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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Kyiv Sophia Preserve may lose UNESCO protection

7 July, 2009 - 00:00

Most countries of the world do not even dare build skyscrapers or entertainment complexes that do not blend with the historical panorama of the city, all the more so near the monuments included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Ukraine, specifically its capital, uses other approaches.

The UNESCO experts who have recently visited Kyiv and studied the condition of the Kyiv monuments, which are placed on the World Heritage List, were mostly troubled by the construction works in the buffer zone surrounding the Kyiv Sophia and Kyiv Cave Monastery preserves, as well as the dangerous conditions of the Saint Andrew Church and some monastery caves. For this reason the monuments may be withdrawn from the UNESCO list, which would be a painful blow to Ukraine’s image. Nelia KUKOVALSKA, director general of the Kyiv Sophia National Preserve, told The Day whether Ukrainian scholars can influence the opinion of their UNESCO colleagues and how this can be done.

Why were the UNESCO experts so worried during their visit to the Ukrainian capital?

“The UNESCO experts were expected to visit Ukraine in 2005, but the visit was postponed for the reasons unknown to us. The official report will be published only after the end of the 33th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which is being held in the city of Seville (Spain). We were surprised by the fact that neither the experts from Ukraine’s Ministries of Regional Construction nor members of administrations of our preserve and the National Kyiv Cave Historical Cultural Preserve were included in the official delegation. Instead its members are people who are experts in other problems of monument protection.

“It is too early to comment on the conclusions of the UNESCO experts, but their concern was very serious. There were no critical remarks concerning the Sophia Preserve and its architectural ensemble. On the contrary, they noted the high level of the experts who are taking care of the preserve and highly assessed our studies.

“The matter of concern was the buffer zones of Sophia because of the ongoing transformations that contradict the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was ratified by Ukraine in 1988. As for our protected zones, they include unlawful construction and reconstruction works, which are harmful to the visual perception of the monument as an architectural dominant.

“All these new buildings appear according to the law, because the inspection coming from the prosecutor’s office or the state architectural building inspectorate found all the signatures on the builders’ documentation legal. Despite numerous attempts of the preserve’s administration and the ministry to obtain true information from the city council concerning the planned construction, we still have no reply.

“I cannot say that it is forbidden to build anything in the preserve zone, because a city is a living organism with its own laws of development, but the transformations should take place according to the written rules of construction in such zones. For example, the buildings in the closest vicinity of the Kyiv Sophia Preserve cannot be higher than 18–21 meters, and they should have a corresponding fa ade.

“By ratifying the UNESCO Convention, Ukraine made a commitment to protect the monuments and their buffer zones. The most recent wording of the Convention’s instruction says that all the intentions concerning the construction and transformation of buffer zones should be agreed with UNESCO on the stage of the pre-design proposals. Unfortunately, nothing of this kind is being done in Ukraine.”

How is the Kyiv Sophia Preserve affected by the construction works in its buffer zone?

“The Kyiv Sophia Preserve is nearly 1,000 old, and it did not have troubles until the mid-20th century. The intensive urbanization of the area started in the late 20th and early 21st century. This has caused changes in the area’s geophysics, i.e., the soil pressure and physical characteristics. The level of subsoil waters has changed and the so-called ‘technological water’ has appeared. According to our studies, they are migrating across the preserve’s area three to four meters under the surface. This is precisely where the foundation and because of this it starts to give way.

“Cracks have appeared in several buildings. One more negative factor is the vibration caused by the traffic, which has recently increased. Another problem is the ageing of the material. For example, in the 11th-century the bricks the buildings are made of were made on the territory of the cathedral using the technologies that have not survived to our day. According to the restoration rules, we should use the same materials as in old times. Studying the belfry’s foundation we noticed that the bricks in its upper layer look like powder. Therefore, in five or six years we will have to start reinforcing the bricks in the foundation.

“The restoration of the Saint Sophia Cathedral’s fa ade will begin soon. This is scheduled work that we tend to do periodically. Again, we do the restoration works, using the materials that are analogous to the 11th-century materials — in this case, slaked lime with filler.”

