The Daily Heller: New Typefaces Represent Ukraine’s Soviet History And Present War

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Kyiv Type Foundry is the collaboration between three Ukranians, Yevgeniy Anfalov and Oles Gergun, currently in Germany, and Vadym Axeev is in Bar, Ukraine, to form a type foundry that produces Cyrillic (and Latin) fonts based on Soviet-era Ukrainian types, inspired, among other things, by the beautiful mosaics were destroyed by what they call “decommunization”. With an uncritical view of the Soviet typographic heritage that was either ignored or labelled as “Muscovite”, the duo discovered many treasures made by Ukrainians between 1917–1991. They planned a library, finished the typefaces for the launch, programmed the website – and in 2020 Kyiv Type Foundry was born.

I asked Anfalov to share some of his inspirations as his homeland marks its 2 year anniversary of the bloody war with Putin’s Russia. We begin by excerpting the following preface to the specimen sheet of KTF’s recent Kyiv Metro, which is designed to help raise money for aid to Ukraine.

“Echoing WWII events, in 2022 Kyiv Metro became the bomb shelter for thousands of its inhabitants. This sad fact is another big milestone in its rich history, which continues to be written. Built six decades ago, it carries 1.32 million passengers a day (2016) and is one of the most beautiful man made creations in Ukraine. As part of station architecture, the letters of the Kyiv metro tell us a lot about its history. It’s a book. You can read it in many directions. Exiting on each station, you’ll notice different lettering [approaches]. “Look at them, analyze and make fonts of them”, we told to our students in our summer 2023 workshop called “Kyiv Metro Fonts”. So they did it within a week, and we took and carefully finished 6 most representative of them.

The result is a family release called KTF Metro, aiming to preserve the typographic memory of the city. Additionally, we interviewed Oleg Totsky, a metro historian and specialist. His answers [in the downloadable specimen] open up a context in which Kyiv Metro letters emerged and supplement the showcased typefaces respectively. KTF Metro is free of charge for Ukrainians. As Ukraine is still in the state of emergency, we’d like to ask you for a donation. Use our PayPal, and we’ll distribute the money among those in a need and report by the end of 2024.”

How difficult is it for you to produce such a venture during a war?
Those of us who are in Ukraine – they are strong and they keep working. Showing the strong will and love for life. Part of us is in peaceful Europe, so we have a big privilege to produce work under normal conditions and support people in Ukraine with our outcome, like with our recent free font project, or our online workshops where we teach Cyrillic type design. By the way, we’re actively searching for sponsors to support the above-mentioned educational venues, so the students have to pay less for the course. Please write to us.

What prompted the creation of this face?
Someone had to do it! Some metro stations are being renamed, and with it, original signs disappear.Our new motto became: to write the memory of the city, and we apply it to our practice. Like architecture, letters bear the history of the city and its people. We’re saving the typographical landscape of the city by doing revivals and writing about them. Kyiv Metro stations are like chapters in a book. You can read them in different directions. In the case of Kyiv Metro Fonts it was nice to create a font collection. Together these five fonts and the supplementing research text give a bigger picture of the context they’ve been created. The sum is greater than its parts. Starting with neoclassicist brass letters, supposedly coming from Moscow (1960s), through techno-optimist Eurostile-alike letterings from the 1970s-es, up until postmodern eclecticism of 1980–90s.

Who do you hope will be your consumers?
Foremost, those who’re standing with Ukraine. It’s a fundraiser. Technically, the download is free. Free for Ukrainian residents, and against donation for the rest of the world. We also hope for the type of people who value not only nice shapes but also reflect about the history of typographic culture. 

It must be a challenge to focus on fonts when everything around you is in chaos?
In times of war, time goes fast and we acutely feel the change. My crewmate is in Ukraine and I’ll never forget how he said to me last winter: hey, we can still work as I have a bit of battery power. They had electricity shortages. It’s sad to say, but for many people, life has “normalized” in Ukraine, as people would go crazy if they wouldn’t try coping. I’m saying it from peaceful Germany, where I have lived for 20 years now, but I have an opportunity to compare. I’m tightly bound to both countries. We traveled to the Carpathian mountains last year, and I saw graveyards with flags, marking those who fell on the frontline. The presence of death is closer to you there. So yes, the current war only intensified my wish to live and to finish my ideas and typefaces before I die. Also, I want to use this as an opportunity to talk about my homeland, which is bleeding.

Font production:
Vadym Aksieiev
Yevgen Anfalov
Nazariy Kondratiuk
Dasha Lennhren
Matvii Masliukov
Specimen help:
Ostap Yashchuk

Special thanks:
Jan Horčík for train illustrations
Nazariy Kondratiuk for assistance
Oleg Totsky for the interview

Code and integration:
Arsen Batiuchok
Oles Gergun

Site Builder:

Olesia Bachyns’ka
Roman Baranovsky
Galya Dautova
Andriy Holubokiy
Nazariy Kondratiuk
Dasha Lennhren
Mykyta Maltsev
Matvii Masliukov
Oleksandr Piddubniy
Yevhen Spizhovyi
Workshop mentors:
Yevgen Anfalov
Oles Gergun

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