A vintage chair

There it stands, alone and abandoned – a Soviet-era armchair outside what was once a new, modern apartment block for workers at the nuclear power plant. But when the reactor exploded in 1986, all the residents of Chernobyl had to be hastily evacuated. In the years since then nature has reasserted its dominion over an area that today has come to provide a sanctuary for numerous different species of animal.

     This chair’s history may not stretch particularly far back in time, but the story it has to tell must surely be more dramatic than that of many of its peers.

Ukraine, April 2019 (Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto courtesy of Getty Images)

     Did the photographer find the chair in the building in the background, I wonder, and drag it out into the open air to add drama to the composition? Or had the chair already been standing outside for a time? Who knows? One thing is certain, however: the chair serves as a stark reminder of another, happier time in an image that otherwise seeks to communicate the eerie sensation of 35 years of desolation and dereliction.

     This style of chair dates from the 1960s, although it remained popular throughout the 1970s and beyond. Its Soviet designation was simply that of ‘armchair’, and it was common in both private homes and offices alike, not least in what was then East Germany. Today such chairs are mostly to be found in shops selling second-hand furniture and on online sales platforms. I’ve seen one of them described as ‘a soft vintage armchair from the GDR’.

Ukraine, April 2019 (Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto courtesy of Getty Images)

     You still come across these chairs occasionally now and again – from St Petersburg and Moscow to Slovakia and elsewhere. The chair is constructed around a wooden frame, and the legs, too, are made of wood. The show wood armrests are usually finished in a dark stain.

     Chairs share certain traits with us humans. For example, there is little they enjoy more than our company, but if we leave them, they will always stand there waiting faithfully for us to return. They are social creatures by nature, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this one offers a fox a place to spend the occasional night now that there are no longer any humans around.

     Suddenly, out of the blue, I hear the distant sound of a cuckoo. Does it come from the north, I wonder? In Swedish folk lore a cuckoo to the north is a harbinger of sorrow. But maybe my sense of direction is letting me down. On second thoughts the cuckoo I can hear is surely calling from the east. For, according to time-honoured Swedish tradition, the cuckoo in the east is the cuckoo of comfort and consolation.

by Gun Bjerkander Handberg

Note From Editor:

This blog was prepared and scheduled months ago, when we had no idea at the time that today would be a significant day for the people of Ukraine and Russia. The author was simply moved by this image of the solitary chair and what it may have witnessed. The chair tales that we share on this blog are to inspire, enlighten and make us consider objects of everyday value which surround us.

If you have enjoyed this short story, you may be interested in more historic chair tales which can be found in our three part book series, Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and the Tales they Tell. The series is written by our blog author Gun Bjerkander Handberg, published by Vind & Våg Publishing and is available now to purchase online.