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Monday, 29 September 2014 00:00

On the Brink: The Silent Independence Day

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Photo: Christian Diemer
Hutsul woman and Adonis on the Ploshcha Rynok in L'viv

 

The second part of Christian Diemer's series On the Brink takes us to the heart of celebrations for the Ukrainian national holiday in L'viv. With Ukrainian patriotism stronger than ever, Christian is surprised to find himself at a muted and pensive Independence Day party...

A Silent commemoration

A large map of Ukraine welcomes the newcomer at L'viv's train station: "Plan-scheme of the railway connections of Ukraine". The map, framed by majestic Corinthian columns and pillars, is lit up sharply by a flickering advertisement on the neighbouring wall. However, recent events are not reflected within it. The tangle of orange lines still interweaves with Crimea. Luhans'k and Donetsk in the east appear as well-connected as Uzhhorod and Chernivtsi in the west. And yet the map, lit up and down over and over again, does appear in a different light. Red digits over the station entrance display the date: 24.8. Ukraine is to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of its independence from Russia. Or rather, it isn’t...

Pre-autumnal rain is drizzling, the morning passers-by walk around busily, sleepily. If it were not for the hundreds of blue and yellow flags that can be found on almost every building and car, one would hardly notice the national holiday. Even in the centre, where I seek shelter from the rain in a tasteful, Viennese-style coffee house, there is not a lot to be seen. In one corner of the Ploshcha Rynok [market square], there is an art installation made from rectangular glass panes: historic photographs of Hutsul people layered over UNESCO-listed façades, washed-out memories of an ephemeral yet subconsciously manifest past. In front of the Adonis fountain, a man with a Cossack plaid proudly poses for his friend's camera. Some people walk around with flags or blue and yellow ribbons, dressed in vyshyvanki, traditional embroidered clothing.  "It is still early," apologises a passer-by. "And it's raining."

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Thursday, 18 September 2014 00:00

On the Brink: Streets of Gold, Streets of Rubble

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Photo: Christian Diemer
En route to Chernivtsi earlier this month

 

In this first installment of E&M's new special series On the Brink, Christian Diemer shares a Ukrainian driver's views on Putin, women and Europe. A word of warning, though: it does contain some colourful language.

"Ukrainians should erect a golden memorial to the sprinter"

For more than twenty hours, with just a few ten-minute toilet breaks, Andri has been sitting behind the steering wheel, hulking neck, bald skull, tracksuit bottoms. A golden sun set over the endless plains of eastern Poland hours ago, while the white van was sailing along towards the end of Europe. Past it, beyond the border, the sailing has turned to trudging, rolling, shoving. Deep potholes, ruts, clefts, rifts, lengthwise and right across, make the paved road an obstacle course, forcing the speed down to almost zero every few metres. Dawn is still far off. Howling diesel in a lightless night, curving in erratic wavy lines, the sturdy Sprinter fights its way to where it looks as though the fewest bumps and traps lurk (and that is, if at all, on the opposite lane, where else). "What would Ukrainians do without the Sprinter!", shouts Andri. "What those cars have to endure on our Ukrainian roads, and still they never break!"

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
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