Crematorium on Baikova Hill, Kiev. Architect – A. Miletsky Concept, design, architectural plastics – A. Rybachuk, V. Melnichenko Geometric construction of the Hall of Farewells – A. Podgorny
Perhaps the most interesting sculptural monument in Kiev is still sealed in concrete by the orders of a member of the Politburo, the first secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party V. Scherbitsky, in the spring of 1982.
The monument is made in the style of a wall with a length of 214 meters and a height ranging from 4 to 14 meters, along which funeral processions are held. The wall itself depicts a sequence of unfolding scenes from world history and mythology – from the myth of Prometheus to World War II and post-war reconstruction. The wall is located in Memory Park, the logical epicentre represented by an outstanding monument of Soviet and world neo-modernism – a crematorium in the form of opening petals or portals, leading to the underworld. The crematorium is believed to have been built based on the design of architect Abraham (Abe) Miletsky, co-author of the famous “Salute” Hotel and the Walk of Fame in Kiev.
“Salute Hotel” Kiev. Architects: A. Miletsky, N.I. Logotskaya, V.G. Shevchenko, 1982 – 1984
Miletsky participated in several bright projects in Kiev in co-authorship with the monumental artists, the creative team of Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko. One of these is the Palace of Pioneers, whose expressive mosaics were created by Ada and Vladimir. But in recognition of all those written into history, the Wall of Remembrance on Baikova Hill, which the artists worked on for almost 14 years, is the most extraordinary, venerable and powerful of all that existed and still exist in Kiev, and possibly even in the territory of the former USSR. The writer Maxim Kantor, for example, calls the Wall of Remembrance – the Soviet Sagrada Familia, part of the “common cause.” Even poor quality photographs and drafts of the project are enough to impress, and when you immerse yourself deeper into the history of its creation, you end up discovering the energy of a truly monumental design.
The Wall of Remembrance, 1990’s
The wall project involves a journey along the perimeter of death, during which pictures of archetypal images appear one after another, like slides. Images change one after another, but not in a linear sequence, but rather following the logic of a sacred myth. At the beginning of the journey along the wall - Woman – Keeper, Woman – Rain. She appears as a message from the top down, from the “heavenly” to the “vale of the earth” – like a veil consisting of streamers, sanctifying suffering and filling tears with meaning. During the passage along the wall, a participant of the burial was called upon to go through the psychotherapeutic stages of grief. His personal grief is transformed into the alchemy of creativity with the help of expressive plastic and visual images, becoming impersonal. Eschatological world meanings: Icarus and Prometheus, Spring, Rainbow, Blossoming Garden, Love, Creativity, Maternity, Knowledge, Man and Beast, Feat – they all sort of “demagnetized” the meaning of the individual, the personal suffering of a participant in a funeral procession, and reconciled and appeased him with reality. The personal was erased, dispersed, melted by the symbolic aggregators of collective grief, suffering, struggle and pain… Toward the end of the path remains only the purified collective experience of death. The sense of one’s own loss was replaced by the experience of universal human feelings. The passion and fury invested in the wall by the artists acted as a cleansing fire. As you move along the wall, the viewer’s feelings, like a ceramic product, have been subjected to consecutive “roasting” in some transpersonal “kilns,” so that they come out dry from tears, spiritualized, reinforced, and internally strong. We symbolically burn in the fire of the furnaces of Babi Yar, Majdanek and Auschwitz, specifically for the purpose of acquiring wisdom and compassion. And here, in the final stage of the journey along the wall, a figure of a hovering man awaits us, with arms outstretched, resembling the outline of a cross or wings. This figure marked the triumph of Life, in spite of, and perhaps, even because of Death. The title “The Wall of Remembrance” is not about an individual drop of memory, but about the entire ocean of human memory.
Memory Park on Baikova Hill, view from above
Looking at the surviving documents, plans and pictures of the wall, I see a labyrinth of sorts within this winding path. Along with the living, the dead also pass through the labyrinth. But the living accompany the body of the deceased, their feelings are tested and transformed under the magnetic influence of the symbols of the wall. And for the deceased, this labyrinth has the character of the true inevitability of the finale. At the end of the path, in the centre of the labyrinth, a fire awaits them, which will turn their body into ashes and completely free them from the physical, imperfect component. As a result, the deceased is destined to become a pure abstraction of memories.
