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Candle of Memory: ambitious Holodomor project

The long awaited Holodomor project, announced many times over the past several years ago by President Yushchenko to build a world-class Holodomor Memorial Historical Complex in Kyiv, is finally with...

The year 2008 has been recognized by the government of Ukraine as the "Holodomor Victims’ Remembrance Year," and marks the 75th commemoration of the nation’s great tragedy in 1932-1933 when Ukrainians suffered under a massive Soviet induced deliberate starvation, in which millions died in a genocide against the Ukrainian people. 

 The long awaited Holodomor project, announced many times over the past several years ago by Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko to build a world-class Holodomor Memorial Historical Complex in Kyiv, is finally beginning with the construction of a metal, glass, granite and concrete monument on the slopes of the Dnieper River not far from the world famous, UNESCO world heritage site - Kyiv Pechersk Lavra.

 The commemorative monument, the "Candle of Memory," dedicated to the victims of the tragedy, is to be opened on Saturday, November 22. Ironically, in building the memorial to the victims of the Soviet artificially made famine, the creators of the monument cannot be rid of the infamous Soviet legacy of building grandeur structures “to the date”.

 The construction work started way behind a normal schedule and now barely stops these days, going on around the clock. The construction site of the monument, now filled with bricks, wood, trucks and concrete, had barely finished the foundation of the monument when we visited it three weeks ago.

The ambitious Holodomor project

The whole memorial project was envisioned to be done in two stages. After much debate about which stage should come first (1) the "Candle of Memory" monument and its adjacent area is now under construction as has been stated.

 (2) The second stage of construction foresees the creation of the world-class historical complex including a large museum, research center for scholars, library, archival space, office space, exhibition space and electronic databases attesting to the tragedy of the Ukrainian nation. 

 Many Ukrainian and international leaders strongly urged the government to build the historical complex first and the new monument second. These leaders felt the historical complex was needed most at this time.  A new monument could wait till later.  But their urgent pleas over several years to the leaders of the Ukrainian government fell on some deaf ears.

 National institute of memory

The Ukrainian National Institute of Memory has announced another international contest for the best project draft of the future museum and historical complex. The completion of the complex, which now does not exist even on the blueprints, will be the final touch of the ambitious construction project of the Holodomor memorial. 

 The realization of the project is managed by the Institute of National Memory that is not only distributing budget funds but also envisioning the idea behind the whole memorial complex. “The role of the institute is more ideological,” says Oleksander Ivankiv, first deputy head of the Institute of National Memory, “we are forming the vision of how the memorial should look like.”    

Creative team headed by Anatoliy Haidamaka

The creative team headed by the artist Anatoliy Haidamaka, whose design for the Memorial won a national competition, and the chief architect of the monument Yuriy Kovalev are in charge of the monuments appearance.

 Representatives of the presidential administration and Kyiv municipal administration are taking part in project discussions. The creative and construction team has been working 24/7 during the last four months in order to finish the monument by the opening date of Saturday, November 22.

 The creators and ideologists of the memorial face not only time constraints but also lack of money. The initial allocation for the project of 80 million UAH  budget money are running out and the current estimate for the completion of the project comes to near 133 million UAH. The Cabinet of Ministers approved the estimate but the new budget has approval has not yet been passed.

 “We came to the edge when the funds are almost exhausted and we have to find the solution,” says Mr. Ivankiv, “The ideas [for a monument] are very ambitious, and when we explain to the foreigners what we want to do and in what time limits, nobody believes it is possible. But Ukrainians are that kind of people who can surpass themselves.”

The look and feel of the monument

The initial concept of the whole memorial complex foresaw the building of a 26-metres bell tower and black granite road down the hill that was going to lead to the man-made lake and the historical complex dedicated to the victims of Holodomor.

 During the initial discussions and project evaluations, the bell-tower as the central element of the structure was rejected in favor of the candle-like monument. ”A  bell tower is connected to the idea of the Christ, but the Holodomor took the lives of many people, not only Christians,” says Igor Yukhnovsky, acting as the Head of the Institute of National Memory.

 The finally approved monument design, an artistically stylized candle-like structure, will still visually remind one of a bell tower but instead of the cross there will be a candle “flame” at the top.

