Kharkiv between European civilisation and Soviet propaganda

Kharkiv between European civilisation and Soviet propaganda. Striking the balance between nostalgia and post-Communist reality.

These are visions of Kharkiv, depictive and descriptive of abnormal and illogical in everyday life of that second-largest East Ukrainian city situated less then 40 km from the Russian border. No wonder people vote for abnormal and illogical in the end too – oligarchs who stole the peoples’ wealth and communists with their cheap opportunistic rhetoric.

Kharkiv was founded about 1655 as a military stronghold. The centre of a region of fertile soils and rapid colonization in the 18th century, it quickly developed important trade and handicraft manufactures and became a seat of provincial government in 1732. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the establishment of the Ukrainian S.S.R. in 1917 Kharkiv became the first capital but lost this function to Kyiv in 1934. In World War II this key junction was bitterly contested and changed hands several times, with very heavy destruction. Today Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine and is the centre of a metropolitan area comprising about 20 satellite towns.

The great destruction of World War II made it possible for contemporary Kharkiv to be rebuilt as a city of broad streets, large apartment blocks, imposing, often ponderous administrative and office buildings, and large industrial plants. Among survivals of the past are the 17th-century Pokrovsky Cathedral, the 19th-century Patriarchal Cathedral, and the belltower commemorating the victory over Napoleon I in 1812.

Kharkiv was totally destroyed during WWII as it changed three times between Nazi and Soviet occupation. Kharkiv´s Central Squire is claimed to be the largest in Europe. It houses a huge statute of Lenin and the City Council of Deputies. But little has changed in terms of visual expressions one gets when visiting this city. Since the Soviet Union collapsed Kharkiv’s industry collapsed too. Previously known as “Ukraine’s industrial capital” Kharkiv now is home to the largest bazaar in Ukraine, where most of its 6000 sellers originate from Africa, Vietnam, China and the Arab world.

The industrial structure of Kharkiv was headed by engineering. The city’s wide range of products included diesel locomotives, machine tools, mining machinery, tractors and other agricultural machinery, bicycles, generators, steam turbines, and many electrical items. There were also light industries producing foodstuffs and other consumer goods. Previously known as “Ukraine’s academic capital” of free education Kharkiv now has more than 40 universities and academies which accept students on a fee basis.

Lenin still constitutes a central piece

Lenin as a remnant of socialist past

This complex encompassing a number of ministries and  governmental offices was built in the early 1930s. At that time it was a ground-breaking functional architecture symbolising the superiority of the Soviet way of life. Not it degenerated into an ugly building, like any.

All governing power to Soviets! Well the doves have a different view of this Communist ideology slogan. They hold it for empty rhetoric but do give a shit.

We were many

Many Kharkiv University students fought and fell in the WWII

Kharkiv University was founded in 1805: main building

Taras Shevchenko – national poet

Soviet interpretation of Shevchenko’s literary works

Soviet interpretation of Shevchenko’s literary works

Kharkiv’s monuments are not solely confined to the Communist art. This statute comes from apparently anti-Soviet satiric literature of two famous “Odessits” of early 1920s

Artistic architecture for children in front of a policlinic

There is something for grown ups too

Kharkiv’s famous cathedral belonging to the Moscow patriarchate though

Orthodox seminary where many Ukrainian intellectuals got education. Grygory Skovoroda for example

Stalinist Classicism and religious artefacts side by side

One company’s headquarters

Young millionaire’s quarters

And this is are every day life experiences of those who are less lucky. Kharkiv is said to be the most pro-Russian and pro-ex-Soviet city in Ukraine. By looking at the picture you can guess why. The reason is the absence of positive success from post-Soviet transformation, being “in the middle of European project”, but yet in the pre-EU transition. A crumbling infrastructure which leaves the holes in mentality and identity.

An underground water supply pipe gave leak… some days ago… To quote Victor Yuschenko, to join EU Ukrainians need to build Europe in Ukraine first and put their own house in order.

Technique of the pre-Soviet past

Technique of the Soviet past

Technique of the future. Chinese success in Kharkiv – the city of the first and largest Soviet tractor production plant “XT3”. As always, somebody else gets rich at these people’ expense.

A bumpy transition road to Europe.
The country is already geographic Europe. What needs to be done in order to make it truly European not only from without (for foreign geographers) but also from within (for Ukrainians themselves) is a small detail: “Evroremont” of all spheres of life: from personal attitudes and indeed the European respect to oneself and others to a grand scale modernization of surrounding economic and socio-technical environment, Europeanization of politics and its discourses.

How do we combine the Soviet past with current quest for Europe?
Well, the answer is: the Will! And adaptation of European standards of course:
When tap water begins to be drinkable – you can call it Europe! When the road begins to deserve to be called a road, and not just a direction – you can call it Europe! On the picture now you can see a small start, a bit more than a mere intention.

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