IVANO-FRANKIVSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Entrepreneurs in western Ukraine are turning a huge Soviet-era manufacturing plant into a hub for education, business and art which they hope will drive development in a country struggling with corruption, political instability and a recession.
The disused factory in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk once produced gas meters and other appliances, but is now a growing urban space with a green micro farm, a contemporary art gallery, offices and a children’s education club.
The founders of the ‘Promprylad.Renovation’ project – named after the factory – bought the 36,000 square metre (390,000 sq ft) site in 2019 and have raised more than $8.5 million from local investors for the revamp.
“We are creating an innovation centre which will include four main fields – education, art, new economy and urbanism. Why these fields? Because they drive development of any area, any society,” project co-founder and CEO Yuriy Fylyuk, 38, told Reuters.
In 2020, the local edition of Forbes magazine named Ivano-Frankivsk, in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, the best city for doing business in Ukraine, ahead of the capital of Kyiv and Lviv.
Corruption is endemic in Ukraine and its economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, shrinking 4 pct last year.
In its 2020 Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International ranked Ukraine 117th out of 180 countries globally, giving it 33 out of a maximum of 100 points where zero indicates that “corruption effectively replaces the government”.
So far the project takes up only a sixth of the 36,000 square metre (390,000 sq ft) site, which also houses the municipal department for investment policy.
“The atmosphere is different here. A place shapes a person’s thoughts. And this particular place has had an impact on our thoughts and our ideas,” the department’s head Igor Popadyuk said. “Everything feels different here.”
Fylyuk said almost 900 private investors put money into the project and that the only criteria for accepting their funding is that it must come from legal sources, not oligarchs.
Its founders expect the project to be complete by the end of 2023 and plan to add an event hall for 4,000 people, a library, a bookshop and a mindfulness centre on the rooftop.
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Raissa Kasolowsky)