Buryatia spending much-needed money at home to sponsor the DNR
February 14, 2023
  • Anna Zueva
  • Vladimir Popov
Anna Zueva writes about the plight of the merchant houses of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Buryatia. These architectural monuments could be saved, but officials are instead spending money from the regional budget on the so-called DNR.
A postcard with a view of Verkhneudinsk, the way Ulan-Ude was called until 1934
Until 1934, the city of Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Republic of Buryatia, was called Verkhneudinsk. Founded in 1666, it was long a small town in the district. By 1810, about 5,000 people lived there. At that time, the city had about 20 streets with dozens of estates and government buildings. In the summer of 1878, a major fire broke out. It destroyed more than three quarters of the buildings, including 87 estates, though within a few years the town residents rebuilt their houses. They were decorated with sawn and relief carvings on window frames and entrance canopies.

Many of the wooden houses built at the end of the 19th century in Ulan-Ude have survived to this day and are compactly located in the city center. We walked with guide Natalya Myasnikova around the estate of N.A. Butyrin, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century and represents a regionally important monument to architecture and the city’s development. It is a vivid example of a historical residential construction in Verkhneudinsk whose space and decorative façade elements have been well preserved.

Myasnikova: The winters are cold, so people built quickly. This house was erected literally over a summer. A large team was involved in the construction and used up to seven varieties of wood. This estate is at least 100 years old. Few Russian cities can afford such wooden architecture. But owing to our extreme continental climate, it is dry and cold here in winter, and dry and hot in summer. These are ideal conditions for trees. Fungi do not develop and insects do not survive in these conditions. Wooden houses are naturally preserved. In part, old houses have been preserved also because Buryatia is a poor, subsidized region. After the collapse of the USSR, the state budget and investors did not have money to resettle the residents, demolish the old houses and build new ones.
Bronislav Mikhailov, Honored architect of Buryatia
There are 286 cultural heritage sites in Ulan-Ude. Of these, 100 are wooden houses. State registration of architectural monuments began in the 1960s, says Honored Architect of Buryatia Bronislav Mikhailov. He spent 40 years identifying and registering such buildings, and currently he projects restoration work at a private company, perhaps the only such one in Ulan-Ude.

Mikhailov: Most of the houses are in poor condition. To the average person, they are old, crumbling buildings. Over the past 2-3 decades, many have lost their front entrances, which had been at risk of collapsing. They were simply demolished and new steps were put in. Window frames were removed, modern shutters were installed, old fences were removed and covered up with corrugated iron. On a practical level, this is understandable: people have no money, they are at least trying to do something with their memorial houses. But they are actually destroying them. This process goes on every day. Of the 100 houses, half are in need of reconstruction.
Sobornaya street, Ulan-Ude
Urban activist Natalya Bulycheva takes care of Sobornaya Street, where she has lived for most of her life. She makes sure the trees and lawns get trimmed, the fences are painted and replaced, and lighting is installed. She spent two years ensuring that the memorial houses on Sobornaya, where people still live, received the status of “run-down and dilapidated housing.” This status makes it possible to provide people with new apartments, though it does not entail the restoration of the memorial houses.

Bulycheva: Sobornaya Street is between the Odigitrievsky Cathedral and the Church of the Savior. There are 16 cultural heritage sites within 400 meters. The houses at Sobornaya Street 12/1 and 12/2 are in a terrible state, and the degree of decay is 90%. I’m trying to get officials to take up their reconstruction. I repeatedly went to the municipality, the government, and personally to the head of the republic, Alexei Tsydenov. The register of memorial houses was created in 1996. In 2002, Federal Law No 73 “On Objects of Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of the Russian Federation” was issued, and at the same time the state allowed the privatization of premises that are cultural heritage sites. The authorities were supposed to carry out extensive renovations, but decided to abandon the responsibility for preserving cultural heritage and not spend money on it. These obligations were shifted to future owners, who did not understand or did not know that, having become the owners of cultural heritage sites, they bear the responsibility for their preservation.

