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At the beginning of July 2021, “the state autonomous institution of the Republic of Crimea (RK) “Directorate for centralized maintenance and development of institutions in the field of culture” (hereinafter referred to as “the directorate”) announced the clearing of the Churuk-su riverbed near the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisarai and “repair- restoration works” at a location near it, known as the “three-bridge embankment”. The client of these works was the “Directorate” under the control of the “Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan”; the contractor is the Moscow LLC “Novye stroitelnye tehnologii” (“NST”).
In mid-December 2021, a “press tour” was held for representatives of the Crimean mass media controlled by the occupiers to get acquainted with the course of “repair and restoration activities” at the Khan Palace complex, which is the only example of Crimean Tatar palace architecture in the world and is currently under the control of the “state budget institution of the Republic of Kazakhstan “Bakhchisarai Historical, Cultural and Archaeological Museum-Reserve” (hereinafter referred to as “reserve”) in the status of “object of cultural heritage of federal importance”). Comments and explanations to journalists were given by the head of the “directorate” Ilya Alymchev, “head of the department of the “Museum of History and Culture of the Crimean Tatars” (it is a component of the “reserve” Meryem Seitumerova, “dean of the Faculty of History of the Crimean Federal University (“CFU”) named after V. .I. Vernadsky” Oleksandr Hertsen, who is the head of the “archaeological expedition” that works at the Khan’s Palace, and representatives of contracting organizations. It was announced that illegal works on the complex, for the implementation of which almost two billion rubles were provided from the state budget- of the occupier, according to the approved plan-schedule for the implementation of the “federal target program “Socio-economic development of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol until 2025” should be completed by the end of 2023; as of December 2021, they were completed by 30% of the total volume with development about 400 million rubles. In the press release it was announced that the “large-scale full restoration” of the complex is being carried out for the first time, so “before how important it is to restore and preserve the recognizable historical appearance, the authenticity of architecture, elements of interior decoration and decor”. Among other things, it was reported about the “complete reconstruction” of three of the sixteen objects of the complex – the dyurbe (tombs) of Dilyar-Bikech, the Northern and the Southern. At the same time, active “repair and restoration activities” were carried out both on the aforementioned embankment with three bridges, as well as on the building of the stables, the library building, the Falcon Tower, the sepulchral rotunda and the hammam (bath) of Sara Güzel. At the stage of “preparatory works” there were two more objects – the Khan’s Kitchen and the Count’s Building, which in Russian sources is erroneously referred to as “svetsky” (secular), while its correct name is “svitsky”, that is, the post office building. In 2022, it was planned to conclude “contracts” for “repair and restoration works” at five objects – “Gardens and Park Structures”, “Khan Mosque” (II stage), “Catherine Mile”, “Main Building” and “Harem”; “contracts” were concluded for the development of “scientific project documentation” for the last two objects.
The “restorers” named the main building of the palace as the most difficult object for themselves – given the presence of a large number of paintings that need “restoration” and under which there are even earlier paintings on the walls. Directly under the leadership of the Ministry of Culture of the occupying state, it was determined which painting would be left and which would be subjected to conservation. For this purpose, the restoration project involved injecting the walls – injecting superflowing low-viscosity resins and microcements under high pressure into them. In addition, Ilya Alimchev stated that all structures of the main body are “in a very bad condition” and need to be replaced. Meryem Seitumerova called the work on “preservation” of the ancient layers of the palace painting one of the most risky and clarified that the paintings of the main building and the harem, which have from 3 to 7 layers from the period of the XVI-XIX centuries, are particularly rich. As of mid-December 2021, “restorers” were putting the final touches on the women’s half of the bath complex, and in the men’s half they were “restoring” the ceiling decoration: Volodymyr Bobrovsky, a representative of the contractor organization, said that the selection of colors was carried out using a simple method – “They took paint samples and drove them to machines”. Likewise, the “restoration” of the paintings on the walls of the stables, discovered during the clearing of the facades and interior spaces, was carried out. On the facade of the library building above the southern gate of the palace, the “Seljut chain” ornament was reconstructed: artist-restorer from Moscow Ksenia Mokrova explained that this object contained a painting of the earliest period – a small dark fragment of the beginning of the 19th century. During the early restorations, documents about him were found in the archives, but there was no decision on restoration; when the “go-ahead” for “restoration” was received, no ornament was found under the layers of plaster – it was probably long since stamped, so the artists decided to create sketches from scratch, guided by ancient engravings of the south gate. The painting of the buildings of the stable and the library was done with tempera paints, and the “restoration” fragments themselves were tinted with watercolors: according to Mokrova, this was done because the restoration materials should be such that they could be removed, so that subsequent restorers could “easily replace them with their own discretion author’s painting”.
