March 19 — Kharkiv: A Farewell to the Belle Époque

On March 14th, a Russian missile destroyed a house on Svoboda Street in Kharkiv. Two occupants of the building were killed, and others were wounded.

The same house before it was destroyed
An early 20th Century view of the house. The Dutch gable was subsequently removed.
Details of the facade and interior

The house was erected in 1911. It was designed by Moisei Meletinsky, a prolific local architect who supervised the construction of many prominent buildings in the city during the first decade of the 20th Century. Among his projects was the Podol’ska Synagogue, which was damaged during the Second World War and defaced by post-war reconstruction.

Kharkiv experienced a construction boom at the turn of the 20th Century. By the 1910s, Art Noveau had replaced Historicism as the dominant architectural style, but soon gave way to the Vienna Secession and Scandinavian Modern movements. The destruction of Belle Époque architecture has attracted less international attention than the recent outrages against Constructivist buildings. Even if houses like the one on Svoboda Street have somewhat less significance on the world stage, the disappearance of these treasures will irreparably diminish the architectural fabric of Kharkiv.

The Moisei Meletinsky house isn’t the only important early 20th Century building in Kharkiv destroyed by Russian bombardment. Since March 2nd, the so-called “Palace of Labor,” which houses the offices of the Kharkiv City Council, has suffered repeated shelling.

The Palace of Labor, c. 1920
Before the shelling
Sculptures on the roof
Sculptures on the facade.
The Palace of Labor after Russian bombardment

This gigantic edifice, which was completed in 1916, was designed in the Neo-Classicist style by architect Ippolit Pretro as a tenement building for the insurance company “Russia.” During the 1920s, it housed the People’s Commissariat for Labor and the offices of various trade unions, which is how it got its name.

No one can predict how many important fin de siècle and pre-Revolution buildings will survive the current Russian “liberation.”

A Belle Époque home in Kharkiv after Russian bombardment