From Kyiv to Edinburgh : Letter from Kvitka – our new Heritage Support Intern
POSTED ON August 4, 2022
With lengthy experience working with charitable organisations and international NGOs, Kvitka hopes to direct her acquired skillset on a set of tasks that allows her to bridge her university studies and a keen interest in history with bringing about tangible change in the city.
Kvitka is a final-year student of History and Politics at the University of Edinburgh with a deep interest in cultural heritage, memory studies, and preservation. With lengthy experience working with charitable organisations and international NGOs, Kvitka hopes to direct her acquired skillset on a set of tasks that allows her to bridge her university studies and a keen interest in history with bringing about tangible change in the city.
Co-founder of Ukrainian cultural youth-directed NGO The Shadows Project and an avid researcher of Ukrainian identity, she hopes that her time with the Cockburn Association will allow her to delve deeper into the processes that advocate for the inclusion of historical contexts in changes being done to the physical fabric of the city while providing her with an opportunity to give back to the city that has become her second home.
I grew up in one of Kyiv’s oldest neighbourhoods, the historic downtown area of Podil. Its rich historical significance seeping through every building and every crevice, it often felt like the streets I called home co Even when younger, I was quick to notice the discrepancy in its physical landscape – remnants of conquerors and empires that came and went, though their impact always lingering, were apparent in the quiet convergence of architectural styles centuries apart appearing side by side. Here, Ukrainian baroque tips its hat at neighbouring modernism.
Podil is also home to a bustling creative community, which over the years brought it an unofficial title as the city’s breeding ground for hipsters – though to say so would do it injustice. Podil is where you’ll find a new generation of Ukrainian youth, those who have grown up in an independent Ukraine, subconsciously conditioned to cherish the freedom we have that our predecessors did not possess. Podil is where you can simply exist, social labels and titles aside.
It’s exciting and eclectic.
My memory of Podil as a young teenager, however, also recalls its status as a battleground for up and coming developers. When I was twelve, construction of the neighbourhood’s most infamous building began. The issue? While the planning permission that was obtained outlined a plan for the building to be 8-stories tall, an additional four were added at the contractors’ desire without permission. And so, in a historic downtown district where the tallest building you would find ranged between 6-8 floors, one single building towered over the rest, breaking up not only the skyline, but the aesthetic landscape of the neighbourhood, its exterior disrupting the delicately long-established natural balance between the new, the old, and the ancient.
This incident – and one still without an ending as court procedures about the illegal expansion of construction go on – appeared in my mind as I peered over the home page of The Cockburn Association’s website.
Since the beginning of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, my life, and the lives of millions of Ukrainians, was turned upside down. I’ve had to have conversations and ask questions I never thought I would. I’ve had to consider scenarios I wish I never had to. I’ve had to ask how someone is while fully knowing what I truly intended to find out was whether they’re alive or not. And as I wake up and go to work every morning, have dinner with friends, or go on a walk through The Meadows, it goes on.
The ways in which the Ukrainian civil society mobilised in record time in the immediate aftermath of the first reports of air strikes reported in every region of Ukraine on the fateful morning of February 24th is truly astounding. Volunteer battalions have come about, their members lawyers-artists-shopkeepers-turned-military-civic-action experts overnight. Ukrainian content quickly received English translation in every available medium to ensure foreign engagement in the news cycle. And every living Ukrainian in Ukraine and abroad became Ukraine’s official ambassador as journalists from all around the globe scoured the depths of the Internet looking for their next commentary.
We will win this war. But we cannot put off thinking about the reconstruction period ahead of us until we arrive at that point. The processes that we’ll need to carry out in order to restore and reverse every form of destruction Ukraine has faced over the last five months and counting have complex implications that will require a unifying moment of reflection on our past that stretches beyond this century.
It is with these thoughts in mind, and with hopes of being useful when the time comes to heal our wounds, that I sought to join the Association. How can the physical fabric of our cities be designed and maintained as such that it honours our cities’ historical legacies while carrying out contemporary functions in the face of present-day challenges? How can physical spaces previously infringed upon by foreign narratives or self-interested ideas be protected and nourished, their right to be present without being subject to gentrification or commodification respected?