Catharine Hughes visits a relic of Soviet history
Approaching Kyiv by boat, (I’m not sure why you would be doing this, but let’s run with the imagery), you would be majestically greeted by the gargantuan 62m of stainless steel that is Rodina Mat. A towering depiction of a woman ready for battle, a sword in one hand and a shield in the other.
Construction of the monument began in 1979 and was completed in 1981. The opening ceremony was attended by the leader of Soviet Union at the time, Leonid Brezhnev, and to this day some locals refer to the monument as ‘Brezhnev’s daughter’.
A relic of the Soviet Union, Rodina Mat (Russian) translates as Motherland in English. But her name is not the only memory of the USSR, the style is undeniably brutalist and imposing, and her shield carries the state emblem of the Soviet Union. This monument was in fact designed by Soviet sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich, who also designed The Motherland Calls in Volgograd, Russia; same principle, but this time concrete not steel, and at 85m she is the tallest statue of a woman in the world. Rumour has it that the Kyiv monument lacked its Volgograd sister’s appeal and became a subject of ridicule due to the insufficient size of her sword, but at 16m and 9 tons, it did the job for me.
Rodina Mat stands on the hills on the right bank of the Dnieper river on the edge of the Pecherskyi District. In 1950 plans emerged to erect 220m statues of Lenin and Stalin, but this never came to be. Currently the sculpturesse stands on top of the Museum of The History of Ukraine in World War II which includes a hall adorned with marble plaques carrying the names of more than 11,600 soldiers. The entrance to the museum includes a family friendly scattering of brightly painted tanks upon which the children play and adults pose for stoic photos. The museum cafe was slightly lacking on the food front (there wasn’t any), but luckily enough we had met a friendly man in the street that morning who bestowed on us a bag of sausage donuts.
In April 2015 Ukrainian parliament outlawed Soviet and Communist materials, in a decommunisation attempt. However World War II monuments have been excluded from this law. Evidence of this can be seen around the country in the disappearance of Soviet street names, street art and mosaics. Owing to this, until July 2015 the museum was referred to as the Museum of the Great Patriotic War.
Opinions today remain divided, some admire Rodina Mat as a sculpture which in one encapsulates art and history, others feel that the metal could be used for more functional purposes.
Feature Image Credit: Catharine Hughes