This past week I led a team to conduct an overall assessment of Pyrohiv, the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life just outside Kyiv, Ukraine. Most of Pyrohiv is dedicated to Ukrainian folk architecture from the 17th-early 20th centuries including houses, farm buildings, windmills and wooden churches. I had visited Pyrohiv several times before but had never visited the part of the museum known as the Modern Village, and my colleagues and I came away entranced by a glimpse into a time period not yet interpreted in most museums, particularly outdoor museums.
The Modern Village was formed in the 1970s. Ethnographers visited villages around Ukraine and selected a "typical" Soviet village house and inhabitants. They then fully documented the house and contents; returned to Pyrohiv and recreated an exact twin of the house, down to the exact furnishings. So what the Modern Village now presents is a snapshot of an officially approved, in the Soviet era, picture of what the state envisioned village life to be.
It's a very curious place. The houses' exteriors reflect some regional differences, but the interiors seem much the same. "Well, they were exactly the same!" laughed one of our interpreters. The rugs behind the bed, the polka dot cookware, and something I had heard about but never seen, the then-ubiquitous Soviet radio: one station only, no volume control, no off button.
At one house, the attendant pointed out a portrait of the original home's owner (above) and mentioned that he still comes, occasionally, to visit his reproduction house. Right now, the houses are minimally interpreted. It's fascinating to think about the role of nostalgia, of oral histories, of the ways that change could be reflected in these homes. The opportunity to expand on that interpretation, to really gain an understanding of 1970s Soviet life in Ukraine, while the generation who lived it is still active, is an incredible opportunity for the museum, one that could make it unique in the world.
Irina, my young translator said, "This is the village I remember, houses like this, like my grandparents!" And that's something for all of us to think about as we attempt to connect the far-receding past to new generations no matter where we live.