It was a summer day in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It was a heavy, suffocating heat, very similar to that of Mallorca in the days of calitja. Very close to the monastery of the Caves, almost beside the wide Dnieper, there were a few cherry trees laden with fruit. The cherries were small and didn’t look very appetizing, but it was hot and there wasn’t a cafe or bar anywhere – it was the last days of the Soviet Union – so we picked a few cherries and ate them out there , under the majestic golden domes of the monastery. Suddenly we began to hear shouts: «Niet, niet!». We saw that a woman had leaned out of a window and was making imperious gestures with her hand, and in the street, an old woman was running towards us shouting and pointing her finger at us. “Niet, nien!” When the old woman arrived, she started yelling at us in Russian – or Ukrainian, anyone knows – while pointing out the cherries that were still hanging on the tree. “Niet, niet!” he repeated several times, until we realized that we couldn’t touch the cherries because of some kind of mysterious prohibition that prevented us from touching the fruit hanging from a tree.
Why? We never knew. But most likely, the cherries were in the public domain – the USSR was then a socialist country – and no ordinary citizen could touch them without permission from a municipal body. In addition, there was another reason to explain the behavior of these women. From what we learned later, the memory of hunger was very present in Ukraine. In the early 1930s, millions of people starved to death as a result of Stalin’s forced collectivization of agriculture. The peasants refused to hand over the harvest, preferring to hide it or burn it, and before long the country ran out of food supplies. That famine is now known as Holodomor, although hardly anyone in the USSR dared to talk about it because it was a taboo subject considered a state secret. I knew the story from some poems that Osip Mandelstam wrote when he was living in the Ukraine in the worst days of the famine. And perhaps that old woman who had run towards us, I thought, had lived through famine as a child and therefore could not tolerate anyone – least of all Western tourists – stealing the emaciated cherries of the monastery.
It is difficult for us to understand these things, because our memory of the hardships of the past has been fading with the passage of time, but there are countries where that memory is very much alive and still acts as a powerful factor that determines the conduct of the people . In the case of Ukraine, I suppose that is the case. In addition, the history of Ukraine throughout the 20th century is so complex, so tangled, so confused, that it is difficult to understand what has happened and extract a minimal rational explanation. Land of Cossacks and peasants, land of anarchists, land of raging nationalists and ferocious anti-Semitic hatreds, Ukraine experienced a permanent civil war throughout the first half of the 20th century: anarchists against Bolsheviks, peasants against White Russians, Cossacks against Ukrainian separatists. , separatists against Poles… The great Bulgákov -who was born in Kiev- told these things in The White Guard, but the background of those struggles of all against all was difficult to understand. I pity the historian who wants to write a treatise on the history of Ukraine in the 20th century.
Interestingly, today’s Ukraine – reputed to be one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world – has a former comedian Jewish president who came to power in the most postmodern way imaginable: after acting on a fictional comedy show , People’s Servant, in which he represented a fictional president of the Ukrainian republic, the comedian Zelensky stood for election with a party that had the same name as the series and won with 73% of the vote. The story of the comedian who becomes president is very postmodern, yes, but it also has an unmistakable air of farce by Gógol, another illustrious Ukrainian. As far as I know, there is no modern politician – not even Trump – who has risen to power by imitating the role he had played in a sitcom. For now, Zelensky defends Ukraine’s entry into NATO and the European Union and has stood up to Putin, who dreams of annexing Ukraine in the same way that Crimea was already annexed – a peninsula that was part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine. – when he illegally occupied it in 2014. Knowing the history of Ukraine, things look ugly. Cherries are scarce, small and very acidic. And everyone wants to keep them.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.