Biały Słoń

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White Elephant
Native names
Polish: Biały Słoń
Ukrainian: Білий слон
Pop Iwan ruiny obserwatorium.jpg
Ruins of the Observatory
Location Pip Ivan, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Ukraine
Coordinates 48°02′49″N 24°37′38″E / 48.04694°N 24.62722°E / 48.04694; 24.62722Coordinates: 48°02′49″N 24°37′38″E / 48.04694°N 24.62722°E / 48.04694; 24.62722
Elevation 2,028 metres (6,654 ft)
Built July 29, 1938
Built for Polish Armed Forces / Warsaw University
Architect K.Marczewski, J.Pohoski
Governing body Ivano-Frankivsk ODA (State Administration)

Biały Słoń (English: White Elephant; Ukrainian: Білий слон, Bily slon) is a Polish name for an abandoned campus of the former Polish Astronomical and Meteorological Observatory, located at remote area on the peak of Pip Ivan in the Chornohora range of the Carpathian Mountains, Ukraine. It is the highest built residential structure in Ukraine.[1]

The closest settlement today is a village of Zelena in Verkhovyna Raion (Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast). Currently the observatory is classified under the registration number three as a monument of cultural heritage that is not considered for privatization.[2]

The region was part of the Second Polish Republic when the observatory was established during the interbellum period. Biały Słoń, started in 1937 and completed in the summer of 1938, was the highest-elevated, permanently inhabited, building in Poland.[3]

Since 2012 there are taking place a restoration work on initiative of the Ciscarpathian National University and the Warsaw University that is scheduled to be finished in 2018.[1]


According to Wladyslaw Midowicz, the first and only director of the observatory, the construction of "Biały Słoń" was suggested by a group of influential Warsaw astronomers who managed to convince General Leon Berbecki, director of the influential Airborne and Antigas Defence League, to support it. General Tadeusz Kasprzycki, minister of military affairs, also backed the construction of the observatory.[4]

Construction of this impressive building began in the summer of 1936 with an official ceremony for the placing of the cornerstone. Biały Słoń was a very expensive structure with total costs exceeding one million Polish złoty, a huge burden for the state budget of the time. Its walls were made of local sandstone, and due to lack of roads all material was carried to the site by local workers, Hutsuls, their horses and soldiers of the 49th Hutsul Rifle Regiment.[4]

The design was based on the Przemyśl castle and shaped like a letter "L" with a tower. "Biały Słoń" was five-story high, with 43 rooms and 57 windows. The upper floors were occupied by astronomers and meteorologists, most of whom worked for the State Meteorological Institute and Astronomical Observatory of the Warsaw University. Their work was to carry out meteorological observations for the Polish Air Force. In the lower levels, there were lodgings of soldiers of the "Karpaty" Regiment of the Border Defence Corps, with headquarters in Stryj.[3] Altogether, the number of inhabitants never exceeded 20. Among those who worked there were professor Wlodzimierz Zonn, doctor Jan Gadomski, and professor Eugeniusz Rybka.

July 1938–September 1939[edit]

The opening ceremony of the building took place on July 29, 1938.[5] Its official name was the "Observatory of the State Meteorological Institute", but soon it took on the nickname "Biały Słoń", due to the color of its walls. The observatory was lavishly equipped, with a custom-made astrograph and refracting telescope made by the renowned British company Grubb Parsons of Newcastle upon Tyne. It had its own power plant with two Diesel motor-generators and central heating fueled by oil, which was transported in iron barrels from the "Polmin" company in Borysław. The military authorities also installed their own equipment, including two radiotelephone prototypes constructed to withstand high altitude.

The observatory was located in a remote, deserted area, with the nearest store and mail office 12 miles (19 km) away (at Żabie), the nearest doctor 30 miles (48 km) away, and a rail station in Kolomyia as far as 80 miles (130 km) away. Władysław Midowicz wrote that the staff's main problem, however, was water, as no waterworks had been constructed and it had to be carried from a stream 4 miles (6.4 km) away.[4]

For fourteen months (July 1938-September 1939) the Observatory was the highest-elevated, permanently inhabited, building of interbellum Poland. As entry was permitted only with a special military pass, local Hutsuls made up several legends about the building and its inhabitants. Wladyslaw Midowicz wrote that the Hutsuls thought that the Observatory was in fact a mighty cannon, capable of attacking neighboring countries.[4]

1939 and its aftermath[edit]

The observatory seen in 2016.

On September 18, 1939, following the Soviet aggression on eastern part of Poland (see: Kresy), the personnel of the Observatory packed the most important equipment (including the refractor) and left toward the Hungarian border.[5]

At the end of the month, the Red Army captured the building and used it as its meteorological station. In the summer of 1941 (see: Operation Barbarossa), the Observatory was seized by the Wehrmacht, which in turn was passed to the Hungarian troops, who were stationed there until winter 1941. After that, the deserted building became a ruin, even though it had not been damaged during the war, the locals reused all remaining material.

In mid-1990s scientists of the Lviv Polytechnic, led by professor Anatoliy Dultsev, together with their colleagues from Warsaw Polytechnic, brought forward the idea of rebuilding of the Observatory. In October 1996 a special conference took place in Lviv and Yaremche, but according to from May 1997 no works have been started.[5] On January 24, 2002 another Scientific council took place in Yaremche to renew the rebuilding project of the observatory. In the beginning of October 2002 the head of the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast administration Mykhailo Vyshyvaniuk sent an official letter to the President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma about the project. By the end of November of the same year Vyshyvaniuk received an answer from the First Deputy of the President administration Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy stating that the proposition was reviewed and recognized as one for the international discussion for the restoration. In that regard the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was given the required orders. Some works have begun in September 2012, window openings have been sealed with bricks.[6]