Kiev pensioner turns scruffy stairwell into a gilded palace

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Kiev pensioner turns scruffy stairwell into a gilded palace

Vladimir Chaika has spent years installing ornamental plaster mouldings and art reproductions in a Soviet-era block of flats

From the outside, number 11A is a drab block of flats like any other in Troyeshina, a scruffy Kiev suburb of identikit Soviet-era housing. The entrance door is daubed with graffiti, the ground floor hallway dingy and depressing.

But exit the lift between floors six and eight, however, and the contrast with the grey, snowy winter outside could not be greater. The stairwell has been plastered, gilded and ornamented so it resembles a Tsarist palace more than a Khrushchev-era block of flats. Set in gilded frames, reproductions of the Mona Lisa and other well-known portraits stare out. Cherubs and ornamental flowers adorn the ceiling; set amid the swirling plaster are colourful vistas of desert islands fringed with palm trees.

The rubbish chute, a mainstay of the Soviet apartment stairwell, has been clad in patterned plaster and topped with a number of gilded figures of Atlas. To one side is Viktor Vasnetsov’s 19th-century painting Ivan Tsarevich Riding a Grey Wolf.

The surreal creation is the work of 64-year-old Vladimir Chaika, a seventh-floor resident of the block who has spent 15 years bringing his unusual vision to life. Chaika worked for three decades in the Kiev metro system, responsible for water supply and engineering. At the depot, he met a man responsible for the plastering and ornamental moulding for the workers’ areas, and Chaika begged him to teach him how to do it.

“I had been dreaming of doing this since childhood, when I watched films about palaces, but I never thought I’d get the chance,” Chaika said.

When his colleague retired, he left his plaster moulds to Chaika, who gradually had the idea to begin work on the stairwell. […]