Originally published January 3rd 2014 on http://www.grahamwphillips.com (see below). By Graham
There’s a certain irony to the hundreds either camped out on Maidan, or taking shelter in one of the occupied municipal buildings in Kiev. They lie, shiver as temperatures dip, just a couple of kilometres away from perhaps the prime residential development in all Ukraine. And it’s almost completely empty – it could accommodate their number many times over. Yet, as with so much about the place, the numbers for the 42-acre Vozdvyzhenka development have just never added up.
The idea for the brightly-coloured complex came at the start of the new century, with Ukraine booming, and talk it could even eclipse the likes of Latvia and Estonia as a new, post-Soviet powerhouse. The figures looked rosy indeed – growth of over 5% in 2002, 9.6% in 2003, shooting up to just over 12% in 2004, at which time Vozdvyzhenka construction was powering ahead, having begun in 2001. And so it was, the utopian urban enclave was to provide 400 luxury apartments and houses for the wealthy of Ukraine, and those outsiders wanting a piece of the action.
But to read about it now without the suffix, or prefix, ‘ghost town‘ is rare. It’s a ghost town which finds itself haunted by those young ladies of Kiev ever-keen for a photo-session backdrop –
The background of the pleasing pictures is more than just a kind of elegant, upmarket Balamory, it’s a national disaster. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko took over as the new Orange leaders, at the start of 2005, but despite all the enthusiasm at their coming, big business stalled investment in the country as they waited to see whether a raft of policy proposals, including mass re-nationalising, would come to pass. The pair’s greenness in managing a national economy, and an internecine relationship between the pair, saw growth down to 2.7% in 2005.
Still, Vozdvyzhenka continued to go up, with investors confident too much was in Ukraine’s favour for it to be down for long. They were right. Ukraine rebounded to over 7% growth in 2006, near 8% in 2007. But, that was it, as the global credit crisis hit, the Orange Revolution fell apart pulling Ukraine to the very abyss. Growth remained positive in 2008, as Vozdvyzhenka neared completion, but 2009 saw a plunge of 15%, mass unemployment, bankruptcy, and crippling currency devaluation. Investors and potential buyers fled from the £85m ‘urban village’, as they did from all major construction projects – work at the nearby Mirax Plaza, supposed to be Ukraine’s tallest skyscraper at around 200 metres, stopped overnight in early 2009, at 11 floors.
The value of the Vozdvyzhenka apartments fell from £500,000-plus for 120 sq metres, to, in the dog days of 2009, little more than £100,000. Development company Kievgorstroy-1 found itself having gone from looking at making a serious sum, to staring down the barrel of colossal losses. Their promotional material had once proclaimed:
Group DCH and company “Kievgorstroy-1” is realizing project of high-class residential district “Vozdvizhenka” in historical part of Kiev (district Gonchari-Kozhemaky), limited by streets Vozdvizhenskaya, Goncharnaya, Kozhematskaya and Degtarnaya.
High-class complex class deluxe is suppose construction of cottages and houses from 3 to 5-storey in architecture style the end of XIX century. In separate standing buildings will be fitness center, bank department, cigar-club, children club, billiard, restaurants and etc.
Till (sic – should be by) the end of 2008 investors are planning to finish construction of the first rate of project, including Vozdvizhenskaya, Goncharnaya, and part of Kozhematskaya. The full placing in commission of the district is planned on 2012.
>Perhaps feel most sorry, if you will, for those who did pay half a million plus for the apartments, many of them foreign investors sold on the idea their properties would soon be worth a million plus, never even moved in.
But then, the area always has been an anomaly. Could there even be a curse of Vozdvyzhenka? No one even knows when the area itself began. There are reports the founding of the area dates back to I AD, and Roman times, yet numerous excavations have failed to find traces of dwelling dating to that time. The first known settlements date to 1150, less than a century before Kiev was near completely destroyed, in 1240 by the Mongol invasion of Rus.
As Kiev recovered, and rebuilt, Vozdvyzhenka became a mecca for artisans – potters, blacksmiths, stonemasons , furriers. Streets were named after the trades and materials – Degtyarnaya, oil tar, Kozhemyatskaya, from fur, Goncharnaya – pottery.
The beginning of the 16th century saw handicraft shops springing up, masters and traders settling there. Its future seemed assured, as Kiev headed into the 17th century as a major city in the Tsardom of Russia. Yet, yet, many of the structures had been erected quickly, with little regard to the unique topography of the area, in the depression of a valley as it is. When a fire in the early 19th century wiped out much of the construction there, no one could agree on how best to cultivate the complicated tract of land.
The name Vozdvyzhenka, incidentally, means something like ‘exaltation’ in English, and it comes from the Holy Cross Church constructed in nearby Podol in the late 18th century. But as Podol boomed, Vozdvyzhenka fell into wasteland in the 19th century.
You could argue these days it’s a kind of beautiful wasteland of unchecked optimism. And, in a country which so many marriages are based on just that (a Research & Branding Group survey showed 79% of Ukrainians getting married following their emotions, while only 15% were guided by ‘reasonable motives’), perhaps appropriate Vozdvyzhenka finds itself so oft-used for wedding photos –
Title amended, otherwise unchanged –