Continuing to translate this informal op-ed by Odessa journalist Tatiana Herashchenko. Where we left off, Tatiana and her friends were preparing to defy the police and Ukrainian Nationalists to attend the Victory Day commemoration in Odessa on May 9. Their goal was the “Alley of Glory“, a famous landmark in Odessa. The complex includes two granite walls and two paved roads leading to the monument of the Unknown Sailor, which is in the form of an obelisk. The entire complex is located in the Central Park of Culture and Rest, named after Ukrainian poet Shevchenko. All of which is in sight of the sea.
A quick reminder of the historical context: May 9 is the day when the Russian world celebrates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in World War II. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government is currently in the hands of political parties and leaders which back the other, the losing, side. The side of Stepan Bander and Adolph Hitler. The side which murdered and buried an estimated 100,000 ordinary people, men women and children, in Babiy Yar, Ukraine.
Those murderers lost the war, but won a chunk of the peace when they (violently) seized the government of Ukraine in 2014. Since then they have attempted to build a totalitarian society where dissent from the “way of Bandera” is suppressed, and dissidents are severely punished. Hence it really boils their grits to see “pro-Russians” acting as if everything was normal, and continuing to walk down the streets wearing anti-Nazi type symbolica such as the St. George Ribbon. People who do this are incredibly brave. Braver, probably, than you or I would be, in a similar situation.
Tatiana was about to leave her house for the rendezvous, but was then delayed by news of Marinka’s house being searched by police. Back on May 2, 2014 Marinka was one of the anti-government activists who had been injured in the Kulikovo Field clash. Ukrainian Nationalists tried to kill her, she escaped death but was injured sufficiently to later have a stroke. Despite this, the Ukrainian government continues to persecute Marinka, has charged her on several counts and, as she recounted to Tatiana, tossed her house in search of something incriminating.
All of this, most obviously, some “preventative” type police action. Ukrainian police keep lists of the “usual suspects” who are wont to attend undesirable events, and they attempt, as best they can, to prevent people from going.
Meanwhile, Tanya’s other girlfriend Galka, was in the middle of a panic attack, on hearing the news of Marinka’s detention. Galka is also on the list of the usual suspects. During the Trade Union Fire on May 2, 2014 she went through a horrible moment when she thought her grown son had been killed. In her mind she was already burying him. In the end, he turned out to be okay. But ever since then Galka has been prone to panic attacks, both rational and irrational fears, it is a great feat for her to drag herself out of her house and accompany Tanya and Marinka to the ceremony. We now continue with Tanya’s story, in her own words:
Tanya’s Story (continued)
I am walking along in a sour mood. I am late. Flower speculators near my house, guessing where I am off to, suddenly pop up to sell me flowers at the wholesale price and beg me to “Put one down for us too!” They congratulate me with Victory Day.
But out there in the thick of it, near the station, I see some of our people still milling about, we didn’t have time to phone everybody to let them know what was going on with the police searches. Larisa narrates the following: “So I’m standing at the station. Near me there began to collect a group of Ukrainian patriots, who were also on their way to the Alley of Glory. Young thugs [yalensis: сбитни, not sure how to translate, some slang I never heard, the word itself means a type of Old Russian cider] wearing black-camouflage and soft sneakers. Some of them are being driven up in minivans. They emerge from the minivans carrying backpacks and bags. They joyously wink at one another, pulling up their black hoodies and pinning onto their chests the sign of the red poppy. ‘So,’ they says to each other [in Ukrainian dialect], ‘shall we get to work?’ I figured out that they meant to ‘get to work’ on us, on the residents of this city, those of who are hurrying off to the parade of the Immortal Regiment.”
Security barrier. Oh no! They are going to search my purse again. But I am cunning: Even in all the chaos I didn’t forget to leave something in there to confuse these idiots: I have a little soap dish in the form of a frog, it is bright green and squeaks — well, it’s a children’s toy. I placed it quite accurately near my powder box, my cellphone, my cigarettes and handkerchief — go choke yourselves! Whatever you wanted from me, I don’t have, and I’m sick of your shakedowns! Unfortunately, when they searched my bag, they didn’t show much sign of surprise when feeling up my frog, I guess I wasn’t the only one with such a silly trick up my sleeve…
Right there, near the security barrier, there are trays of red poppies and yellow-blue [Ukrainian] flags. The flags are for sale. The poppies are free. Not one single person bought a flag. A few people took poppies — a few young chickens, schoolmistress types who will probably post their pics on Instagram in order to impress the Headmaster. Everybody else spoke to those handing out poppies with the same polite and thought-out response: “Go to hell…”
I passed through the security fence. The Kulikovo crowd keep phoning: “So and so is being searched by the police.” We keep losing phone connection.
The Alley of Glory… Do you know, in my childhood this truly was a formality. We would get people to lay the flowers for us, people would visit the monument to the Unknown Sailor on our behalf, Brezhnev would tell us all about Victory Day, or sometimes Eleonora Belyaeva or Yury Senkevich. And now: there is nobody left, it’s all on us. On our conscience and in our hands. And yet, when the mountain of lilacs that were laid on the obelisk began to reach my height, I watched and almost couldn’t believe it, I felt like I was in a dream — neither last year nor the year before had there been such a number of people and flowers! I can’t even tell you how many people! Because my eyes were not able to count such a number.
[to be continued]