Mediocrity is often much more proactive, ambitious and aggressive than actual talent. Unable to create something of value, mediocrity seeks out positions of perceived superiority, such as governmental or penitentiary authority. This concept came to life within the Bolshevik embodiment of absolute utopian equality. Over the past 150 years, the phantom of Communism that haunted Europe claimed many millions of lives. Intellectuals, including talented Kyiv architects, were one of the groups most fervently pursued by the Bolsheviks.
Vladyslav Horodetsky (1863–1930) designed the St. Nicolas Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Karaite Kenesa (synagogue) in Kyiv, the National Museum of Art, the House with Chimeras and many others. The intelligent, well-educated artist was born to a noble Polish family. His grandfather had been persecuted for participation in an anti-Russian uprising in 1831. Likewise, his father was stripped of his property for his involvement in an anti-imperial uprising in 1863. The Bolshevik regime threatened Horodetsky with the red terror that murdered thousands of Kyiv citizens.
Having survived the Bolshevik terror, with no possessions and no ability to work as an architect, Horodetsky fled to Poland with his family in early summer 1920 when Polish troops passed through Kyiv. He then worked as an architect in several Polish cities. Subsequently, Henry Ulen & Co, a New-York based investment firm, invited Horodetsky to work as chief architect for Persian railway facilities. Yet the hardships of Kyiv resulted in a fatal heart attack at the age of 67.
As Bolsheviks seized power in Kyiv, Volodymyr Peshchansky (1873–1926) was also forced to leave. An architect, archeologist, art expert and military engineer, Peshchansky designed several buildings in the art nouveau and neo-empire styles. Together with Vasyl Krychevsky, he designed the Master Sergeant Aviation School whose construction began during World War I. Later, the building was supposed to house the Military Ministry of the newly created Ukrainian State. As the winds of change brought a soviet government to Kyiv, Peshchansky emigrated to Polish-occupied Lviv in 1922, where he worked at the National Museum. His gift to the museum was a unique collection of Ukrainian antiques including icons, carpets, paintings, embroideries, books and other items. Mr. Peshchansky died at age 53.
IN PURSUIT OF SABOTEURS
A civil engineer and architect, Professor Dmytro Diachenko (1887–1942) is known for developing the Ukrainian neo-baroque style of architecture. The academic buildings and apartment blocks of what is currently the National Agricultural University in Kyiv’s Holosiyevo district were constructed according to his designs in the late 1920s. Diachenko faced stern criticism as his Bolshevik-turned colleagues pointed to signs of bourgeois nationalism in his work. Soon the press was calling for “large construction projects to be approved by representatives of the working class,” not the bourgeois intelligentsia alone. In the 1930s, Prof. Diachenko designed the Commerce Academy (now home to the Ministry of Science and Education on Prospect Peremohy), stating, “if you don’t like classicism, here’s neo-baroque.” This did little to appease his detractors, however, and the talented Ukrainian architect continued to face repression.
On 6 January 1931, Vasyl Osmak (1870–1942), a civil engineer and professor at the Kyiv Construction Institute, was arrested. He had designed two beautiful libraries next to the Red Building of the Taras Shevchenko National University, several other public and residential buildings, and drafted plans for the Dynamo stadium and Dnipro riverbank. After nine days in custody, Prof. Osmak “pleaded guilty to involvement in a military organization that conspired to seize power and transfer it to a constituent assembly.” The 60-year old architect was sentenced to five years in a concentration camp. 14 months later, the case was reviewed and Prof. Osmak was released. At the same time, five undergraduate students from the architecture department were arrested. Crafty blackmailing and intimidation by the Secret Police (GPU), including simulated executions, coerced the students to design two clubs, apartment blocks, guard barracks, an internal prison and a cellar for executions at Lypky, now a high-end downtown district of Kyiv. Professor Osmak was forced to lead the GPU architect group.
