CULTURAL ENERGY NEAR THE ZONE OF ALIENATION
CULTURAL ENERGY NEAR THE ZONE OF ALIENATION
Slavutych “owes” its existence to the Chernobyl disaster. Since the reactor was shut down, the small town has been in danger of a slow demise – if it weren’t for the film festival “86”.
The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant on April 26, 1986, brought death to many – and led to the birth of Slavutych. In the aftermath of the disaster, 116,000 people had to be evacuated, including 45,000 inhabitants of the city of Prypjat, mainly plant workers. They had to keep working at the nuclear plant whose three remaining reactor blocks continued to produce electricity. Workers had to be housed at another nearby location outside of the radioactive zone. That location was Slavutych. Since 1986, this small town has been a new home to survivors of the nuclear disaster.
The town is considered the “last Soviet utopia”. Architects from various Soviet republics created housing projects inspired by their respective homelands, using signature materials from their regions: pink Armenian tuff, wood, parts of ceramic wall art and reinforced concrete slabs. At the time, the cooperative megaproject and the support lent by other members of the giant multinational community to overcome the repercussions of the disaster were hailed as a shining example of the Soviet bond of international friendship. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Slavutych remained as a relic of modernist urban planning and architecture, a mosaic pieced together from various parts of a once massive country. Nestled in seemingly infinite forests, the town is reminiscent of a sanatorium or a hotel complex.
In the year 2000, the residents suffered a second “disaster” – the nuclear plant at Chernobyl was shut down for good; residents lost their jobs. Some were hired by a French corporation to encase the destroyed reactor block with what is called the New Safe Confinement. But this project was completed in November 2016. Now, there will be no more reactor-related jobs for the approximately 25,000 residents of Slavutych.
From cinema to structural change
Ukraine’s most recent town, which also has the youngest population, is looking towards a future fraught with challenges. Yet the story of its creation also harbors opportunity. In the late 1980s, Slavutych was a playground for Soviet architects and urban planners who experimented with a five-story height limit, with using the public space, with administrative buildings and green spaces. Today, it is of great interest to architecture researchers and urbanists. And the many surfaces that were earmarked for cultural and educational events are highly appealing to the creative industry.
In 2014, the town caught the attention of cultural manager Nadija Parfan and her colleague Illja Hladstej, who co-founded the Festival for Film and Urbanism “86”. In May of 2016, the festival was held for the third time, featuring a program of documentary film on the topic of urban spaces, Ukrainian competition entries, as well as an urbanist film school. The organizers are thrilled that audience numbers have continuously doubled from year to year; from 500 visitors in 2014 to 1000 in 2015, to 2000 in 2016. The percentage of locals among the festival visitors is steadily increasing. More residents of other Ukrainian cities are taking an interest in Slavutych. Many visitors who first get to know the town during the festival keep coming back afterwards.
Beyond the film program, the organizers also invite architects, urbanists, sociologists and various researchers, thus growing the “friends of Slavutych” community beyond the circle of documentary film enthusiasts. “86” has triggered important processes of structural change. Some residents feel that these are the answers to their concerns about the future.
Catalysts of change
Dmytro Kortschak, deputy director of the agency for regional development in Slavutych, tells us about his team’s studies on urban identity, which revealed the residents’ vision for Slavutych: intellectual and cultural evolution, quality housing conditions, a high level of education, an amalgam of its unique architecture, unusual history and the young average age of its population. The concept is called “Slavutych, a city of cultural energy”. While it is less of a strategic development program than a form of city branding, the residents have clearly begun to develop visions for the future of their town.
Dmytro Kortschak considers “86” a catalyst for this change. During the 2015 festival, he met architects and activists at a workshop on urbanism organized by Nadija Parfan and Illja Hladstej with support from the Heinrich Böll Foundation. At the event, external experts devised a plan to develop individual urban spaces. Even more important was the personal contact between Slavutych residents and activists.
Later that same year, a team of Kiev-based architects and local residents won a competition held by a local brewery, which made it possible to create the public space ENLIGHT for professional and cultural open-air events directly at the main square of town.
In the course of moderated talks, a group of local “agents of change” emerged and got to know each other as they worked together. Some of them are still collaborating on various small cultural events in Slavutych. The number of local initiatives in town has increased, as well: regular street music concerts, morning yoga sessions at ENLIGHT, private film soirees and many other planned cultural events
Even a small town like Slavutych, not far from the radioactive zone of alienation, can aspire to becoming a cultural center. All you have to do is rally an active community with young movers and shakers from different places and give them a reason to interact with one another. In Slavutych, the cinema festival “86” did the trick.