CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive


Augustino
D. E. Steward


Merely three stops out Kiev’s Green Line Metro


To Dorohozhycli


And Babi Yar


The wooded ravine sinister and extremely unsettling


Deep, steep-sided, it drains off a mild ridge in new-growth Ukrainian hardwoods


The German killers would have called it die Schlucht


“No monument stands over Babi Yar,” Yevtushenko


Now a single menorah-topped masonry remembrance on the ridge


Vandalized with crowbar and sledgehammer on a summer night in 2006


Partly restored now


A few pebbles on its stepped plinth


Urge to kick at the sandstone ground to find something, shell casing, knuckle bone


Hard, dry soil, difficult to unearth even a stone or pebble for the monument’s scanty cairn


The thump of Wehrmacht Karabiner 98k rounds impacting bodies


The extended rattle of Waffen-SS’s Schmeisser machine pistols


Those thirty-four thousand Kiev cosmopolitans killed here through two consecutive days driven and pushed into the ravine


Marched out in their suits, elegant shoes and hats, their urban miens, starched shirts, glasses, smudged makeup, desperate pleas


Murdered en masse by small arms fire


Common soldiers stood there at the edge of the ravine and killed for two days


And route-marched back to their casern to sit on their bunks cleaning their rifles for more


Of course they were ordered, and their orderers were ordered


Some feel that German chain of command and doctrine of discipline explains it all


Others presume that the evil of the ethical collapse will never be understood


Many don’t care at all now


And remarkable numbers of people have never heard of Babi Yar


However it happened, awareness of the tangibles, the lay of the land, the reality of such sites is an increment of moving us away from more


On a weekday August afternoon, one other visitor, a German with a Ukrainian guide, both earnest men in their forties


In another generation maybe no one but historians will come


No glory for anyone here, it is not Antietam or Verdun


Sixty-six years on squint to feel the sound of the rifles and machine pistols


Wehrmacht hobnails grinding the sandstone track up to the ravine


The orders screamed


Ugly, ugly German imperatives


Martinet language that it so easily is


The clink of sling swivels as weapons were brought from shoulder arms to the ready


Prodding the shuffling doomed with the Karabiner’s muzzles, nudging with the barrels, butting with the stocks


George Steiner wondered in Language and Silence how the basic substantive Ofen could ever be used again in the context of Backofen or any other harmlessness


Babi Yar


Now trees and summer leaves and brush and duff on the sides of the yar, the ravine


“I fly Lufthansa, how nice the stewardess is, all of them are so civilized that it would be tactless to remember who they were.” Milosz in 1995


Back down through the park to the Dorohozhycli Metro and a bochka


A yellow steel-tank kvas cart


Slavic libatory cleansing from the vicious German pall


Plastic cup after cup


Gulp it down


There is sun and there are shadows


There are sharp rents in reality here


Close by a small and convoluted cast-bronze monument to the children killed at Babi Yar


Remove trash from its plinth


Stare out across the park toward the sandstone hill and ravine a kilometer away


Feel tired to be so deep within this Milosz-witnessed world


Would rather be off in Wyoming, or on Kauai looking west, than here at Babi Yar pondering last century’s mass immolations


But then on the metro back to the center the topical adventure of riding through the huge foreign city kicks in with the sway and rhythm


Now the city of Yushchenko of the pox and westernizing ambitions vs. sashaying blonde-plaited Tymoshenko in perpetual white


Orange Kiev


Ukrainian Kyiv


Orthodox Kiev


The Slavic faces and Ukrainian women


Who look as if they go out each day dressed as though that was the day they would meet their future


All bare summer legs, loose hair, interesting faces


Mirada fuerte


Metro gawk


iPod cell phone strap-hanging swinging sizzle


Out in the sun in the center, walk the squares to a rooftop terrace with golden domes to the north, St. Michael’s, to the south, the Lavra


Pious Kiev of both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kyiv Patriarchate


The great river-stretched city’s clarity


Under the high-wonder Dnieper skies


The Pontic Steppe in all directions


What was eight hundred miles of grass from the foothills of the Carpathians to the Volga


Summer golden, almost oceanic wonder


Already felt on the lifting travel rush of the Lufthansa flight, Frankfurt to Kiev


Out over Oberfranken, Bohemia, and off over southern Poland, Katowice, Krakow, skirting the Carpathians themselves


On south of the Pripet Marshes to the Dnieper


The run off of the marshes across Belarus from northeast of Smolensk and Safonovo


Konstantin Siminov’s refrain in Day and Nights (1944), “Alyusha, do you remember the roads of the Smolensk region?”


