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Frescoes in St. Cyril’s Church preserved

Restorers make an archeological discovery
20 December, 00:00
Photo by Mykola LAZARENKO

The restoration of a unique 12th-century monument, St. Cyril’s Church in Kyiv, is nearing completion. The church is still closed to visitors, as the surrounding premises are still being landscaped, but the church is ready. In the past several years the church’s main attraction — original 12th-century frescoes — was at risk. As a result of errors committed during a Soviet-era restoration effort, humidity inside the church reached levels four or five times higher than the norm. This could have led to the plaster peeling off together with the artwork. Fungus posed no less a threat to both the frescos and murals by Vrubel. “However, this is not just about the frescoes,” says Nelia Kukovalska, general manager of the St. Sophia Kyiv National Architectural Preserve, which includes St. Cyril’s Church. “The ancient monument itself was suffering. Groundwater had reached the foundations, creating new cracks and causing old cracks to spread. No water drainage system was installed, resulting in soil subsidence, which was slowly destroying the church. Now, after carrying out a series of preventive measures, we have made it impossible for the aggressive, external environment to damage the monument. Thanks to moisture proofing of the groundwork and church walls, the humidity level will be stable. This will allow us to carry out a total restoration of all the frescos starting next year.”

An archeological discovery was made during the restoration: workers unearthed the foundations of the original structural additions to St. Cyril’s Church, dating to the 12th and 17th centuries. Although experts were aware that these foundations existed, they did not know their actual configuration. Now they have a new field for research. The room whose foundations were unearthed by builders under archeological supervision was used for divine services and as a funeral chamber. Many graves were discovered as well. After being carefully examined, the foundations were buried. “Ideally, of course, we would like to place the foundations under transparent glass with lighting, so that people can walk on top of it. Today, however, we do not have the technical and financial means to do this,” says Kukovalska. The discovery was buried beneath a layer of fresh sand, and a memorial plaque will be mounted on the site.

The design and construction company Osnova Solsif executed the entire project to refurbish St. Cyril’s Church at its own cost (close to UAH 1,200,000). The plight of Ukraine’s cultural heritage is common knowledge. Culture and Tourism Minister Ihor Likhovy presented the following statistics during his recent address to parliament on Government Day: in various Ukrainian regions between 50 and 70 percent of cultural and architectural monuments are in unsatisfactory condition, and one in ten monuments is in critical condition. The cost of emergency controls, repairs, and restoration at all these sites is estimated at UAH 600 million. Naturally, curators of museums and historical and cultural preserves know better than to expect such funds from the state budget. They are pinning their hopes on philanthropists, even though charity is not very widespread in Ukraine, and donations are not large enough. Still, Kukovalska believes that the ice has been broken between the business and cultural communities. So far another five contracts have been signed with companies that want to support the St. Sofia Kyiv National Architectural Preserve.

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