How Kyiv could develop after Ukraine's victory in war with Russia

29 May, 07:04 PM
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The Motherland Monument in Kyiv (Photo:Denis Zalevsky via Unsplash)

The Motherland Monument in Kyiv (Photo:Denis Zalevsky via Unsplash)

Ukraine celebrates Kyiv Day on May 29. NV explores how the capital city could develop after the end of the full-scale war in Ukraine.

Preservation of historical heritage

Due to the constant shelling of Ukrainian cities, not only strategically important infrastructure and residential buildings were affected, but also a number of objects of Ukrainian historical and architectural heritage. And while in Kharkiv, Mariupol and many other Ukrainian cities the historic buildings suffered heavy losses due to the Russian artillery and missiles, the enemy came from within in Kyiv.

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From the first weeks, Kyiv residents began to protect famous Ukrainian monuments, but the destruction of historic buildings continued from the first day of the war in the capital city.

"We were convinced that we would have to protect the monuments from missiles, blasts and armed aggression," said Dmytro Perov, a defender of historical heritage and a lawyer with NGO Map of Renovation.

"It was completely unexpected that there would be threats from within at such a crucial moment for the country. We focused on protecting monuments from shelling, but we need to protect them from ourselves."

During the war in Kyiv, the local authorities began to dismantle the police station of 1902 on Tsymliansky Lane, almost dismantled a 150-year-old house nearby, restarted the dismantling of the Malin estate of the XIX century in the city center, and the oldest house on Borychiv Tik Street went on fire for the second time in a year.

"We must win the internal war. If we win from the outside, the next date in the calendar will simply be meaningless," Perov said.

"Wars always take place at the level of worldview. When we see that we have about the same processes as in Russia (destruction of historical heritage), the question arises: what is this war for? If we do not change, we will remain in the same paradigm of existence. We can defeat the enemy a thousand times on the battlefield, but mentally we will be on the same field, and sooner or later this state will absorb us, because it simply has more resources."

The lawyer also cites the views of Danish architect Jan Gehl on the historical environment of cities. According to Gehl, the twentieth century has been a revolution in views on the historical environment. Mankind has survived two extremely devastating world wars. Everything left after them automatically became unique. Europe has moved from a point-by-point approach to the preservation of architectural heritage, to the general and contextual. Since then, not individual buildings, but entire architectural ensembles usually receive protection status.

"I have high hopes that all the processes that are taking place now will become a driving force for Ukrainian society to realize what and how we should preserve," Perov said.

"The east and south of Ukraine have turned into ruins. There is no context and environment there. Everything is destroyed to zero. And those cities that managed to survive the shelling may be the expressions of the historical epoch in which Ukraine existed. If Lviv has its own history, the historical context of Kyiv was also peculiar to Dnipro, Kharkiv and Mariupol, which were once part of one state."

In his opinion, it is Kyiv that can become a milestone of the epoch, so Kyiv residents should rethink their approach to history. Fortunately, the evolutionary attitude of the capital's residents to heritage protection is changing from indifferent to involved. There are more and more non-government organizations in the city, whose main goal is to preserve the architecture and history of the city. After the victory, the number of heritage defenders can increase significantly. After all, what exactly, if not war, shows the fragility of the structures that form the city.

Metro service development

Thousands of people have chosen the Kyiv Metro as their refuge in case of danger. The structure, which had always learned to be a shelter, practiced its skills during the war. The Kyiv metro had to perform two functions at once: transport and protection. The first one was worked out over a decade of work, while the second one – exclusively during training.

"No one fully believed that the shelter function would have to be used," said Natalia Makohon, Kyiv Metro's deputy head.

"But we always understood that it was, is and will be extremely important for our company. It so happened that thanks to constant training, the subway turned out to be probably the most prepared and safest place in Kyiv. In the first weeks of the war, there were 20,000 people at the metro stations every day."

The Kyiv Metro still accepts people around the clock as a shelter, and this function will be further developed. Three months of the war have already pointed out the shortcomings that can be solved and the details that will be improved in the future. However, even so, the subway was chosen not only as a shelter, but also as a venue for briefings and concerts. During the first months of the war, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy and world-famous Bono and Edge from Irish rock band U2 spoke and performed at Kyiv metro stations.

The Kyiv Metro has clearly determined the path of its further development. In May, it became a member of the International Public Transport Organization, which includes almost 2,000 organizations from 100 countries. This is not only an opportunity to cooperate with European colleagues, but also the first step towards a significant re-equipment of the subway.

"It's no secret that the subway was built in Soviet times and using Soviet technology," Makohon said. "A total of 80% of cars are manufactured in Russian factories since they were the main suppliers for the subways of the post-Soviet space. We have chosen a course on European world technologies. A few weeks ago we were admitted to the International Public Transport Association. We are now looking for partners to re-equip the Kyiv Metro. Although, let me remind you that two contracts for re-equipment of the subway were signed at the city level before the war."

It is clear that the modernization of the subway will take years due to the difficult economic situation and the war in Ukraine. However, now the main goal is to get rid of Russian-made cars and carry out a full-fledged re-equipment according to European standards.

