Lonely Planet Writer

See these artistic relics of the Soviet era in Kyiv before they disappear forever

Kyiv was for a long time under Soviet rule and this has left deep marks on the cityscape of the Ukrainian capital. Numerous monumental mosaics of different sizes and forms today dot the facades of the city’s universities, residential buildings, metro stations and hospitals. They are the relics of the Soviet era in Ukraine.

Soviet era mosaics in jeopardy in Kyiv
Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Dejavu/500px

The mosaics are also a very divisive form of art that may soon completely disappear. In 2015 the Ukrainian government adopted a law on decommunisation, which has put Soviet mosaics under threat of destruction. The society is now polarised by this issue, with some people claiming that Soviet heritage has no place in modern Ukraine and others pointing out that the mosaics have great artistic value and should therefore be preserved.

The supporters of the latter idea have created the Soviet Mosaics in Ukraine project, with the aim to explore, preserve and popularise the unique and great heritage of Ukrainian mosaics. The project’s website contains a large database of existing mosaics across the country (which is searchable either by location or artist), as well as a map.

Here are our picks of the most interesting Soviet mosaics in Kyiv, Ukraine:

1.Mosaics ‘Ukrainian Madonna’, ‘Heart of Danko’ and ‘Kyiv Chestnuts’ by Vasyl Ovchynnikov

Mosaics by Vasyl Ovchynnikov
Mosaics ‘Ukrainian Madonna’, ‘Heart of Danko’ and’ Kyiv Chestnuts’ by Vasyl Ovchynnikov. Photo by: Pavlo Fedykovych

2. Mosaic in Zoloti Vorota metro station

Zoloti Vorota metro station mosaic
Mosaic in Zoloti Vorota metro station. Photo by: Pavlo Fedykovych

3. Mosaic panel ‘Blacksmiths of the present’  by Galina Zubchenko and Grygoryi Pryshedko

'Blacksmiths of the present'
The mosaic panel ‘Blacksmiths of the present’ by Galina Zubchenko and Grygoryi Pryshedko. Photo by: Pavlo Fedykovych

4. Mosaic panel ‘Victory over cancer’ by Galina Zubchenko and Grygoryi Pryshedko

'Victory over cancer'
The mosaic panel ‘Victory over cancer’ by Galina Zubchenko, Grygoryi Pryshedko. Photo by: Pavlo Fedykovych

5. Mosaic relief by Volodymyr Bovkun

Volodymyr Bovkun's mosaic relief
Mosaic relief by Volodymyr Bovkun. Photo by: Pavlo Fedykovych

6. Mosaic composition ‘Kyi, Shchek, Khoryv and their sister Lybid’ by Grygir Dovzhenko

mosaic composition by Grygir Dovzhenko
Mosaic composition ‘Kyi, Shchek, Khoryv and their sister Lybid’ by Grygir Dovzhenko. Photo by Pavlo Fedykovych

A related artistic phenomenon in Kyiv since the Maidan revolution has been the appearance of giant murals painted on the sides of multistorey buildings. Many of these are creations by foreign artists but Ukrainian themes dominate. Some of these examples of street art are so impressive that they have become tourist attractions in their own right.

It could be argued that both the Soviet-era mosaics and the 21st-century street art are a modern version of the great tradition of Orthodox fresco painting, which is particularly strong in Ukraine. Church murals, mosaics and frescoes developed across the country in the 10th century, and some of the oldest and most beautiful frescoes can be seen in Kyiv’s St Sophia’s Cathedral.

By Pavlo Fedykovych