Майдан Незалежності 06/10/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
Tags: Berehynia, history, kiev, kyiv, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Orange Revolution, Oscar Niemeyer, politics, travel, ukraine, urban, Viktor Yanukovych, Viktor Yushchenko, walks, wwii, Yulia Tymoshenko
Grown men were reduced by the sweltering summer sun to frolic in fountains. Laughter transformed a blinding stretch of concrete into a festive vacation spot where everyone fought to keep ice-cream from melting around their fingers. Teenagers soaked one another with bottles of water. Photographers jostled for prospective clients who seemed satisfied with their cheap digital cameras and cell phones. An enterprising couple had dragged a Cinderella coach into the plaza and donned period costume, risking heatstroke to pose for pictures.
Six years ago Maidan Nezalezhnosti was the epicenter of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Opposition parties campaigning against the oligarchs and their political cronies mustered popular support after widespread election fraud knocked Viktor Yushchenko from the running. Disaffected citizenry camped under November snows and lay siege to government buildings throughout Kyiv. The military refused to intervene, Parliament annulled the election, and opposition took power amidst a series of constitutional reforms.
Today Viktor Yanukovych, scion of Ukraine’s systemic criminals, has returned to office. The man once implicated in the poisoning of Yushchenko has been embraced by a country growing more conservative under a faltering economy and pressure from Russia. On October 1st Yulia Tymoshenko, another pillar of the Orange Revolution and strong contender for world’s most beautiful statesperson, condemned court decisions to roll back reforms introduced in 2004.
Crumbling democracy did not interfere with people playing in fountains. Janice and I sought solace beneath the drifting spray before descending on the glass curvature of a Soviet relic which cut the square’s edge like a knife. Inside the air-conditioned tomb we rode empty escalators to walk past jewelry and high-fashion, avoiding the attention of underwhelmed but armed security. At the subterranean food court we confounded a poor counter-jockey with our very poor grasp on language.
Back outside we sipped expensive espressos in the shadow of Berehynia, folkloric mother-goddess who displaced Lenin. Boys lined the mall’s rooftop promenade, calling down to passing girls. The towering sheet of glass conveys an imposing austerity lacking in Oscar Niemeyer’s Parisian Communist Headquarters.
Yet I was mistaken, it has nothing to do with Soviet regimes. The plaza now known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti has shifted and mutated according to the whims of history. Kyiv was plots of mud this far east until Russia’s industrial revolution sparked a population explosion. The city’s Duma was erected across Khreschatyk, its location now held by the original Archangel Michael statue which once crested the spire.
World War II permanently altered the neighborhood. Retreating troops rigged the Duma and surrounding buildings with explosives left for the German advance. During the post-war years Stalinist architecture redefined style and fountains began to grace the square itself. Kyiv’s mayor ordered massive reconstruction to prevent the gathering of anti-government protesters, modernizing the plaza just in time for the Orange Revolution three years later.
We climbed to the mall’s roof and watched people playing in fountains. Traffic filled the broad boulevards and metro commuters disappeared into the maze of underground tunnels. Across the length of Maidan Nezalezhnosti sat grand office and apartment buildings wearing commercial headdresses for beer, hotels and a sign that looked suspiciously like nuclear cooling towers. Over a pedestrian overpass Jesus hung from a cross below a neo-classical palace.