Today I think I found what is possibly the only hammer and sickle remaining in Ivano-Frankivsk in a public space or on a building. And I don’t think that it will survive for much longer. The site, a former military base on vul. Natsionalnoyi Gvardii (National Guard Street), is being turned into a housing estate.
On my way back from work, my wife called to ask me to get some smoked fish and salads from a great delicatessen (Kuchnia Pani Anny, Mrs. Anna’s Kitchen) on Konovaltsa Street, so I took the opportunity to walk down this street, rather than the parallel and more picturesque Matejko Street. The street name is historical, but it also has contemporary relevance, as the new civilian military defence force formed by the current government to assist the army is called the National Guard. Today the Prime Minister declared that anyone who wants to help Ukraine should join this organisation and is threatening to make the Self-Defence forces who, alongside Right Sector, are refusing to join and want to pursue their own fight, illegal.
I have only ever once previously walked down this street, probably six years ago, when I lived in Ivano-Frankivsk for seven months. It was not possible then to enter this site as it was still an active, if run down, military base. Now the troops are based further out of town and the developers have moved in. With the gates open it was possible to observe – minding for an aggressive dog – the rather impressive artwork that adorns these deteriorating buildings.
The photos of this relief sculpture, regardless of the moody sky and light, cannot do justice to this work which shows the Red Army marching forth to crush the fascist occupiers of the Ukrainian lands. The mural, meanwhile, still featuring the hammer sickle despite the destruction of part of the work – possibly an overtly ideological message – shows in its colours the crushing of Germany and the advance of the Red Army over the Dnipro River in an offensive from August to December 1943.
Although, of course, the past is contested as regards communism in Ukraine, a system which caused millions of deaths of Ukrainians in Holodomor particularly, it would be a shame if these works were to simply disappear under developers’ bulldozers and wrecking balls. The role of Ukrainians in the Red Army contributed to the end of Nazi occupation and the collapse of Nazi Germany, while these works and what they symbolise – for better and for worse – are part of these lands’ cultural history. Perhaps the mural and relief could be salvaged, being relocated to the neighbouring Battle of the Dnipro museum, officially the ‘Heroes of the Dnipro Museum’, whose presence is probably the only reason why any of the older buildings remain standing and are expected to be part of the architecture of the new estate.
The facade of the Museum is one of the few places in the city where the Red Star and St George’s Ribbon remain evident, too.
The plaque on the building is to ‘Double hero of the USSR’ Kyrylo (Kirill) Moskalenko, who was a Marshall of the USSR and led the offensive of the 38th Army on Kyiv which ultimately liberated twelve regions of Ukraine from Nazi occupation.
I’ve yet to visit the museum, but it should certainly prove an interesting site of memory, within a city where most public new memorials now commemorate the deeds of those firmly in the canon of national heroes: authors, historians, politicians and Ukrainian nationalists who fought for the freedom of Ukraine. Even if the soldiers of the Battle of the Dnipro are declared heroes in the name of the museum, their allegiance to the Red Army – which was not something that could be resisted easily – means they don’t make the heroic canon. Still, a trace remains here – but for how long?
Passing through the Memorial Square again today, where Roman Huryk – one of the Heavenly Hundred is buried – I found a plaque I had not previously noticed. It states: ‘This memorial cross was erected on 9 May 1995 to honour the memory of Ukrainians who died during the Polish-German-Russian occupational regime in Ukraine. Glory to the Heroes.’ Obviously, the date of the erection of the cross, on “Victory Day” (for the Soviet bloc) and the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, suggests that this plaque is a marker of the memory culture of 14 years ago. It is rare now to hear of explicit declarations lumping together the post-World War states ruling western Ukraine as occupying forces, with today a more heroic – rather than victim-centred – narrative emerging for this part of the world, once centred on resistance and insurgent fighting leading to Ukraine’s independence in 1991. Still, though, it continues to reflect the sense in western Ukraine that there was little glory in the fight the soldiers commemorated on National Guard street fought.
An interesting echo of the Ukrainian cross comes on one of the few surviving graves of the former Catholic cemetery whose site the Memorial Square occupies. I only noticed the inscription on Maurycy Gosławski‘s tomb today. He was a poet and soldier who fought in the 1830/31 November uprising against Russian Rule over Poland. He escaped to Galicia and sought shelter her, before dying of typhus in 1834, with his tomb erected in 1872 when the cemetery was formed.
The inscription reads ‘My people, my bedevilled people/ You forever build memorial mounds and crosses/ Until the Lord will bring your tears to the Rosary/ and will Himself wash your burning wounds.’ It is a verse reflecting the torment of the Polish people – something that is paralleled in the fate of the Ukrainian people – on the one hand reflecting a pessimistic sense that never will liberty again be seen, leaving only salvation in Lord. Or it could be read in the messianic vein, that eventually, the Lord must set the Polish people free. Alternatively, it could be read as something of an urge to action, to end the culture of mourning and work towards building a better future.
Opposite the Memorial Square, this graffiti has appeared, commemorating the Heavenly Hundred, with the UPA-nationalist flag alongside the Ukrainian state flag. To the left of this graffiti tribute to the newest members of the canon of heroes is an image of a motley crew of Ukrainian freedom fighters, with the men bearing some resemblance to the pantheon of nationalist leaders, with the woman given a symbolic auxiliary role.
There remains, though, in the city evidence of a more popular, less insurgent mode of working towards a European future. This is from a popular chain of fast food outlets, Chicken Hut. ‘Together to Victory’. Those who claim to speak today, however, for the legacy of the red-and-black flag and bring the Ukrainian nationalist movement into the twenty first century, Right Sector, have decided that they are opposed to Ukraine’s Europeanisation and want Ukraine to be ‘a subject of geopolitics not an object’ and they thus reject Russia, Europe and NATO. Sounds like an ideal way to ensure a neverending battle and to ignore a large portion of the popular will and the original urge that drove what became Euromaidan, then the Ukrainian revolution and now, sadly, a chance for various chancers to attempt to usurp power, whether in Kyiv or Crimea.
In Kyiv, Right Sector are refusing to accept the new authorities, despite squirming their way into them there and in the regions, declaring the revolution ‘only 30%’ complete and seem determined to take up an insurgent, armed battle not only in Ukraine but also in Russia, drawing on Russian anti-Putin and nationalist support. This might get them a statue in future and a place among the canon of heroes, but it doesn’t serve the will of most people here to save the country, get life back to some degree of normality and improve the standard of living by aiming towards some European ideal.