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Mariupol – Final Meeting With Former UA Soldier (Part 3)

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Life here is a struggle for many, and for Sergei it’s no exception.  Since leaving the Ukrainian Army he’s worked at the local metal plant Metinvest. It’s hard work and long hours for very little pay.  Long term, he’s hoping to get a job on a merchant ship which will mean better money, but the downside is that it’ll mean being away from home for up to 6 months at time.

Strolling the streets we discuss the current political climate, Decommunisation, the conflict and everything in-between.  There’s nothing better than being on the ground and speaking to real people who live and breathe these issues.  That was the whole point of me travelling here.

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Sergei’s not anti-Ukrainian but does see his loyalties more with Russia.  Being so close to Russia geographically this comes as no surprise.

I ask about his time in the Ukrainian army and he gladly shares with me a small number of images from his collection and a few stories.

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He looks back fondly at his time in the army but he’s quick to mention that he’s glad that he’s not in there now.  ‘Lots of people lost respect for the government and army when they came here straight from Kiev. Look what happened on May 9th.  We all lived together in peace until they came. They started all this.  Now look’.  Like many, he still has genuine fears about being drafted back into the armed forces.

The battle on May 9th 2014 (Victory Day) left a number of fatalities and casualties.  This date on the calendar will always remain a tricky one for people in Mariupol breeding mixed emotions.  On one hand they’ll be celebrating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany and on the other, they’ll be remembering those who died in 2014 at the hands of Ukrainian government forces.

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Wandering the streets around the centre we grab a marshrutka to head to the outskirts of town.  We visit more Soviet monuments and accidentally come across what appears to be a Soviet museum.  It’s closed unfortunately but it gives me the opportunity to discuss the future of such places with Sergei.  Do they have a place in modern Ukraine or with the decommunisation rules in place, are they going to disappear in an attempt to re-write history?  Sergei said ‘I have a bad feeling about these new rules. The government I think will try to make it look like these things never happened.  But how can they do this?  My Grandfather died fighting in this war so it is only right that we know about this right?’     

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As it’s my last evening in Mariupol Sergei invites me back to his apartment where his wife Yulia is cooking traditional food for us all.  We travel the remainder of the way on foot and en route to the apartment he tells me ‘Everyone who lives on this estate works at the metal plant.  They finish work, then come home and drink.  They they get up and go back to work again.  Then come home and drink again.  It’s a very bad way to live’.  ‘The cheapest things to buy here are alcohol and cigarettes.  What chance have people got?’

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He’s got a point.  Things were tough in Ukraine before the conflict and long before the days of Big Vik.  The new government hasn’t brought about much of a change in my eyes.  It’s similar goods just packaged differently.  Ask anyone on the streets and they tell you the same thing.

As the evening draws to a close, Sergei calls me a taxi and I head back to my hotel.  People advised me not to go to Mariupol but it’s been an eye opening experience.  Great people living in hard times.  I didn’t know who I was going to meet or what I was going to find when I got there.  I just knew that I’d meet somebody.

 

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Written by Dean O'Brien

August 8, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Posted in Mariupol, Ukraine

Tagged with , ,

Mariupol – Soviet Monuments & Decommunisation

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The Decommunisation process in Ukraine is a tough one.  I personally love Soviet history and all it left behind.  So do many others.  For them it takes them back to a time before the oligarchs and greed that came with independence.  Not to mention the poverty, corruption, alcoholism, sex tourism and everything else.

Whilst wandering around taking some images I chat to a babushka sitting on a bench who asks what I’m doing.  We exchange small talk and I ask her how she feels about the decommunisation process.  She says ‘They took Lenin.  They are trying to get rid of our history.  Our past.  We fought against the nazi’s in the war and now they are coming again from Kiev’.  It showed me that some people in people in Mariupol see the Ukrainian army coming there as an invasion and make a comparison between that and World War II.

I recall seeing memorials to Soviet soldiers in villages that still look spotless and have fresh flowers laid at their feet.  This isn’t about politics.  It’s about remembering those who fought and died.  Showing some respect to those who gave their lives.  They left their villages, cities and towns never to return.

A tank sits high on a plinth on a typical Soviet apartment block estate in Mariupol.  People pass the time smoking, chatting and drinking.  A typical summer evening and you’d never guess that the conflict was so close.

 

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Out of all the monuments, I’d say that the ‘MiG on a stick’ is a personal favourite of mine.  Always has been.  These fantastic machines mounted up high create such a powerful presence.  These aren’t only found in parks.  You’ll find them in the remotest of places, like just at the roadside in the middle of nowhere.

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As is the norm, Lenin was torn down in the middle of the night by ‘persons unknown’ and has been ‘replaced’.  The remaining area around the monument is neglected and overgrown.

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Soviet mosaics still remain on the side of buildings.  They crumble away with little or no chance of ever being restored.  Each tells a unique story.  They portray sport, leisure, science, space, history and so much more… These are beautiful works of art and it’s a shame to see them in this state.

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IMG_5859Only time will tell how far the decommunisation process will actually go.  The tanks on plinths, MiG’s on sticks and similar monuments seem safe for now at least.  But only time will tell if these start to disappear also.

Written by Dean O'Brien

July 25, 2017 at 11:14 am