Notes of Solidarity is a new daily series of mini-essays, poems, and reflections on the Russian war on Ukraine by some of Wales’s leading literary figures. Here, poet, journalist and critic Susie Wild remembers a trip taken to Kyiv in 2005 which happened to coincide with the celebrations of the Eurovision song contest.
I found myself in Kyiv in the spring of 2005 when it was all blue skies and pavement cafés. It was just after the Orange Revolution (2004-5) protesting a decade of political corruption, the graffiti in the main square protected behind perspex. My plane was abuzz with British journalists who were heading over to cover the Eurovision Song Contest, although that was not why I was there.
I was visiting my mum, who had taken a teaching job in the city. It was lilac season as we roamed the botanical gardens in spring bloom. Later, we saw Ruslana performing on the outdoor stage, though again, not deliberately. The people, the buildings drenched in red light. Lyzhychko had won the contest with her song ‘Wild Dances’, only the county’s second ever entrant, and just six months later had become a deputy in Viktor Yushchenko’s new parliament. Now she was back performing in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kyiv’s Independence Square on a stage whose purpose was purely to show off Ukrainian bands though it is also where The Maidan’s free concerts took place each night in the peak of the protests.
I remember gold confetti raining down on the audience in this show, but in the recordings online I cannot see any. Still, it was not as if Kyiv needed more gilding – gold abounds. In the grounds of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves), there was a hushed peace and quiet – mir i spokoi – as we stood looking across the whole glittering city, the domes glinting in the late-afternoon sun.
I fell for the charm of Andriivs’kyi Descent – a steep, winding street lined with 18th and 19th century houses. Linking the old town with the more modern parts of Kyiv, this bohemian stretch has long attracted creatives and thinkers to call it their home. The Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov lived at Number 13 for a time, and his novel The White Guard was set in the house and based on his experiences of numerous armies attacking the city at the end of WW1 – the invasions, the horrors.
It was also on this street where artists and sculptors had market stalls. A maker Mum knew, Zlata, pressed an intricately-stitched scarf into my hands with the floral necklace I had bought, insistent – language a barrier for us both, we relied on smiles. Paintings were on display, both on the street and inside whitewashed rooms just off to the side, where artists beckoned you in to take a look around. In one, rugs became wall-sized canvases for portraits, their unblinking gaze.
And, above it all, the gothic green-domed St Andrew’s Church gleamed. A church without bells, because, according to local legend it is believed that if the bells sound, the seas will once again rise to the surface and flood the city. This week, the bells of St Andrew’s Church may remain quiet –mir i spokoi–but the streets of Kyiv do not.
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