Lately the media was full of news from the Ukraine. People in the 1532 years old city of Kiev demonstrated on Kiev’s Independence Square, only to be shot at by security forces. On Saturday, the 22nd of February former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko was released from the prison hospital and appeared in front of the demonstrators at Independence Square.
When I saw her there, with her traditional hairdo, I was reminded of the occasion I saw Ukrainian women for the first time in my life.
This happened at the beginning of April 1945. A beautiful sunny spring Sunday invited my Mum and me for a walk in the nearby “Viktoria Park”. And lo and behold, when we turned the first street corner on the way to the park an amazing sight awaited us. Like a swarm of the most beautiful butterflies we saw dozens and dozens of young woman in traditional Ukrainian dresses wearing their hair in a braid around their heads like a crown, indeed this style is called “Crown of the Peasants”. The very style of hairdo Timoshenko wore when she addressed the people on Independence Square.
This fresh sight jarred my memory. The clothes these women wore on that day were all embroidered with beautiful flowers. When they were talking to each other it sounded to me like birds chirping. I was astounded and asked my mother, “Mum, are they angels?”
“No, Peter, these women are Ukrainians!”
When I heard this I decided that Ukrainian women must be some kind of angels. These young females worked in Berlin at the time. Coerced or voluntarily, it does not matter now. They had their day off and they all went to the park to enjoy the first sign of the coming spring. What they were not doing, as I know now, was looking forward to the Red Army coming to Berlin. People of the Soviet Union who were found in Germany after the war, be it as prisoners or workers, were not liberated but treated as traitors. Women suffered the indignity of being raped and then sent off to a labour camp in Siberia.
Ukrainians had a special relationship with Germans at this time of the war, as they saw Russians as their common enemy. And in the present struggle they look to Germany for help in achieving their goal of joining the European Union.
We live in Australia now and we have met many former Ukrainians here at work and in a family way. Two of my grandsons had Ukrainian grandparents on their father’s side. Later this year they will travel to the Ukraine. Little did they know, when they made their travel arrangements, that they were heading towards a country in the midst of a revolution.
The Ukrainian women I saw in the Spring of 1945 must be, if they are still alive, in their late eighties now. I wonder what they would still remember of what happened to them then. Perhaps they don’t want to remember.
None the less they are being remembered for having brightened a nine year old boy´s day in early April of 1945.