Monday, June 1, 2009

The Odd Side of History

This post deals with an odd situation I ran into in Ukraine. Background: WWII is being fought, a minority of Ukraines hate the Russians so much they side with the Nazis. However, thanks to Hitler's brillant plan of "displace the sub-human slavs" many more decide to fight as partisans. The USSR beats back Germany and eventually rolls their butts right out of Ukraine. Here comes the fun part. Many of the Ukrainian guerrilla groups decide that the Soviets are just as bad as the Nazis and keep fighting them as hard as they had the Nazis. Added to this situation is the large amount of criminal/outlaw gangs that have sprung up due to the vicious warfare that has ruined much of this area and the great terrain (mountains, forests and broken ground, perfect for the old irregular action). The result is a 5 year war going from 1945 to 1950 in which the Ukrainian Nationalist groups are slowly ground down and crushed by the Red Army and Special NKVD Groups. In the USSR days (and still today in Russia) this conflict was known as the "War against Various Armed and Bandit Gangs".

Odd name isn't it. This name was actually a sop to the Ukrainians as they didn't want all of their Nationalist groups lumped in with those that were actually criminal gangs. Here is where it gets strange, at least for me. WWII and things around that time are pretty untouchable here in the US. It was a straight up war against groups that everyone agrees were the "Bad Guys". In Ukraine, I saw how history can be modified or changed or how it can actually be veiwed differently. Sure there is some of that in the US (especially in the south), but time has really dulled it. Not here. Which leads to the oddness of it for me.

This is a picture of the memorial to all the soldiers who died fighting in the War against Armed Groups and Bandits. It has my wife's grandfather's name on it. He was an officer who survived WWII and was killed while on patrol in this region when his patrol was ambushed by Ukrainian partisans. If you are thinking that this memorial is somewhat neglected you are spot on. It is 50plus years old to start with, but I was struck by how run down this particular grave yard was. Part is due to the fact that Ukrainians do not mow their grass (the grass grows short so they fail to see the need), but there is a definate sense of neglect. It felt like many of the people here really didn't want this here but out of respect for the dead they let it be.

This is another memorial. Note the trident symbol in the center. This is one that is commemorating the abolishment of Serfdom and Ukrainian Nationalism. It was torn down by the Soviets in 1946 and put up in again in the 1990s. It is well kept, in the center of town and flaunts Ukrainian Nationistic symbols. I have video of others that were about the same thing but with Ukrainian Flags and the National Ukrainian Army Flag (the partisan flag). These were usually right next to sites that commemorated Soviet soldiers who died fighting partisans or bandits. Here is were the odd feelings really hit.

The Soviets won the fight, and in Russia and to some Ukrainians they were the good guys. To many others they were not. While they lost their war, their cause ended up winning. And they now have numerous memorials to them proudly displaying the Ukrainian Trident and their flags. And the memorials to the "winners" crumble away and are neglected.

I am not sure if I am sad about this or not. I firmly side with the Nationalist on this issue while understanding why they lost. But it is hard to see a neglected grave or memorial to a fellow soldier. Its harder still when its your wife's grandfather. It doesn't help that these newer memorials are usually right next to the older ones and degree of care really sticks out. This was not a nice war (yeah, I know that is a statement rich in the "WTF"), but I have to tell you the stories I have been told by my wife's side are pretty nasty. I'll spare you but I have a new appreciation for how things went down in Kansas and Missouri in the Civil War. I guess every country goes through stuff like this. Part of a country growing up.

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