A sculpture composition of kneeling angels will be placed on both sides of the passage way going up to the memorial from Mazepa Street (former Sichnevogo Povstannya Street), and the passage way itself will be paved in black granite. The passage way will lead to the square, on which a sculptural composition representing the wheels of history will be placed, and to the Candle of Memory monument itself.

 Behind the monument there will be the symbolical wall, a sculptural composition representing the black wooden planks with the carved names of the villages suffered from the Holodomor and quotes from the survivor’s recollections about the tragedy.

 What about those who caused the tragedy..about soviet leaders & government?

Many Ukrainian and international leaders strongly urged the Ukrainian government to design the new Holodomor monument to depict two main elements:

(1) the honor and remember the millions who died, the victims who were starved to death, and also

 (2) make a strong statement against those who caused the tragedy, about the political leaders who were out of control and the Soviet political and governmental system that together caused millions to die such an inhuman and unnecessary death.  The best monuments in the world about such tragedies do both, they do not leave out a statement about those who caused of the crime.

 But once again the strong request by many international leaders, over the past few years, fell on some strangely deaf ears within the Ukrainian leadership.  Holodomor monuments and commemorations in the past, especially in Ukraine, have focused mainly on the millions of victims and not also on the Soviet leaders and the Soviet style government that caused the deaths. 

 Many leaders and other citizens in Ukraine have been very hesitant to make statements about those who caused the crime, about the system that caused the crime, hesitate to speak out, to tell the truth.  From what can been seen so far in the design of the new monument it will focus mainly on the victims, not on the cause.

 Once again it seems some elements in the Ukraine government have prevailed and Ukraine is not building a monument that stands clearly as a strong and enduring symbol against the leaders and government that caused one of major tragedies of history. 

The new Holodomor monument, at least what can been seen at this time from the photographs, does not appear to be one that will make one remember, with strong feelings, the millions who died, and also make one remember, with the appropriate opposite feelings, the people and government that murdered by starvation millions of Ukrainians.

 Only time and people`s response will tell whether the new monument has the potential to be recognized on a world-class scale with the best such monuments around the world that depict the worst crimes against humanity.

Controversy of the location 

The monument commemorating the victims of Holodomor is being built not far from Kyiv Pechersk Lavra near Park Slavy. There is still some controversy about the height of the monument. From the initially mentioned 26 meters, the monument will rise to about 35 meters tall. This means the monument will be higher than the height of the nearby monument of Glory, a 27-metre stele in Park Slavy, dedicated to the eternal glory of the World War II soldiers.

The place was chosen deliberately because of its large size, otherwise difficult to find in the central part of the city, and the closeness the Park Slavy where Kyivans commemorate the veterans and the fallen in the World War II, another tragedy that took lives of tens millions of Ukrainians. 

 However the placement of the memorial in the park zone not far from the Lavra immediately raised the wave of questions and concerned about the effect on the existing landscape and especially the famous cityscape views with the golden domed monasteries seen from the left bank of the Dnieper River and admired by the locals and visitors alike.

 The creators of the monument claim that the natural beauty of the hills will only gain from the current reconstruction of the area and the park zone beloved by Kyivans will not be harmed. There is still a widespread concern that the monument’s height might block views of the Lavra but officials say that the height of the monument cannot be higher that the Lavra churches’ domes.

Hall of memory 

One of the initiatives of the Institute of National Memory was the creation of the so called “Hall of Memory”, a hall beneath the monument. Until the actual historical complex is built, the hall will provide visitors with the information about the Holodomor.

 To the opening ceremony the Institute of Memory plans to create 5-15 minutes documentary that will be projected on the walls of the hall. After the museum completion, the hall will host an electronic database, where every visitor will be able to find information on Ukrainians who perished in the Holodomor. 

 Oleksander Ivankiv underlines that the new monument will not compete with the existing modest sculpture that has already become the symbol of the nation’s tragedy and located near the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral

 “This idea is more monumental,” says Mr. Ivankiv, “But it is not the “wall of tears”. Through the commemoration of the innocently perished, we also want to show the immortality of the nation. The fact that despite all tortures and tragedies, the nation had survived and now has its own State.”

By Svitlana Korenovska and Morgan Williams, for the Action Ukraine Report (AUR)

Action Ukraine Report, Washington, D.C., Sunday, November 9, 2008

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