Thursday, May 23, 2013

Been there, done that?

Yesterday marked the end of an era.
Since September 2011, all of Kharkov's memorials, monuments, and parks haven't stood a chance. We've photographed them, posed before them, examined them, Wikipedia-ed them, described them to friends, and toasted to them. It's been a weekend hobby, a treasure hunt, even a geocaching adventure! There's been just one holdout... Kharkov's Родина Мать (Motherland statue).
For months I passed by these photos in the school hallway, slowly checking them off the list until only one photo remained.
This war memorial seemed- and still seems- awfully remote, which is probably why it took so long to get out there. While it is within the city, it's a tremendously long walk from any metro station. If you hop off at the University station at Freedom Square, walk all the way to Gorky Park, and then continue walking down the same street, you'll eventually arrive at the memorial. I suppose this is where taking a marshrutka (public taxi/minibus) could come in handy!

But what's better than a marshrutka packed full of sharp, sweaty elbows and shopping bags?

A friend with a car!!! : ) This is, by the way, the same friend (Max) who likes to listen to Кино while driving, which we did again today. On the spur of the moment, he offered to cancel his work commitments and take us past Freedom Square, past Gorky Park, and down the road to the Memorial Complex of Glory. As I understand it, Max's wife had been "gently reminding" him to show me this place, so Max- a huge thank you to Ira as well!

It was 4:30 PM. Rush hour, or as they say here, час пик. Have you ever wondered what that looks like in Ukraine?
"During a fire/heat- ice cream"
All these pictures were taken while cruising down Sumskaya street.

Bored taxi driver?
We drove by the entrance to Gorky Park, where several green marshrutkas hovered at the curb, allowing passengers to disembark in a frenzy. Then onward, around some road construction and past two large factories (Kharkov Car-Building Factory, Kharkov Aviation Factory) that were crowded with workers leaving for the day. The final landmark was the white statue of a cyclist cresting a hill, pedaling furiously in the other direction. And at last, the memorial.  
Because we came by car, we were able to pull into one of the two nearby parking lots. There were  tracks across the street, so it's probably also possible to get here by tram.
Written on the back: Your memory will be in our hearts forever.
A nearby sign declared this place to be...err, sorry about the rough translation... the Territory of the Memorial Complex 'Glory', a Botanical Reminder of Local Nature. Sometimes a thing sounds grandiose and noble in Russian and I just can't find the exact words in English, but I'll do my best in this entry! If you understand some Russian, I think you'll be interested in trying to translate the signs below as well : )

Despite the occasional kid on a bike or snuggling couple on a bench, there was a heavy and somber feel to the memorial park. Perhaps some of this sadness comes from the words that jump out at you from everywhere. Like this phrase- We are charged with the immortality of your cause- that was printed on the back of the left stone gate.
The memorial complex was created in 1977, three decades after the end of World War II. In America nowadays WWII might as well be Star Wars- it happened "a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away", but the war still haunts Ukraine. The older generation remembers and the young are taught to never forget. 

At first the Motherland statue is so far away. 
As you approach, there are 3 fallen flags to the right, each with its own sad story or patriotic message on the back.
On the back: In the fight against fascism, Kharkovians, like all Soviet people, showed exemplary stoicism and heroism. 230 of our countrymen were awarded the title of 'Hero of the Soviet Union'. Tens of thousands were decorated and awarded  medals.
Closer now.
Another flag. 
Together with the whole country, Kharkov workers arose and armed themselves against the fascists. Underground committees, 49 partisan platoons, and diversionary-scouting groups operated in the oblast. In every city, in every street, in every home, death awaited the enemy.
And most heartbreaking of all, the third lowered flag-
Supposedly written by a soldier in 1942- To you, Motherland, my whole life to the very last drop of blood.
In the Kharkov area, fascist barbarians shot, hanged, strangled, and gassed 270,299 Soviet citizens. In battles to protect and free the city from fascist occupation, 186,306 warriors of the Soviet Army died bravely.

The mother land will not forget you.
That's absolutely insane! Half a million killed, just in that single paragraph.

And at last, the Motherland statue, frozen in mourning.
An eternal flame burns at her feet. Proud music plays in the background, occasionally interrupted by a recorded patriotic speech. Most noticeable of all- the sound of a giant heartbeat, emanating from the black pedestal she stands upon.
Your bravery and glory are eternal is written on the wall.
It's all very sobering, especially the long rows of soldiers' names and ranks.
Max points out a large wooden cross nearby. It was installed after the fall of communism, he informs me, as religion was frowned upon during those days.

Also nearby? Life. Lots of it. A gigantic forest surrounds the memorial complex. Birds tweet, squirrels hustle from tree to tree, bikers shout to each other as they race along dirt paths. There's even a children's railroad. 
Memorial station. I've read online that this train travels between Gorky Park and the Memorial Complex?
On the way out, we followed one of these forest trails. The trees were gorgeously green (puny cell phone camera can't even come close!) and random puddles reflected a blue sky spotted with clouds. 
This glamorous building houses the gas lines for the eternal flame.
And then it was time to say goodbye to Kharkov's Родина Мать. 
Overall I was pretty impressed. It's not as awe-inspiring as Kiev's Родина Мать, which is more of a pissed-off warrior goddess. This statue is more reflective, less frightening. Same with the surroundings. Kiev's tribute is surrounded by actual tanks, aircraft, and bullet-hole-decorated helmets. Kharkov's features tragic statistics and flower gardens that spell out 'Victory Day' and 'May 9th'. It's a quiet place, a place to contemplate the world and people's reactions to it. 

And with that, it feels awfully like like the end of an era. 
A full stop on the Age of Exploration. 
Surely there must be other big things and hidden spots to see here in Kharkov, but this was the last one on my list. I now open that list up to you, fellow Kharkovites- what's next?

No comments:

Post a Comment