Descending the stairs of Bessarabka Market, visitors witness the guts of cellar corridors in Kyiv’s first refrigerated chamber, which has supplied food to the city since 1911. Just twenty years later, this same cooled underground endured a lesser-known use as an impromptu morgue during the Holodomor famine. The rooms of the basement went from proudly storing the city’s nourishment to secretly housing the human bodies that had succumbed to a man-made food scarcity. That short repurposing of the market in 1933 unveils a history of drought, soil exhaustion, and maldistribution of resources.
Round a semicircular corridor and through the door of chamber 31, the installation examines narratives around fluctuating food territories and the emergence of soil appreciation. An archive of soil-related artefacts unpacks the moments that transformed Ukraine into a universal breadbasket.
Sifting through Neolithic Trypillian cultures, the conquering of ‘virgin land’, the commodification of chernozem (unique black fertile soil), the engineering of extreme weather-resistant grains, and the ongoing financialisation of agriholding interests, the installation lays ground for an understanding of the exhaustion of the Ukrainian soil amidst its shifting climatic frontier. Chernozem has shaped inhabitation in nomadic and sedentary cultures as much as these cultures have shaped chernozem. Yet the soil itself has also been exported abroad, transporting fertility to Soviet Arctic settlements in the 1930s and other places in Nazi Germany during World War II. Today, black soil in rural areas is continuously stripped away and sold in international markets.
Six public discussions with local experts were part of the installation at the cellar, focusing on the Holodomor famine, the ecological role of kurgans (ancient burial mounds), post-Stalinist windbreaks, the politics of water in Crimea, contemporary migrant grains, and the financialisation of the soil. From this, CLIMAVORE collaborated with Ukrainian lawyers to create a propositional framework that drafted a new legal document to grant the soil the right not to be exhausted. Each event concluded with a performative tasting of specially developed CLIMAVORE breads made with ingredient mixes capable of restoring the exhausted soil of the Ukrainian steppes after centuries of over-tillage, while inviting visitors to think about future food imaginaries that can recover the soil’s structure.