changed the daily environment of the village.
There were about 800 citizens in the village by 1980. Nowadays, less than 200 representatives of the Swedish ethnic group live in Zmiivka village. But despite all the hardships, they still keep the culture of their ancestral.
Protestantism, Orthodox, and Greek Catholic Churches are the three main religious denominations in the village. So, Zmiivka attracts tourists with its churches.
- The German Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It was renovated in 1992. Nowadays, the church has about 60 parishioners. Swedes also visit the church, as there is no constant pastor in their Kirche (Protestant Church). The liturgical language is Russian, but psalms are in German and Swedish. There are Old Evangelical Hymns in the church.
- Saint Michael’s Church (Swedish Kirche). In Soviet times, there was a club here. Then, the church was a premise to store fertilizers. Local citizens renovated the Kirche in the 1990s. Lutheran and Orthodox worships are celebrated in the church. There was a time when Swedish royal couples came to pray here.
- Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It operated illegally for a long time and was officially registered only in 1994. When holy tides come, there is not enough place in the chapel. That’s why local citizens plan to build a new church.
There are a lot of historic sites in the village, such as The Memorial to the Swedes and Germans, which were repressed in 1937-1938, the Monument of the Colonizers’ Settlement Anniversary.
One more significant site in the village is the Memorial to Freedom Fighters of Ukraine. It looks like a sundial. There are no numbers on the clock-face, memorable dates of the country are instead of them.
Things to do
Zmiivka stands out from other Ukrainian villages. You can feel European culture and traditions here. You need a couple of times to walk over the village and explore memorable places. The Boyko’s Vatra festival and vertep (a puppet theater in Ukrainian culture) are held in the village annually. You can listen to traditional music here.
Also, you can visit public worship in Kirche to hear the sacred songs in German and Swedish. Dive into local citizens’ stories about ancestors, take a walk along the river, taste Swedish borscht and pelmeni. Zmiivka never leaves tourists indifferent.
Local guide Nikolay Kuravchak (tel.: 0953092106) will acquaint you with the history of the village, the work of local folk groups and will offer you to taste national dishes of Ukrainian, German and Swedish cuisine.
Where is Zmiivka located
Zmiivka is located in the Beryslav district of the Kherson region. You can reach the village by public transport in Kherson, or on your own. There are only 8 miles from Beryslav to Zmiivka, and 64 miles from Kherson. The road is in good condition. It had been paved before the King of Sweden visited the village in 2008.
There are no hostels or hotels in Zmiivka. The list of where to book the nearest accommodations is below: