To my friend Vladimir Lenin

June 20, 2012

By Charles Platiau

When I arrived in Donetsk, southern Ukraine, two weeks ago I didn’t think you would be one of the best friends I made during my stay. Nobody speaks English here, even if my hotel is called “the Liverpool hotel” and plays Beatles music all day long everywhere except, thoughtfully, in my room. I don’t speak Russian either, but I soon learned Vladimir Ilyich is how locals fondly refer to you, Mr Lenin. Your statue dominates the landscape of this city’s downtown. You remain in full view in contrast to the advertising you stand opposite; maybe people even remember what you stand for.

It’s hard to judge a place in such a short time but I wonder what Donetsk looks like when there isn’t such a big event in town. The city is quiet, very clean and there are more advertising boards than in most western countries. All the ugliest buildings are now covered with banners to advertise Japanese goods or to hide the worst aspects of the city.

Later I saw this big car advertisement had gone and residents behind it could walk on their balconies again.

You watch this all with admirable stillness, but nobody glances at you any more. The Soviet system is gone, then came the adverts, and now football has come, if only for a little while.

In the good old days there were thousands of comrades shouting at your feet, but now only a few soccer fans take photos of one of your last statues existing outside Russia.

Sometimes Ukrainian girls wearing high heels walk, as best they can, towards the local McDonalds, another relative newcomer.

But it’s good there is now a choice in somethings. If you don’t want fast food in Donetsk you can find a first class restaurant where you can wait for an hour for your first course. At least there is the time to contemplate your likeness.

Essentially the advertising boards are the only things to suggest that a big event is currently running in Donetsk. After the Euro final, I will leave and you, Vladimir Ilyich, will remain. But for how long? I’ll remember the time I spent with you, take care my friend and all the best. Charles.

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