A month-long monument hunt, and what I learned along the way.
23 October 2012
Located on the west bank of the Dnieper River, far out beyond the tower blocks, offices and warehouses that form Kiev’s industrial and residential zones, lies an unfinished hospital complex. Construction here began in the late 1980s, on a large stretch of land intended for a specialist burns centre and sanatorium.
Kiev has long been associated with excellence in the field of medical research, and this advanced facility would have made a grand addition to the city’s resources; funds ran out not long after construction began however, and for almost two decades now the complex has been left to decay.
The Burns Ward
We approached the site from an adjacent road, skirting around the metal construction fence for a discrete entrance.
There were several men inside the grounds already, and for a moment I guessed they were guards – one of the more common pitfalls of Eastern Europe urban exploration.
As it turned out however, these were site contractors. Tourists, just like us. Still, we ducked out of site and made swiftly for the first block of ruined red brick shells.
The Old Burns Centre has been well documented by Kiev urbex enthusiasts, and it seemed to be a popular destination for fans of airsoft and paintballing too… judging by the scuffs, dents and dots of paint scattered around the first building.
Barely more than a series of red brick tunnels, this first installation had presumably been intended for some kind of administrative role – the small, identical rooms here better suited for desks than operating tables.
The next building was larger.
Inside the three-storey complex we were greeted by a pair of symmetrical stone stairs, weaving around to meet at a spacious landing and balcony above. It was hard to imagine the building alive; walls plastered, windows glazed. Hard to ascribe any purpose to these dull brickwork spaces, which subsequently felt so barren and otherworldly.
We spent a while exploring this building, roaming through empty hallways and unbuilt wards.
The entire site was devoid of metal, plastic, wood… everything but bricks, cement and coarse yellow grit. In one corridor even the floor was missing – to leave a dark gaping void, perforated by vestigial concrete supports. In a tunnel beneath the unfinished ward, I found a thick bundle of coloured electricity cables.
Moving from one building to another felt strangely like crossing a warzone. Deep tracks and heavy craters pitted the sandy terrain, separated by broken walls and jagged concrete outcrops. No sight nor sound of life – only the weak and withered vegetation which had grown up amongst the rubble.
We finally approached the main hospital building – a towering bulk of yellow bricks with just a hint of art deco about it. The ground floor doors were locked, but by scaling the roof of a neighbouring building we were able to scramble in, clambering through a window of the nearest stairwell.
Inside the cylindrical stairwell, walls were tiled in a rich dichotomy of crimson and cream. We made our way up to the second floor, and stepped out into darkness… here the large empty spaces were walled in, with only pale light filtering in from the windows behind us. Either this floor had been stripped, or nothing had ever lived here. Walls and floors alike were covered in a sea of dust.
Most of the building took this form – long dark corridors, empty wards, crumbling pillars and dented aluminium ducts. Only one room showed signs of visitors; two white tiled walls decorated with crude, colourful tags, the empty paint cans discarded on a nearby workbench.
The real highlight of the Burns Centre was the view from the roof. Six storeys up, and this whole barren gully become no more than a dust bowl, a blemish in the corner of Kiev’s gold and grey skyline.
The Burns Centre and the site in which it stands are a wreck. It might be hard at first to understand how such a failure came about, how so much planning and investment could end in ruin… but then, in August 1991 Ukraine had only just declared its independence from the Soviet Union. In the tumultuous years to follow, President Kravchuk would find himself issuing a new currency, disassembling nuclear weapons, and loosening military ties with Russia. Mass privatisation gave way to rapid inflation, and investors became scarce.
Nevertheless, the Burns Centre remained somehow magnificent. The grand ambition of this large project, the untapped potential. The sense of the alien, in this bare landscape where human forms slowly reduce to dust.
In 2005, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko proposed the creation of a new burn centre; stating that, “the main purposes of it will be scientific researching in the field of skin grafting and the treatment of burn patients.”
After an appeal for international aid, a certificate was presented by the UNESCO Ambassador of Goodwill in 2006. A charitable donation in excess of €630,000 was awarded to the supervisory board of the Ukraine 3000 International Charitable Fund – an organisation headed by the president’s own wife, Kateryna Yushchenko.
And so the new Burns Centre came into being, situated on the grounds of Kyiv City Clinical Hospital No. 2. Still its predecessor remains however; gradually disintegrating, out of sight and mind.
Future Urban Exploration in Ukraine…
This is the last of my reports from Kiev for the time being, but I’ll be back soon – to sample more of the unique variety of urban exploration Ukraine has to offer. Some of my future targets include a Soviet sub base in the Crimea, an underground city at Lviv and the Odessa Catacombs.
Then of course there’s Chernobyl.