The Austrian architecture company Coop Himmelb(l)au, which designed an opera theater complex in Russian-occupied Crimea, had secretly worked on the project after public denials. This follows from information shared with Euromaidan Press by Anton Korynevych, the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine to Crimea, the peninsula which Russia had occupied in 2014.
The first hints of Coop Himmelb(l)au cooperating with the occupation government in Crimea came to light in January 2019, when Russian occupation authorities of Sevastopol bragged to Russian media that the “famous Austrian architectural bureau” created an architectural concept for the new opera house in the Russian-occupied city. It is part of a large-scale complex consisting of an opera and ballet theater, choreographic school, cinema hall, museum, hotel, restaurant, etc.
Then, Wolf D. Prix, CEO of Coop Himmelb(l)au, denied the existence of any plans of his firm for Sevastopol to the online media Salzburger Nachrichten and Die Presse. However, just days before, his personal assistant Petra Königsegger-Dabrowski sent an email to the Russian online media primechaniya.ru confirming that Coop Himmelb(l)au was indeed the designer of the project in Sevastopol and that it would go on the company’s official website when the contract was finalized.
It appears that the company’s work on the object in Sevastopol had been undergoing despite the public denials of its officials.
In a written statement to Euromaidan Press, Mr. Korynevych told that Himmelblau continues to perform the architectural development of the construction of the “Sevastopol State Opera and Ballet Theatre,” at the same time denying this fact starting from 2019, when the news about it leaked to mass media.
According to him, officially, the Austrian company has contract agreements with the Russian National Cultural Heritage Fund, the Russian LLC “Gorka Project Institute,” JSC “Stroytransgaz,” and LLC “Metropolis,” which are involved in developing and constructing the theater in occupied Sevastopol, fulfilling the orders of the Russian authorities.
“Proof of this is the direct participation of the managing partner of Coop Himmelb(l)au Marcus Prossnigg in a meeting of Russian government officials and the occupation administration of the city of Sevastopol held on 10 August 2020, to discuss technical and economic parameters, including a timetable for the design and construction of cultural objects in the city. In particular, Marcus Prossnigg’s report that Coop Himmelb(l)au would complete the master-plan for the so-called ‘Sevastopol State Opera and Ballet Theatre’ by 20 October 2020 was taken into account at this meetinп, as well as further preparation of the Austrian architectural bureau together with LLC «Metropolis» for the State expertise of the project documentation,” Mr. Korynevych added,
This means that the company had been secretly working on the project despite public denials all through 2019 and 2020, until on 30 November 2020, Mr. Prix decried the whole debate as “somewhat hypocritical” to the Süddeutsche Zeitung and defended his choice because it’s a “cultural building and not a barracks.”
Ukraine responded to the situation by announcing it will enact sanctions against the company’s representatives.
“The management of this Austrian company has decided to step on thin ice. They will be banned from entering Ukraine, and the international reputation of this company will suffer serious losses. Now, when mentioning this bureau, one will immediately mention the shameful complicity of the invaders in committing an international crime and the status of the pocket architect of the Kremlin regime,” stated the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s special representative for sanctions policy Oleksiy Makeev.
As well, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol opened criminal proceedings regarding the Coop Himmelb(l)au representatives violating procedures for entering Crimea. According to Ukrainian law, entry to the occupied peninsula may only happen through the appropriate land checkpoints.
The building in Sevastopol is one of four cultural buildings that will be built in Russia on Russian President Putin’s initiative by 2023: in the west (Kaliningrad), north (Kemerovo), east (Vladivostok), and south, in the occupied city of Sevastopol – symbolically uniting the four points of Vladimir Putin’s realm, enlargened after the occupation of Crimea, and fossilizing his grip on the land annexed from Ukraine. Two of those projects — the ones in Sevastopol and in Kemerovo — are developed by Coop Himmelb(l)au.