Russian ‘welcome’: Fight on, Ukrainians!

Ann Kuehn - Contributing columnist

Good for the Ukrainians! Self-determination should be a basic human right. Unfortunately, historically, there will always be the chosen who deem otherwise.

Dates, along with names and everything else associated with rational thinking, have disappeared into a permanent mental fog. At some point, 20+ years ago, Ed Kuehn and I spent three weeks in Russia via a Volga River cruise.

Wikipedia is designed for people like me who want to appear erudite, without engaging in the necessary time. Therefore, some of the following are hot off the internet.

The Volga is the longest river in Europe, almost entirely in Russia. We flew into Russia via Helsinki, a beautiful pastel-colored city. Crossing the border on the train into Russia was akin to drawing a curtain.

Tidy, prosperous structures flanking concrete roads turned into hovels along muddy gravel.

“Thump! Thump! Thump!” … armed men examined passports. No point in my attempting a tentative smile.

Welcome to Russia.

Our first destination was St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, built on the bones of conscripted peasants by Peter the Great. Despite only the fronts — not sides or backs — of buildings being decorated, it is a glorious city. Sidewalks and streets were sprinkled each morning to be swept clean by babushka-scarfed women wielding twig brooms.

St. Petersburg has, among other great museums, the Hermitage. Originally built as the home and depository of Catherine the Great’s unsurpassed art collection, the enormous building includes the Amber Room.

To stand in a room of solid amber is breathtaking. I brought back two small pieces, one entombing an insect, that somehow ended up with a son who won’t give it back.

Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral is located in the city. With few exceptions, the cathedral and grounds enshrine czarist and notables remains. Nicholas II and his family were re-interred in 1998.

During WWII, St. Petersburg (renamed Leningrad) was shelled into starvation. It is astounding to see how small the hill is from which the Germans were so able to dominate. The freezing of Lake Lagoa permitted the lifeline to ultimately save the city, whose inhabitants were reduced to licking paste off wallpaper.

Floating down the Volga was a vista of abandoned monasteries and estates, forests, fields, picturesque villages, only to be interrupted by uninspired Soviet enclaves — Moscow being the dominant. “Moscow ” is a derivative of the Moskva River upon which its banks sprawl.

The heart of the city is the Kremlin, with the much-heralded Red Square. Television proved a boon to enhancing Red Square in the eyes of the world. What appears as an unending parade comes from panning one group marching in as the previous marches out.

Unless things have drastically changed, a one-bedroom apartment encompasses 320 square feet; two-bedroom, 480 square feet; and three-bedroom, 750. Most of the housing lacked elevators, and had communal kitchens and bathrooms.

Unless, of course, one was in an appropriated mansion, housing multiple families as opposed to one family, but again, communal kitchen and bath.

It is hard to search for conspicuousness among the stark concrete edifices, but Moscow has numerous well-laid and maintained parks which were, at that time, producing drifts of snow-like showers of Linden blossom seeds.

Moscow is the largest-populated land-mass European city. Despite its architecture, or absence of , I consider it to be one of the world’s great cities. I have been very fortunate to have visited many.

It is also, according to Wikipedia data, the 37th safest — helped by 170,000 surveillance cameras. There, we hooked up with a couple from L.A. He was retired LAPD, who walked with the grace of a cheetah (although I have never actually walked with a cheetah). I have never felt so safe in my life.

Along with the splendor of the Bolshoi, Moscow has indeterminable amenities in theater, film, museums, and just neat things to look at. As opposed to “all roads leading to Rome”, roads from the Kremlin span outwards in circular rings, making walking quite navigable.

The true architectural essence is in the subway system. Coming from outside NYC, I have a jaundiced view of subway aesthetics. The marbled Moscow subway terminals are spotless and beautiful — structured so that the populace can view and absorb the values and ethos of Communism, as they ride.

Two personal incidents are seared in my memory.

Sitting on an idling bus, I spied an elderly uniformed and bemedaled gentleman. Leaping off the bus, I asked if I could take his picture. He acquiesced, smoothed back his hair, smiled for the camera, then kissed my hand.

The second encounter was with a group of young Russian girls.

“Where,” I asked, “would you rather live? Russia or America?”

“Oh, Russia!” they chorused.”

“Ah”, I said. “But I can visit your country. You cannot visit mine.”

Fight on, Ukrainians!

Ann Kuehn resides at Ohio Living Cape May in Wilmington. She says, “I gravitated to Ohio at age 18 and never left” and moved to Sabina in 1987.

Ann Kuehn

Contributing columnist