The ‘Wild West’ of Ukraine: constructing a ‘new’ Kharkiv amid an invasion.

When architect, historian, and documentary filmmaker Maxim Rosenfeld stood in the penthouse of a destroyed office building, presenting his idea for a new urban landscape after an UNsupported group of international and local architects adopted his vision, the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv had just survived another missile attack following Russia’s full-scale invasion. This was in the spring of 2022.

One hour after severe shelling set off fires all around the city, Mr. Rosenfeld told UN News that his “Kharkiv is a frontier city” proposal is currently being drafted amidst the debris.

You can see that our city is proud of itself by looking out the panoramic windows and observing the smoke from the fire, according to Mr. Rosenfeld, a Kharkiv native and former resident.

The master plan, which was created voluntarily by the Norman Foster Foundation in collaboration with a team of urban planners and local architects as well as the Advisory Council of International Experts, is currently taking shape.

The newly formed UN4 Kharkiv task force, supported by the (UNECE) UN Economic Commission for Europe through a pilot initiative, has brought together 16 UN agencies and international organizations, with Mr. Rosenfeld serving as a volunteer local expert.

dynamic changes at a time of war

“It is unbelievable to understand what is happening here from a distance,” he said. Even from the inside, it is challenging to comprehend because of how volatile the situation is. It is constantly changing. Then, there is nightly shelling after we schedule a Zoom meeting. The situation has entirely changed when it comes to a topic like energy security.

He claimed to be “in love” with his hometown, producing documentaries about it and having endless conversations about its people and history. Many people have relocated to other regions of Ukraine or left the country since the start of the conflict when Kharkiv started to be consistently shelled, but he claimed that he never considered doing so.

‘Wild West’ of Ukraine

About its origins in the middle of the 17th century, Mr. Rosenfeld described the border city as the “Ukrainian Wild West”.

He gave a brief overview of the city’s rich history, describing how it changed once a university was built in the early 19th century to its role as the capital of Soviet Ukraine in the early 20th century. “People who came here were willing to take risks in order to take advantage of the possibilities that were opening up,” he said.

I’ve always thought that Berlin and we have a lot in common, he continued. “At this point, I make no comparisons to Kharkiv. It’s special. You must visit and reside here in order to comprehend it.

Kharkiv aspirations: halt the bombing

Kharkiv residents were asked to participate in a survey aimed at rebuilding the city, but many had fled the daily bombings and those who remained at the time had only one goal, according to Mr. Rosenfeld: for the bombing to cease.

He claimed to have heard their voices. He stated that only one of the 11 existing ideas from architects and engineers included a security framework, pointing out that bomb shelters built in Soviet Kharkov over a century ago had to be modified to deal with new circumstances.

According to Mr. Rosenfeld, “A modern’ bomb shelter’ today is an underground factory, underground university, and event center, which should be dual-use buildings.

Cultural life has returned

“A huge number of people” have returned to Kharkiv since 2022, and the city’s cultural life has restarted despite the city’s continuous shelling during the past month, according to Mr. Rosenfeld.

The architect mentioned a jazz festival and stated, “We recently followed an amazing performance based on a play written two months ago on current events.”

The shows continue despite air raid sirens, he claimed.

In fact, as Mr. Rosenfeld recalled, the idea for Kharkiv’s future was conceived to the sound of an air raid siren. He also said that despite the current circumstances, he and many of his coworkers feel “happy” to be operating on the project.

“Maybe for some, it sounds terrible, but at this moment you comprehend that you are doing a very important and necessary thing,” he continued. “Do the right thing.” You wish to be required.

He claimed that many residents of Kharkiv realized their needs and value after the war began, including volunteers and medical professionals.

He remarked, “They just do the right thing; they don’t do it out of vanity.” “The work I do makes me feel incredibly happy. We use all of our skills, knowledge, abilities, and talents in our genuine work with the UN. Yes, it has to do with such a tragedy, but you’re glad about that since you’re not lying there doing nothing. You are alive.

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