Save the saucer: Activists rescue stigmatized Soviet architecture in Ukraine


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EXCERPT: . . . Around the world, Soviet architecture is experiencing an aesthetic boom. Kyiv’s Soviet buildings have become prime settings for Western music videos, ads and films like the hit “Chernobyl” miniseries. They have been featured in photo books on architecture and design in the West.

But Ukraine is hardly as excited about these buildings. As the country moves forward from its communist past, the architecture of the era bears a double burden: ordinary decay and stigma against anything Soviet. Still, a few people do care about protecting this cultural heritage. The Save Kyiv Modernism initiative has united architects, historians and architecture lovers to fight for the protection and renovation of Soviet-era buildings in Ukraine, starting with Kyiv.

Most of its members weren’t yet born or were just children in the final years of the Soviet Union, so they don’t associate this architecture with political repressions or bread lines. For them, it’s just form and function. “And this form is expressive, of course, it has curves and everything!” architect and activist Alex Bykov, 33, told the Kyiv Post. “It’s like shouting ‘Look at me!’”

Unlike in the Soviet Union, today many of these buildings are private property. They belong to owners who often took possession of them through corrupt privatization schemes. Many owners care little for their cultural or historical value. Even when the state is the owner, bureaucracy often stands in the way of preservation efforts.

To raise awareness, Save Kyiv Modernism appeals to the owners and authorities, publishes articles, organizes photo exhibitions and designs renovation plans. This creates public pressure that has helped preserve some buildings. Without the activists’ efforts, hardly anyone would protect these structures. Few of them have official status as architectural monuments that would ensure institutional protection.

Moreover, since 2014, Ukraine has removed thousands of Soviet symbols and monuments as part of a “de-communization” process across the country. Often gray and monolithic, Soviet buildings hardly call to mind the European future to which the country aspires. But Save Kyiv Modernism is convinced they have cultural value.

[...] The showcase of the Save Kyiv Modernism initiative is the so-called “Flying Saucer” or “The UFO,” located at 180 Antonovycha St. Arguably the most recognizable modernist building in Ukraine, the Saucer risks being swallowed by a mall under construction behind it. Save Kyiv Modernism has done a lot to protect the Saucer ... But nothing has changed since the initiative started in November 2017 with a lecture by the Saucer’s creator, Florian Yuriev, who is now 90. There, Yuriev and the activists first spoke about the danger of the Saucer being reconstructed as the entrance to the new mall looming behind it. Bykov says this would destroy the building as a Soviet modernist architectural monument. “What’s being built behind Tarilka destroys its city-planning composition,” Bykov says. “Changing its function from a community center to a mall reception hall is destruction too.”

The Flying Saucer looks just like it sounds – as if it’s floating above the two-story building that houses the State Scientific-Technical Library. Another part of this architectural group is the sixteen-story building to the left that towers over the saucer and defines the space over it. Commissioned in the 1960s, these buildings were designed to reflect the ideas of cosmic travel after the first human spaceflight in history by a Soviet astronaut. They also had to house the archive of the KGB, the USSR’s main security agency. [...] The hall inside the Saucer was used as a venue for lectures, concerts and movie screenings.

“We will fight for our concept of the Saucer – a communal object with ideological and artistic value,” Yuriev said... (MORE - details)

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