The plan for the reconstruction of Ukraine, initiated by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and confirmed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Tajani in various conferences both in Italy and Kyiv, is entering its operational phase.

On Jan. 12, in Odesa, during a meeting with Mayor Trukhanov, Chiara Dezzi Bardeschi, the director of the UNESCO desk in Kyiv, announced a tranche of €500,000 offered by the Italian government for the restoration of the Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration, which was hit by a Russian missile in July 2023. This marks the first allocation to fund a program that envisions the reconstruction of many historical buildings in the Black Sea port city.

To better understand the guidelines of the Italian government plan, we interviewed architect Stefano Boeri, president of the Milan Triennale, which hosted the conference “Laboratory for the Reconstruction of Ukraine” on Oct. 31, 2023.

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What are the main steps of this Laboratory for the Reconstruction of Ukraine? What role will the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture, the Triennale and the MAXXI Foundation play?

The Italian Government has developed the idea that Italy could assume a true patronage role in the reconstruction of Odesa, an extraordinary city that encompasses cultures and religions from around the world (citizens from 133 nations and of all faiths). This proposal has already received a positive response from the authorities in Kyiv. The Italian government has, therefore, engaged Triennale Milano and the Fondazione MAXXI to gather the best expertise in the field of restoration and renovation of buildings with immense historical and architectural value, such as the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Odesa.

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This led to a first visit to Odesa on Sept. 6 and 7, in which I took part along with Alessandro Giuli, President of MAXXI; Davide La Cecilia, Special Envoy for the Reconstruction of Ukraine; Ambassador Pier Francesco Zazo; and Chiara Dezzi Bardeschi, Liaison Officer, UNESCO Desk Kyiv. We had the opportunity to meet with local authorities and conduct a survey of the damaged sites with local and UNESCO technicians. The reconstruction project involves commencing work on restoring the Cathedral and then progressing to over 50 buildings of significant architectural value that were damaged by Russian bombings.

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“We will give shape to our homes, so that they give shape to our lives.” – Winston Churchill

On Oct. 31, 2023 Triennale and MAXXI organized the first public meeting of the Laboratory on the Reconstruction of Ukraine at the Triennale, involving representatives from Italian and Ukrainian politics (such as Antonio Tajani, Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine; Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italian Minister of Culture; Rostyslav Karandieiev, Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, among the others), as well as designers, architecture studios, and institutions, some of which are already involved in the reconstruction of the country, especially UNESCO and UNECE.

The second public meeting of the Laboratory on the Reconstruction of Ukraine will be presented at MAXXI in May 2024 and will continue the discussion among all the parties involved in contributing to the reconstruction. Finally, this first cycle of activities of the Laboratory will conclude with a conference in Kyiv, where the groundwork for a more advanced phase of collaboration will be laid, and the effectiveness of the planning and cooperation hypotheses developed will be verified.

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During the conference in Milan you quoted a phrase from Churchill – “We will give shape to our homes, so that they can give shape to our lives” – underscoring the role that buildings play in their social context. How is this concept addressing the Italian effort to restore Ukrainian cities?

Thinking today, with the war ongoing, about how to rebuild Ukrainian cities is extremely significant. Winston Churchill, in the difficult weeks of the Nazi bombings of London, speaking in the House of Lords, was able to summarize in a few words the hopes and wishes of an entire people: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us… We will give shape to our homes, so that they give shape to our lives.” In those words, we can still today discover the courage and strength of a reconstruction that is both social and spatial, spiritual and environmental. A regenerative reconstruction so that Ukraine will be reborn after the war. Odesa, Kyiv, Lviv and the other cities, which will be reborn after the war, can not only be the same ones we knew before the Russian aggression, but even better cities in a better country, even more extraordinary and welcoming, open, cosmopolitan, very rich in their traditions and their architecture. It is thanks to this vision, to this project of reconstruction, of an idea of a city that embodies in its stones the values of openness to the world and freedom, that we started a precise action supporting the regeneration of the city of Odesa.

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Milan Conference (left to right): Alessandro Giuli (President of MAXXI), Davide La Cecilia (Ambassador), Elena Buscemi (President Milan City Council), Antonio Tajani (Foreign Minister), Gennaro Sangiuliano (Minister of Culture), Attilio Fontana (President of Lombardy Region), Carla Morogallo (Triennale General Director), Stefano Boeri (Triennale President). Photo: Ugo Poletti

In the communiqué of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reference is made both to the Italian Patronage of Odesa and to a European Hub for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Are these concepts connected or are they two separate paths?

The Italian Patronage of Odesa and the European Hub for the reconstruction of Ukraine are two closely related aspects. The Italian Government has developed the idea that Italy could assume a true patronage role in the reconstruction of Odesa, considering that historically, Italy has played a leading role in protecting and safeguarding cultural treasures throughout the world. Moreover, the city of Odesa was largely built by Italians in the late 1700s, not to mention the presence of a large influential Italian community in the city.

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In doing so, all the main actors of this initiative need to establish a bridge through international cooperation. This whole project demands a cultural diplomacy policy. Networking with other European and international institutions in support of the reconstruction of Ukrainian cities is a fundamental part of this hard work, connecting Italian expertise in the area of restoration and architecture with international actors involved in the whole process, such as UNESCO and UNECE, to have a wider and more effective impact.

When you talk about recovery of Ukraine, do you feel a certain coldness on the part of Italian operators, given the ongoing situation. Why is it so important to start working in Ukraine now, without waiting for the end of the war?

We have been asked several times how it could be possible, with the dramatic war going on, to talk about rebuilding cities, public spaces, historical monuments, architecture, and buildings affected or destroyed by the incessant bombings. Our response, the answer that the free democracies of the world and their political and cultural institutions have given, is very simple: designing the reconstruction of a city, the spaces of a community, is not just one of the ways to continue supporting the reasons and hopes of a country unjustly attacked; it is not just a way to imagine a new future for thousands and thousands of citizens today, forced into armed resistance against Russian aggression; it is not just an attempt to continue living a normal life under the threat of bombs.

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Thinking today, amid an ongoing war, about how to rebuild Ukrainian cities means much more. As I said before, we are putting forward the courage and strength of a reconstruction that is both social and spatial, spiritual and environmental; a regenerative reconstruction so that Odesa, Kyiv, Lviv, and other cities will rise again as even better cities than before, even more extraordinary and welcoming, open, cosmopolitan, rich in their traditions and architectures.

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