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13 October, 2011  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

Will Kyiv's Artists Lane Disappear?

Andriyivsky Uzviz under threat from the construction mafia

On 20 September, Kyiv authorities launched a wide scale reconstruction effort on Andriyivsky Uzviz, one of Kyiv’s most beloved and notable trademarks. The plan is to complete the work by Kyiv City Day on 27 May 2012, shortly before Euro 2012 opens. Neither the Historical Site Protection Department at the Kyiv City Administration, nor the responsible committee at the Kyiv Council has ever approved the reconstruction project. It appears as if the Kyiv authorities are using lofty goals to cover up their intention to touch up the street before selling it to private enterprises later.

COLLAPSING ART

Unlike the St. Sophia Cathedral or the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, Andriyivsky Uzviz does not qualify as a single historical and cultural ensemble. Initially, the street fell under the municipal ownership of the Podil District in the capital. Earlier, most workshops, museums and galleries had rental contracts with the Podil District Council. The Council no longer exists after the administrative reform of 2010, but is still blamed for a splurge of real estate sales even though the property had been owned by the community.

Andriyivsky Uzviz first ran into trouble in 2006 when Leonid Chernovetsky’s team came to power in Kyiv. The decision to cancel the privileged status of art spots was the first red flag. This status allowed workshops and galleries that could no longer afford to rent the premises to hand them over to another art entity without changing the purpose of the premise. Under Mr. Chernovetsky, all applicants willing to rent community-owned premises had to compete under general terms with other business entities.

On 1 March 2007, the Podil District Council passed a Resolution on the List of Podil District Community-Owned Property Subject to Privatization. It covered virtually the entire street. Developers rushed to grab the opportunity. Painters were the first ones to feel the pressure.

Almost all community-owned buildings on Andriyivsky Uzviz can now be sold through auctions. The Ukrainian Week has filed an information request to Podil District State Administration to learn more. The administration replied that only 20 out of 38 numbered buildings are currently community owned, including 10 which have no rental agreements; this means nothing bars the way for sales in the near future.

THE ANATOMY OF A TAKEOVER

Rumor has it that companies linked to Rinat Akhmetov; Petro Yushchenko, the brother of ex-president Viktor Yushchenko; and Mykhailo Tabachnyk, the brother of Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, own buildings on Andriyivsky Uzviz.  These rumors remain unconfirmed, but there are some infamous Kyiv developers who are indeed very excited about the street.

Buildings No18A and 18B host the workshops of the National Union of Painters of Ukraine. In 2002, the Union signed new rental contracts with the Podil District Administration effective “until street reconstruction,” i.e. with no specific date of expiration. In 2007, the painters learned that the rental contract had been terminated retroactively and the building sold to a company called Aviantbud Ltd. for UAH 2mn. The case has been in court ever since.

Aviantbud’s office is in an apartment where no-one answers the phone, but despite this, the company or its ultimate owners managed to file a request to the Kyiv Council to buy 10 hectares of land that includes both 18A and 18B buildings, as well as No’s 17, 21, 22 and a large patch of the slopes behind them. The painters claim that the buildings are still there only because the company owners have no documents in hand allowing them to demolish the houses. The project filed by Aviantbud says the company plans to build a hotel and residential complex with underground parking at Andriyivsky Uzviz. Even someone with no background in architecture can see that two-storey buildings build in the early1900s cannot be transformed into such a complex without being demolished.

The company's director is listed as Vadym Odynets; he is a co-founder of several companies together with Gary Korohodsky, a well-known Kyiv developer. Rosalia Bondarska, one of Aviantbud's owners, is the civil spouse of Oleksandr Loyfenfeld, an influential Kyiv-based businessman and a partner of Vadym Rabynovych, the owner of the Kyiv football club Arsenal.