Specialists from the Committee for the State Protection of Cultural Heritage Objects have been legally responsible for carrying out repair and restoration work over the last three years. The drafting of a restoration project can reach RUB 200,000 (about $ 3000) – huge money for most Russian families.

Mikhailov: Not only does the owner have to use his own money to restore the site, but there is also a complicated procedure for performing the work. Since 2015, the owner must involve an organization that is licensed by the RussianMinistry of Culture to work on cultural heritage sites.
Dmitry Pokhosoev in his great-great-grandfather's house
Dmitri Pokhosoev lives in the house of his great-great-grandfather, Yevgeny Markovich Milstein, the first dentist in Verkhneudinsk. The century-old house, which is recognized as a cultural heritage object, is located at 14 Lenin Street – the historical center of Ulan-Ude. Two years ago, Dmitri received an order from the Committee for the State Protection of Cultural Heritage Objects to put in a blind area around the house.

Pokhosoev: In 1998, I inherited this house. It was in a deplorable condition. I put into its restoration the money that I had intended to spend on purchasing a two-room apartment. In 1998, the house was not yet recognized as a monument of architecture and city development. It was possible to freely renovate it without coordinating anything with officials. Still, I did not change anything in the facade, the exterior. I just redid the porch, as it had rotted. Everything else is original, how it was a century ago. The committee to protect monuments ordered me to put in a blind area around the perimeter and drainpipes and hang a memorial plaque. None of that is cheap. I thought: this is my home after all, not the state’s! I have a blind area on three sides, just not on one. It is not right to hang drainpipes, as the roof must first be repaired. I wanted to put in drainage, but the committee rolled out a huge list of things I must do – it was just impossible to do them. The drafting and assessment must be carried out by people with a license, and it costs about RUB 100,000 (about $ 1500).
Retiree Lyubov' Rudenko near her house
Retiree Lyubov Rudenko also lives in a house that the state has recognized as a cultural heritage object. In the 19th century, the mansion on Sobornaya Street was owned by the Skrylnikov merchant family. Now there are four apartments in the house. Three are privately owned, one belongs to the municipality. Rudenko lives there. Repairs in the 25-square-meter apartment should be handled by the mayor’s office. But since the rest of the apartments have been privatized, officials said they will not do it.

Rudenko: We do not close the shutters, because it is dangerous. They will fall. The floors have rotted to the foundation. If it rains heavily outside, then all the water gets in. In January, there is a blizzard in the house and the cold is unbearable. I went to the [city] administration, but nothing got done. They set up a commission. They came, looked and said: “if there was another municipal apartment, we would do the renovations for you.” And the politicians say: “it’s none of our business!” I have a second-degree disability. I cannot get through to anyone. They specially did not privatize this apartment. It’s a monument! If something happens, then you must do it at your own expense. And it’s crazy money. Where will I get it? My pension is RUB 12,000 (about  $ 170). It’s torture. Drag the water around, take out the slop, buy firewood, chop it. It is stove-heated; there is no central water supply.
Sverdlov Street. Wooden house of a wealthy townsman, 2nd half of the 19th century
The vast majority of wooden memorial houses are privately owned, with only a few owned by the municipality or region. Evidently, the owners have no funds for reconstruction and the houses are gradually falling apart. The optimal solution, according to Mikhailov, would be cofinancing: the state would allocate money from the budget and help the owners to carry out repair and restoration. However, there is no state money for maintaining state-owned cultural heritage objects, let alone cofinancing privately owned ones.

