Monument to play and film protagonists — rich bride Pronya and her bankrupt suitor.

At the very end of the eighties, it became increasingly evident that the Soviet regime was in its death throes. The dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union when it came in 1991 was accompanied by a spate of demolitions of many monuments of the Soviet era. Now we have monuments of quite a different kind being erected.

I wish I were a psychologist so that I could figure out with a greater clarity why major changes in the history of mankind have always been accompanied by the destruction of monuments, “sacred idols,” of the old regime that is forced to give way to a new one. Often enough, this destruction is senseless, and seems to be a ritual of cleansing the new political and social system of anything that can remind of the past. Out of sight, out of mind. Do symbols have to follow the regimes they represented into oblivion?

The victorious barbarians destroyed the monuments and architectural landmarks of the dying great empires. Then, centuries later, the time of reckoning would come and the settlements and shrines and idols were destroyed in their turn. Bolsheviks demolished churches and erected architectural and sculptural monuments to glorify their rule. The demise of communism was marked by the destruction of many of its symbols embodied in marble and granite. In 1989, the Berliners, with cries of exultation and exhilaration, took the Berlin Wall apart. Music played, champagne flowed (the most popular tune was The Wind of Change).
The first monument of Lenin to go down in Ukraine was the one in Ternopil, in western Ukraine. The actual process of dismantling the monument did look like a solemn and somewhat gruesome ritual of the idol’s public execution.

Monument to Mykhaylo Hrushevsky.

To the Much Beloved Cat of Blessed Memory, a Victim of Motorists’ Carelessness.
But new times require new monuments.
The monument to the first President of Ukraine, Professor Hrushevsky, unveiled a year ago, differs very much from the monuments of the Soviet period with their pseudo-heroics. Hrushevsky is portrayed as a wise, tired and aged person who has sat down on a bench to rest a bit. There were also a monument to Yarolsav the Wise, an 11th-century ruler of Kyiv, and a monument to Princess Olga, Kyiv’s 10th-century ruler (a replica of the monument destroyed by the Bolsheviks), erected in Kyiv, in recent years, but it is not they that can be regarded as particularly characteristic of the changes of attitudes.

Small-sized sculptures, almost totally unknown in the Soviet times, and rather numerous in the cities of the Old and New Worlds, have come to our streets. There is a classical nineteenth-century Ukrainian comedy, Two Birds in the Bush portraying the life of petty bourgeois and unfolding an unpretentious story: a bankrupt barber, rather good looking and with a bit too stretched pretensions (he wants to be taken for “a social lion”) wants “to marry into money” — the girl he courts, “horrible to look at,” is a daughter of a rich man.
In the twentieth century, a film was made, based on this play, and it turned out to be a great popular success in Ukraine. A lot of catch phrases from the film have become part of everyday, colloquial speech.
Last year, in the section of Kyiv called Podil, there was a monument erected to the protagonists of the film (and of the play). The two funny, and yet attractive, figures of the hapless young man and his fiancee have become so popular that many newlyweds come to the monument to bring flowers to the somewhat comical and yet strangely attractive personages. Probably, the most popular novels of the Soviet times were Twelve Chairs and Golden Calf by Ilf and Petrov. They told stories of adventures of several swindlers. One of the characters, Panikovsky, an aged Jew from Kyiv who made his living by begging in the streets, pretending he was blind, or by picking the pockets of the people who helped him get across the road was immortalized in a monument that was erected to him in Prorizna Street in Kyiv, near the place where this character from the novel used to hang out.

Monument to a protagonist of a novel, Panikovsky, who begged for money in the streets of Kyiv pretending to be blind.
There is a little something that the sculptor put in jest on the sole of Panikovsky’s raised boot — a representation of the dulya: a clenched fist with the thumb placed between the index and middle fingers; it is a gesture of derision, defiance or contempt, accompanying refusal to comply with a request (similar to cocking a snook, or giving someone the finger).

Apart from monuments to writers and protagonists of their stories that have appeared in Kyiv in recent years, there is a monument to a cat, sitting close to a restaurant called Pantagruel. Once there lived a cat in the restaurant, much loved by the staff and patrons, but one day, making an unfortunate dash across the street, it was crushed under the wheels of a passing car. So, now, right across from the restaurant, there is a bronze monument to the cat in the small Zoloti Vorota Park.

Kyiv is not the only place in Ukraine where such monuments began to appear, modest, sometimes ironic, but always with something very appealing in them. The characters portrayed do not wield weapons, they are not of gigantic size, they are not mountains of heroic muscles monuments used to be in the Soviet times. They are of a natural human or animal size, and they just adorn our streets and parks. Probably, that’s the way it should be.

By Andriy Hlazovy
Photographs by Oleksiy Onyshchuk