Having a Sh*t Time in Kiev
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sh*t happens. And this man has devoted his life to celebrating it.
By Sean Williams
At first, the toilets came looking for Nikolay Bogdanenko. Now he travels the world in search of them. Two decades ago, Bogdanenko was a plumbing salesman in Kiev. He still is. But now, he’s better known for a collection of toilets, and toilet-related memorabilia, that may soon make him a world-record holder.
Although Ukraine is in turmoil, Kiev has been spared major violence, but tourism is down. The city has plenty to offer, however — from Soviet architecture to fascinating museums. Perched atop a hillside, between a car park and a shopping precinct in a 19th century fortress, the Toilet Museum may be the oddest of them. Founded in 2007, it houses hundreds of items Bogdanenko has collected during his career.
There are Victorian toilets, Soviet toilets and futuristic Japanese toilets. Tiny toy toilets, a toilet/guillotine combination and even a mock prison toilet — complete with a life-size prisoner mannequin. “None are valuable,” Bogdanenko, 55, tells me frankly, “to anyone but me.”
Owner Nikolay Bogdanenko’s passion goes beyond the pan: He’s spent years scouring the world for lavatory knowledge.
A visit doesn’t cost much: $1.25 for adults, half that for kids. The museum is small, though. And you might struggle to get in. When I arrived, the turnstile was locked, and I had to convince an incredulous old lady to let me pay. Bogdanenko claims the museum attracts a thousand visitors a month. I’m skeptical. Many are local school kids. Don’t they spend the whole time laughing? They come in smiling, Bogdanenko tells me, “but when they leave they’re thrilled.”
Bogdanenko’s passion goes beyond the pan, having spent years scouring the world for lavatory knowledge. He’s been to Mexico, Scotland and Spain, from where he spoke to me while on holiday with his wife, Marina. She doesn’t mind when their trysts turn into a hunt for another loo. She’s proud, but she also told Bogdanenko he’s “done enough with his life!” In 2013, he published a book on the history of hygiene and toiletry. Weighing in at 521 pages, World History (of Toilets) chronicles humanity’s scatological past, from prehistory to now.
Still, the museum has remained off the beaten track. When local resident Sergey Panashchuk first heard about it, “I thought it was some kind of a joke,” he says. “I could live without knowing more about toilets than I knew before.” But that perception may soon change. Above the museum’s entrance sits a small, blue plaque, given to Bogdanenko by the local municipality a couple years ago to recognize his collection as the biggest of its kind in Ukraine. Next month, he expects to hear back from Guinness World Records on whether he has the largest collection on Earth. Perhaps it’s the push Bogdanenko needs for mainstream recognition.
For now, however, the Toilet Museum remains a curious stop in a city in hard times. That won’t deter Bogdanenko from adding to his collection. Next month, he’ll be in South Africa to find yet more unique thrones. He views himself as an educator rather than a museum owner: “I want to teach people about the enduring importance of hygiene.”
This OZY encore was originally published in February 2015.