"According to the new regulations, new toilets are to be built near each metro station," Makohon said."

"We will carry out repairs at the stations, but it should be understood that this is a rather long process, it will not happen immediately, because it requires large-scale funding. All our infrastructure is in working order, but in terms of aesthetics we have prospects for growth. We understand this, and will correct it."

The war is not over yet, but it has already shown how important it is for Ukraine and Kyiv to move away from Russian reality and move towards international and European standards. The course away from Russia has been taken for a long time, but the Kremlin's consistent aggression is only accelerating this process.

Safe houses and new construction rules

Chaotic shelling of residential buildings has become a new reality in which Ukrainians have to live in war. The crimes of the invaders have caused an increased demand of people for a safe space and influenced the further development of architecture and buildings in the country and, of course, in its capital city. Nowadays, it is difficult to find people who have not heard of the rule of two walls or dreamed of an extensive system of bomb shelters in their homes.

"As soon as the war started and we saw what was happening around us, our reaction was to counter the danger, to fight it," says Oleksandr Stolovyi, the architect of the Ukrainian bureau Archimatika.

"People began to think what they should change to make life safer so that we suffer less. I would like to quote Jan Gehl, who voiced a very interesting idea: war by war, but cities are not created for war, but for life. At first it seemed too provocative, but he is right. Of course, the construction rules will change, but it is important for us to make sure that it does not affect our daily rhythm."

This also applies to individual buildings. In an open society, it is important to understand that all changes in construction should not in any way affect the comfort of people's lives. Otherwise, Stolovyi says, we will simply lose to Prague, London and many other cities.

"People think globally, they can choose where to live. It is now important that urban municipalities react properly to the new reality and do everything possible to ensure that the maximum number of people return to Ukraine, that they will have not only a safe but also a comfortable life," the architect says.

Of course, the war has already dictated new conditions, but fortunately, Ukraine has previously used housing security tools. Developers are already asking architects to review ready-made projects and develop solutions for maximum human safety. It is not only about the well-known Israeli model with a system of bomb shelters under each house, but also about purely technical solutions that can make housing safer.

"We can switch to safe glass: for example, triplex, which remains on a film; or tempered glass, which breaks into small pieces and does not destroy everything around," said Stolovyi.

"For the rule of two walls, it is not necessary to design a corridor that no one will use, you can just make a dressing room instead of a wardrobe, which can be quickly re-equipped into a place to sleep. This will not affect the cost per square meter, so I'm sure that such architectural solutions will become more popular."

At the same time, we should not forget that the safety of the city residents mostly depends not on the strength of structures, but on the defense system.

"As long as Russia exists, the demand for the safest housing will grow, but we must learn to live in new realities. And safe apartments are not a solution to the issue of defense, but only protection from severe damage," the architect added.

Rebuilding the destruction

Russian troops have destroyed many Ukrainian settlements. Some of them will be rebuilt from scratch, some will be partially restored. According to the architect and co-founder of the "Agenty Zmin" (Agents of Change) organization, Maksym Holovko, the country has been given the opportunity to design and rebuild what has been destroyed so that people could live in cities as well as possible. To do this, even a special handbook has been created.

"During the reconstruction, we need to approach the new principles of a sustainable city, where everything will work systematically. Streets should be safe with proper pedestrian and public spaces. The city should work as a system for people who will enjoy living there," Holovko said.

During the reconstruction, Ukrainian cities built in the Soviet modernist tradition will be able to finally move away from the principles of automobile centrism and become comfortable for pedestrians. Now a number of settlements in Kyiv and other oblasts will be able to take a new bar of development, which is important not to lower over time.

However, there is a problem. Russia's war against Ukraine has caused a wave of migration and emigration. It is still unknown who will return after the victory, and where they will go.

"Our residential buildings have been destroyed en masse. The question arises of how to rebuild housing for people," Holovko said.

"The huge migration of people makes it impossible to understand how to do it. There is a hypothesis that the number of people in cities will decrease, so the cities that have grown will decrease as well. This is a great challenge for urban development. Do we need to rebuild all the houses? These changes are leading to a housing crisis, but there is no clear task for the reconstruction. It is necessary to develop a strategy for each city separately. And it will take years. There is no need to hurry."

The experience of European cities affected by wars at different times shows how important it is to choose the right vector of reconstruction. Now every ruined settlement must decide where to move. Not only the position of the state but also the actions of local authorities are extremely important for this. The city and village administrations can already conduct research and find solutions to housing problems.

Unfortunately, we may be tempted to make quick and short-lived decisions. Kyiv can follow the familiar path of building similar housing estates for migrants in natural areas important for the urban ecosystem. Irpin, Bucha, Borodianka could be filled with hastily built high-rise buildings for people who have lost their homes. However, this is not the only way to develop cities.

Now, more than ever, it is important to find a balance between quality and speed, and for the local administrations to take responsibility for the lives of the people. Thoughtful and analyzed steps will turn the settlements destroyed by the Russians into cities of the future, where everyone will be comfortable.

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