Ukraine has a long and rich heritage, golden domes of magnificent churches, fascinating architecture, scenic views, and a charming atmosphere infused with legends about brave Ukrainians. Ukraine has a more than 1000-year history, is a crossroads for various cultures, and is abode to seven astounding UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The country has over 140 thousand monuments and immovable cultural heritage objects. Almost half of these (49.8%) are archaeological monuments, 37% are historical monuments, 11.1% are architectural and urban planning monuments, 2% are monumental art monuments, and less than 0.1% are enrolled monuments of engineering and science. Landscape architecture, and landscape.
The Prior Period
Ukrainian architecture can be traced back to antiquity when Greek colonies were established in what is now known as the Crimean peninsula. The majestic ruins of ancient masonry architecture can still be found on the Black Sea coast, which used to be the polis (city-state) of Ancient Greece.
Chersonesus, built in the fifth century BC, is one of the most remarkable places in Ukraine to learn about the ancient history of architecture. It is located on the outskirts of Sevastopol, on the north shore of the Black Sea. The Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013, a year before the Russian Federation temporarily occupied Crimea.
The Medieval Period
Authentic Ukrainian architecture was shaped during the reign of the Kievan Rus. Many of these medieval Ukrainian structures have been preserved to this day. Ukraine has a distinguished tradition of sacral architecture. The Tithe, built by Volodymyr the Great around 988–996—right after the Christianization of Kyivan Rus’ began—is the oldest church that has only survived in its foundation.
Under the influence of Christianity, Byzantine-style buildings with an authentic Ukrainian approach to construction and ornamentation began to appear. The best example is Kyiv‘s St. Sophia Cathedral (XI century), which has survived to the present day but has undergone extensive Baroque reconstruction. It is yet another example of UNESCO heritage in Ukraine.
The Ukrainians’ heroic spirit was embodied in their defensive architecture. Following the Tatar-Mongol invasion, Kyivan Rus’ cities were fortified with tower fortresses, fortified monasteries, and castles. Many of them have survived to the present day and compete to be the most beloved and visited sites by tourists and architecture enthusiasts. Aside from their defensive function, these structures exhibit the original Ukrainian style as decorative ornament in the form of Ukrainian sheets or embroidery lined with red brick.
Renaissance and Ukrainian Gothics
The Tatar-Mongol invasion had the most negligible impact on western Ukraine. Cities and trade expanded, attracting foreigners who brought new stylistic approaches to architecture to Ukraine. Catholic churches dominated the religious structures. The Latin Cathedral in Lviv was instrumental in establishing the new style and is now a national architectural landmark. Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and Hungary influenced many gothic buildings.
Lviv is also the site of the most vivid Renaissance representation. The Renaissance ensemble of houses in one of the city’s central squares has been almost completely preserved and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lviv is one of Ukraine’s most visited cities due to its unique aesthetic concept and combination of different architectural styles.
Baroque Ukrainian or “Cossack”
Baroque culture began to permeate old Ukrainian culture in the second half of the 17th century. However, it flourished and gained flair under the influence of local masters. Its emergence in Ukraine is linked to the era of liberation wars, the Cossack national uprising, and the general awakening of national consciousness. The Church of St. Elijah in Subotiv, which Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky ordered built in 1653, was one of the first examples of the new Ukrainian style.
Ukrainian Baroque architecture reflects festivity, a sense of peace of mind, as well as dynamics, expression, contrast, and triumph. The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and Kyiv buildings, which had a decisive influence on the entire Ukrainian architecture in the 18th century, exemplified the new artistic preferences.
Eclecticism, Romanticism, and Classicism
The Ukrainian people in the Russian Empire faced some of the cruellest days in their history in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Ukraine’s autonomy was gradually eroded as a result of the tsarist policy. The autonomous military, the Hetmanate government, and entire administrative systems were decommissioned. Ukrainian artistic life reflected this national and cultural oppression.
