A new exhibition in Kyiv is now offering the next best thing to time travel: Visitors can come face-to-face with life-size and extremely lifelike silicone replicas of great Ukrainians from the past.
The life-size figures were first presented to the public at the ArtHall D12 gallery on Nov. 9. Among the life-like silicone replicas are Volodymyr the Great, the ruler of the Kyivan Rus from 958 to 1015 A.D., the philosopher Gregory Skovoroda and writer Ivan Kotlarevsky from the 18th century, and the late 20th century actor Bohdan Stupka. From the immediate past, there are replicas of soldiers from the war in eastern Ukraine.
Viktoriya Trubchaninova, one of the exhibition’s guests, was impressed.
“I read about most of these people at school, and back then they seemed to be so distant, almost surreal,” she says. “Now I see them right in front of me, dressed in unusual clothes, yet thanks to these life-size figures, (they have been) transformed into people I can relate to, imagine their daily routines, habits, and imperfections.”
Businessman Valeriy Halan came up with the idea of the exhibition about six years ago. He assembled a team of 50 people to help him bring the idea to life, and paid for it from his own pocket.
“The price of each costume starts from 500 euros,” he told the Kyiv Post.
However, making some of the figures was a lot more expensive.
“For example, making the weapons of Yan Sobesky, the ruler of the Kingdom of Lithuania, which Ukraine was once a part of, cost 15,000 euros.”
Halan would not disclose the full cost of the project. But it’s clear that not much expense was spared to produce the highly authentic exhibits.
“We had historians in our team, artists, (arms) consultants to make weapons look authentic, cloth consultants, and even psychologists to illustrate the person’s character through their replica’s facial expressions,” Halan said.
The technology behind the silicone replicas, Halan said, is way ahead of traditional wax models. The material looks much more realistic, and even Madame Tussauds in London, the world’s most famous waxworks museum, has only recently started to use silicone.
But the exhibition doesn’t just feature human-size replicas – entire, life-like scenes have been set up around them.
Political analysts advised Halan’s team, so that most of the historical characters could be surrounded with replicas of their allies or family members.
In one exhibit for example, Princess Olha, the Kyivan Rus regent for her son Svyatoslav from 945 until 960 A.D., sits at a table, while a servant girl stands behind her. The servant’s name is Malusha – she was abducted from her own village and sold into slavery to Princess Olha. A couple of years later, this girl would become the mother of Prince Volodymyr, the great Kyivan Rus ruler, and Olha’s grandson.
Historian Mykhailo Videnko advised the team, so as to make the exhibits as historically accurate as possible.
“There is a lot of speculation about what the people of the 10th century living on the territory of modern Ukraine looked like,” he said at a press conference ahead of the launch of the exhibition on Nov. 7. “And historians had to find answers to these unsolved riddles.”
“For example, we do not know for sure what male servants used to wear at that time. But we have a grasp of what women looked like in Ikorosten, the place Malusha allegedly came from,” said Videnko. “This gave us the material to recreate her appearance.”
After its initial presentation in the gallery, the exhibition then went to the Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War, and after that to the Fortetsya Hetmana history-themed hotel, which is housed in a medieval castle-style building in the village of Hatne, just to the south of Kyiv.
Currently over 30 out of a planned 130 silicone replicas have been produced, and Halan is continuing to make new figures of Ukrainian rulers, politicians, artists and writers. He is now looking for a location in Kyiv to set up the exhibition permanently and to illustrate it with interactive maps and holograms.
“We received an offer from St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery and the Second World War museum,” he says. “But we haven’t made a final decision.”
Halan says the exhibition will remind Ukrainians how rich their history is.
“The average Ukrainian does not know about Ukrainian history, they are not proud of it,” he says. “However, Ukrainians have protected Europe from its enemies, we have had our own historians, artists, philosophers – people to be proud of.”
Halan plans to wrap up all preparations for the move to a permanent home for the exhibition by September, and it currently searching for sponsors.
Until then, to see the silicone replicas visitors can go either to the Fortetsya Hetmana hotel, where around 20 of the figures are on display, or the Second World War museum, which has around five of the figures.
Fortetsya Hetmana history-themed hotel, Hatne village
103 Instytytska St.
Distance from Kyiv: 12 kilometers
Tel: +38044 337 3769
History of Ukraine in the Second World War museum
24 Lavrska St.
Tel: +38044 285 9452