Not all Ukraine’s brightest citizens are at the front, or in uniform investing their skills to ensure Russian defeat. Some are free from such obligations and continue to operate in the old ways, far from the bloodshed.
It’s hard to hide this awkward fact. New and illegal building activity is underway in the capital of a country fighting for its life, an activity that should very clearly be banned because it tramples on construction rules.
“Everyone wonders why our Western partners are dissatisfied with such a successful fight against corruption in Ukraine,” says Georgy Mohylnyi in a sadly ironic tone. A dedicated activist, he was an advisor for the Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention in conducting anti-corruption examinations in the field of urban planning, hired for that role by USAID.
The greatest disputes about illegal construction in historic Kyiv are caused by the disregarding of cultural heritage protection. Mohylnyi points to the Egoist residential complex in the Pechersk district. Construction on the site was frozen for years, as the permits were canceled, but work has now magically started again.
According to Ukrainian media, the company the building belongs to is Viktor Bondar, a Ukrainian MP, who used to be a member of former President Viktor Yanukovich’s pro-Russian Party of Regions.
According to the rules for this area, next to the city’s historical Olexandrivska hospital complex in the historical Kyiv Hills zone, any new building’s maximum height should be 22 meters (about 72ft.) The fact that the 36-floor building is probably higher (it must logically be more than 60 meters), didn’t stop the State Inspection of Architecture and Urban Planning of Ukraine (SIA) from granting permission to build this summer.
Mohylnyi explains: “It’s very easy for officials to check who exactly gave permission for an illegal decision, and that person should have been placed under investigation long ago. But instead, officials just keep talking about the preservation of cultural heritage and the never-ending fight against corruption in construction.”
Egoist Residence is far from the only case, although it is an eye-catching example. For example, another residential complex is being built in violation of the law next to Solomiansky Park in Kyiv.
Gennady Kryvosheya, head of the Public Council at Kyiv City Council, also talks about Egoist Residence. “How could the town planning council agree to the idea of building a 36-story high-rise building there?” he asks. The story of that construction is long, he explains, and back in 2019 permits for this building were suspended. But “miraculously” the developer received new permits in 2023.
“Another problem there is the steep slope. They have dug a space and they’re pouring in concrete foundations. However, if there’s heavy rain there’s a risk that a residential building standing on the hill, on Maryanenko 14, may simply be swept away, crack, etc,” he says. “The developer must be made to strengthen everything in accordance with the rules,” Kryvosheya says.
At the very least, the developer should be forced to obtain appropriate approvals from the neighbors. And should make sure apartment owners are insured while the construction of such complexes is underway, Kryvosheya suggests.
Instead, the residents of nearby buildings can’t stop
This author asked the information department at Kyiv City Council for Mayor Vitali Klitsko’s comments on how construction could have started, what the authorities are doing to protect nearby residents and their properties and to protect the historical face of Kyiv, too. The department acknowledged the request for comment and promised to arrange an opportunity to talk to the mayor. Four weeks later, no interview has been discussed or agreed upon. One question that would be asked — why did the mayor, who had personally promised to stop the development, allow his council to go ahead?
Another development is Kryvosheya in the middle of Ivan Bagrianiy Park. There was a small plot with a little store in the park. Later, the plot’s zoning was somehow changed so that a one-floor restaurant could be built. Now the developers, Kryvosheya says, are preparing a project to construct a four-floor building. This despite the fact that it is in a legally protected park zone. Currently, the construction is frozen until the end of the year, but the developer is still trying to secure site approval for the work, and some trees have already been cut down.
It should not be necessary to explain why such behavior is demotivating and enraging for Ukrainians. Men and women are fighting at the front, civilians are dying as they sleep. The people of Kyiv should not have to wonder what is more likely to destroy their home —a Russian missile or a developer determined to build a hillside skyscraper in the historical center.
Lera Burlakova is a Democracy Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA.) She is a journalist and former soldier from Ukraine. She served in combat from 2014-2017 after joining the Ukrainian army following the Russian invasion of Crimea. Her war diary “Life P.S.” received the UN Women in Arts award in 2021.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.