What's Happening 16:18 26 Jan 2023

Bulldozers, architectural landmarks, and promises: how activists protect public space in Lutsk

The Semyarusna Hora non-governmental organization in Lutsk is trying to save the architectural monument it turned into a public space with its efforts and funds. And if it was first vital to save the monument from decay, now it's under the threat of the local authorities. What is happening, and what are the solutions? Rubryka explains.

What is the problem?
Architectural landmark and "secret investor"

архітектурні пам'ятки луцька

The ancient building in the photo is the Preizlers' Inn House in Lutsk. It begins its story in the late 19th century when prominent Ukrainian poet and writer Lesya Ukrainka still lived nearby. The place nearly invites you to call it ancient — an Orthodox church stood here 400 years ago. In 1617, it burned down, and the Bonifrat monastery appeared in its place. After the First World War, the family of Volyn Czechs, the Preizlers, gave it a new life as a hotel, a restaurant, an agricultural store, and a Czech club.

In Soviet times and later, the building fell into disrepair, like most historical architectural monuments. But in the spring of 2021, Lutsk urban planners from the NGO Semyarusna Hora turned their attention to the Preizlers' Inn House and discussed it with the city's architects. Subsequently, a cooperation memorandum was signed with the local authorities. The historical place once again got a new life.

It started working literally in a year as a public space where the people of Lutsk could rest, communicate, organize and hold events and, in general, create a center of public life. 

гостинний двір Прайзлерів

Photo by @tarantayka from the archive of the NGO Semyarusna Hora

But the city council's plans changed, and the future of the building has recently been associated with a "secret investor" who planned to rent the premises and territory for 1 hryvnia, restore them and open a boutique hotel. The prospect that the city will receive at least some money from the rent to the budget is illusory because the price may include the "works to preserve the monument," i.e., the restoration itself.

"Of course, it was not an open competition," the activists write, once again trying to publicize the matter. "And this is the most infuriating."

The beginning of the open struggle for the Inn between the public and the authorities has a specific date: On December 23, 2022, without warning, the city council demolished part of the technical structures near the Preizler Inn and damaged the space created by volunteers. Later, it tore up the memorandum with the NGO, filed a complaint against the volunteers with the police, and tried to make the activists' voices as quiet as possible.

Read more about how volunteers fight for the preservation of public space and architectural monuments and what those who are just beginning a similar path should do.

What is the solution?
From ruins to public space in a year

At the beginning of 2021, the Preizler Inn's territory was unsuitable for regular operation. There was a significant gap in the foundation and collapsing floors, and the yard did not look very welcoming.

But the Inn still had every chance to survive. In January last year, the Lutsk City Council evicted all users of the space (various utility and state institutions). Then, it began preparing documents for a public-private partnership — the first warning red flag of danger.

One of the members of the NGO Semyarusna Hora, a Lutsk urbanist Danylo Yalovenko developed a project to restore the territory. The total cost is 387,000 hryvnias. 

гостинний дврі прйзлерів, луцьк

The project of the yard, which Danylo Yalovenko developed. The buildings are shown schematically. The main works are landscaping, repair of the square, and furniture installation.

To draw public attention to the fact that the courtyard of an old building can become a new, comfortable and exciting public space with the opportunity to spend time there free of charge, activists began to organize events there. The first one took place in May of last year: an acoustic evening and a movie screening, and that's when the new concept of the courtyard was presented.

At the same time, more than 300 signatures were collected for consideration of the petition by the mayor. This petition called to preserve public space within the Inn territory's boundaries and share the city council's plans. However, the council answered the activists: "Public discussions will be held for the implementation of this idea per the requirements of the current legislation." The Mayor of Lutsk, Ihor Polishchuk, promised to conduct public discussions on this issue but did not fulfill his public promise.

The discussions never took place, which was the second red flag. Instead, something good happened in the summer.

Семиярусна гора

Photo from the NGO's Facebook page 

Very quickly, work began around the Inn. Exactly one month after the first event, the GO concluded a memorandum on cooperation with the Lutsk City Council in July. Now they could use the space and improve it.

The NGO found funds for refinements quickly. Instead of asking for them from the budget, the volunteers managed on their own: 287,000 hryvnias were financed as a grant by the Building Ukraine Together volunteer construction camp, and the rest, 100,000 hryvnias, was raised by Semyarusna Hora at the Spilnokosht fundraising platform. The work started in August, and of course, volunteers joined.


Photo of the process of creating a public space, the photo courtesy of Iryna Pylypchuk.

With the Building Ukraine Together grant money, they bought construction materials, plants, and tools to clean up and equip the territory; from what was raised at Spilnokosht, the NGO purchased sound equipment for events and furniture.


Photo of the process of creating a public space, the photo courtesy of Iryna Pylypchuk.

In a little more than a week, the NGOs Semyarusna Hora and Building Ukraine Together created a public space: they cleaned the territory, laid paving stones, and planted plants. The official opening of the Inn took place on September 3.

