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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

Chernivtsi University nominated for UNESCO World Heritage List

The issue of its inclusion is to be resolved this month
7 June, 2011 - 00:00

Chernivtsi — No visitor to Chernivtsi can ignore the former residence of the Bukovynian metropolitans, which currently houses the main buildings of the Chernivtsi National University. This unique example of late 19th century architecture is the symbol of the city on the Prut River. With any luck it will soon become an all-Ukrainian cultural symbol, equal to the Pechersk Lavra, St. Sophia Cathedral, or the historic center of Lviv. UNESCO’s 35th session, to be held in Paris on June 19-29, will consider the architectural jewel of Chernivtsi among other candidates to the World Heritage List.

The university’s vice-rector, Ph.D. (History) Tamara Marusyk notes that they have mustered the courage to apply for inclusion to the UNESCO list after receiving some good advice from ex-foreign minister Volodymyr Ohryzko, who headed the National UNESCO Commission. In 2007, during his ministerial tenure, he came to Chernivtsi privately on leave. It was Ohryzko’s first visit to the capital of Bukovyna, and the minister, strongly impressed by the architectural complex, persuaded the university’s management to participate in the nominating race. A year earlier the entire city of Chernivtsi was going to participate, but as the UNESCO preferred localized objects, the bid was abandoned.

It was easy to prepare initial presentation materials for the residence-turned-university. Having finished the work quickly, the university was pleasantly surprised when the building was included on the preliminary list of nominees in the course of 2007 — the year when the bid was launched. The ensuing campaign turned out to be more complicated, however. A nomination package is usually prepared by the State Committee on National Cultural Heritage. However, its estimated cost, 2.7 million hryvnias, made this impossible. The amount was obviously beyond the nominee’s means — by way of comparison, the university needed to spend a similar sum on repairing its roofs at that time. If not for Marusyk’s proposal to try and develop the package on their own this would have been the end of the project. But the university’s scholars, archivists and architects joined the effort. The Josef Hlavka Foundation from Prague came to their aid with copies of old drawings (Hlavka was the architect of the Chernivtsi masterpiece), while Ohryzko provided space to shoot photos of the university.

For two years the working group members denied themselves holidays and weekends. Simultaneously, the city’s heritage department developed the project of a buffer zone around the university.

“Initially, it included the entire historic center,” says the department’s head Olena Pushkova. “Then it was reduced by nearly half, as we took into account our actual capacity and learned from Kyiv’s bitter experience, where scandalous property developments in the conservation zone have shown that adherence to a proper buffer regime is, probably, the biggest stumbling block in Ukraine. The area of the buffer zone in Chernivtsi is 244.5 hectares, of which only 8 hectares constitute the area of the residence proper. This includes the neighborhoods that were built in the mid 19th to early 20th century, that is, simultaneously with the metropolitan residence. We solved the issue of moving the administrative facilities of the university elsewhere. Our management plan provides for souvenir shops, cafes and other tourist infrastructure objects in the buffer zone. We have rehabilitated the residence’s park, which is a nationally important monument of landscape architecture, and the Biblical garden is already being established there.”

The work was done through combined effort, as the city’s residents like to say. The effort resulted in a nomination package comprising two thick volumes. The director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre Francesco Bandarini sent an e-mail informing that the package is satisfactory, so late last year the council’s expert arrived to Chernivtsi. His mission was confidential, which is why both the university and the city were in a sort limbo, knowing nothing about the bid’s outcome for six months after the expert had left. Any doubts were dispelled when the metropolitan residence was included on the agenda of UNESCO’s session. The final piece of the presentation, to be held behind closed doors, is a two-minute silent video clip picturing the architectural complex of the residence, which the university has been asked to send to Paris by June 6.

“Now, in my opinion, everything depends on the image of our state,” Marusyk supposes. “Had we committed any mistakes when compiling the package, the nomination bid for the residence would have failed at some stage. Given that there are no other Commonwealth of the Independent States candidates and few European ones, Chernivtsi’s chances seem high enough. The bid may be undermined by Ukraine’s general reputation, though.”