In autumn 1937, Pavlo Alioshyn (1881–1961), a well-known architect, described his occupation as “architect of the Lenin Museum” in bold letters when filling out a party questionnaire. He hoped this would protect him, despite the fact that the impressive domed structure was originally built to house the Pedagogical Museum of Crown Prince Alexei Nikolayevich. Whether by pure luck or thanks to the Lenin Museum mention, Alioshyn avoided repression. Years later, at a meeting of government big-wigs, he clashed with Nikita Khrushchev, then First Secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee, asking “Who are you to tell me what to do?” As a result, he was expelled from the Presidium of the Union of Architects.
BETWEEN NAZIS AND COMMUNISTS
World War II was a terrible test for the entire nation. Moral and physical vagrancy, a lack of architectural work, cold and hunger during the Nazi occupation of Kyiv led to the death of architects Mykola Damilovsky, Ipolyt Mohylevsky, Vasyl Osmak, Valerian Rykov and Oleksandr Smyk. As the front line advanced westward toward the Dnipro, some Kyiv-based architects intuitively sensed that liberation from occupation would be followed by yet another surge of repression given their earlier experience under the Bolsheviks. In September 1943, Serhiy Hryhoriev, Vasyl Krychevsky and Mykola Shekhonin fled Kyiv with their families and wandered westward, never to return.
Serhiy Hryhoriev (1896–1975) is known for a series of pre-war residential buildings in Kyiv, including the grand house at 11 Bankova that used to house the headquarters of KOVO, the Kyiv Special Military District. The architect was lucky enough to outlive his high-ranking clients: Panas Liubchenko, Head of the People’s Committee Council, and Yona Yakir, KOVO Chief, repressed in the 1930s. Hryhoriev realized that the Bolshevik government would never forgive him for the two years he spent in Nazi occupied territory, and the talented Ukrainian architect soon ended up overseas. He never changed his profession and continued his work at US design firms. His creative career lasted another 30 years, giving him enough time to bring up his son Oleh, an architect as well, who later built the traditional Ukrainian five-domed baroque St. Catherine Church in Minnesota’s state capital. When his father died, Oleh Hryhoriev erected a tombstone made of polished granite adorned with Ukrainian ornaments and the Trident.
Vasyl Krychevsky (1872–1952), luminary of Ukrainian modern architecture, was also a painter, teacher, theater and film artist, and designed the Trident, Ukraine’s small national coat of arms, in 1918. Krychevsky left Kyiv after a soviet armored train demolished the building at 9 Pankivska where Professor Mykhailo Hrushevsky lived in February 1918. Not only had Krychevsky designed the building, he was also living there at the time. Saving only his most prized possessions, he fled the bombardment with his baby daughter in his arms. In the 1930s, Kyrychevsky was charged with building the Taras Shevchenko Museum in Kaniv, which he designed in the shape of a cross. As a result of this controversial design, the architect faced very real danger. In an effort to save Krychevsky, one party member noted that the museum resembled the party hammer. No one dared to deny this. Based on his earlier life experience under the soviet government, Krychevsky realized that his stay in Nazi occupied Kyiv could easily become a pretext for repression. He lived his last years in Venezuela. Fedir, the youngest of the Krychevsky brothers, was the only one to return to Kyiv after the war. Poor and forgotten, he lived in Irpin, a town in Kyiv Oblast, until his death in 1947.
Mykola Shekhonin (1883–1972), a civil engineer and architect, left a significant creative mark on Kyiv, including the Alexei Nikolayevich Military and Engineering College in the city’s Pechersk district, profitable neo-empire apartment buildings, the Yurkevych residential building at 8 Pankivska in the Ukrainian art nouveau style, and Kharchovyk Palace of Culture in the Constructivist style. Remembering the events of 1937, Shekhonin also decided to flee before the soviets returned. He ended up in Argentina, where he continued to work as an architect, designing his own house and participating in the construction of the Resurrection Cathedral in Buenos Aires.
The intellectual genocide committed by the Bolshevik government in all spheres of human activity is still evident in Kyiv’s architecture. Over the past two decades, hardly anything of artistic value has been built in the city. Today’s architecture is overwhelmed by vanity, the foolish arrogance of the nouveau-riches and the pursuit of profit.