Bids for priority reinforcement works on the hill where the Saint Andrew Church is standing have recently been invited. Is there any improvement in this direction?

“Last week a session of the scientific-technical council of the Ministry of Regional Building took place and considered this issue. Ten million hryvnias have been allocated from the reserve fund of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine to carry out urgent works, 3.2 million have already been transferred to the accounts of the preserve, and 10 more million hryvnias should come from the Euro-2012 preparations fund.

“At the same time, we should carry out works to reinforce the church, which is in a dangerous condition. The Scientific-Research Institute for Building Constructions has studied the building of the church and concluded that some constructions and its stylobate cannot be used safely anymore. In the past month and a half, cracks have intensively spread there, which can be seen in the interior: the marble floor and windowpanes have started to crack. So after receiving the conclusions of the institute and on the basis of visual observation, I sent a letter to the minister saying that it is dangerous for people to remain in the church, but it still remains unnoticed.

“According to the 2007 prices, 27 million hryvnias were needed for restoration and reinforcement of the church. In a month we will receive a comprehensive design with the cost estimate needed to accomplish these works.

“Last year the works on the Saint Andrew Church were not financed to the full extent: we received only 21 percent of the expected 3.4 million hryvnias. This year we plan to reinforce the hill so it will not collapse, reinforce the foundation of the church, waterproof the construction, and reinstall the utilities (water, sewerage, heating, electrical power, and lighting). Next year we will restore the church itself: its interiors, exteriors, roofing, gilding and stylobate.”

How did the economic crisis affect the financing of the preserve?

“At the moment we have not received any money apart from the 3.2 million hryvnias allocated from the reserve fund of the Cabinet of Ministers. As usual, in April we receive the first part of the finances, which is small but sufficient to enable us to start some works. We have not had this kind of situation with financing for a long time now. Last year we received only 8.8 million hryvnias of state budgetary expenditures instead of the planned 15 million.

“Because of the crisis we do not intend to raise the entry fees, although they are rather symbolical, comparing to other Ukrainian museums, and are set at a mere 22 hryvnias for all expositions. But we will have to do this if the state does not give money to us. But will the same number of people come?

“As my experience proves, in the initial two months after the entrance fee is raised the number of visitors drops abruptly, but later it stabilizes and even rises. Therefore, we have to plan our work in order to pay wages to our employees in time, pay for public utility services, and pay the guards (860,000 hryvnias per year, and the state does not give a penny).

“We have to earn money in order to guard the state property. We receive significant support from patrons. This year the Italian patrons have funded the publication of a book about the Genoa Fortress in the Crimea in four languages. By the end of the year, the work on the book about all the monuments of the preserve will be completed; its publication has been funded by a bank.”

What approaches to monument preservation does Europe have? Can they be applied in Ukraine?

“Purely professional approaches are the same in the whole world, whereas there is a great difference between the state ones. In France, Poland, and Italy the state allocates huge finances to maintain and restore monuments and popularize them. Numerous books are published, and excursion programs and TV and radio programs are created. The state takes care of its history and makes profit on it: many tourists come there.

“We cannot change everything in a moment. But if we learn to respect ourselves and our history, everything will change. At times it is strange to hear from the members of ministries or some other departments that they don’t know where the Kyiv Sophia is located. They think it is a company producing mineral water. That is why we are trying to popularize the preserve monuments both in Ukraine and in the world: we distribute books, CDs with films about the Kyiv Sophia Preserve in the Ukrainian embassies abroad, in the Council of Europe, museums, European and American preserves where our experts go, or when our colleagues visit us. And people discover a different kind of Ukraine.

“Foreign experts often ask, Why does your state promote itself so little? To this end Ukraine’s information centers and Ukrainian institutes of culture should be established in big cities of many countries of the world. Of course, we need a lot of money for this, but we should not forget about our culture and history, because it cannot exist on financial leftovers.”

By Inna FILIPENKO, The Day