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After Ukraine gained independence the Church immediately became involved in various controversies, which were aggravated by the struggle for spheres of influence and resources. On the one hand, the conflict between the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church of the Moscow Patriarchate continued just as it had in the Soviet period, and the question of their separation offered a platform for debate about state sovereignty. On the other hand there is the question of forming the identity politics of the new state, whose official narrative came out of Russian colonisation. In opposition to the pro-Russian states, which supported the idea of the Ukrainian Church as exclusively under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Kyiv Patriarchate has become a unifying idea for nation-building democrats in a linguistic, cultural, and political sense. Here, both churches have the support of various political forces. Both have also been used by election campaigns, where, on the one side, people argued that the Church defends the building of national consciousness, and on the other, that attempts at independence create conflict and lead to a split.
Yet another point in this debate is the issue of Ukraine’s multiethnic and multicultural makeup; and finally, the internal governmental debates concerning the political significance of using organised religion as one of the ways to build the nation. People swayed between the idea of Ukrainianising the national churches (the Orthodox and Greek Catholic) or for full freedom of worship for all faiths, including those closely connected with Russia. This was happening upon a background of an unfolding struggle for territory and spheres of influence, which took on a different intensity of form — from the blatant purchase and takeover of television and radio broadcasts (just as missions flooding in from the West did), to literal physical clashes between the Kyiv and Moscow patriarchies over their sacred sites, the most prominent of which were state-owned, which meant they could now possibly be divided.
Due to this process of schism, church symbols have begun to take on new meanings. The authors of Orthodox Chic map them with a bit of irony, starting with Christianity’s most potent symbol, the cross. It has begun to lose its sacred meaning (martyrdom, and with it the power and authority of Christ), but still works under this guise: it sometimes acts as a ‘placeholder’ for future development; or it may be a personal statement for people, who then hang a cross on their gates or hoist it on top of a factory for self-identification or in an attempt to garner spiritual protection. It can act still further as a universal soldier within an ideological vacuum, filling the space left on top of the pedestals of decommunised monuments. Using the same logic, the authors focus on hybrid interiors and all the ways of reappropriating various types of architectural spaces into places of worship, with a wide range of ideas about religious aesthetics — from the desire to make the building more historical, to a more pragmatic approach, where we see functional metal tiles or boards instead of the gold leaf one usually sees on religious buildings.
The book presents just some of the rich visual material gathered together by the authors over the last few years. Orthodox Chic only starts the discussion on the radically different and hybrid appearance of post-Soviet Ukraine. The Church is understood here not just through a spiritual lens, but also from the perspective of its economic and political status in a country looking for national self-determination as many of its resources become the site of a new struggle. The history of Orthodox architecture, greatly altered by the Soviet period, gets a second chance here; however, it faces new challenges in the form of contemporaneity which offers an multiplication of images but a loss of any intelligible coordinates.