Viktor Yanukovych is gone, and today, as I write this, Ukrainians are enjoying the start of a new chapter in their history by touring the grounds of his Mezhihirya mansion and collecting documents and testimony that will incriminate him and his cronies. At the same time, we are painfully aware that not all who rallied against Yanukovych’s kleptocracy/dictatorship survived, and that lives of good people and brave citizens were taken by thugs and cowards.
As Ukraine moves forward in its new day, Kyiv and other cities will no doubt erect monuments to the fallen heroes of Maidan. I cannot say anything about design because I am not an architect and am not talented in art, but I do know about land use in cities and the symbolic meaning that can be conveyed by place. So, here is what I offer for Kyiv.
I propose a second Park Vichnoyi Slavy (Park of Eternal Glory), this one not at Ploshcha Slavy, but closer to the center in Khreshchtyi Park, at the site of the prominent arch that was built to symbolize eternal friendship between Russia and Ukraine. Designers can decide whether or not to retain the massive rainbow, which is now an icon of Kyiv, but the statue underneath of the two shirtless Russian and Ukrainian workers in triumphant and brotherly togetherness can be moved to a museum and a replaced with a new memorial to the victims of Maidan. Then in the rainbow’s-end place of the granite Bohdan Khmelnytskyi and compatriots will be a memorial to fallen journalists in Ukraine, most prominently Heorhiy Gongadze. At the other end of the rainbow will be memorial to fallen journalists in Russia, most prominently Anna (nee Mazepa) Politkovskaya. The arch can therefore take on the meaning of neighborliness and shared struggle between Ukraine and Russia, but emphatically on an equal basis. And instead of the junk amusements that are at this site now, an eternal flame (or multiple flames) can be maintained here too, rebranding this prominent place with a spectacular view as one to be held sacred.
I also want to witness a memorial at Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Here the focus can be on all the participants of the three months of protest and uprising, living and dead. Even before it was torn up this winter, the square needed to be redesigned, as it is a mishmash of “things” rather than a unified celebration of independence. Now it needs to be repaired as well. As the experts begin to work on this, I ask them to consider erecting lasting memorials of bronze or other metal in the shape of a large protestors’ tent and of barricades. Some sort of reproduction of the stage from Maidan might also be effective.
Next is Mezhihirya. I was in Manila shortly after the regime of Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by popular uprising in the Philippines, and saw that for three years after the 1986 People Power Revolution, his residence, Malacanang Palace, functioned as a museum of the dictator’s ego and extravagance. Golden toilet fixtures and the famous enormous collection of expensive shoes that belonged to his wife Imelda Marcos were among the highlights of the exhibits. So should be the case with the palace of the deposed Ukrainian president. For a time it should be open to the public as a museum of Czar Viktor , what he stole, and how he lived. Then, after an appropriate time, the grounds should be put to a new use to be decided by Ukraine’s representatives in government – perhaps returned to pre-Yanukovych uses.
Finally, Ukraine needs a permanent “Museum of Corruption,” a “Museum of Communism,” and “Museum of the Dark Side of Russia.” All these can be combined into one. Among other artifacts, the collections could include exhibits taken from Mezhihirya and other “palaces” that were built during the decades of dishonesty by government leaders, a Lenin statue or two that has survived demolition, an assortment of severed Lenin heads, Stalins, etc., mannequins dressed like titushky with clubs to beat people with, the transplanted Russian and Ukrainian chums from under the arch of friendship, and documents about interference by Russia in Ukrainian business, political, cultural, and religious affairs. There could be displays as well about the destruction of churches and other treasured, historic structures during the darkest days of Communism, and about Soviet disinformation campaigns against Ukrainian partisans and political leaders. Furthermore, perhaps that small Moscow-patriarchate chapel that stands illegally beside the site of historic Desiatynna Church could be deconsecrated and moved to this location.
Where should such a multifaceted museum be? I propose the site of the “Helipad from Hell”. This is the mysterious building that Yanukovych had built on the slopes of Kyiv’s bluffs near Mariiyinskyi Park to be a parking place for his own (or his son’s) helicopter. Beneath the concrete roof is a large space that cries out for such irony. Because Kyiv is the capital city, the hall can display not just what is gathered from Kyiv, but also reminders of a dark past from all corners of the country. Alternatively, this entire helicopter-monstrosity can be torn down and the site returned once again to parkland for the people, and the museum can be placed in Ukrainian House on European Square, a structure that, ironically, was built originally to be a museum honoring Lenin. The building failed in that capacity, as the public never took to a Lenin museum in a city that the revolutionary leader had never set foot in, and it was not particularly successful either as a hall for hire in the post-Soviet period. However, an anti-corruption and anti-dictatorship museum could be popular as lesson about the travails that Ukraine underwent before its new era, and a reminder to the next generation of Ukrainian parliamentarians and cabinet ministers who will commute constantly via European Square to and from their offices that they need to govern better than their predecessors.
Those are my suggestions to the people of Ukraine. You are a heroic nation. Godspeed as your rise from the impoverishment of your beautiful country by thieves and the ashes of brutality. Slava Ukraini!