відкриття гостинного двору Луцьку


As they say, things went on: open dialogues from youth clubs, discussion clubs on history, musical concerts, lectures, board games, etc. What did not happen here? There were even medieval battles. The public space has worked.

Everything should have been perfect, as the dangerous red flags for the architectural monument supposedly disappeared. But the threat of landmark destruction remained, and the local council did not abandon the idea of ​​making good money with the inn yard.

Будуємо Україну Разом

Photo by @tarantayka from the archive of the NGO 

Will it work?

So, on December 23, the Lutsk City Council, without warning, demolished part of the technical structures near the Inn and damaged the space created by volunteers. The city council violated the terms of the memorandum.

луцька міська рада

The Lutsk City Council wrote back that the memorandum was allegedly not terminated and explained their actions by no event being held there in the winter, and "it is impractical to ensure further access to the premises." In the letter, the government officials also noted that they broke into the territory of the building with a bulldozer "in connection with the preparation for a public-private partnership." This exactly was written in the official letter from the council at the request of the NGO Semyarusna Hora.

луцька міська рада

The black mural was destroyed, and many perennial plants were moved by heavy equipment. They could not be saved.

Semyarusna Hora immediately spoke about the destruction of the space in public, appealed to the executive bodies of the Lutsk City Council, demanding to stop the destruction of the Inn and hold public and open discussions, which were supposed to take place in the summer.

A transparent and open government should agree to the perfectly logical demands of the public. Instead, they terminated the memorandum on cooperation with the NGO. A fierce struggle for space began.

Public hearings and the local council's multiple-move strategy

For the local government to hold public hearings, collecting 500 signatures from citizens under the corresponding collective appeal is necessary. The public organization conducted a communication campaign and collected 600.

The Lutsk City Council did not agree to hold public hearings at the initiative of community residents. The city hall rejected 276 signatures out of 600, citing various grounds. In the end, the council still decided to hold public hearings on its initiative but resorted to bureaucratic pressure.  

Since among the signatures, there were also signatures of Lutsk residents who had not yet reached the age of 18, representatives of the council filed a police report on the NGO on the disclosure of minors' personal data without their parent's consent. Of course, there was no crime here because the data is kept confidential by representatives of NGOs. The Semyarusna Hora considers this nothing but political pressure on the organization.

The result of this struggle is that the hearing will still occur and that date is January 27.

What happens during public hearings, and how to help the Inn?

In their proposal, the Semyarusna Hora NGO identified three representatives of the city council and five members from their team. Instead, in its decision, the city council overturned the balance, and now representatives of NGOs are in the minority. However, it is not fatal. After all, in the end, all decisions are made by the votes of the people who will come.

The Semyarusna Hora demands the following:

  • To abandon the dubious procedure of public-private partnership, which is conducted without public coverage;
  • To organize an open architectural competition for the restoration of the Inn with the assistance of Ukraine's National Architects Union;
  • To keep the interior space, created by the hands of volunteers in August-September 2022, open to the public.

According to the Statute of the Lutsk city territorial community, based on the results of public hearings, decisions are made by the majority of those present, who have reached the age of 18 and have the right to vote in elections, the population's self-organization bodies, and co-ops

Proposals adopted as a result of public hearings are subject to mandatory consideration by the bodies and officials of the city self-government within one month of receiving the proposals.

The more representatives of the community who care about the future fate of the Inn attend the hearing, the greater the probability of its preservation. This is a powerful mechanism of local democracy, after the implementation of which the city government will bear a high reputational price for its actions.

So what is the solution?

The head of the Semyarusna Hora NGO believes that the best help for the Inn and the activities of the NGO is publicity:

"Subscribe to our social media and help us spread this information because this is what the city council is most afraid of. They wanted to give the Inn to a secret investor last spring, but the war prevented it. Therefore, while they did nothing, we used to distribute information and mobilize the public."

If you still don't know how to influence city politics, take advantage of this chance

How public hearings are initiated is to be decided in the Charter of the community or through public hearings. For example, here is a suitable Procedure for Kyiv City

Community members can initiate such hearings, but they need support, that is, signatures. The higher the level of public hearings, the more signatures are required.

підписи для громадських слухань

Signatures must be physical. 

To collect them, you need an information campaign: tell the locals why and for what purpose they should sign the petition.

As many people as possible should learn about the initiative.

Determine the time and place of collecting signatures, and discuss it on social media. Add a map for your convenience with directions on how to get there.

Involve volunteers in collecting signatures.

That's what precisely they did in the Semyarusna Hora. To avoid getting confused in calls and messages, create a google form for registering volunteers.

Pay attention to co-ops' chat rooms.

Another option to immediately find many signatories is to inform co-op residents about the initiative. This can be done by you or people who care about your cause. You can agree on a time to collect signatures among residents and collect signatures on the spot.

Rubryka will monitor the development of events around the Inn. Do not remain indifferent, either.


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