The future fate of the buildings at 22 and 22B Andriyivsky Uzviz is also obscure. Currently, they host Karas and SoviART, two popular art galleries. “Our building has been community owned and we had a legitimate rent contract we fully complied with,” says Yevhen Karas, the curator of Karas Gallery and Board Member of the Association of Modern Artists of Ukraine. “But we found some competitors in 2006 who wanted to take over our premises.”

According to Mr. Karas, the National Asset Management Company Ltd. showed him its rental contract with Podil District Administration with official stamps to confirm the ownership of the premises. Yet, the contract was not registered with the mandatory list of rented community-owned premises. The company signed a contract to sell the building post factum with an affiliated company, which meant that they were going to sell the house but provide the documents for doing so later.

“And it gets better,” Mr. Karas continues.  “A shell company filed an appeal to court against the alleged owner and started the proceedings, i.e. raiders were in a trial against themselves. Eventually, the company that filed the appeal failed to provide the documents while the winner applied to the Technical Inventory Bureau for a new ownership certificate. They then made three attempts to sell the premises to their new shell companies and ‘whitewash’ the scam. The current owner of the premises is Bredal Holdings Limited, which is undoubtedly another offshore company.”

One of the owners of the National Asset Management Company Ltd. that de jure stands behind the takeover attempts at buildings No22A and 22B is an offshore Cyprus-based entity called Virton Logistics Limited. It is linked to Ivan Radnyk who has been spotted in a slew of scandals involving property re-distribution. Mr. Radnyk has a PhD in Law and is President of the All-Ukrainian Union of the Handicapped of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Law Firm. The latter attempted a forced takeover of the Karas gallery at 22A, Andriyivsky Uzviz, including the expropriation of a 300-piece collection of pictures in the gallery. People say the group has also set its eyes on the neighboring territory around No’s 14 and 16 were they plan to build a hotel.

AFTER EURO 2012

All conflicts and trials have now abated as everyone waits for the end of the reconstruction and the final days of Euro 2012 when Ukraine and its capital will steal the global spotlight.

Oleksandr Bryhynets, Chair of the Kyiv Council Committee for Culture and Tourism, says the reconstruction that — in addition to being carried out under a project never approved by the authorities in charge of protecting cultural and historical sites — the effort is clearly commercially oriented. The reconstruction is mostly about repairing the road, utility and communication networks. Mr. Bryhynets said these repairs are needed to allow the developers build hotels, shopping malls and entertainment centers on Andriyivsky Uzviz, as its current condition makes such construction impossible. The mayor has promised to support the artists but never issued any documents backing up his words. Moreover, the authorities are refusing to give anyone access to either a clear text of the reconstruction project, or any development projects. Unofficial sources claim that the current plan is to build six hotels and three shopping and entertainment centers on the street.

Viktor Khamatov, Director at SoviART gallery located at 22A, Andriyivsky Uzviz, says he expects trucks and guards to arrive the day after the football championship and immediately surround all inconvenient buildings with fences. He says he is sure the authorities will make sure the spots where the buildings now stand are cleared by the next morning so developers can begin building.

Many art workshops and galleries seem to have effective rent contracts with Podil District Administration that contain a short yet crucial provision in the Rent Term section: all of them are valid “until the beginning of reconstruction.” Given the fact that reconstruction has already begun, a new splurge of raider takeovers is quite likely to start. For instance, the workshops in the building No. 30 had their rental contracts prolonged only until 31 December 2011. Nobody knows what will happen after that. “We’re really afraid,” an artist works in a room at 18A, Andriyivsky Uzviz said on condition of anonymity. “Now, they can easily do whatever they like. They will bring the machines here at night pretending they are the municipal utility service and that’s it, you can’t prove anything then. Based on the experience of our colleagues who have been in court for similar reasons, we already know that the initial district court resolution costs USD 30,000, rising to USD 50,000 at the court of appeals and USD 100,000 at the Supreme Court. Clearly, we have no such money. So, we’ll unite because we have no chance to win if we act separately.” 


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