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You're reading: Hostynny Dvir: A microcosm of Ukraine

The white neo-classical building with arches and a large courtyard was built as a trade complex, and would have been known as the Merchant’s Courtyard then. A prime location in the heart of the city’s Podil district, it stands opposite from the National University of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy and next to philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda’s statue. Those of us who lived in Kyiv in the early 1990s remember it as the place where one of the first upscale private restaurants opened. Later, working as a professor at the university, I walked past it on my way home to the subway, and noticed that many small private shops had appeared there.

Over the years, like so many of Kyiv’s architectural monuments, the building began to deteriorate. Officially under the authority of the state, maintenance was chronically underfunded. On Aug. 15, 2011, the government decided to remove the building from the list of protected buildings. A few months later, on the anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster, Kyiv’s city council voted on a motion to grant a development company the right to draw up plans for reconstruction. The next day, before permission was formalized, a developer moved drilling equipment onto the site. This is a common pattern. The state allows architectural gems to fall into disrepair, then allows developers to move in, claim prime locations semi-legally, and proceed to alter the character of the buildings, or worse, destroy them altogether.

But Kyivans are not allowing these heavy-handed tactics to go unheeded. They have what human rights activist Yevhen Zakharov has called the ‘virus of insubordination.’ Horrified by the semi-lawful destruction of the city’s historical face (character) a group sprang up led by Ihor Lutsenko called Zberezhy Staryi Kyiv (Let’s Protect Ancient Kyiv) When developers started moving in on Hostynny Dvir the group and others responded by starting an activist performance. In the spirit of the “Occupy” movement, they created a Hostynna Respublika (Friendly Republic) in the courtyard, and have been blocking the development.

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