The national reserve, the manager of the entire territory of the Lavra, almost never knew what the Moscow church was building and what it would look like, Kostyantyn Krayniy, deputy director of the reserve, tells Babel. The priests met the scientists with changes that already had happened: they said that they had built a church store, enlarged the building, or built a new one. Sometimes churchmen agreed with the reserve on the architectural plan of the new building. But when it was built, it was larger, of a different shape, and atypical for Lavra architecture.
The reserve tried to fight this, but to no effect. The interests of the church were protected by members of the Verkhovna Rada from the Party of Regions, the Communist Party of Ukraine, and other politicians. The reserve still remembers numerous publications in newspapers, where the leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine Petro Symonenko confessed to the governor of the Lavra Pavlo that he believed in God.
In 2007, Pavlo sent a letter to the Verkhovna Rada to hand over the entire territory of the monastery to the UOC MP, evicting the museums from the Upper Lavra. He explained this by the restoration of historical justice, because once all this belonged to the church, and the communists took it away after 1917.
Symonenko is one of those who supported Pavlo, Krayniy recalls. He says that at that time there was a dangerous situation — the majority in the parliament was controlled by the Party of Regions and BYUT, which formed a coalition. It was difficult to persuade the deputies not to make such a decision.
In 2008, Pavlo even wanted to run for the Kyiv City Council as a member of the Communist Party of Ukraine faction, but changed his mind. For six years, he was a deputy of the city council as a member of the Party of Regions faction — until the summer of 2014. Pavlo, as the governor of the Lavra, was the main initiator of the construction works in the monastery: he constantly wanted to expand the parish and increase earnings, so he built hotel complexes for believers, seminaries and housing for students who studied there.
There were enough believers of the UOC MP among the pro-Ukrainian wing of politicians. Presidents Leonid Kuchma, Viktor Yushchenko and fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych, as well as all Ukrainian prime ministers and government officials, came to the Lavra for church holidays. Therefore, when the national reserve sent letters to the Kyiv City State Administration, and after 2010 to the Ministry of Culture about the illegal construction or destruction of the historical monument, the complaints were "lost" in officialsʼ offices.
“The reserve couldnʼt do anything about it. We had no influence. It is impossible to imagine that the director of a cultural institution is going against the system in 2011”, says Krayniy.
In 2010, the reconstruction of the Lavra reached such a scale that UNESCO wanted to exclude the monastery complex from the list of world heritage. A commission came to the Lavra several times to check, until finally in 2012, UNESCO turned a blind eye to the new buildings. After the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-14, priests of the UOC-MP began to build less in the monastery, says Krayniy. The political situation changed, church lobbyists fled en masse to Russia, and those who remained did not want to stand up for Russia because of the war in the east and the occupation of Crimea.
Church members could no longer unquestioningly ignore the legislation, as they did before, so in recent years they did not build new buildings, but completed what they started in 2010-2012, the deputy director explains.
The reserve says there are three main problems with the development of Lower Lavra. The new buildings destroy the architectural ensemble, even if they were stylized to match the old times (whitewashed and covered with green tiles).
“An uninformed person will go to the observation deck and not understand what the problem is. Everything will seem clean and beautiful, because there is no concrete and glass”, says Krayniy. “But the preservation of the historical heritage consists in keeping the complex as it was a hundred years ago and earlier”.
From the observation deck of the Upper Lavra, a panorama of the monastery complex — the Lower Lavra opens. A hotel complex of the 19th century stands right behind the wall. The church reconstructed the roof — made an attic floor in order to rent out rooms to more believers and earn more from it. For example, an overnight stay at the hotel Lavra Pilgrim on the territory of Lower Lavra costs from 70 to 100 hryvnias.
And this is a three-story "Economic block" with an attic. If you approach the building from the front entrance, it seems that it is one story. Additional floors are hidden on the other side — where the slope is lower. What was supposed to be in it is unknown. In 2017, the State Inspection of Architecture and Urban Planning recognized it and two other buildings ("Brothersʼ Building" and "Monastery Cellar") as illegal construction — therefore it was not inhabited.
These three buildings are sandwiched between other historical buildings of the Lavra. In 2011, the ground shifted here, the reserve carried out strengthening works, and the monks decided to build something here. They did not ask permission from the reserve — they planned to legalize the construction later, but it was finished after the Revolution of Dignity and the beginning of the war.
Until the beginning of the 18th century, the monastery was one-story, but later in the course of construction, the number of floors increased, and during the time of the Moscow Patriarchate, the height of the buildings reached four floors.
Another problem is that instead of the Ukrainian Baroque style, bulb-shaped domes have appeared on reconstructed historical monuments. And they are normal for Russia, not Ukraine. Here is an example in the photo.