Authorities in St. Petersburg developed and distributed albums with approved facades in the early 1800s, resulting in lower architectural quality. At the same time, a special committee considered the possibility of creating separate valuable buildings for individual projects. That is when private palaces and homesteads began to appear in greater numbers, becoming one of the most prominent legacies of the Classicism and Romanticism periods.
The Russian authorities issued an order prohibiting the construction of Ukrainian-style churches in 1800. Instead, churches in the pseudo-Byzantine and seemingly “Moscow” style began to appear around the middle of the nineteenth century. However, Ukrainian art did not vanish; it adapted template projects and produced several new original works.
The stylistic unity of classicism was destroyed in the second half of the nineteenth century. The difficult period of capitalism’s establishment was reflected in architecture: new materials and customers appeared. There is a style known as “eclecticism” (mixing).
The architecture of the nineteenth century in Ukraine is a mix of styles, including neo-gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque, and neo-baroque in Odesa National Opera and historicist in Chernivtsi University. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ukrainian Modern Architecture
, The revival of the Ukrainian architectural style spread among Ukrainians at the turn of the twentieth century. As a result of industrialisation, urbanisation, and scientific and technological progress, the modern architectural movement arose. It also existed to address discrimination, social inequality, and segregation.
Ukrainian architectural modernity (UAM), one of the most important concepts, was founded on a new national identity. The Ukrainian Art and Architecture Department at Kharkiv University was established to ” spread the Ukrainian style” and Ukrainian art in general, as well as “preserve other Ukrainian monuments and revive Ukrainian architecture.”
Ukrainian architects such as Vasyl Krychevskyi, Ivan Levynskyi, Serhii Tymoshenko, Konstiantyn Zhukov, Dmytro Diachenko, and Viktor Trotsenko sought to find original architectural solutions by returning to traditional folk forms.
More than 500 facilities of this style have been built over the years of UAM development. The legacy of UAM is incomplete. Much was destroyed during World War I, the war with Bolshevik Russia and Poland, and World War II. The Soviet authorities did not bother to preserve UAM facilities, instead destroying them or providing inadequate restoration. For decades, the work and fate of these architects remained in obscurity.
The Slovo Building, built between modernism and constructivism, is one of the buildings with a fascinating and tragic story. The Russian Federation damaged it and hundreds of other buildings in Kharkiv during the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
After WWII, Constructivism and Reconstruction
Constructivism emerged as one of the new avant-garde, proletarian art directions in the Soviet Union immediately after the October Revolution. The idea behind this new direction was to abandon “art for art’s sake” in favour of production. Constructivists proposed the tasks of “constructing” environments and sought to understand the opportunities of new technologies and the aesthetic qualities of materials such as metal, wood, and glass. Ukrainian constructivism was in Kyiv and Kharkiv. After Ukraine gained independence, many buildings were preserved and restored to their original state.
The pompous and repressive Stalinist regime supplanted the revolutionary avant-garde. Previously favoured by the Soviet regime, constructivist architects turned against the state. Newspapers carried editorials calling for an end to “simplistic schematism” and “joyful” socialist architecture. The regime accused constructivists of being bourgeois agents with no connection to the cheerful worldview of the working class. As a result, constructivism’s “revolutionary style” was suppressed.
The Soviet Union’s chaotic post-war reconstruction strategies began in 1946. Because housing construction was not centralised, there was a lot of dissonance in the actions of many departmental developers. There was a noticeable change in the exterior of cities when they were rebuilt, with the loss of their original historical appearance. In city centres, the Stalinist empire, or Stalinist baroque, reigned supreme. Because of the template approach to architecture, there are no national architectural elements.
Even during those oppressive times, an illuminating event occurred: the reconstruction of Khreshchatyk, Kyiv’s main street, began. Anatolii Dobrovolsky, the city’s leading architect, led the process and incorporated Kyiv’s ancient construction traditions into his work.
The history of Ukrainian architecture parallels the history of Ukraine itself, which is rife with persecutors, repressions, and oppressive imperial influence. But it’s also beautiful, illuminating, and full of talented people who have been conserving the culture and identity embodied in houses, churches, castles, and entire cities.
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