The “second life” of Industrial Heritage

The disintegration of industrial structures, a corollary of de-industrialization and economic depression, has prompted new kinds of engagement with and awareness of the industrial past. In our archive, we find images of local communities repurposing and upcycling industrial trash, particularly scrap metal. In the Soviet era, this activity was carried out both by Pioneers and the Komsomol (photo 1), the Communist Party’s obligatory youth organizations. After the collapse of state socialism, scrap metal collection became means for enterprising locals to support themselves amidst economic hardship (photo 2). Selling non-ferrous metals – copper, aluminum, stainless steel, and brass – could provide a means of survival or occasionally a relatively lucrative opportunity. Archival photographs (photos 1&2) both feature individuals looking back at the camera, offering what could be interpreted as an “oppositional gaze” which resists their commodification as non-agential documentary subjects.

Campaign of collecting metal scrap, 1980s. Photo by: Anatoliy Boyko /Museum of Druzhkivka School No 12

Jobless coal miners are pushing the carriage with scrap metal to the collection service point in Snizhne town, Luhansk region, 24 March, 2000. Photo by Ihor Novytsky / Courtesy Press agency UNIAN

Practices of repurposing industrial heritage continue today: next to a recently collapsed wall of the Bakhmut Salt Mine №2 stands a neat stack of historic bricks ready to be remade into a garden shed or an outhouse (photo 3). It is not only human animals that have seen the potential in industrial dereliction. In the gypsum mines of Ivangrad, empty since the 1960s, bats now hibernate over winter, and foxes and swallows make their homes (photo 4). The chalk quarries of northern Donbas, hand-mined throughout the Soviet 1950s and 1960s and now part of the nature reserve “Kreidiana flora,” have been reclaimed by steppe flora, such as artemisia salsoloides (polin solyankovydnyi), varieties of hedysarium (solodka), and pale hyacinths (giatsint blidyi) (photo 4). Far from apocalyptic, these post-industrial sites now form picturesque landscapes that attract both amateur and professional photographers. Threats of further human exploitation of these sites, in the form of re-industrialization and wildlife hunting, for example, are fiercely resisted by small but dedicated communities of park wardens, local studies scholars, and activists. What kinds of “adaptive reuse” of these sites will be prioritized, which human and non-human communities will be championed in the region’s further post-industrial transformation, remain contested questions

Bakhmut salt mine No. 2. Photo by Victoria Donovan, 2021

Bird-nest in the gypsum day-hole, Ivanhrad village near Bakhmut. Photo by Victoria Donovan, 2021.