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New Europe

Day Eighty-one: Kiev

Nation's Mother 
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The 320-foot-high 'Nation's Mother', Brezhnev's gift to Kiev, stands on the hills above the River Dnieper, looking defiantly east, towards Moscow.
Michael Palin - New EuropeThey're a dedicated pair, and seem seriously committed to their task, but Eugenia looks tired and it's clear that changing Ukrainian politics is not as easy as it seemed to be two years ago. I ask her how she would define what they're fighting against.

She sighs.

'Oh. We're fighting the old communist mentality. You know... '

On this last evening in Kiev, I walk with Igor, who clearly sees some value in the old communist mentality, up on the hill overlooking the Dnieper where the huge statue of Mother Russia dominates the west bank of the city. Donated to the people of Kiev by the Russian leader Brezhnev in 1977, it's finished in panels of silver-grey titanium and stands 320 feet high. Visitors can climb up her left arm and, from on top of the shield, look across to the other side of the river where row upon row, wall after wall, of housing blocks are caught in the red glow of the setting sun. Two million of the city's three million-plus population live over there. 'Sleeping Kiev', Igor calls it.

There is a huge military museum up here comprising weapons, tanks, rockets, relief murals, all commemorating the Soviet achievement in the Second World War. Except they don't call it that. They call it the Great Patriotic War.

Perhaps this was the key to Stalin's success at Yalta. The Soviets were never culturally or ideologically compatible with the rest of the Allies. The Second World War was not presented to the Russian people as a world war, a collaborative effort, worthy of equal rewards. It was about the preservation of the system that had made the USSR only the latest embodiment of Mother Russia's timeless aspirations. Their boys fought and died for the liberation of their homeland. In the process, other homelands were drastically affected, and many didn't like it. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, for instance, for whom a brief taste of independence came to an end in 1945.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Eighty-one: Kiev
  • Country/sea: Ukraine
  • Place: Kiev
  • Book page no: 198

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