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Beyond Post-Soviet: Ukraine's Architectural Opportunity From The Rubble Of War

The war rages on, but some in Ukraine are already looking to how society can be rebuilt. Two Ukrainian architects share their vision for what a future Ukrainian urbanism — and society — might look like.

Photo of a man walking past destroyed houses in Irpin

Some of the damage from the shelling of the Russian army in Irpin

Dariya Badyor and Kseniya Bilash

KHARKIV — Russian bombings have already destroyed thousands of Ukrainian houses, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The war is still far from over, so we know the losses will only increase. And yet, we must use the time before victory arrives to plan for the rebuilding of our cities.

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This viewpoint is shared by Iryna Matsevko and Oleg Drozdov, heads of the Kharkiv School of Architecture, one of the few Ukrainian universities recognized internationally as meeting the highest standards in the field. The architects share their opinion that not just Ukrainian houses should be restored — so too should Ukrainian society.


No one rethought or did anything with our cities. We have an unrefined Soviet legacy.

A common city

Only the speculative purpose of making money moved the cities; communities themselves had no ambition. Then the war began bringing destruction, but also some opportunities — new money, new engineering and intellectual capabilities.

The city is people, not houses. Without people, no city can exist.

We are now witnessing an incredibly rapid formation of civil society that wants to have a voice. So I think we're in for a period of large-scale tensions around these questions. There are no procedures and methodologies; big money comes from Europe, which also has a paternalistic attitude towards us. Some "gods" of our sector already want to help, for example, renowned English architect Norman Foster.

This is bad because there is no real difference from our Soviet past when regional party committees decided who and how to live. The result may be good, but this is a kind of "guess the gift" category.

In fact, the city is people, not houses. Without people, no city can exist. The people must come up with its economic model. Someone can moderate this process, integrate different solutions, but it is impossible to create a dream by simply hiring an image-maker.

This is a big mistake. Only its citizens can create a sustainable and developing city. It must accumulate a certain number of professionals across multiple fields, and retain them for years to come. Whether they are foreigners or not, they must work together, and then it will be a common city capable of continuation and development.

\u200bPhoto of a market destroyed by Russian shelling in Saltivka, Ukraine

Photo of a market destroyed by Russian shelling in Saltivka, northeast Kharkiv.

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Driven by a sense of justice

It seems to me that in Ukraine, any talks about development are impossible without migration policy. We will not do anything here on our own. Ideally, we need both foreign experts and the return of ours, and this will be difficult.

Ukrainian boys and girls will come home from the war with a heightened sense of justice. They are ready to oppose paternalism. They have no fear, but a new sense of community.

Being naive, we think that architecture could be a project to unite society. We need to start with a debate. First, we need to understand after the war what we see as an ideal city, town or village. What do we dream about, what values does this dream carry, and what is it made of? Then we need to talk about how to pave the way for this dream, and for this, we must develop clear policies and laws.

They have no fear, but a new sense of community.

Apart from devastation, it is important to discuss other things. For example, the fact that all the energy resources we had are no longer relevant; we need to look for their replacement. It will change the city.

It is also impossible to enter Europe without civil society, and now we have a chance to shape it through the restoration of cities. Over the past eight years, there have been many more Ukrainians with expertise — we already have the opportunity to form our own expertise in various areas.

However, the green urbanism lacks substance: everyone talks about it, but there are few professionals with the tools to make it a reality. The same is true with the energy sector, dominated by monopolies and slow to react to new innovation. But now we have a chance to involve the world's best experts, and the possibilities we have are limitless.

Urbanism dream team

We have created a working group of 40 people, including Ukrainians and foreigners, representatives of four universities with powerful architectural environments. There are experts covering different areas — housing and prefabrication, legislation, green agenda, transport and energy.

There will be various laboratories and groups of experts developing roadmaps to be submitted to the Ministry of Communities and Territories Development.

We have formed a strong and serious coalition, and both the Ministry and the European Commission see that we have the skills and a vision for how to rebuild our country.

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