Tensions rise between preservationists, developers
Dozens of beautiful but decrepit historical buildings are scattered around Kyiv’s city center. Protected by the law from demolition, they slowly disintegrate from age and neglect. City planners and preservationists disagree on how to fix the problem.
‘Even homeless don’t live here’
Strolling around Kyiv’s iconic Yaroslaviv Val Street, an unaware walker would never guess that an old yellow building, No. 15B, was the home a centurry ago of the famous Ukrainian-american aircraft designer Ihor Sikorsky.
Built in 1903, the three-story house stands empty and in terrible condition with bricked-up windows and crumbling walls. The floors and staircases inside collapsed long time ago, so even homeless people consider it unsuitable for living.
Last year, a Kyiv court returned Sikorsky’s house to state ownership after 16 years on lease. There have been reports that it will be renovated and turned into an aviation museum, but there are no concrete plans.
Similarly, an early 19th century trade complex, Hostynnyi Dvir in Podil neighborhood was saved from
being refurbished into a shopping center, although the word “saved” might be incorrect here.
It took a court several years to transfer property rights, seized from a negligent leaseholder, to the government. By that time, the 9,000-square-meter premises in the heart of Kyiv had reached a state of utter disrepair and had been damaged by fire.
Fires aren’t rare in historic buildings. Last winter blazes broke out in three 19th century houses with rental apartments and shops — known as "revenue houses." Preservationists suspected the buildings might have been intentionally set on fire.
A revenue house at 19/33 Shchekavytska St. in the historic neighborhood of Podil became so dilapidated that its brickwork would crumble and fall off on the road. Another one, at 12–14 Bohdana Khmelnytskoho St. in the heart of Kyiv, wasn’t better: In 2016, its top floor collapsed, killing two people.
Oleksandr Nikoryak, head of the Kyiv administration’s department for historic preservation, says his office has registered over 50 historic buildings in critical condition.
They were privatized years ago with the hope that they would be rebuilt into business centers or high-rise residences, he says. But the law prohibits their demolition or remodeling.
In the meantime, property owners and developers see the biggest value of Kyiv’s historic building stock not in its history but central location.
“I believe buyers hoped to have the historic status removed and tear the old houses down in order to build something more suitable for their commercial goals,” Nikoryak told the Kyiv Post.
In the past, a number of historic buildings in Kyiv were destroyed for the sake of new construction. A 24-story apartment block at 51 Melnykova St. in the western part of the city was built where a 100-year-old historic mansion used to stand until 2011.
The renovation and maintenance of historic buildings are costly, and many owners prefer to allow them to collapse and start clean with a vacant space for a new construction. Fires help speed this process along.
Carrots and sticks So far Ukrainian officials have been unable to resolve the fundamental conflict of business interests and heritage conservation.
Nikoryak says his administrative powers are quite limited. His department can fine negligent owners for not maintaining their historic property: the current rate is Hr 1,700 ($65) for individuals and Hr 170,000 ($6,500) for legal entities.
They can take negligent owners to court. But if the city manages to win cases that dragged out for years, historic buildings will be returned to the state, not to communal ownership. Often, it is hard to identify the real owners
The former mansion of Ukrainian-american aircraft designer Ihor Sikorsky in Kyiv was built over a century ago and now stands vacant and decaying, despite its status as an historic monument. (UNIAN)
Urban preservationist Olga Rutkovskaya shows dilapidated historical buildings in the Imperial Russian architectural style on Kyiv's Andriyivsky Uzviz Street on March 23. (Volodymyr Petrov)