Kharkiv 2022

What shall we do with these buildings?



Shot in September 2021, What Shall We Do With These buildings, Jonathan Ben-Shaul’s film about Soviet-era buildings in Kharkiv, is innocent and prescient, tragic and terrible, the passionate controversy between modern Ukrainians’ ambition to ‘Ukrainise’ Kharkiv and Russian-speakers’ pride in and affection for, buildings that to them symbolise their culture, heritage and historic achievement. Months into a horribly destructive and cruel war, this is no longer a debate, the people of Kharkiv are now united in a struggle to survive the Russian bombs and missiles that don’t distinguish who speaks which language.


Derzhprom Building, Freedom Square, Kharkiv What shall we do with these buildings


Each Soviet-era public building is introduced by local voices, Russian speakers, Ukrainian speakers. This film isn’t polemic, it’s not propaganda, it’s a patient observation, an illustration of the challenges of dissonant heritage; what do cities do with buildings when the political system and dominant culture for which they were constructed, is over?

The film weaves together concrete, people and movement

There is a wistfulness about the film, an effort to express the issues other than simply in words and in the eloquence of the buildings themselves.  Mykola Naboka, the film’s producer, an actor trained in movement, mime and physical theatre, who until the invasion was teaching a movement course at Kharkiv’s School of Architecture, allows us, together with Igor Klyuchnik, to experience the power of these concrete edifices in a very physical way, as the film weaves together concrete, people and movement.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city and the first capital of the Soviet Socialist Republic in 1919 (replaced by Kyiv in 1934), has been at the centre point of an epic tug of war.  It was a battlefield in the Great Patriotic War against the Nazis and now it’s under siege again. We don’t know which of these buildings still stand; we don’t know what’s happened to the people who appear in the film.



Students’ Palace, School of Nutrition, Kharkiv. Oleg Drozdov, Architect and Founder of Kharkiv School of Architecture


The filmmakers have pledged all proceeds from the film to support humanitarian aid on the ground


The city revealed in the film goes to the heart of the dissonance dilemma; how should Soviet-era architecture be considered? If that question was relevant when the film was made it is even more pressing now. The discussion about the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine is well underway – decommunisation was already enshrined in the law On the Condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) Regimes, and the Prohibition of Propaganda of their Symbols. Buildings have potency and all across Europe buildings from communist and fascist regimes still exist, are still used, too expensive to re-purpose, too controversial to demolish but we must not underestimate their symbolic power.

Where to see the film What Shall We Do With These Buildings

Ukrainian Film Festival in Berlin  26th-30th October

Arquiteturas Film Festival, Porto  27th September-1st October

The filmmakers have pledged all proceeds from the film to support humanitarian aid on the ground.


Lecture Block U-2 Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute (formerly Lenin Polytechnic) 1977, with Yuriy Brayko


The film-makers:

Jonathan Ben-Shaul – Director / Choreographer

Jonathan is a movement, theatre and film director from London. Previously he studied at Cambridge University, and L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq. “What Shall We Do With These Buildings?” was the result of a two-month residency supported by Kharkiv Literary Museum, during which he also taught at the Kharkiv School of Architecture. At the moment, he works with Akimbo Theatre Company and helps run community arts engagement projects (in the form of lantern parades) in the UK and in France with La Septima.

Mykola Naboka – Producer / Performer

Mykola is an actor and producer from Kharkiv, Ukraine. Initially, he studied acting at The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. His passion for physical and devised theatre brought him to Paris and to Lecoq, where he also finished the L.E.M. course in experimental scenography. Before the invasion, Mykola joined the pedagogical team at Kharkiv School of Architecture, where he runs a movement course. He has since temporarily moved to Lviv in western Ukraine where he works to resist the Russian invasion, both by organising fundraising events and through the arts.

Louis Norris – Co-producer / Editor

Louis is a filmmaker from London. His short films have been shown at festivals worldwide (most recently at the BFI in June, as part of the London Short Film Festival), with one award (Best UK Film, Dirigo Film Festival, Bristol, 2019). Another short was given a feature in Film International last year. He’s worked in cinema programming (for the Garden Cinema, London) in digital art production (ZINC, Marseille), and as a projection designer in theatres in the United Kingdom and Iceland. He’s currently doing a master’s in Political Sociology at the London School of Economics while working as a freelance filmmaker and editor.

Follow the filmmaker’s progress

Instagram @wswd_buildings

Facebook @WhatShallWeDoWithTheseBuildings


All images are the Copyright of What Shall We With These Buildings ©

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