A Russian river, then Belarus, then the Ukraine’s chain of river-scheme hydroelectric reservoirs


Chernobyl-linked


Twenty-two hundred kilometers on out to the Black Sea


Only the Volga and the Danube here are longer


Draining this grand Slavic platform before the Asian steppes


East off from the Carpathians, off from Europe, that western cape jutting into the Atlantic from Asia


Long horizontal Ukraine, from Lviv east nearly to the Don


Huge, ancient Kiev, almost six million


On its river hills


Overlooking the Dnieper’s East Bank plain stretching as though to Volgograd


Eastern European rivers often welcome the eastern steppe, east banks flat and open to the plain, west banks with escarpment hills facilitating defense


As with the steep hills on which the Lavra lies


A thousand years old, seventy acres of ancient monastic stone, yellow and white stuccoed walls, marvelous carpentry, burial caves, mummified monks, gilded domes


The great Dnieper splotched with cloud-shadow sailing bolls of cumulus is almost a thousand feet below the Lavra’s gates


Broad Soviet-era esplanades, sweeping stairways and terraces above the river toward the National Museum of History of the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945 Years nearby


The trash of total war with dioramas depicting the full gray-green-black camouflage-net red flag bunkered horror of it all


Battle maps, the documentation, photographs


Displayed materiel


Heavy-tired blast-deflector rifled barrels caisson-heavy ammo-belt hung steel and rubber and splintered wood chaos


No faces, no humanity at all, no corporality except in the photographs


The millions who were there


Empty uniforms, boots and personal effects, long lists and rosters in German and Cyrillic typed by clerks on old field-desk manual machines under leaking sandbags packed within the bunker’s logs and beams above


“Alyusha, do you remember the roads of the Smolensk region?”


Twenty-seven million Russians died in those early 1940s years


And finally the Germans went home


Stay in Kiev’s Podil just off Postova Square at the bottom of the funicular to St. Michael’s


On the first morning early, the Blue Line Metro from Postova in Podil to the upriver Heroyiv Dnipra end-station


Heroyiv Dnipra, a wide, sunken bowl inside the traffic ring, a large rynok (bizarre) radiating out underground from the center


An early-morning crowd pushing into and around a cell-phone kiosk


The refreshing intensity of summer Europeans purposefully out and about


And a decade ago these people were Soviets still in that mute societal isolation of skeptical enthusiasm normal for them then


Now they’re normal members of the unregulated, unconstrained, frightening universal consumer world calculating time-money-greed-possibility factors in their private lives


Young women sashaying in toward the metro end-station as though on fashion runways


The book market by metro stop Petrivka, three stops downriver from Heroyiv Dnipra, three stops before Postova


Heroyiv Dnipra Str. 20, The International Medical Rehabilitation Center for the Victims of Wars and Totalitarian Regimes (MRC) (04209 Kiev)


A hundred kilometers from Heroyiv Dnipra to Chernobyl, Chornobyl in Ukrainian


Nearer to ninth century Chernihiv, one of the three great cities of eleventh century Rus along with Kiev and Novgorod, than to fifth or sixth century Kiev


In Slavic Europe history piles up in century-long increments enforcing continuity


Almost in the manner of the dinners every night while in Kiev in river-fronted Podil


Tenth century Vikings swaggered around Podil on their way down river to the sea and Constantinople


No doubt gawking at the leggy Ukrainian women


Coming and going


Hip and flounce


In ways the centuries here are all the same


In 1240, the Mongols destroyed Kiev that then, at over a hundred thousand, may well have been the largest city in the world


“French novels in yellow covers were read on the Danube and the Vistula on the Dnieper and the Volga. McCormick harvesters were working in the fields of the Ukraine.” Milosz in Le Belle Époque


St. Sophia


St. Michael’s dogged faithful, many more young than old


The Byzantine


Historic, riverine, Orthodox, splendid, westernizing Kiev


And all the while, century after century, magnificent Ukrainian women


Off on a smooth, broad-gauge night train to Lviv


Its horn in the fresh August night with the eighteenth-century clarity of a cornetto