Skola was a small town in the west of The Ukraine.
We were renting an apartment there and going for walks in the nearby forests, as well as walking around town and observing life. With a population of 6000 Skola was small enough to familiarise yourself within a day or two. And the streets were not exactly busy given that there were relatively few cars. Yes, it was quiet little backwater of a place, Skola – or so it seemed.
One afternoon, with our walking sticks in hand, we were approaching the town square on our way back to our apartment when we heard loud music. Rounding a corner we were met by a crowd of people. Striking in a town where the streets were usually silent.
At one end of the square was a statue of an old man with a book under one arm. We assumed that this was another one of the statues we had seen over the previous weeks during our travels in The Ukraine. In other words, the statue of one or another communist era hero which no one had got around to pulling down: statues of Marx and Lenin for example, or of a brave Russian soldier symbolising the ‘liberation’ of The Ukraine from the Nazis in 1945. Some liberation: exchanging one brutal dictatorship with another.
Passing the square every day, we had made jokes about the old man with his book.
Until that fateful afternoon, that is.
The air reverberating to music and singing, we made our way through the crowd and saw: on either side of the old man with the book under his arm people standing in a row holding large Ukrainian flags….
What was going on here?
We watched the proceedings in a state of disbelief.
Evidently this particular statue held some sort of significance for the locals.
This wasn’t one of those statues whose existence was ensured because of the sheer weight of apathy.
Who was this man?
And why was he so revered?….