The ghostly ruin of Pip (lit. Saint, or Priest) Ivan Observatory stands on top of Ukraine’s second largest mountain summit, St. John, or Chernohora (Black Mountain) as some call it. At first, its shadowy features may send shivers down your spine, but recently the local government and a group of entrepreneurs have begun to restore this abandoned gem.
In 1937, the Polish government decided to build an Observatory in the Second Polish Republic (which falls in today’s Western Ukraine),with the guidance from the State Meteorological Institute and Astronomical Observatory of the Warsaw University. The Observatory was built primarily for the Polish Air Force. Whether on purpose or not, the building has a striking resemblance to a fortress, its 43 rooms and 57 windows highly impressive for such a small Observatory.
The first floor accommodated the meteorologists and astronomers, while the soldiers were housed on the ground floor. What made this Observatory so unique is that it was equipped with a reflecting telescope made by Grubb Parsons of Newcastle upon Tyne, making the Pip Ivan Observatory one of the most modern and powerful of its kind in Eastern Europe at the time.
Due to the harsh climate and remoteness of the site, most of the building materials and equipment had to be carried by local workers. This gruelling work in unpredictable and harsh weather made the building process extremely difficult. However, to ease the working conditions of thestaff of the Observatory, a heated outdoor pool was built alongside a sturdy greenhouse, so that they could be self-sufficient as the unpredictable weather frequently made the surrounding mountain tracks impassable.
Unfortunately, with the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and the break out of World War Two, the Observatory was abandoned, and after 1944 it was stripped clean by the Soviet Authorities. Years of weathering, neglect and looting had taken its toll on the Observatory’s structure and major structural supports collapsed which subsequently turned this once progressive Observatory into an eerie ruin.
Fortunately, with the recent investment from the Ukrainian Tourism Department and funding from the European Union, the local government has begun to restore the legendary Observatory, preserving it from complete destruction.
Although there is still much work to be done to the Observatory, often called the “White Elephant” by locals due to its appearance when it snows, it is safe to visit and is open throughout the year. Local entrepreneurs have also contributed, improving the Observatory’s structure and enticing tourists by installing electricity in the building and opening a cosy and very friendly café.
The café serves without a doubt the best Banush, a traditional Hutsulcorn porridge served with local organic feta cheese. All the ingredients – corn, yogurt and feta cheese – are produced in the mountain dairy farm right next to the Observatory. Local Hutsul organic cheese can also be bought from the farmer and if you are camping next to the crystal-clear lake by his farm, then he may even provide you with his delicious but very strong home brewed vodka.
Hiking to the Observatory takes two days from the base camp village of Zeleno, where you can get all your provisions and some fantastic home baked bread for the journey. However, if the challenge of climbing Pip Ivan seems too difficult for you, then many tour excursions provide GAZ truck lifts or horseback tours to the mountain summit. Just make sure that you are wearing lots of layers and be prepared to be thrown around the truck whilst being hit in the face by branches!
After exploring the Observatory and filling yourself full of Banush and Carpathian tea, it is a mere 40-minute hike to the neighbouring summit of Hoverla, the tallest mountain in Ukraine. Its close proximity to the Observatory provides a perfect position to photograph it from above.
The investments that have been received are fundamental in the resurrection of the wonderful ghosts of the region’s past. Monuments such as this would otherwise be left to decay into nothingness, and surely be forgotten.