Thursday, February 03, 2011


“Say hi to the dinosaur,” mama tells us as we set off for the Natural History Museum (or whatever it's now called in Kyiv). Her memories of this museum must be fresher than mine: I haven't been to it since I was a kid, while she used to take children there when she worked at school in the late 1980s-early 90s.

On the way to the museum, we stop a few times and I take some pictures. The ugly new thing at Teatralna that's being built where it doesn't belong. A rather beautiful old building across the street that looks deserted and about to collapse. But there are four six satellite dishes on its facade, and there's light in many of its windows at night, and I've no idea if it's home to some homeless now, or to some more legitimate residents who are waiting for it to be refurbished and fixed. I explain to Marta, as simply as possible, why I'm taking pictures of these two structures, each gut-wrenching in its own way.


At the museum, the huge animal skeletons I used to be so impressed with as a child aren't all that huge anymore: I have grown, they haven't. The butterfly collection - something that I've remembered all these years - is still there. I keep looking for the dinosaur, but fail to find it: mama must have meant the mammoth.


Nestled underneath the skeleton of some huge, long-tailed sea creature, there's a dusty but neat scale model of the never-built Paleontological Park:


An elderly museum employee tells us that this construction project had been given up in the early 1990s - due to lack of funding, of course.

She then begins to follow us around, talking about things that everyone here seems to be preoccupied with: our dim-witted president, and his allies' notorious destruction and construction projects, including the one down the street, at Teatralna. She talks of her post-WWII Kyiv childhood, describes their cozy courtyard just off Maidan, and a little fountain that used to be there - but is now replaced by a tall new building that, of course, doesn't belong there.

She says she used to work at some “enterprise” - until they fired half of their workers. She found a job at this museum, while her friend went to work at one of Lavra’s (secular) museums - and is about to be unemployed again, because it looks like the current regime is shutting those Lavra museums down.

This museum isn't likely to last much longer, either, the woman tells me.

I hope she's wrong, but I won't be surprised if some fancy shopping mall does move in here, sooner or later. It's a huge building, but much of their collection is housed in the long corridors, and it's obvious that they do need more space, which could well be used as a justification for moving it elsewhere, to a less lucrative location.

So here is a Flickr set with some more pictures (lousy, taken with my iPhone) of this dinosaur (or mammoth) of a museum.

Now that I'm no longer a kid, what impresses me most here is this well-preserved - yet neutered, impotent - Sovietness. No one is consciously trying to recreate the atmosphere of that extinct country here, there's no Soviet propaganda left (and even if there is some, it no longer serves its purpose), but they lack money to modernize the place, and, perhaps, this isn't a bad thing, if it allows you to have such a wild time-travel experience. Because it is absolutely awesome to suddenly find yourself in a place that's as close in spirit as it gets to Eldar Ryazanov's Garage movie set - among other things.



  1. This is a lovely reflection on the museum, on time and memory, and on obsolescence. Very beautifully done.

  2. Thank you for conveying so well this time-travel experience... In Yaroslavl', the historical museum has lovely scenes featuring stuffed bears and mooses in pale-hued cardboard settings, the whole thing commented with old-aged type-writer texts. Quite moving, even though I am in no position to relate it to "Sovietness"...

    But I tell you that here in Sion, Switzerland, we also have a natural Museum with very old stuffed animals, and exactly the same glass-paned shwocases. I think it dates back to the 1930ies. In the winter, it is lovely to go there with the children, who adore the dusty and worn-furred lions, and can have some motion on the huge noisy wooden stairs...

    The Museum is bound to be displaced and re-vamped, and the offices of the Provincial Justice system (now next block) will expand in the building. Funds have not been available for it so far ... FORTUNATELY!!


    P.S. Don't you agree there is something special about the SMELL of such places?