Reflections on Ukraine – My Visit in 1998 (4)

With everything that is going on with the dreadful, reprehensible war on Ukraine at the moment, I have spent much time over the past couple of weeks reflecting upon a visit that I made to Ukraine in 1998. I thought that I would now put this into a series of blog posts. Click here for the first post, here for the second post, and here for the third post. This is the fourth post.

As I have touched upon in my posts In the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud: 75 Years since the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Mushroom Cloud Art, in my teens I became interested in things related to nuclear weapons. While many of my age would be developing encyclopaedic knowledge of football players or dinosaurs or some such thing, for me, it was nuclear missiles. I’m not sure what the starting point was for this, although I tend to put it down to the amazing “Two Tribes” (particularly the 12″ Annihilation mix) by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, which featured some information about nuclear missiles on the back-cover, let alone the content on the single itself. It is somewhat unexpected that these two worlds are colliding again this year – not just due to what is happening in Ukraine – but also as I am due to give a paper on nuclear issues in May (see Splitting Atomic Symbolism: Differing Words, Images, and Sounds of a Nuclear World) and I am writing a book about Frankie Goes To Hollywood fans (see Frankie Fans Say).

In terms of my visit to Ukraine in 1998, like the conference I am due to go to in May, the two aspects of the nuclear world (missiles and power) became evident to me in just one day.

As I walked down one road, it became clear that there was no traffic coming towards me and, a bit further on, I could see that the road was blocked off – which I managed to get a photo of.

Once I got further along the road, I found that there was a demonstration going on. Despite some of my reservations about taking photographs, which I discussed in previous posts, I decided to take a picture…

Although it may not be clear from the photograph, it was clear to me from the pictures and other things that I saw that this was a protest about the on-going impact of the Chernobyl nuclear power station explosion 12 years earlier. From what I remember, much of the protest was due to the impact on those in Belarus – which was heavily impacted due the wind direction at the time of the accident. I thought about this fact when watching the excellent TV series Chernobyl and how the radiation was first detected. I also think about how we laughed at school when entering a classroom one day back in 1986 and, seeing a Geiger counter on the desk and no teacher around, decided to turn it on test ourselves for radiation… including our mouths since we’d had had lamb that day and there had been stories of the Chernobyl radiation falling on Wales – we stopped laughing when the machine started clicking more (we never did look into what really caused this).

Having seen the Chernobyl protests, I went into a local park. The views across the eastern part of the city were spectacular.

I cannot remember now what I knew about this park before getting there – or even where I got the information about the park at all from. Perhaps it was from one of the maps that I had bought or, perhaps, I had a guide book with me. I don’t remember. Anyway, the park itself included a form of military museum, including a series of statues and some old military items.

Ukrainian Motherland Monument

When I got to the military items, I particularly liked it that a tank that had been covered in a more distinct colour scheme. I don’t know now why I didn’t take a better photo.

Whatever the basis was for going to this park, I know that nothing really prepared me for the next view.

Now, as I sign of how things have moved on, when I started preparing this blog, I could not remember the details of either of the two key components in this photo – whereas, when I was a teenager, I am sure that SS-4 (as it was known in the West, but is actually the R-12 Dvina) and SS-20 (or RSD-10 Pioneer) were very much things I knew about. I could probably have given you their vital statistics, told you how many were (officially) deployed, and a whole lot more information. As with the tank above, I have no memory now as to why I didn’t take more (or better) photos. I do remember being amazed being stood next to these things (presumably now with no warheads in), which, in all possibility, at some point in the previous 20 years may have been targeted at a city where I lived (keeping in mind that I was now living in Sheffield, where the amazing 1984 TV programme Threads, about a nuclear attack on the UK, was set… I doubt Shropshire, where I grew up, would have been much of a target itself). From what I can tell from looking at the website, the missiles have been further cleaned up and preserved at the museum – at least until the invasion in 2022. I wonder if I will get a chance to revisit and see them again one day.

I remember being in a reflective mood after seeing the missiles/launcher as I continued my walk. After going to see some other sites in the city, I then (quite amazingly since, as mentioned in a previous post, could not read the signs) took the underground back to my hotel. Although I didn’t manage to take a photo of it, I remember seeing the huge bomb door that could be used to close off the underground station (which I seem to remember was also very beautiful) during the event of an attack on Kyiv. I wonder whether that door is still there. I wonder whether it is open or closed now. I hope it will remain open and this dreadful war will be ended.

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