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This spontaneous and heart-piercing place originated decades ago and is located on the left side of the Dnipro river in Kyiv, Ukraine. People build massive monuments with touching and sometimes bizarre engravings, decorate them with toxic-coloured faux flowers, proper or DIY fences, and the favourite toys of their dear and furry ones. Cat ladies have their dynasties and some people approach it as a bold statement “my dog was from a wealthy family!”. It’s a pet (cemetery) sematary and there are two more like this in Kyiv. How dare you to use precious land for something like this, you may ask. Well, in a country of golden toilets and poverty levels below poverty levels themselves, everything is possible. You learn to work with given circumstances, you become a guru of mind and imagination yoga, and sometimes sentimental priorities are all you’ve got. But even that can be taken from you. Back in 2003, local authorities stipulated plans to build a single paid municipal pet cemetery in the suburbs of Kyiv for completion by 2020, but all such conversations tend to stretch for decades and simply end without further action. Ukrainians have long been accustomed to not to rely on the state and make things work on a volunteer basis, and that’s why this improvisational pet cemetery appeared. However, in 2019 an announcement appeared stating:
“In connection with the construction of a sewer collector in this section, the construction of a reinforced concrete trunk and a well will begin. The construction site will be located at the pet burial site. Dear owners of buried animals, we ask you to rebury the remains by September 10, 2019.”
Yet thus far words have just been words but the future of this place will always be under question. Although to build isn’t the same as to demolish and the destruction of the pet cemetery without ultimately doing anything with the land afterwards is also a realistic scenario.
This place combines the very contrasts of this city that are so often talked about, in particular the system vs the people. On the one hand there is a huge number of homeless animals in Ukraine, and all shelters and given care are volunteer and DIY, on the other hand, this cemetery is a symbol of immeasurable love for animals and proves the insuperability of the people and their larger-than-life indifference towards the authorities. All these Mickeys, Barons, Marquises, and even Rudol’f Dark Dracula and Jephrey de Peirac were once someone’s family members, dear friends and even the only joy in life, and to force people to exhume their dearests is an inhumane and traumatic experience that I hope no one will have to face. Besides that, this cemetery has become a unique landmark and even an attraction, over the course of time people have invested lots and lots of money for gravestones and a lot of them (surely not all) are taking regular care of the graves as they would do for deceased humans.
Since I’ve moved from Ukraine and now only visit, more and more ordinary things are revealing to me in a new bright light, architecture, people, culture, and of course places like this. Am I becoming a stranger or is it a case of “to leave it – to love it – to come back”?
About Karyna Aslanova
Karyna Aslanova is a Kyiv-born Ukrainian multimedia artist, director, and photographer. Karyna studied Theatre Directing at The National Academy of Government Managerial Staff of Culture and Arts, Kyiv, Ukraine and although photography is her principle medium, Karyna also uses video, painting and illustration, and poetry to further her exploration into a multitude of subjects. Karyna’s art photography projects often use other-worldly imagery to reflect modern social issues, with a vague but familiar base note perceptible through a haze of the strange and incongruous.