The gate is the entrance to the territory of the Near Caves, an architectural monument of the 18th century. During the Second World War, it was destroyed during shelling. In Soviet times, it was restored to the way it was before — the arch from the bottom, but without the mosaic and crown. In 2016, the church decided to make the gate more beautiful. They laid out a colored mosaic on a golden background, which does not correspond to the style of the Lavraʼs monumental painting. And they also completed the domes. Now the gate is higher than the neighboring 18th century building — the entrance to the Middle Caves.
“A regular person wonʼt see this, because one thing shines, the other also shines. But it was the Ukrainian style, from Ivan Mazepa times, with roofs Taras Shevchenko sketched here. And now, instead of them, they are like those in Russia,” says Kostyantyn Krayniy.
Half of the new buildings of the Moscow Patriarchate are capital: made of brick and with basements. These include three- and four-story buildings, garages, and warehouses.
Thirty-six new buildings of the monastery are not in the official list of the reserve. In order for this to happen, Krayniy recently contacted the police.
If the court finds the rebuilding of the monastery illegal, then it is necessary to decide whether to demolish the new buildings or reconstruct them in the Baroque style. The second point is that it is necessary to punish those responsible for changing the monastery. Krayniy says that this is a question of the coming years and there are no answers to them yet, as well as money for the restoration of architecture.
Until March 2023, the vicar of the Lavra, Pavlo, received visitors in his house on the territory of the monastery. Nearby in the garden on the slopes, he made an aviary where he kept chickens and five peacocks. They were given to him more than eight years ago. When the reserve terminated the lease agreement, the birds were taken away first.
Until 2004, a small one-story building stood on the site of this house — the workshop of the Lavra restorers. The monks told the manager of the reserve that they wanted to renovate the building — but they demolished it and built another, three times larger in size, and also two stories high.
The wall around the Lavra is an architectural landmark. A dining room and a kitchen were added to it. Now the wall is getting wet and can collapse, so the dining room has to be demolished.
Another 14 objects built on the territory of the Lavra are kiosks with candles and literature, a gazebo, and metal booths for guards at various entrances to the Lavra.
Until 2013, an infectious disease hospital worked on the territory of the Lavra. Vicar Pavlo managed to get it evicted from the monastery, because it was “unpleasant” for him to be around people infected with HIV/AIDS. "Would you like a den near your apartment? I donʼt like that a person lives with me who went for a walk and got these diseases that you can get. And I pray, I ask God for forgiveness, and that someone will reward me here, walking around the territory," Pavlo said.
One hundred years ago, there was a chapel in the hospital. The Moscow Patriarchate wanted to restore it. The reserve allowed. But instead of a small church in the middle of the hospital, the monastery built it there on an entire floor, put a dome on the roof, significantly changing the building. To return the hospital to its historical appearance, the dome must be demolished.
Kostyantyn Krayniy says that the Russian emperors ordered the destruction of baroque paintings in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, because they didnʼt like them. Drawings were knocked off the walls with hammers and new ones were made in their place — in the academic St. Petersburg style. The Kyiv intellectuals were furious, but they could influence only by hiding information about some of the paintings from the emperors. They were hidden and not advertised. During the years of the Ukrainian independence, history repeated itself with the Moscow Patriarchate.
“We understand that this tactic has been in effect for three centuries — the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and now the Russian Federation through the Moscow Patriarchate washed away our identity,” says Krayniy. “The Lavra is a monument of national and world importance. When I hear that a church is good, they made a warm floor or widened the gate, I wonder — at what cost? Isnʼt it a problem that it cost us our identity?
The head of the Synodal Information and Educational Department of the UOC MP, Metropolitan Klyment of Nizhyn and Pryluky, said in a comment to Babel that the ministerial commission, which works on the territory of the Lower Lavra, has not yet submitted any comments to the monastery regarding the construction or operation of the buildings. According to him, UNESCO twice held worldwide events in the Lavra and assessed the state of preservation of the architectural ensemble.
"The monastery could not build anything in the Lavra without coordinating with the management of the reserve. All documents are kept in the reserve and the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine. The monastery restored the chapel in the infectious disease hospital, fulfilled all the prescriptions of historical and architectural institutions. On the other hand, the hospital building and its chapel were in poor condition. None of the officials answered for this,” Klyment said.
According to him, when the monastery restored historical monuments, it consulted with art historians of the reserve and paid for their work. This was also the case when the gate leading to the Upper Caves was being restored.
“The monastery spent its own funds on the restoration and preservation of historical buildings. The reserve didnʼt do anything. Previous heads of the reserve said that the Ministry of Culture is happy that there is no need to spend budgetary funds on restoration,” Klyment added.
Church shops, says the metropolitan, were established by the monastery because it is not prohibited by law. The money went to preserve the historical heritage and maintain the monastery.
“The bills for heating, water and electricity in Lavra reach more than two million hryvnias every month,” says Klyment.