For Christmas, many of Kyiv’s artists got threats of eviction from the studios some of them had used for decades, as the state curtails subsidies to a once-favored group.
Dozens of artists are losing their opportunity to create on Andriyivsky Uzviv, the place that everyone loves precisely for its arts, crafts and galleries.
Studios are also under threat, either rented or owned by the National Artists Union, which can hardly afford utility rent increases adopted for businesses and non-profit organizations like theirs.
“I feel homeless all the time, living in a country where the work of artists is not appreciated by the state,” complains Vira Barenova-Kuleba, 73, an artist who spent her entire career painting. She may be losing her studio on Gorky Street because she can no longer afford her heating bills.
Others who have been working on Andriyivsky Uzviv, however, are losing work places to the construction of a hotel and restaurant complex.
Many of those affected complain that they are treated unfairly, with little or no chances to appeal the decisions that render them homeless or severely impact their ability to make a living through producing art.
Those 18 artists who got a sticker on their door on Dec. 30, warning them to leave the premises by Jan. 4, say they had no chance to appeal their eviction.
The people who brought the stickers said they were firefighters, that the building was in danger of catching a fire, and that they represented the new owner of the building, a company called Aviantbud.
For the artists on Andriyivsky, the company’s name came to be synonymous with threat since 2007, when they received a letter that the building had been sold. Before that, since 1982, it was rented by the National Artists Union from the Podil district administration.
“When we first came here all the buildings on the street were half-ruined, all the windows broken and the only people living here were homeless from the neighboring hills,” says Vadym Korzhenko, an artist who has worked in the building since 1982.
Artist Vadym Korzhenko in his studio. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)
He said young artists were enthusiastic about their new homes and started organizing exhibitions and art fairs in the street.
Over time, the Artists’ Union improved the building the best it could, connected it to heating and running water, and paid rent to the district government in the meantime.
“We couldn’t afford a euro-remont [high-class renovation] as in modern business centers,” says Petro Zykunov, deputy head of the union. “However, we have taken care of it.”
Despite the fact that by law, existing tenants receive the first right of privatization, “we weren’t asked to participate in the tender or even warned,” says another artist Oleksandr Dobrodiy, who has been working in the building for 12 years.
The artists filed lawsuits to both the Podilsky administrative court and Kyiv Podilskiy commercial court five years ago, challenging the sale by the district administration, but no ruling has been produced yet.
Representatives of the Podil administration claim that the artists’ lease ran out in 2004. “According to the Podil city state administration’s ruling the buildings at 18 Andriyivsky Uzviz were rented out to the private company Aviantbud, as the reconstruction of the building had been launched and the company was the one to sponsor it, in 2004,” the Podil administration explained to the Kyiv Post in writing. It also explained that later, in 2007, the company used its legitimate right to buy out the building.
“But you can just come and see it with your own eyes. There is no reconstruction started here,” says Dobrogiy. Moreover, artists claim they have never seen any representatives of the company, which has no website. Its phones listed in various directories do not respond.
Andriy Sodol, the lawyer who represents the Artists Union in their fight for studios on Andriyivsky Uzviv, is skeptical about the chances of winning, despite believing that the law is on the artists’ side. So, he thinks the artists may be evicted any day.
The artists themselves, meanwhile, roam their studios, wondering what they would do with all the stuff that accumulated over the years, including their own paintings on the walls, standing in the corners and waiting to be finished on easels. “The union doesn’t have money to get us another place to work,” Korzhenko says.
Another lot of artists who have studios on top floors of buildings in the city center might actually choose to leave themselves, driven away by the fact that they can no longer afford to pay for the heating.
Some of those studios have been in use by artists since 1970s, but this is the first winter that heating prices have been hiked so much that artists have to pay up to Hr 3,000 per studio – an equivalent of rent for a one-room apartment in Kyiv. Last year, the figure was around Hr 700.
The artists themselves, meanwhile, roam their studios, wondering what they would do with all the stuff that accumulated over the years. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)
The Cabinet of Ministers issued a resolution in December that the Artists Union, which is a non-profit organization, has to pay corporate rates for gas, which is more than four times the price regular citizens pay. Previously, the Artists Union was allowed to pay the low rates for gas, courtesy of a city council resolution from December 2010.
Many artists believe that the hike is “a way to drive us [the artists] out of our workshops,” says Natalia Lytovchenko, the Artists Union’s board member.
The union owns 573 workrooms in Kyiv.
Most of them are small, about 50 square meters in area, but are centrally located. Artists use them as co-owners and don’t pay any rent, but are responsible for utility bills.
“My pension together with all possible bonuses makes Hr 1,600. I have to pay Hr 1,500 for utility bills and what’s next – to live on bread and water?” says Mykola Churilov, 76, author of some of the most famous Ukrainian cartoons on TV, “Kryvenka Kachechka,” “Ivasyk Telesyk” and many others.
To keep their studios, some of the artists have rented out their homes and live in the workshops, choosing to breath paint and varnish vapors over losing their place of work.
Oleksandr Bryginets, head of the cultural and tourism commission of Kyiv State City administration, says the artists should fight new heating rates in courts and in the streets, like the Chornobyl cleanup workers did in autumn, faced with a threat of losing their benefits.
Non-payment is a bad option that will make Kyivenergo claim the debts in court, which might force the union to sell its property. And then, the artists will lose their studios for sure.
Kyiv Post staff writer Daryna Shevchenko can be reached at Shevchenko@kyivpost.com and Anastasia Forina at firstname.lastname@example.org.