Today finishing off Tatiana Herashchenko’s story, in her own words, of how she and her friends celebrated Victory Day (May 9) in Odessa. Victory Day celebrates the day when Nazi Germany formally capitulated to the Soviet Union and its allies.
Tatiana remarked that when she was growing up, in the Soviet Brezhnev era, Victory Day had become just a stultified formality — not unlike, say, Memorial Day in the U.S. The holiday was endorsed by the government, and people were expected to attend.
Nowadays things are very different in the Ukraine: Victory Day is NOT endorsed by the government. In fact, they highly disapprove of it. Recall that the Ukrainian government is formed of political parties which support the losing side of World War II, they regard the Soviet victory as a huge geo-political calamity for their side. And yet neither this government nor its police, nor its National Guard, nor its army, are able to prevent people from going out to celebrate the victory and the sacrifice of their ancestors. In fact, more and more Ukrainian people are attending this “Russian” holiday with every year that goes by. And people have eagerly adopted the newer tradition, which originated spontaneously in Russia, just a few years back, of carrying photographs and portraits of family members who fought in the war. This march, carrying these photographs and portraits, has been dubbed “The Immortal Regiment”. Because those dead, who fought on the correct side, on the winning side, of the war — have never died and will never die, so long as people honor and remember them.
Unable to stop this mass spontaneous movement, the Ukrainian government adopted a “if you can’t beat ’em then join ’em” type attitude. It grudgingly allows people to attend (sort of), but attempts to coopt the movement by adding Ukrainian symbolica to it: The blue-yellow Ukrainian flag. The “Red Poppy”, a crazy bastard symbol invented by some PR firm, and supposedly representing Europe’s dead soldiers. But very few people buy into this ideological compromise. Generally, people are either on the one side (the side of the St. George Ribbon), or the other (the side of the bully boys wearing masks and camo).
You know what people say: You don’t know the value of something until you lose it. And just so, in this manner has May 9, once a hackneyed and routine Soviet holiday, once again become vital throughout the Russian world: a thriving mass movement in Russia itself, and, in the Ukraine, a living symbol of protest against the government. This year, in some towns there were clashes between marchers and neo-Nazi “Punisher” brigades. In other towns the Punishers stayed away and left the marchers alone. I am stressing the point that Tanya and her friends showed actual physical courage when they left their homes that day to lay flowers on the Memorial of the Unknown Sailor, in the Alley of Glory. In fact, when last Tanya lost touch with her friend Marinka, the latter was at the railroad station and had just encountered a band of Ukrainian-speaking “Punishers”. The latter goons emerging from minivans, where they had apparently been bussed in to cause trouble. Marinka was set to march in the “Immortal Regiment” action and then later join her friends at the Alley.
Tanya herself has passed through the Security Fence guarding the Alley, has had her bag searched, and is watching, amazed, as the base of the obelisk gets piled higher and higher with lilacs and other beautiful flowers.
Finishing Tanya’s story, in her own words:
The Wireless Service suddenly started working again!
KyivStar came back to life! I was finally able to call Marina and the others. I found them! (We meet up at last.) Marina’s finger is bleeding, from that clash with the Nazis who were trying to bust up the Immortal Regiment people. (The ones with the backpacks, from the station, who were talking in Ukrainian about “working people over”.) It seems the Nazis grabbed her portrait and broke it, that’s how she cut her finger, on the glass.
As I was leaving the Alley, my mind was feeling foggy. I was running a temperature (my little one had brought some kind of virus from his school), and then the crowd, the heat, I was almost feeling like I was going to fall down in a faint. I remember seeing a man riding along on a moped wearing a military uniform — OUR military uniform! And he was being pursued — by Nazis and cops. What happened after that was apparently distressing to our side, although in the foggy state of my mind I actually don’t remember much of it! Later, Galya was to write in her Facebook: “Tanya Herashchenko and I started screaming: Let him go! Let him go this minute! And the Politsai, taken by surprise, actually let him go!”
The story took on heroic proportions in the re-telling. The reality was, the cops did actually detain this guy, and they say they took a pistol and knife, which he supposedly had on him. Nonsense! I’ll sooner believe that he was carrying a rubber frog, than believe this fellow brought weapons with him to the Alley of Glory.
At the exit, our Masha suddenly took it into her head to dash up to the Nazis — only later I learned why she did this. They had just seized a young man, and Masha remembered him — they had been marching together side by side in the Immortal Regiment. The young man was carrying a portrait that had a George Ribbon (symbolica) already pre-printed on it, obviously from an earlier time, before the idiotic policies of [Tanya’s namesake Anton] Herashchenko and [Volodimir] Vyatrovich. [Tatiana is alluding to Ukrainian government policies banning the display of certain World War II symbolica such as the St. George Ribbon].
The Nazis also took note of this young man, they have taken away his passport, and have him surrounded in a ring.
I have been in this situation myself, walking past these thugs, they gather in large groups, they don’t beat you up in front of everybody, they just make (threatening) hand gestures to the effect that soon you’ll be covered in bruises. When they can, they take away your papers and other stuff, they take photographs of you — which is all the same to me, I’ve been on their “Mirotvorec” hitman site for a long time already — and they shout things like: “Police! We just seized a Separatist!”
Masha tells us her side of the story: “I approach them, and this pack of werewolves is already frisking the man. Was I afraid? I didn’t have time to be afraid! I just ran up to them without thinking, and they were already leafing through the passport of this young man. I grab him by the hand and shout, Let my boyfriend go home with me! Next Marina joins me, she runs up to the group, she says, This is my son, let him go home with me! Why are you detaining him? The werewolves respond rudely to us. But I stubbornly keep repeating that This young man belongs to me, I need to take him home, and that’s all I have to say! Us girls got into our roles quite well, and it all worked out for us. They gave the boy up to us. Whether it was from their own stupidity or from the unexpectedness of our shrieks and actions. I took the young man by the hand, and we left. Once we were safe, we each went his own way. Later I learned that the young man is named Kolya.”
Kolya turned up again, I encountered him myself, as we were walking home the same way. We walked along in silence down Pushkin Street. My mind was engrossed in just one thing: I was remembering [a similar incident] when the Nazis were bullying me, and how, out of the crowd, only one young man interceded for me, and how they threw him to the ground and kicked him. At that time I had just one thought in my head: “Lord God, I have a child waiting for me at home!” And at this moment Kolya suddenly spoke up, in a sad, sad voice: “I have a child waiting for me at home.” And we kept on walking. In his rucksack he had the portrait of his grandfather wearing the George Ribbon; and coming towards us in the other direction, towards the Alley, were marching countless Odessans carrying portraits [of the dead]. And this Immortal Regiment was vast, there was no end to it! And there never will be an end to it. Never! Remember that, you Nazis!