Another risky measure was defined as the artificial lowering of the soil near the harem, the main building, the mosque, and possibly in other areas, provided for by the “reconstruction” project. This was pointed out by the “Dean of the Faculty of History of KFU named after Vernadskyi” Oleksandr Hertsen, noting that such works can only be carried out with the participation of professional archaeologists, since the lowering of the soil in one location affects the area nearby. In particular, the soil of the Khan cemetery containing human remains could be at risk.
Unfortunately, the fears of the Crimean “scientist” turned out to be unfounded. On February 7, 2022, the head of the “directorate” Ilya Alymchev reported that during the laying of sewers on the embankment of the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisarai, one of the walls of the Count’s building, which houses the “administration of the museum-reserve”, came off and a crack appeared in it: in the project of the “restorers” there was supposedly a foundation under it, but in fact it was not found – the wall rested simply on the ground. Alymchev attributed the damage to a “design error” and called it “non-critical”, promising to carry out emergency work within a month. “Workers have already installed the necessary structures to prevent the wall from further sliding. Next, they will set up scaffolding to dismantle the roof and take the load off the wall. We will put the foundations under the walls, and they will stand forever,” – he added. Another occupation “official”, “head of the Committee of the State Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Culture and Protection of Cultural Heritage”, Mykola Volkov, also stated that the crack in the wall of the Count’s building “should not be considered a big problem” – especially since it is a “new development” and already was “restored” earlier, and in general, the Khan’s Palace was in a “sad state” under a “high risk of collapse” before the start of “restoration works”. “Actually, nothing terrible happened, the palace will remain intact and preserved. It happens that walls collapse and people die. And this is a technical point, not the collapse of the building, as some are trying to claim. Professionals work at the facility, everything goes according to plan. The specifics of the restoration are similar to demining works: it is quite difficult to predict the progress of the works,” – said the “official”.
At the same time, Bakhchisarai public activist Edem Dudakov reported that the cracks in the basement part of the Count Building widened in early February 2022, and expressed fear that the same fate may befall the Great Khan Mosque, whose walls are covered with microcracks due to overloading with concrete belts; in addition, there are obvious signs of erosion of the limestone walls. Due to the lack of a protective cover during the dismantling of the roof of the mosque in 2018-2020, water completely seeped into all its structural elements and the base, due to which the foundations, as in the neighboring Count Building, gave way. Dudakov also expressed the opinion that the corps is actually sliding towards the Churuk-su River due to the illiterate deepening of its channel directly in front of the palace, which occurred in the fall of 2021 during the rains and caused the formation of a natural dam, in which water accumulated during the year in this bayur. At the same time, Oleksandr Hertsen stated that Crimean “scientists” warned about the peculiarities and weak points of the Count’s Corps, including the lack of a foundation under it, as early as 2019. At one time, on the line of its connection with the much more monumental Great Palace Mosque, according to the plan of “pre-design studies”, an “archaeological excavation” was laid, after which it was established that the wall, which cracked in February 2022, stands with a rather deep foundation without a foundation simply on the soil, more precisely – on the cultural layer; the site was identified as problematic, including because the two buildings belong to different historical eras, nearly a century apart. Herzen noted that archaeological and geological “explorations” were conducted precisely to assess the state of the load-bearing structures, so the “restoration” project had to include all necessary measures to prevent these deformations and destruction. The “scientist” also added that “archaeological explorations” for “scientific project documentation” were carried out by the notorious Russian company “Meander”, which from the beginning acted as the main “contractor” for the “restoration” of the Khan Palace; the three-volume report on the illegal excavations was submitted to all the necessary “authorities”, but judging by the comments that “officials” gave after the incident around the palace, the lack of a foundation under the buildings came as a surprise to everyone, so it remains unclear why this important information was not was used during the creation of the “restoration project” and later during the works. At the same time, a violation of the ornamentation of the deformed wall of the Count’s building was noted.
On February 8, 2022, the “Minister of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan” Tetyana Manezhina explained the reasons for the incident around one of the buildings of the Khan Palace complex in Bakhchisarai. According to her, as part of the “restoration works” on the embankment with three bridges, in accordance with the “project documentation”, excavation of a trench for the arrangement of the storm sewer system took place, during which objects with signs of archaeological heritage were discovered, due to which the works were suspended. As a result of heavy rains and erosion of the soil at the base of the Count Building, its subsidence occurred, which led to peeling of its facade. Managers and employees of the “Directorate” quickly went to the place to assess the situation and make appropriate decisions regarding the implementation of emergency measures. Specialists of the “Department of State Protection of Cultural Heritage” of the Crimean “Ministry of Culture” conducted an on-site inspection and condition control of the objects of the Count’s Building and the embankment with three bridges; according to the results of the inspection, it turned out that earthworks were carried out at the last object, during which it was found that part of the building did not have a foundation. Priority “anti-emergency works” were carried out to strengthen the facade of the building with the help of supporting buttresses, and scaffolding was also installed for the further dismantling of the roof made of tiles and bulk soil in order to reduce the load on the supporting structures of the building. “Restoration work” in the area of the building was suspended; the start of work on the facility itself according to the schedule was planned for April this year, which was reported on February 9 by the press service of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, which oversees the “state development program of Crimea”.
