In the late 1960s, local authorities in Kiev, Ukraine, set out plans to build a crematorium in the capital. This was met with fierce resistance by Ukrainians due to cremation being a sensitive area after the genocide of Ukrainian Jews by the Nazis at Babi Yar and their subsequent incineration.
Artists and spouses, Ada Realtek and Vladimir Melnichenko, worked alongside architect Abraham Miletsky on this project and construction work commenced in 1968 and concluded in 1981.
Ada and Vladimir rejected Abraham’s initial design for the crematorium citing it as too functional. The artistic duo had a vision of de-associating the building with cremation and instead associating it as an area where visitors could grieve, seek comfort and for people to send off their loved ones with the belief that death is a natural part of life. The name ‘Memory Park’ was also chosen to avoid any references to cremation.
The main building complex is made up of two symmetrical crematorium halls known as the ‘Halls of Farewell’, each of with are adorned with cupolas resembling flames. There is an intentional and distinct lack of right angles on these white concrete buildings. Ada and Vladimir also planned to have stained glass windows added, but these aspirations never came to fruition.
Underneath the buildings there are 4 dual gas furnaces which are used for cremation. Bodies are incinerated for several hours and usually leaves around three litres of ash which is collected and placed in special bins.
A monumental ‘Wall of Remembrance’ was also planned. This 200-metre bas-relief structure was designed to display various imagery, some mythological and some depicting post war reconstruction efforts with an artificial lake at the bottom of it reflecting light onto its surface. The wall was also designed to strengthen the small hill on which the crematorium is located.
In 1982, the ruling party ordered the Wall of Remembrance to be covered in concrete due to it being inconsistent with the principles of soviet realism. Artists from around the globe have offered to donate to a restoration effort to remove the concrete and allow the wall to be seen in all its glory. To date, local authorities in Kiev have not shown any interest in this and the concrete is currently covered in thick ivy.
The crematorium is still very much in use with over 12,000 cremations taking place each year (or around 35 per day on average).