Vitaly Filippov, a specialist from the Committee for the State Protection of Cultural Heritage Objects, said that under the Federal Target Program for the Development of Culture, RUB 11 million (about $ 160,000) was allocated in 2022 to adjust the project documentation for the restoration of the Trinity Cathedral in the city of Kyakhta. In 2022, RUB 23 million (about $ 329, 000) was allocated from the regional budget for a building that was an orphanage in the 1900s. Currently, work is being done there. RUB 28 million (about $ 400,000) was allocated for the main house of the Goldobin estate at 26 Lenin Street – now a city history museum. Overall, RUB 61 million (about $ 872,000) was allocated from the federal and regional budgets in 2022. But this is not enough to restore the architectural monuments.
Cadastral surveyor Ayuna Pivovarova
In 2019, a public project called “Old Town” was launched in Ulan-Ude. In three years, the team, which includes architects, urban activists, guides and government officials, has restored two dozen wooden houses in the historic center of Ulan-Ude. They paint the facades and window frames and are thus maintaining the cultural heritage sites. The project was created by cadastral surveyor Ayuna Pivovarova. This year, the volunteers will probably have nothing to paint – many houses in the historic center of Ulan-Ude can no longer be reinvigorated by paint and brush. Professional restorers who work in the team believe that the roofing and entrances of the remaining houses should first be repaired before painting the facades and window frames.

Pivovarova: Remaining are the wooden houses that need extensive renovations. Our project might stop, as there are no houses left that you can just paint. We have studied the experience of other Russian regions and we know that there are regional programs where budget subsidies are allocated for the restoration of roofing, for restoration work at cultural heritage objects, but not directly to the owners, as that is not provided for by law. The funds are allocated to NGOs that organize this work. I think we can do it. In 2022, we won a grant to repair the roofing of a house at 10 Sverdlov Street. It is a cultural heritage object. So, we have experience in preparing estimates and hiring contractors.

The restoration of wooden architecture is also hampered by regular amendments to the aforementioned Federal Law No 73 that interfere with the work of specialists and create headaches for the memorial houses’ owners, according to Mikhailov.

Mikhailov: I have big issues with the Russian Ministry of Culture. There were 56 amendments between 2002 and 2022. In fact, changes are made three times a year. I have been dealing with cultural heritage objects for 40 years and I can see that all the changes are making things more complicated and burdensome. Can you imagine how much money these unnecessary bureaucratic initiatives mean for the budget?
Repaired road in Starobeshevo district, DNR
Alexei Tsydenov, the head of Buryatia, is not very concerned about the issue of preserving architectural and city-development monuments in the region. In summer 2022, he agreed to sponsor Starobeshesky District in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and is currently restoring destroyed buildings in the occupied territories. In October, on Tsydenov’s instructions, an autonomous nonprofit organization called Sodejstvie (“assistance”) was created in Buryatia to oversee the restoration work in Starobeshesky District. Sodejstvie carried out repair and reconstruction work on roads in four settlements of the district: Komsomolskoye, Starobeshevo, Novy Svet and Novokaterinovka. Under an agreement with a local contractor, it restored four schools, five kindergartens, three apartment buildings, two boiler houses and three courtyards. The bill came to half a billion rubles from the budget.

In 2023, 62 objects in Starobeshesky District are slated for repair and reconstruction, including roads, public facilities and residential buildings. Almost a billion rubles have been allocated from the budget. The objects to be restored at the expense of the highly subsidized Buryatia are located in various settlements: Komsomolskoye, Starobeshevo, Novy Svet, Kipuchaya Krinitsa, Novokaterinovka and Novozarevka. The RUB 1.5 billion (over $ 21 million) that Tsydenov has spent and will spend on the DNR could instead be used to restore all the crumbling memorial houses in the historic center of Ulan-Ude.

“There are many objects in Starobeshesky District that need extensive repairs. All of them have barely been repaired since they were built,” says Damdin Bolotov, general director of Sodejstvie. “We understand our responsibility and are completing all the tasks that the government of Buryatia and the Russian Federation as a whole sets for us.”
Share this article
Read More
You consent to processing your personal data and accept our privacy policy