The Cultural Palace( Жовтневий палац, Zhovtnevy palats)
We’d been to Uzgorod and Lviv and returned to Kiev for New Year’s. The weather had been mild and when we walked out, the golden domes of the cathedrals glowed in the winter sun.
It was a time of new beginnings, of hope, for Peristroika and Glasnost were still new, and everyone thought democracy and good times were just around the corner. You could feel hope. It filled the air,it rose from the people walking down Kreschatik Street.
Ivan took me to a cultural palace to celebrate. Every seat was filled. Beside us were rows of WWII veterans in their uniforms with medals across their chests. These were the survivors. Thirteen million of their comrades were killed in the battlefield, died in hospitals, died after the war from their injuries, were lost in combat or died as prisoners of war. Fourteen million civilians died. Eight million civilians were killed in Ukraine. I wondered if any of the soldiers had been at Leningrad where one million people died, many from starvation and freezing to death. I wondered if I could share their memories, what horrors I would see.
I expected the evening would be filled with young women in crocheted blouses and skirts, red boots, with flowers in their hair. With young men with their embroidered shirts and blue, baggy pants, doing impossible tricks as they danced. I expected to hear the balilaika.
Instead, the stage was taken over by a group of rock musicians in torn blue jeans, playing extremely loud music, doing their best to imitate what they thought was American success. The torn blue jeans were faked, of course, a statement from America about the rebellion of the over-urbanized, over-privileged middle class children of upwardly mobile parents.
On the way out, after the concert, I accidently put my chapka on backwards. On the escalator, a lot of people had a good laugh at the Canadian who couldn’t get his hat on right.
The weather was mild. Ivan and I walked back to my hotel with our coats open. There was a table reserved for me in the dining room with a bottle of wine and chocolates. “Wine, chocolates, music, beautiful women.” He waved his hand at the room packed with people already partying. “The rest is up to you.”
I sat there watching the crowd, in the heart of the heart of a country and people I love, but after awhile I went back to my room. I lay on the bed. I couldn’t get the image of the old soldiers, row on row of them, their medals polished, their uniforms pressed, watching a group of young people screaming into microphones, jumping about the stage, deliberately wearing torn clothing, out of my mind. I thought about the medals and what they meant and I wondered if the old soldiers wondered how what was happening on stage could be the outcome of all the horror and sacrifice.