On February 11, 2022, the progress of the “anti-emergency work on strengthening the facade” of the Count Building of the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisarai was inspected by the “head of the Republic of Kazakhstan” Serhiy Aksyonov, who stated that the building “is not in danger” because the “republican authorities” are keeping the situation under control, priority work was carried out “strengthening” of the building, and a working group of “specialists” is conducting and will continue illegal work at the facility. According to the “head of Crimea”, 11 special beacons were installed on its walls on the day of the collapse of the Count Building, February 7, which monitor the growth of cracks every three hours, and for a week they did not register any movements. For the second half of February, Aksyonov announced “research works”, as a result of which specific conclusions and recommendations should be drawn up regarding the restoration of the Count’s Building. According to the preliminary assessment, the works prescribed in the project, including the screed of all corners of the building, will not be changed; soil strengthening measures will probably only add to them. The final conclusions were to be made by specialists from Moscow who went to the occupied Crimea. The “President of the Republic” stated that he was asked for two days for all the necessary research and finding options for solving the problem.
During the visit of the “head of Crimea” to Bakhchisaray, the “first deputy head of the directorate” Maria Dukshina announced the preliminary cause of the damage to the building was “the emergency condition of all half-timbered beams of the building”, which had rotted, and added that part of the palace complex has been shifting towards the Churuk River for many years. They are probably due to the movement of the soil. In the case of the Count’s Building, as a result of earthworks, the horizontal beam broke away from the vertical one, causing the angle to slip; Dukshina blamed this on the “distressed state” of the building’s structure and added that this would not have happened if the condition of the beam was “at least limitedly usable”. Like Oleksandr Hertsen, the Crimean “official” confirmed that the building’s state of emergency was known as early as 2019: in particular, cracks on its facade up to 2 cm wide were recorded even during the development of the “scientific design documentation”.
In turn, the “director of the reserve” Vadym Martynyuk said that the external buildings of the Khan Palace complex, which stood for several centuries and survived the great Crimean earthquake of 1927, “have been unstable for a long time.” At least the cracks under his office in the Count Building first appeared back in 2017 – after the facade of the building was washed with powerful cleaning equipment. In addition, the residents of Bakhchysaray remind that such a well-known fact as the lack of a foundation in the Count’s building and the sinking of its walls by 40 cm into the ground was ignored by the occupiers for years to the last; after the formation of a pit under the hull, into which it began to slide, it is actually held in place only by massive stone slabs, which at one time covered the Churuk-Su riverbed. At the beginning of February of this year, the corner of the building sagged downwards and tilted, as a result of which one end of the gap began to press against the intact wall, crumpling the frescoes.
On February 14, Serhiy Aksyonov held a meeting on planning the course of further “emergency works” at the Count Building of the Khan Palace with the participation of Vadym Martyniuk, Ilya Alymchev, Tetyana Manezhina and others. During the meeting, the “head of Crimea” announced that the project of the complex of works will be completed by May 1, and emphasized that the “government of the republic” will provide them with all kinds of assistance and support. The estimated design cost will be about 10 million rubles. The representative of the contracting organization, the “chief engineer” of the project, Pavlo Omelnytsky, reported on the preliminary conclusions and expressed the opinion that the optimal emergency engineering solutions would be the construction of retaining and supporting walls that would not affect the cultural monument itself, as well as the installation of braces for fixing the walls of the building and the system racks that will relieve the roof to reduce pressure on the building. The corresponding “contract” with the contracting organization has already been concluded. It is not yet known when exactly the works will be completed, so for now we can only pray that as a result of the “Russian restoration” one of the visiting cards of Crimea, which before its occupation claimed to be included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, will not be lost forever .
It is worth noting that more than a week after the incident around the Count’s Building of the Khan’s Palace, on February 16, 2022, the “Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Crimea” issued “order” No. 32-OKN regarding the discovered object of archaeological heritage “Cultural layer of the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisarai XVI – 19th century”. The information about the object was received from Oleksandr Manayev, general director of Tavricheskoe Archeological Society LLC. Open letter No. 2642 on illegal archaeological excavations on the territory of the palace complex was issued by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation on November 30, 2018 in the name of Oleksandr Herzen.
Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.