Photo: Borys Korpusenko / UNIAN

Polina Vernyhor

I’ll either die in a landfill or my signs will simply be changed: A history of Ukrainian kiosks from birth to death

21 July 2021
Video: Ivan Chernichkin / Zaborona

Hello, I’m a Ukrainian kiosk! (In Ukrainian - ‘a small architectural object’, MAF, or ‘street furniture. - ed.) Almost every city dweller in Ukraine knows me by that name. Before, I used to be called a kiosk, or a stall, or a tray, a trailer, a hut. Small business owners love me, and urbanists hate me: they think that I ruin the look of a city. From an architectural standpoint, I do indeed look ugly - but that’s how I was made.

Photo: Volodymyr Falin, 1970 / UNIAN

I first appeared in the USSR - at the time, the state had a monopoly on everything, that’s why I either sold literature printed by Soyuzpechat (the state-owned periodicals publisher), or tickets for public transport, or provided general information from an information bureau.

Photo: Oleksandr Chekmenev, 1999

After the fall of the Soviet Union, private businesses began springing up all across Ukraine. People wanted to have their own businesses - to sell cosmetics, CDs or DVDs, clothes, food, drinks, cigarettes. Some of these goods were imported, some were made here. That’s when I became popular.

I began to take new forms as private enterprise developed: people invented MAFs based on car bodies or trailers. There were different sizes of them - from 1 by 1.5 square meters, to 2.5 by 10 square meters. This was comfortable because goods didn’t need to be unpacked and sorted, but simply placed onto improvised counters inside.

Photo: Ivan Chernichkin / Zaborona
Фото: Іван Чернічкін

Of course, not every kiosk owner had a license to sell, because some of them didn’t want to pay taxes. That’s why this business quickly went into the shadows - no one really knew how many kiosks actually existed in Ukraine. Sometimes, whole criminal wars were fought over me - people died and kiosks and products were torched.

Photo: Ivan Chernichkin / Zaborona

But the kiosk business grew in popularity despite that. In 2005 in Kyiv alone, there were officially estimated to be 4,000 kiosks, in 2009, 11,500, by 2012 - nearly 16,000, and in 2013, over 18,000. (Unofficially, the number was closer to 24,000.) Municipal authorities, for the longest time, couldn't decide whether kiosks installed in markets counted, which was the reason for the large discrepancy.

The Kyiv city government has tried to fight me. For example, in 2010, the Kyiv City State Administration introduced a moratorium on the installation of new kiosks, and in 2012 it created a new headquarters specifically to fight MAFs. Yet, for some reason, the actions of this headquarters only resulted in more kiosks appearing throughout the city.

Photo: Ivan Chernichkin / Zaborona

I think the problem was in law enforcement and local officials - they just didn’t enforce the law and closed their eyes to the new shops springing up in exchange for monthly envelopes full of cash. Yet these new kiosks still lacked official permission to operate, meaning that taxes and local fees didn’t go into the city budget.

Photo: YURIY KIRNICHNY / AFP via Getty Images
Фото: YURIY KIRNICHNY / AFP via Getty Images

Vitali Klitschko, during his 2014 mayoral campaign, announced a war against me. Two years later, some kiosks did start going down - in 2016, nearly 7,500 kiosks were demolished. By 2024, the mayor’s office plans to have decreased the number of kiosks in the city by 70%. Mostly, the kiosks being removed are those set up on lawns, public transit stops, near sidewalk crossings or just in pedestrian areas.

Video:Ivan Chernichkin / Zaborona
Відео: Іван Чернічкін / Заборона

The administration has reported that over 1,100 kiosks were removed in the first quarter of 2021. City residents can send complaints about me to the Kyiv Department of Urban Development. That department will send my owners either a warning, or a proposal, or a request to prove my legality - or a demand to remove the illegal structure. If my owner doesn’t react, city authorities remove me and take me to a landfill.

There are four ‘cemeteries’ like this in Kyiv. When I’m taken to one of them, my owner has to prove their ownership of me and pay a fine to cover storage. Lots of people don’t seem to have any desire to reclaim me, so after some time I end up as city property. Municipal authorities can then use me as they see fit: they can sell me to someone, or just use me for scrap.

Video: UBR / YouTube

In June 2021, the city administration issued new regulations for installing me. In particular, I could no longer be installed closer than 200 meters from a metro stop, 50 meters from a public transit stop, school, kindergarten, nursery, or crosswalk, and no closer than 10 meters from any building, structure, or memorial.

Photo: Andrii Skakodub / UNIAN

Some of my owners are protesting against these rules, saying that the authorities are working in their own interests and are seizing back permissions from over 6,000 small business owners who work legally and pay taxes. They believe that the Kyiv city administration still closes their eyes to illegal structures as long as the bribes are paid.

Video: Ivan Chernichkin / Zaborona

The authorities are indeed choosy about which shops to close. For example, nearly all the kiosks were closed in the pedestrian underpass near the Lybidska metro station - yet the ones directly across from the entrance are still open.

I’m not sure what my future holds - whether I’ll die in a landfill, or be repurposed into a new form, or if my signage will just change. I want to stop making people so uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it’s not just up to me.

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