The discoveries in Podil Raion of Kyiv were found accidentally during construction work, although archaeologists claim that this “accidental find” was highly predictable given the ancient history of this part of Kyiv.
Archaeological excavations began in December, 2014. At first, archeologists found an old section of Kyiv dating back to the Middle Ages, but when they dug to a depth of 7 metres, they realized that sections dating back to the Kyivan Rus period were also well preserved, reports Mykhailo Sahaydak, Director of the Centre for Archeology in Kyiv.
Scholars speak very cautiously about these digs, but representatives of public organizations openly say what historians and archaeologists don’t talk about on camera. At a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Cultural Issues, activists claimed that the place where Kyivan Rus was baptized had been found under Poshtova Square. The scholars did not deny the fact.
However, all these findings are threatened with destruction.
Valeriy Oliynyk, representative of Hensford Ukraine LLC, says that he is interested in continuing the excavations, because if this place is turned into a museum, it will make the future shopping centre more attractive to customers.
More than 5 million hryvnias have been invested in the excavation, says Oliynyk. However, he notes that the company has financed 70% of the work, and but only 50% of the work has been completed.
“We’re probably the largest investor in the archaeological excavations on this site – more than 5 million have been allocated to archaeological research. And, we aren’t against providing more funds, but please work, explore, search, etc.”
Oliynyk claims that the construction project has all the required permits and certificates, so he feels that the best solution is compliance with the terms and conditions of the initial project.
“Let’s finish the excavation, set up a museum fund, and then the Ministry of Culture will define the final concept.”
In addition, Oliynyk has several questions for the archaeologists.
“In two years, not one wooden log has been removed. All wooden objects found on the site must be immediately preserved. Everyone knows that bacteria are everywhere, so what are we going to do about it? What about those wooden fences sticking out of the ground? They’re being damaged by bacteria; they’ll simply be devoured!”
In conclusion, Oliynyk announced that the company would install cameras on archaeological site with online broadcasting on the Internet.
The developer plans to install a protective plaque, which, according to archaeologists, will only suspend excavations and damage existing discoveries.
The investor, however, claims that the plaque is needed for security reasons, because now the square is supported by temporary poles and pylons.
“The Research Institute of Structural Engineering is supervising the work, and it was there that they decided to place a protective plaque.” says Oliynyk.
Mykhailo Sahaydak, Director of the Centre for Archeology in Kyiv, said that he proposed different options to make the plaque smaller, but no compromise was found.
“Some of the objects that we want to exhibit today must be “cut” by this plaque, and this will disrupt the integrity of all the archeological layers.” notes Sahaydak.
The problem is that, in fact, no one has officially taken charge of this remarkable discovery.
“The owner of this museum hasn’t been defined, and no one knows who will create it, who will conduct demonstrations and be responsible for its exploitation.” explains Sahaydak.
In addition, Ukraine has no specialists trained in object conservation, which makes it impossible to exhibit certain artifacts.
Sahaydak explains that the developer plans to allocate only 100 square metres for the museum, which is way too small for such an important historical attraction.
“Today we uncovered more than 1,000 square metres. We discovered a line of fences that probably surrounded a large estate of about 700 square metres and two more homesteads adjoining it, which are separated by lanes, and one of them runs towards Andriyivsky Descent.” he notes.
Archaeologists were forbidden to dig deeper, but there are several layers with artifacts and historical monuments that the specialists saw when they scanned the soil.
“We were forbidden to go deeper, but the eleventh and tenth centuries are there… They say that if we continue the excavations, we’ll destroy the stability of the entire structure. This was in a letter from the public utility company “Road Construction and Engineering Solutions in Kyiv”, which has commissioned the construction work.” says Sahaydak.
Public activists want to completely ban construction in this area. They underline that this work is illegal and maintain that a museum and a traffic junction should be planned here.
“After our Revolution of Dignity, Russia intensified its archeological excavations in two places – Novgorod and Crimea. As they’d lost Kyiv, they started searching for evidence of Kyivan Rus elsewhere. In Novgorod, they’re searching for any references to Kyivan Rus and the Varangians; in Crimea, they’re looking for any evidence that can be linked to the Christianization of Kyivan Rus. Therefore, if and when we find the actual place where this happened in Kyiv, it seems that the authorities in charge of our cultural heritage and the Ministry of Culture don’t quite understand what we’ve stumbled on!” underlines journalist and documentary director Akim Halimov.
He is convinced that Kyiv authorities are totally on the side of the investor.
“If the investor claims that they’ve funded 70% of the archeological site, but only 50% has been excavated, I’d like to ask the investor’s representative to show me what the law says if we find the place where Kyivan Rus was Christianized. If the law states that we must dig three truckfulls per day, but we find an entire street where you have to use pincers and brushes… well, someone has to pay for this work, but there’s nothing in the law about this!”
The developer’s representative maintains that the company has not put any pressure on the Kyiv City State Administration, but when he was asked whether the company would be ready to abandon the construction project and under what terms and conditions, Valeriy Oliynyk replied that there had been no such proposals, and the company had not yet formed an opinion on this option.
However, he points out that if construction is suspended, the archeological excavations will also be suspended as the developer currently finances more than the state.
The Parliamentary Committee
The Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Spirituality recommends that the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Kyiv City State Administration suspend construction and, in accordance with Article 36 of the Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage, refuse permission to continue foundation work related to the construction of a multifunctional facility and general renovation of Poshtova Square until experts have drawn up a road map for an archaeological survey of this cultural heritage and the future museum.
“It would be optimal if someone said that “we’ve made a mistake; we didn’t allow construction in that place, so the city will compensate the developer for his expenses – it will give the developer some land elsewhere, as we have worked out a certain concept for the museum. We’d like to create a museum dedicated to ancient Kyivan Rus; everything will be restored and placed in the museum”… and everyone will be happy. But unfortunately, it’s not going that way! The developer wants to finish what he started, and there’s no clear vision of what should be preserved. Our task is to find a way out and preserve this monument. Stopping construction and leaving the excavations open won’t get us anywhere.” explained Chairman Mykola Knyazhytsky at a meeting of the parliamentary committee.
The committee also insists that urgent measures should be taken to create a museum and finance the restoration of artifacts and other cultural objects.
The deputies pointed out that the final decision lies with the Kyiv City State Administration and the Ministry of Culture.
However, Deputy Minister of Culture Tamara Mazur notes that the ministry has limited resources and limited competence to act in this matter.
“We can approve decisions to register a monument and we can monitor the preservation of a monument that has been registered. Many people and organizations have asked us to grant this discovery the status of a national monument, but the local cultural heritage protection agency hasn’t yet submitted anything to the ministry.”
Acting Deputy Director of the Department of Culture of the Kyiv City State Administration Oleksandr Nikoryak declared that the developer had been ordered to stop construction work on unexplored sites, but work on the installation of the plaque can be continued in areas that have already been explored by the archeologists.
In October 2015, Skhemy* reporters revealed that construction on Poshtova Square is ongoing – the shopping mall is being integrated into the traffic junction, there has been no official allocation of land, and a unique archaeological find is under direct threat.
*Skhemy (Schemes) is a joint project of Radio Liberty and UA First Channel – a weekly TV programme documenting investigations and analyses of major political corruption schemes.
Skhemy investigation video (8 min in Ukrainian)
All photos by Serhii Korovalnyi for Radio Svoboda