Дружби Народів корпоративного спонсора 11/04/2011Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
Tags: coca-cola, history, khreschaty park, kiev, kyiv, people's friendship arch, travel, ukraine, urban, walks, wandering, world cup
Ukraine’s borders have been as fluid as the Black Sea. Norse settlers created Kievan Rus which grew to be one of Europe’s most powerful Medieval states. After several hundred years of dominance inner turmoil left the country susceptible to Mongol hordes. Galicia-Volhynia rose from the ashes, then it was a revolving door of Poles, Lithuanians, Polish-Lithuanian consortiums, Austrians and Russians, until finally the 1922 consolidation of the Soviet Union.
Plenty of room for centuries of historical resentment. Ukrainians focus on the Russians.
In 1982, celebrating sixty years of unification, the towering People’s Friendship Arch was raised in Khreschaty Park. Two statues stand beneath, one depicting a Russian and a Ukrainian worker standing together, the other starring the 17th century Council of Pereiaslav which formalized relations with Russia and initiated Ukraine’s slow crawl to being a vassal. Locals call this 50m wide chunk of rainbow-textured titanium The Yoke. Janice and I called it the closest monument to our hotel.
Originally I had assumed each subterranean stretch burrowing beneath the streets was crowded with kiosks, beggars and the plastic prison boxes masquerading as restaurants. The underground passage at Khreschatyk’s northern edge was a dimly lit concrete crypt more suitable for glue-sniffing urchins, junkies and drunken skinheads. A couple people hurried past the acoustic wielding hippie banging out Beatles’ songs.
Red banners fluttered in the wind. They bore multi-colored soccer balls, soda bottles and the Coca-Cola logo. We followed them up a slowly rising path, vigilant for roaming packs of teenaged girls who had been roaming Eastern Europe forcing sample cans of soda on passerby. Instead we found ourselves approaching a pair of cops manning a pedestrian barricade. Were we treading on hallowed ground? Was this a private affair for card-carrying members of the oligarchy set? Butterflies crawled from our stomachs to our throats but we forced trivial chatter out, showing our ease and sense of belonging. The cops shifted out of our way without a glance.
Just as a towering metal arch can unify the people of Russia and Ukraine, the World Cup collects the world under a banner of friendship and corporate sponsorship. We found ourselves in a Coca-Cola village, replete with third-rate amusement park rides decked out in Matrix characters, a stadium television, and several soccer ball shaped tents. The citizens of Kyiv, their nation having failed to qualify for the matches in South Africa, failed to show for this expression of love, abandoning bored squads of cops, uniformed attendants, and an overzealous troop of Coca-Cola cheerleaders performing routines for an audience of no one.
Almost no one. Beyond the phalanx of future mail-order brides teenaged boys battled for foosball dominance. The clicking and clattering of cheap plastic drifted through tent flaps to serenade us as we gazed out over the Dnieper. The river proves a wide divide for the capital, home to heavily forested islands and trafficked by ships. One the eastern bank is a different city, the 20th century expansion zone of concrete residential blocks and office towers bearing no immediate relationship to the ancient Kyiv we inhabited.
A couple snapshots, then we cut across the empty plaza for a distant set of stairs. A couple bored cops shifted from our path and soon the sounds of foreign soccer commentary faded into silence.