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Zhytniy Market in Kyiv's central Podil neighborhood. (Yevhen Klopotenko / Facebook)
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Kyiv’s City Council canceled an auction for the capital's iconic Zhytniy Market after accusations that the competition was unfair but activists warn the modernist building is still at risk.

This wouldn’t be the first time Kyiv has lost its architectural heritage to developers looking for new real estate opportunities. Activists are determined not to lose Zhytniy the same way.

Although the initial auction was overturned due to the backlash, a second is set to take place next month.

Celebrity chef and activist Yevhen Klopotenko cautioned that the fight is not over. On social media, he highlighted the case of Kyiv's Sinnyi Market which was demolished in 2005 despite protests.

Kloptenko led online protests against the recent auction announcement for Zhytniy. He accused the initial five-day bidding period of being suspiciously short, saying the small window meant a winner had been predetermined.

“Five days to prepare and submit documents is an unrealistic time frame unless you knew about it in advance,” Klopotenko said.

Ievgen Klopotenko, 33, a chef and a co-owner of the Ukrainian restaurant "100 Years Back in Future", poses for a portrait in Kyiv, Ukraine on October 15, 2020. Ukrainian ministry of culture is in the process of recognizing borscht as a part of the country's "intangible cultural heritage". The goal is to get it on UNESCO's cultural heritage list, which was initiated by a local chef Ievgen Klopotenko, who posted on Facebook that Ukrainians needed to "defend" borscht and also launched an NGO Institute of Culture of Ukraine that is the driving force behind this effort". (Oksana Parafeniuk for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A new auction will be held on April 15, Klopotenko told the Kyiv Independent, after he spoke with Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko on March 20.

“The deadline has now been extended fivefold — up to 25 days. This is enough time to prepare all the documents.”

The brutalist Soviet-era Zhytniy Market in the historic Podil neighborhood was initially put up for a 15-year lease with rent starting at Hr 2.5 million ($67,000) per month on March 19, according to the National Electronic Exchange.

The Kyiv City Council, the landlord of Zhytniy Market, did not respond to the Kyiv Independent’s request for comment on the short bidding time.

Klopotenko told the Kyiv Independent that he has been in close contact with city authorities, market management, and public activists regarding Zhytniy over the last year. But, no one knew about the auction before the announcement.

Despite recent efforts, Ukraine still struggles to ensure transparency and fair competition in its auctions.

Klopotenko and Klitschko also discussed the tender conditions and requirements for the winner. The chef emphasized that the interests of the community need to be taken into account and affirmed in all the documents.

“The main thing is to renovate the market and preserve its profile — the market should be a market,” Klopotenko explained.

He held a public discussion in October 2023 that developed a common vision for Zhytniy Market with local residents, members of the food industry, and NGOs. It includes keeping the building as a functioning market, while also developing spaces for restaurants, play areas for children, and cultural events.

Zhytniy is one of the largest covered markets in Europe, spanning 11,000 square meters. It’s nestled on the site of a medieval market.

Years of neglect have left the building largely in disrepair, with leaking ceilings and no central heating for the dozens of businesses selling everything from cheese to Ukrainian embroidered shirts.

A couple dances as others visit a charity fair in Zhytniy Market on June 17, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The main goal of the event was to collect money for one of Ukraine's army units. (Roman Pilipey/Getty Images)

Klopotenko says it was deliberately left to decay to justify its sale to developers. Although the initial auction agreement stipulated that the winner must retain the function of the market, Klopotenko warned that it could be turned into “another soulless shopping mall or anthill high rise,” in a Facebook post on March 20.

The restaurateur also highlighted a key remaining issue. The majority of the second floor of the market is still leased to the previous tenant, a company called Tangerin owned by German businessman Florian Bohlen, which initially pledged to construct food courts, a brewery, and children’s play areas, according to Pragmatika.

However, a lawsuit is underway to terminate the lease after Tangerin failed to pay rent and carry out contractual renovations. At the same time, the winner of the new auction, which covers another section of the market, will also be required to do repairs.

“How the two tenants are to share the repairs is an issue that the mayor's office has promised to sort out,” Klopotenko wrote.

People visit a charity fair, organized to collect money for Ukraine's army, in the Zhytniy Market in Kyiv, on December 10, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Roman Pilipey /AFP via Getty Images)

The restaurateur underwent efforts to revitalize Zhytniy last year after noticing the market was “quietly dying,” as he put it.

The chef planned to present the revival project in the spring and noted that an audit was scheduled in the coming weeks.

“I see Zhytniy as a gastronomic and cultural hub. I want foreigners to come here as they come to the San Miguel market in Madrid,” he said.

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