An illustrated guide to urban exploration in the Russian capital.
1 July 2012
Rising up over the hectic skyline of Kiev, there stand a cluster of concrete shells; the largest of these six towers reaches a height of thirty-six floors, making them some of the tallest buildings this side of the river. They remain mostly unfinished ,however. Many locals have branded them an eyesore, but they nevertheless pose a prime target for anyone with a taste for urban skylines.
It was a recent post on another urban exploration blog – Climbing a Shard of Glass – that got me looking upwards to the skies. I’m normally far more interested in tunnels, bunkers and the other forgotten spaces sleeping deep beneath the earth, but the report had piqued my interest. I couldn’t find much to compare to London’s Shard of Glass here in Kiev, though… and so instead I set my sights on the tallest disused building I could find, and headed out to explore.
Construction started on this particular site in 2001, but funding ran out before four of the skyscrapers could be finished. As a result the work was abandoned in 2004, and sealed off behind a high metal fence.
In 2011 a local girl committed suicide by jumping from the top of one of the buildings, after which security was tightened, with the posting of several site guards – the wages of the guards apparently being a far more affordable outlay than the cost of finishing the job.
I visited the site with a Ukrainian friend, and we managed to find our way in by crossing a fast food drive-thru, and then following the fence along the riverbank until reaching a point that could be climbed without too much trouble.
Once inside the compound – and taking every care to stay out of sight from the makeshift guard’s hut, position closed to the road entrance – we made straight for the closest of the buildings.
The ground floor was bare; except for the occasional cement mixer, or stack of unused concrete blocks. In some places gaps opened up onto the unfinished basement car park, and we were forced to watch our steps carefully.
Needless to say the elevator shafts were sealed shut, and perhaps the most risky part of the whole expedition came as we tried to gain access to the flight of steps which spiralled slowly up to the higher floors; the entrance to the stairwell faced forward, and was in direct view of the security building.
In the distance we could see four figures in black fatigues, hunched over a table, as though a game of cards were in progress.
We had no other choice but to make a quick break for it: across the forecourt, onto the stairs, and ducking quickly into the first turn of the stairs.
From here we entered into a somewhat repetitive climb, and my calves were soon aching from floor after floor after floor of barren concrete spaces. The building was in such a formless state, that it was very hard to tell what the architects had had in mind – either open-plan offices, or perhaps the divisions that were to form apartments and corridors were simply yet to appear. It soon became clear that it was not the building’s interior which would stand to make this a memorable exploration, but rather the vantage point that it offered.
Reaching the higher floors, those enclosed spaces suddenly opened up into a large rooftop terrace – bare, rusted girders poking up out of the cement here and there, where construction had been halted abruptly.
The other buildings in the cluster felt close enough to touch, their bare floors and rooftops forming a series of mirror images to our own.
We also passed a large industrial crane on the way up… I found myself reflecting on the novelty of being able to admire the topside of such a device.
One more climb brought us out onto the very highest point of the building – on top of the block that housed the elevators and stairs. The steps to this final level were yet to materialise, and so instead we were forced to clamber up a plank of wood, positioned precariously through an opening in the roof.
Kiev is undeniably a very beautiful city. Mighty monuments, gold-domed churches, modern skyscrapers bursting up from green parks… and, in the centre, the meandering Dnieper River cutting this ancient metropolis in two.
Imagine then, the feeling of standing on top of one of the tallest buildings in sight; the wind tearing at your clothes as you gaze down on Kiev from above; the city sprawl fading into the distance beneath your feet.
It was magnificent.