Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day, Kyiv, Ukraine: May 1, 2013

We're in the Ukraine.  We will be here for 9 weeks while Dan conducts training classes for the American Bar Association.  We arrived in Kiev on Monday, April 29, just in time for a week of holidays.  The ABA office will be closed until May 7.

The travel to Kiev was as painless as a 23-hour journey can be: no long TSA lines, on-time flights, short layovers in Minneapolis and Amsterdam, no cat sharing my legroom.

Dan volunteered to replace the displaced Ukrainian country director who decided not to return after being fined and harassed for overstaying her visa.  We are very sympathetic to her plight after being "illegals" in Macedonia for so long.  So, we were moved directly into her vacant apartment located in a very chi-chi area of Kiev.  In the photo below, Dan is standing in front of the entrance to our apartment building.  There is a Dior store at the end of the block and almost every other designer has a shop on the next street over.  Our apartment is on the 5th floor and it is the quietest apartment we have ever lived in--no evening traffic noise, no voices, no horns honking--just quiet.

While Spring is waning in California, it has just begun in Kiev.  Trees are beginning to leaf out and blossoming trees are in full bloom.  Tulips and other bulbs are blooming in the city's parks.

Dan had one day of "work" before the week of holidays.  May 1, Labor Day, is a big event in Kiev with a parade of workers, veterans, Ukrainian Communist Party, Russian-language protectionists, and other causes.  Some carried anti-Nazi signs, some carried images of Lenin and/or Stalin, some carried signs for protecting the zoo.

A "Wall of Truth" (Стіна правди) was set up near Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) on which citizens could record comments, confessions, ....  

Next, we went on to memorials and monuments.  First, we visited the National Museum commemorating "Famines Victims of Ukraine."  The sculpture below of a starving girl stands in front of the entrance to this museum.  She is clutching 5 ears of corn (The word for wheat is corn in the Ukraine and much of Europe.) representing the "Law of five ears" established by Stalin for Ukrainians.  

The Ukrainian term for these famines is "The Holodomor" which literally means "extermination by hunger."  Millions of Ukrainians and Cossacks died from starvation in 1932 and 1933.  Present-day scholars estimate between 1.8 and 3.9 million deaths were caused by this man-made catastrophe.  There were similar man-made induced famines in 1921-1922 and again in 1946-1947.

Ukraine was the bread basket of the USSR, and many farmers refused to turn over their land to the collective farms.  Those that refused were jailed, exiled, or killed in an effort to turn free farmers into serfs working for the government.  Stalin further established huge crop export quotas leaving next to nothing on the tables of Ukrainian citizens.  As a result, Stalin was able to brag about how profitable farm collectives were compared to private farming.  Crops rotted in storage while Ukrainians starved.  If a Ukrainian didn't show the outward signs of starvation, he or she was immediately suspected of violating the "5 ears of corn" law.  Being caught snipping off more than the "5 ears of corn," was grounds for severe punishment or death.

The museum had 14 thick books listing the names of the victims from the Holodomor.   The spokesperson said people come in with more names of victims each year.  There are videos of survivors' memories of the Holodomor.

This is a new museum established only in 2009.  The museum literature states "the preservation of memory about the past is the guaranty for the future." Well said!  The people carrying the picture of Stalin in the Labor Day parade must have selective amnesia.   

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