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13 January, 2011  ▪  Roman Malko

The Desiatynna Snatch

Who exactly made the decision to spoil this unique historic site, where once stood the first Christian stone church in Ukraine?
In recent months, the media began to report that Kyiv Municipal Architect Serhiy Tselovalnyk would be selecting a construction plan for the new Desiatynna Church being developed by three government agencies. Debate around the foundations of this thousand-year old church has raged for years, but the resolution has come swiftly, suddenly—and largely secretly.
 
At one point, Reverend Gideon of the illegally built chapel on Kyivska Hora bragged that the state was allocating money to put concrete pylons into the ancient remains, claiming that the decision had been made “upstairs.” Then archeologists and bloggers raised a stink about a possible reconstruction. Then Izvestia, a paper, writes that the Presidential Decree has already ok’d the revival of Desiatynna and a tender is in the works. But no Decree appeared on the official site and even the President’s all-knowing Spokesperson Hanna Herman could say nothing meaningful about the matter. Nor could the Ministry of Culture, the agency responsible for the Desiatynna site.
 
Officially, Cabinet documents stated that the site was to be turned into a museum. But Izvestia’s journalist claimed to have heard Deputy Culture Minister Tymofei Kokhan state that at the end of 2011, work would begin on the foundations to rebuild the Desiatynna, supposedly based on blueprints of the 19th century church that stood there before the soviets destroyed it in 1928 [see Digest #11, November 2010]. But the Ministry assured Ukrainian Week that the journalist had “misunderstood” Mr. Kokhan, that he had, in fact, said nothing.
 
Next, VR Deputy Mykola To­­menko sent an official inquiry to the Premier’s Office and the Office of the Kyiv Municipal Administrator requesting clarification of the rumors that a new building would be erected on the sacred foundations. A group of deputies even got together and went to the site to understand what was going on and what to do next: was someone rebuilding, conserving, setting up a museum, or driving piles?
 
Ukrainian Week sent a request to the Kyiv City State Administration for a comment from Mr. Tselovalnyk, head of the Main Department for Municipal Construction, Architecture and Urban Environmental Design. An official answer came back on Dec. 27, 2010:
 
“The idea of reconstructing Desiatynna came up 10 years ago…but was never implemented since we don’t know what Desiatynna looked like originally and which version we should use to restore it: the wooden church burned in the 18th century, the stone one destroyed by Tartars, or the one from the 1930s [sic]…
 
“As of today, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has stepped forward with an initiative to recreate the Desiatynna Church. According to Church canon, churches must be built on sacred places and so the site for this new church is the site where the Desiatynna Church once stood.
 
“The press talks about a Presidential Decree to reconstruct the church. In fact, the Cabinet signed a Resolution to turn the Desiatynna foundation and remains into a museum. A working group has been set up to work on all this. We’re now looking for a creative solution.
 
“The working group is drafting a program for a flash idea contest. The proposal is to set up a platform under which archeologists will continue to excavate and set up a museum, while a church will be built on top of this. However, this will be a new church, not a reconstruction of Desiatynna, with its entrance from Andriyivskiy Uzviz. The museum will display information on the church’s history, panoramas, the remains of the foundation and so on.”
 
This certainly explains the confidence of priests that “the decision was made upstairs,” where the UAH 13,400,000 allocated by the Cabinet Sept. 8, 2010 for “archeological research and museification” went to, and whose interests Government of Ukraine is serving.
The question remains, who exactly made the decision to spoil this unique historic site, where once stood the first Christian stone church in Ukraine, a symbol of the era of princes and power, of Volodymyr the Great—who set aside a tithe or one tenth of his wealth for its building, hence the name “Desiatynna”? History tells us that this church was the last bastion against the hordes from the east. Only then they were Mongol Tatars. 

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