Kharkov in the Dark
Trip Start Aug 30, 2009
244Trip End Dec 25, 2009
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Tuesday October 27, 2009
My original itinerary was to visit Kharkov city and sights on Monday. Then I was to do the out of town landowner's estates on Tuesday which would have put me finishing my tour around 8 p.m. and then go right to the train station for the night train. Didn’t work out that way. Vlad swapped my days so we could get Mikail as a guide. Then we had the car trouble and didn’t get back until late. But that still meant Vlad had to do something with me after the Kharkov city tour because if we started at 9 as planned, we’d be finished by 1 or 2 and then have to wait somewhere for the train because I would have to be out of the apartment. So we started the tour at 3:00 instead.
Vlad has still got some time to fill with me and he felt really bad that I missed the last estate yesterday and the museum so he thought he would add some of the sights that weren’t originally planned. First we went out of town to the huge parks that are on the edge of town. We visited the Great Patriotic War Memorial that is in Wood Park. Another name is the WWII memorial. The Park is huge so the memorial is huge. There are two large bas reliefs at the entrance then you walk down this long sidewalk, past several memorials to different people who fought or suffered. Supposedly there are mass graves in this park from Kharkovians who were killed by the Nazis. The Nazis perfected killing by suffocation as they would load up a truck full of people and the exhaust would be fed into the truck where the people were kept. By the time they had driven to the Wood Park, the people in the truck were dead from carbon monoxide suffocation.
At the end of the pathway is the main plaza which holds a very large and tall statue of a mother who has lost her sons in the war. The face is grim rather than mourning I thought and there is an eternal flame at her feet. But the oddest thing about this memorial is that you can hear a heartbeat as you get close to the giant statue. Truly a rather freaky thing to walk up there and hear "lubdub". I understand the sentiment and the reasons behind doing something like that but it was creepy.
Our next visit was also on the grim Kharkov tour. We stopped by the mass graves of the Soviets and Polish officers who were killed by the KGB on Stalin’s orders. These killings took place in 1938-40. The Polish officers included men who had never fought, e.g
We are doing all the grim stuff today so we next visited the Engineered Famine memorial. This visit got personal. Vlad’s grandmother remembers being in Kharkov during this famine. The people in the cities had some food although it was rationed. The people in the countryside had none with a very circular reasoning. They could grow food so therefore they didn’t need ration cards BUT Stalin had ordered all their grain and vegetables confiscated and sent to Moscow so they didn’t have any food BUT why would they need ration cards since they could grow it. There were even laws passed that made it illegal (with a sentence of either 10 years hard labor or death) if any amount of grain was “stolen” and this included gleaning from the fields. Vlad’s grandmother remembers peasants coming into town and dying on the street of starvation. I really can’t understand the reasoning behind this famine but to know someone who knows someone who saw it is equally creepy with the heartbeat and sends shivers down my spine
It is getting dark now so I figured we would stop somewhere and hold up until train time but Vlad is going to show me everything the city has to offer even if I can’t see it in the dark. We head back into town and stop at several churches. We have to walk around them to find the open door which was rather silly since people were coming for service and we could have just followed them. The churches inside are beautiful, I think. There were very few lights inside except for the candles and a service was being held at both churches we visited. We didn’t stay long and I certainly didn’t take any photos.
One church had three saints in the sanctuary. Two were in coffins but the Archbishop of Constantinople was in a seated position. He had gone to Moscow (at that time, the Moscow czar was quite powerful) to get help but had been killed on his way home. He was buried. Eight years later they dug him up and he had not decomposed so he was wrapped in his Archbishop robes and moved around for awhile but eventually ended up at this cathedral in Kharkov. In the dim light, he looked at first like he was wrapped in Saran Wrap but when I got closer, it was his robes and they glittered from the jewels in them
We walk across the street to see the British tank, in the dark. I almost ran into it before I saw it. There were also cannons and artillery guns. A lover’s statue was somewhere but I think it was obscured by lovers.
Vlad drives in town like he drives everywhere so we were making U-turns and going up one way streets and driving around the square where we weren’t supposed to be but gosh darn, he was going to show me this stuff. We did a screech and halt beside a statue of Lenin which I snapped a photo but it’s pretty dark. A screech and halt past a fountain that was lit, past a statue of one of their writers, and past another couple of memorials that I couldn’t even see from the car in the dark. We stop and visit an art museum which is really an art gallery with paintings for sale. We try to visit the miniature museum but they had painted it so we couldn’t go in. We stop at a bookstore to look for English books but they have only 1 shelf of English language books and I didn’t like the choices. We run into a small grocery so I can get drinks and a sandwich for the train. Finally it is so dark that unless Vlad drives his car right up to a statue and shines his lights on it, I’m not going to see it
When it is time, Vlad takes me back to the train station and we wait for my train to arrive. Then we have to wait for the car conductor to open the door on my car. When she does, Vlad deposits me in my compartment. I have purchased both of the beds in my compartment because I thought that might be better for me rather than have to share with a stranger who may or may not be female. Vlad apologizes again for all the problems with the car and with not seeing certain things but I am fine with it. I had a lovely time in Kharkov in spite of the car troubles and in spite of the grim tour today. Time to move on to the Crimea.