A stone’s throw away from the maidan a massive arch made of titanium soars over the River Dnieper. In the Ukranian language the arch is called Арка Дружби Народів («Friendship of Nations Arch») and it celebrates the union of Russia and Ukraine. The monument was erected in 1982 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union. Under the arch two monumental bronze figures, those of a Ukrainian and a Russian worker, occupy pride of place: they are brandishing above their heads two tasselled medals dedicated to the friendship between the Soviet peoples. By their side, a massive granite sculpture portrays a few Cossacks clustered around a Russian envoy – the memorial brings to mind the Treaty of Pereyaslaw of 1654. This pact, which had severe consequences for the Ukrainian side, turned the land into a de facto colony of the czardom. Russian history describes the pact as a natural reunion of Russia and Ukraine; Ukranian historiography, however, associates it with a perfidious deal on the part of the czar. One does not need to know the details of this story in order to understand how greatly this place has also influenced the conflicts in recent days: the protests on the maidan in the winter of 2013-14 and the annexation of Crimea shortly afterward by Russia.
All around the maidan there are small stands, all of which sell toilet paper with the picture of Vladimir Putin printed on them – and, wherever it’s possible, the Ukraine flag stands hoisted atop them. It’s quite evident how the people here perceive the relationship of their land with Russia. But why is this spot, which cannot get more symbolic, neither destroyed nor transformed? A tiny yellow-and-blue flag painted on the pedestal of the two workers is the only jarring note – otherwise, the complex looks utterly untouched. Is the little mela under the archway that tries to attract visitors with loud music sufficient desecration for the people? Or are they, after all, still unsure about whether their view of things will be upheld?
First Publication: 15-3-2015