In ancient cultures, the deceased were given instructions, the so-called Book of the Dead. This complex FAQ, like the thread of Ariadne, helps the deceased pass the posthumous labyrinth, the sequence of trials, quests and court procedures. In the Soviet society of the 1980’s, there was a clear lack of such instruction for the dead, seeing as the Soviet empire, despite all its claims to expand their range of influence, stubbornly refused to spread its possessions beyond the boundaries of the existence of physical bodies. Perhaps, this became the fatal mistake of the USSR. The idea of paradise on earth was translated, bringing expectations of an early era of prosperity and immortality. In actual fact, the project of a hell on Earth in the “Gulag Archipelago” became more successful. But if the Soviet communist paradise for heroes and exemplary Communists were to be introduced into the afterlife, if the idea of Purgatory in anticipation of the Terrible Revolutionary Court or the seven circles of Hell had been thought out – from the Trotskyites to the petty bourgeoisie, then the empire might not have been so stagnant and could have successfully adapted in the era of social networks. In this sense, the wall can be viewed as a double labyrinth – both for the living and the dead simultaneously. But the dead pass through it for the last time before their mortal body turns into smoke and wind in the fire, while the living pass through it over and over again, escorting their loved ones into oblivion. For the living, this transition is purifying and liberating, but always appears to be partial, inconclusive. It only appears complete and exhaustive for the dead.
A preserved image of a fragment of the Wall of Remembrance.
Let’s remember in what conditions and circumstances the wall was designed. At the end of the Soviet era, in the relay race of the empire’s leaders dying one by one, Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko, deeply immersed in the sacred Ukrainian folk eschatology, tried to “hide” from the censorship of the conscious and the censorship of the sharp-pointed party message. This is similar to how the unconscious hides thoughts that are too traumatic and conflicting from the super-ego, and issues them in the form of symbols, dreams and reservations. In this sense, the CPSU, whose “leading and guiding force” had been solidified in law, presents itself to be nothing more than a “super-ego,” dictating, prescriptive and directive. And it should be noted that this “super-ego” is in a certain sense, blind, seeing as it is only able to observe distortions, deviations from oneself. The “super-ego” is able to observe only the failure of their commands, inconsistency with their expectations, deviation from their patterns. It is not able to detect everything. It is the reality of the unconscious. Nevertheless, the wall created an overly intense force field and grandiose vibrations. It shook the foundations too much to pass through censorship unchecked, to survive. The reliefs of the wall were broken out of narrow in-service rails, on which it was possible to ride without the threat of punishment. It makes sense that the Kiev Parteigenosse did not pay attention to the “suspicious” meanings of the wall themselves, nor did they do so immediately. Other creators joined in a long game against the wall, but the main role in the sealing was played by two unseen characters: fear and envy. Fear of local party functionaries to Moscow, perhaps, was inferior to the fear of colleagues in the shop who were impressed by the project of the wall. If this wall was open to the public eye, the hierarchy of Ukrainian artists would now look quite different, and the wall itself would undoubtedly fulfil the role of one of the centers of aesthetic pilgrimage. It is impossible to deny that the value of many architectural corners becomes visible only thanks to the view of the Other. Strangers, travellers and guests open their eyes, not even being aware of logs, let alone beauty.
Triumph, no doubt, was waiting for the wall. And for the time being, it continues to wait.
The current state of Memory Park.
According to some sources, it was during the construction of Memory Park, including the wall and crematorium itself, that a creative tension arose between Abraham Miletsky on the one hand, and Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko on the other. Conflict was inevitable in any case, as their approaches were too different, despite all their similarities. All the works of Abe Miletsky are very functional, elegant and concise. They have no sense of anything extra, they always leave a slight taste of “understatement,” as if the viewer should discover the most important thing themselves while contemplating the object. Miletsky leaves hints, “bookmarks,” clues – as if it were a trail of bread crumbs. He forms space as an architectural poet of apophatic persuasion – speaking of the unimportant, the accidental, he points to something very significant. But the main substance of his work usually appears to be futuristic, or fantastic. Almost all of his works bear this message of the presence of the unbelievable and unattainable, expressed through deliberate silence. With just one fold, one row of rhythmically repeated parapets, he forms the attraction of otherness… and then – silence. Abraham Miletsky is the creator of the flickeringly light architecture of the aftertaste. He played a tremendous part in Kiev being perceived exactly as it is.
Polyclinic of the Union of Writers of the Ukrainian SSR. Architects: A. Miletsky, V. G. Shevchenko, late 1980’s.
But Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko are made entirely of another substance. Their works are akin to the painful Rodin presence in the world, exhausting, frenzied and passionate. So was their design for the wall. The terribly laborious and painful work of a small team creating the wall over the course of seven years permeated every centimetre of it with a mood of struggle and hard work. The wall is chthonic, it has a certain gloomy power, a powerful burning expression that emanates from its depths. This encompassing expressiveness was emphasized by a flat pool – a lake bound by concrete, collected from a local source, over which the creators moved the bridge-ramp to the Hall of Farewells. If the coffin with the body of the deceased is a symbolic, transformed boat, then the meaning of the ritual is obvious. The surface of the water stretched along the wall, doubling it in reflection. Therefore, in some sense, there should have been two walls – a reflected wall (ghostly) and an earthly wall (present). The wall itself was a wall of irrevocable farewells, successively torn from the weeping mourners, fragment after fragment, episode after episode. The reflection in the surface of the lake absorbed the earthly pain and earthly feelings, making them increasingly unsteady and fluid. The fire, pain and passion of the reliefs contrasted with carefree and innocent reflections in the water. Pain, when reflected, was blunted. Step by step, the living, half dead from the pain of losing a loved one, slowly came back to life.
“The Wall of Remembrance”, illustration from a book.
Every element, every bend, the ascent and descent of the last path along the wall was placed, felt, and laid by Ada and Vladimir personally, in sync with the magnetic fields by which the heart is guided. All of this was decided directly and immediately on the site every day for 7 years. They left their souls in these reliefs and forms. Therefore, the decision to seal the reliefs of the wall in concrete buried them as artists, in a certain sense. They remained forever there, in this Memory Park, dissolving in a reservoir of reflected collective memory. They both felt an inseparable blood connection to the wall. Therefore, if you walk here, you may well see their two shadows on the edge of the whirlpool of memory.
“When they destroyed our reliefs,” – Ada Rybachuk recalled later, “for about 10 years, I did not sense color, the world became black and white for me.” Ada Rybachuk died in 2010. Vladimir continues to work.
Within three months, 300 mortar machines of cement were poured onto the almost finished high relief. The burial was entrusted to the same workers who helped the artists build the wall.
It is said that it was the famous Abraham Miletsky, having fallen out with the artists, who played the main role in this, complaining and personally slandering them in the offices of party officials, which in a way, is not surprising. Functionality is above all. The apophatic way of knowing the truth includes, for example, the enumeration of all conceivable and inconceivable lies in order to delineate a non-negotiable truth. No less plausible is the version that the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian SSR, Vladimir Scherbitsky, after personally examining the construction, noted the non-Slavic (!) noses of the figures.
Around the wall was a garden of specially selected apple and rowan trees. According to Ada and Vladimir’s plans, birds were supposed to sing in the garden, but the trees should be kept cut so as not to cast a shadow. Shadows could be cast only by the participants in the ritual – but even then, only their own shadows. The garden was not supposed to have nooks in corners under shady branches, the wind and the sun had to be able to pierce through.
Investigating the previous projects of Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko, we can conclude that the wall had matured through their work for years, if not decades. And Babi Yar, bleeding in the heart of every Kyivite, played an important role in this. The project presented by the artists in the contest for a monument to those killed in Babi Yar that took place in 1965, three years before beginning the wall, clearly demonstrates this. The project presented by Ada and Vladimir, “When the world collapses. Babi Yar”, was recognized by the commission of experts as one of the best, but it was never implemented, as the competition closed, the project also closed. However, the thought did not die. The idea of the people’s catastrophe, the realization of the unspeakable horror, irreversibility and the purifying fire of death served as an internal and creative platform for the wall. The wall in some sense connected Babi Yar and Baikova Hill, despite the fact that these areas are on opposite ends of Kiev.
Fragment of the project of the memorial to the victims of Babi Yar, 1965. A. Rybachuk, V. Melnichenko.
The memorial in Babi Yar was never put up. Subsequently, as a result of numerous compromises and variations, fragmented signs were erected – separately for the victims of the Holocaust, separately for the victims of the Kureniv tragedy, separately for the Melnik nationalists, and separately for the prisoners of war and Soviet citizens. The memory of Babi Yar is monumentally split into irreducible, non-converging historical layers. But the Wall of Remembrance on Baikova Hill is all-accepting and abstract, devoid of a link to genetic and ideological conditioning. Death equalizes everyone. And in order for this equality to become irreversible, the Wall of Remembrance itself was sealed in concrete, aligned into a faceless form, devoid of anything. The art, designed to express and heal the suffering of death, was buried.
And this, you must admit, is the delightful joke of insensitive fate.
Author Oleg Shmyrin