Monday, August 24, 2015

Ukrainian Independence Day

A friend writes: Today, Aug 24, Ukrainian Independence Day! Слава Україні! Героям слава! синій і жовтий! He posts a Ukrainian flag.

I was transfixed by the image, then was deluged by memory. The trident and its hidden sword—I remember the day the Ukrainian flag was raised in Cherkassy. One hot August afternoon, in 1989, we attended a special cultural event, my translator explained, thinking I might find it interesting.

The old Soviet style wood-paneled hall, decorated with sheaves of wheat surrounding hammer and sickle, was oppressively hot, no air conditioning. People, dressed in their Sunday best, circa 1950, were packed in like sardines. It looked as if the entire town had turned out for the event. For us, it was standing room only. Our clothing stuck to our backs as if we'd been working in the fields. We were a rather damp cultural conspiracy.

How I got to the USSR, in particular, the heartland of the Ukraine was through a Sister City cultural exchange with Santa Rosa in California, and Cherkassy. (See my blog links below for that story).

The cultural event turned out to be a variety show. Performers dressed in embroidered peasant garb, sang ancient folksongs accompanied by banduras and balalaikas. Floral-wreathed maidens sang sweetly, and Cossacks exuberantly squatted and danced.

There were classical piano recitals, and kids reciting the poetry of Cherkassy Oblast's own native son, Taras Shevchenko. We all applauded heartily during their final bows. But something more was afoot. 

At the end the event, a grizzled actor still dressed in his cossack attire, came on stage and began to sing "Ще не вмерла Україна," the Ukrainian National Anthem. The audience hesitantly began to join in. As they found their way, remembering the old melody and words, they soon sang with vigor. It was positively electrifying. The walls resounded like the inside of a drum.

Then the actor unrolled an old Ukrainian flag made of silk, bordered with a golden fringe. A flag of blue sky and yellow wheat from 1917. The audience became still as death.

My translator was transfixed—caught up in the moment—he forgot to translate. I was lost between worlds. Something momentous was happening and I couldn't understand a word of it. He said: This is something that has never happened in my lifetime. I never thought I would live to see a day like this. I could only dream of such a day.

The actor gave an impassioned speech and saidГероям слава! Glory to the Ukraine. The crowd exploded. A cultural event suddenly turned into a political rally, my excited Ukrainian host explaining the significance of the song. Ukraine has not perished. 

People were prosecuted as criminals and arrested for merely owning the Ukrainian flag, let alone, raising it, he said. It had survived, hidden all these years. I remember shivering that hot August day—wondering if we were all going to be disappeared to the gulag.

This was before the fall of the USSR, during the heady days of Glasnost, but revolution and the idea of freedom was well on its way during the summer of 1989. The stifling heat along the vast Dnipr River Valley no longer oppressed us. 

And Neptune's trident (some say it was a hovering falcon and a cross), held aloft against a cerulean sky and endless golden wheatfields, so far from the sea, offered promise of a cool breeze at the back of our necks.

 As we walked home, the leaves of the linden trees whispered secrets, then as the breeze picked up, they applauded the sky.

A forerunner of things to come.

(in no particular order)

I have many Soviet poems as well:

Flag of Ukraine History and significance
Coat of arms of Ukraine a medieval symbol of a flying falcon with a cross above its head, was not a trident, but the sound of the letter U as in Ukraine.
Shche ne vmerla Ukraina  On the Ukrainian National Anthem.

This was the 2nd Facebook draft; after 9 revisions, I decided I'd better just blog it...
The trident, yes. I remember the first time it was again raised in Cherkassy. A big rally, my host explaining the significance. People were prosecuted as criminals and arrested for merely owning the flag, let alone, raising it.I remember shivering, wondering if we were all going to be disappeared. This was before the fall of the USSR, but it was well on its way in 1989-90.

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