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1 August, 2012

Ukraine – UNESCO: “I'm afraid I don’t understand you”

A careful analysis of correspondence between Ukrainian government officials and their UNESCO counterparts (especially in cases concerning intrusion into historical architectural landscapes as well as construction projects in buffer zones around UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and the Sophia cathedral), brings to mind the phrase: “I'm afraid I don't understand you”.

How else can one interpret Ukraine’s stand? On the one hand, the city allows developers with big names or good connections to disguise themselves as investors and effectively destroy Kyiv landscapes, jeopardizing the Lavra and St. Sophia's. On the other hand, officials appeal to UNESCO proposing the inclusion of new sites which are now part of the National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kyiv,” in the list of World Heritage sites. European mass media has reported that the UNESCO Committee had been planning to consider adding 33 new sites to their list — including St. Andrew’s and St. Cyril’s Churches in Kyiv — at its meeting in St. Petersburg on 22 June this year. However, after the meeting 26 new sites were added to the list, and none of them were Ukrainian.

Meanwhile, the UNESCO press service published yet another appeal to the incumbent Ukrainian government, demanding a ban on development projects in buffer zones around St. Sophia and Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, let alone those in their immediate vicinity. However, there has been hardly any progress: construction is still going on. In my opinion, the problem is not only in the triumph of money over everything including common sense, though finances have clearly been the most important factor when it comes to construction in downtown Kyiv. Sources close to historical sites say that land property here has always been a gold mine for owners, and yet there is another dimension to this problem, a purely psychological one.

Look at the biggest developers: they are all strangers, none are from Kyiv. They are people who came to the capital to do business or to pursue a career in politics. In other words, Kyiv is nothing but a hunting ground for them, a territory for new business. And in business Ukrainian style everything is allowed, as long as it secures super-profits. Such a poor excuse for an investor might even have heard of UNESCO – or even seen its headquarters on a visit to Paris – but that is all there is to it. UNESCO? What is it to them, given that they believe themselves to stand above even Ukraine’s laws? Besides, these dealers tend to arrive in Kyiv from the east of Ukraine, where natural landscapes are mostly flat steppes, while urban landscapes are composed largely of dumps and waste dominating industrial zones and coal mines. This defines their particular everyday practices and shapes their attitude towards historical culture. Far be it from me to sound offensive, the more so that I have friends in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but most of them on their first visit to Kyiv are genuinely surprised: “Why on earth is everything here so patriarchal and old-fashioned? What are these old mansions good for? This would make a perfect site for a first-rate house, like in Hong Kong!”

And last but not least: the vast majority of today’s Ukrainian oligarchs and their men come from the USSR.  And that is he source of their ways of making money, as well as their habits, cultural preferences, and everyday lingo. Ukraine as a state, with its language, traditions, culture, and historical heritage is for them something alien and incomprehensible. And what you do not understand, love, or accept, you try to destroy. Thus the destruction of the monuments of Ukrainian history and culture and the recent language and educational policy, just as a number of less conspicuous steps, perfectly fit in the scheme for the elimination of Ukraine: a sort of Operation Elimination, in which there is no room for the public, the international community, or UNESCO. Surprisingly, the last worries more about Ukraine’s problems than Ukrainians themselves do.

Here is one graphic example: the Supervisory Board of the National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kyiv” announced that most of its members proposed banning public liturgies at St. Andrew’s Church, which the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church has been holding there since 2009. Moreover, the president of the Board, academician Petro Tolochko, argued that smoke from candles is destroying the church's unique icons and murals. Perhaps the Supervisory Board has also got a smart solution for avoiding landslides under St. Andrew’s?


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