The miracle of Kherson

What is the reason behind the heroism of the inhabitants of this southern city

Recently, we all witnessed the incredible heroism of the people of Kherson: thousands of them took to the streets of their city to protest against the armed occupiers. So when Kherson was awarded the title of Hero City on March 6, 2022, there was probably no one in the whole country who could disagree with this decision. But let’s be honest: for many of us, these events came as a big surprise, as the South has long and rightly had a reputation as a very pro-Russian region.

By the way, I am from Kherson. In 1992, when my father sent me to kindergarten, he was asked, “Which group do you want me to put her in? Ukrainian or normal?” Dad chose Ukrainian. In 1995, I was sent to a school – a gymnasium that had recently been hit by shelling. Neighbors were asking: “Why so far? There is this school nearby, it’s Russian, it’s good.” But 30 years have passed and now the city abounds with yellow and blue flags and loudly declares to the whole world: “Kherson is Ukraine!”

I confess, I was surprised too. Kherson really looked like a sleepy city, green and sunny in summer and in the first month of autumn, windy and rainy on the New Year holidays. Forever in the shadow of Mykolayiv and Odessa, with widespread pro-Russian and pro-Soviet sentiments. It seemed that the formation of the Ukrainian government after the annexation of Crimea would give the city a boost. But – no. Fewer trains began to arrive at the railway station, and if anyone benefited from this, it was the carriers to the resort towns on the Black and Azov Seas.

Kherson really looked like a sleepy city, green and sunny in summer and in the first month of autumn, windy and rainy on the New Year holidays. Forever in the shadow of Mykolayiv and Odessa, with widespread pro-Russian and pro-Soviet sentiments.

The monument to Lenin was torn down in the central square in Kherson on February 22, 2014. However, the decommunization of toponyms was based on the principle “everything as it was before the Bolsheviks.” One of the central streets, named after Karl Marx, became Potemkinska, and Decembrists Street became Rishelievska. Formally, it was a matter of recovering historical names, but in fact it was a mockery of Ukrainian history and memory, replacing communist markers with imperial ones. And Suvorov Street – a nice boulevard with cafes and shops – hasn’t changed its name after all, since it’s been regarded as neutral.

However, looking for an explanation for the recent “Kherson miracle” in our Freedom Square, where instead of the destroyed Lenin now you can see a flagpole with the Ukrainian flag on a pedestal decorated with embroidery, I remember a lot of miraculous things that made me happy for my city, proud of it.

Those little things are numerous. Volodymyr Mykolayenko, a Euromaidan participant, who was elected mayor of Kherson in 2015. Pro-Ukrainian journalists. Pro-Ukrainian cultural community. Lots of visitors to the historical festival. Names of teacher Olexander Rusov and General Oleksiy Almazov among local toponyms. And also – lessons of courage in schools. 148 dead ATO heroes (as of April 2020). Volunteer tent on the same Freedom Square. Pro-Ukrainian deputies of the city council. Even stylish cafes with delicious espresso seemed to be the space of the new Ukraine. And, by the way, my native Ukrainian gymnasium has become more elegant. Not as much as a Russian-language school near my house, but still.

Today I live in Kyiv, which these days also demonstrates heroism, the scale of which we are not able to comprehend yet. Watching videos from the central streets of Kherson, trying to spot familiar faces, I hear the cameraman screaming «This is Kherson, baby! Putin is a di**head!» and the crowd shouting «Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes! Death to enemies! Kherson is Ukraine». And in these cries I hear an echo of the past – both local and national. Cossacks and Oleshkivska Sich. Resistance of the UIA and dissidents. Yes, Russification. Melpomene of Tavria. Unity in times of the Revolution of Dignity and the spring of 2014. In these bold cries, I also hear a healthy fear – not one that paralyzes, but one that encourages action.

Watching videos from the central streets of Kherson, I hear the cameraman screaming «This is Kherson, baby! Putin is a di**head!» and the crowd shouting «Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes! Death to enemies! Kherson is Ukraine». And in these cries I hear an echo of the past – both local and national. Cossacks and Oleshkivska Sich. Resistance of the UIA and dissidents. Unity in times of the Revolution of Dignity and the spring of 2014. In these bold cries, I also hear a healthy fear – not one that paralyzes, but one that encourages action.

Also, in these videos made on smartphones, a vision of the future is seen. Kherson is no longer a gray area lost in the interim, but part of a free, independent, prosperous Ukraine. Kherson is a city of brave people, not an apathetic “population”. This is a city of those who understand that Ukraine is not about party flags and not about “politics” at all, but about its OWN in the broadest sense of the word. About identity, about our home and property, about our daily habits, about the opportunities we are used to seizing, about plans for the future and everything else that makes up our lives. And the conscious need to protect all this from destruction can really cause miracles.

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