Saving Lenin Soviet-Era Statue a Symbol of Divided Ukraine
Part 2: There Are Few Heroes Ukrainians Agree On
One issue in this conflict is Russian propaganda. Many people in Illichivsk watch Russian TV, and anyone who views a lot of Russian TV can easily start to believe that the Soviet Union had a functional economy, that America is fundamentally evil and Putin is a model statesman.
The waitress in the café brings another bottle. Skoblinsky says, "I'd like to drink to all of us remaining people. Black, white, green, Ukrainian, Russian. We're all people. That has to remain the main thing."
Then he takes a drink and talks about how much he hates western Ukrainians. His Jewish great-grandfather was murdered in a concentration camp run by western Ukrainians, he says. And a bank teller in Lviv, western Ukraine, once refused to serve Skoblinsky because he spoke Russian.
The eastern and western parts of Ukraine have always had trouble agreeing on a common story. Ukraine was front and center in the worst conflicts of the 20th century. Before World War I, one part of what is today Ukraine belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while the other was part of the Russian Empire. Later, the country was divided up between Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union. During World War II, some Ukrainians collaborated with the German army. Ukrainians killed Ukrainians. There are few heroes everyone can agree on.
Until now, though, all Ukrainians were at least able to agree on Kiev as the capital uniting both parts of the country. But now suddenly Kiev is in the hands of insurgents that Skoblinsky and many eastern Ukrainians consider western fascists.
Fabrika has been keeping pace with the drinking, but she's been very quiet. Now she raises her glass and says, "I'd like to drink to the hope that we find a person who can bring our country together. I hope we can all come together."
She looks a little shocked at her own words. They don't exactly fit in with her friends' war rhetoric. They don't fit with the rage at Maidan, with the brutality of the Berkut police or the chaos in parliament. But they do seem a little like a candle in the night, a small flicker of hope.
Skoblinsky rises slowly from his chair and says, "I won't stand under a flag with them."
"Do you want to fight the west?" Fabrika asks.
"The west wants to fight us. I've been to the west. I know what kind of people they are."
Fabrika says, "We have to find a compromise. Otherwise others are going to divide up our country."
'I Don't Want a Compromise'
Skoblinsky takes a deep breath, then launches into a long speech. He speaks as though his thoughts were drowning in a deep river of vodka, but at the end of it he finds a moment of clarity and says, "I don't want a compromise. Dear friends, I don't wish to be polemic, but Kristina here is an agitator."
The two of them are facing each other as if about to duel, delicate Skoblinsky the warmonger and strong Kristina dressed in leather. She asks, "Should I hit you with this chair?"
Then she runs out of the café and makes her way alone along the tree-lined boulevard. At the end of the street, the golden Lenin is still standing. Fabrika says she knows Lenin wasn't a good person. She knows he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, people he had killed because they opposed him. But, she says, he also stands for multinational coexistence. In the last decade of the Soviet Union, Armenians, Jews, Azerbaijanis, western Ukrainians, eastern Ukrainians and southern Ukrainians all lived together in one state. Asked why she is guarding the golden Lenin statue, Fabrika says she wants to protect the city from the western Ukrainians. Asked whether she believes the western Ukrainians will ever come to knock Lenin from his plinth, she answers, "No."
The Death of Certainty
This is about more than one bronze statue. People in Illichivsk don't have much money, their houses are gray and their streets full of potholes. But they also have a beach and the Black Sea, they have friendship and love, they have the Russian language and an identity of their own, and until now they also had the certainty that when they woke up each morning, they would be allowed to live the way they chose. That certainty ceased to exist when the old regime did.
When it comes down to it, everyone in Ukraine, east or west, wants the same thing: To be allowed to live the way they see as right. In other words, they want freedom.
That same evening, Fabrika says she'd like to emigrate. Canada would be nice. She spent a month in Toronto last year, attending an English course. Her mother sold her car to be able to pay for her daughter's trip. Then Fabrika says that she actually doesn't think it would be so terrible if the Lenin statue were taken down. Maybe they could put up a fountain in its place.
The next morning, a thick fog shrouds Lenin's bronze head. A fire is still smoldering in the oil barrel. Fabrika looks tired. The bus full of armed western Ukrainians never turned up. But there's a new rumor now, this one from city hall. The word is that the city wants to take down the Lenin statue, renovate it and fill in the cracks that have formed in its feet over the years -- then erect the statue once again.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
- Part 1: Soviet-Era Statue a Symbol of Divided Ukraine
- Part 2: There Are Few Heroes Ukrainians Agree On