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    Posted March 14, 2014 by
    RalucaBesliu
    Assignment
    Assignment
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Ukraine unrest

    RalucaBesliu and 14 other iReporters contributed to Open Story: Ukraine crisis as it unfolds
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    A symbol of solidarity: the memorial in front of the Ukrainian embassy in Riga, Latvia

     
    For the past three weeks, the Ukrainian embassy in Riga, Latvia, has become a symbol of solidarity with the protesters fighting for democracy in the East European country. Hundreds of lit candles, flowers and banners condemning Yanukovich’s abuses and calling for solidarity currently adorn the front gate of the embassy, in an effort to support the Ukrainian struggle. Who has been laying these thoughtful tokens? Ukrainians living in Latvia or Latvians themselves? How did passer-byes perceive the memorial? I tried to elucidate these questions by interviewing people stopping in front of the memorial. After spending several hours, I discovered it was a mixture of locals, Ukrainians and foreigners that came to pay their respects in front of the memorial. I interviewed a group of six young Dutch tourists, a Dutch couple, a German girl conducting a study exchange program in Riga, a Taiwanese man with his children who had lived in the Ukraine for ten years, an American living in Amsterdam, two young Ukrainian men and two Latvian women.
    The reasons for stopping in front of the memorial were different for these three groups of people. The tourists were mostly curious to find out why the candles were there. Most of them considered the candles to be a powerful symbol of support with the Ukrainian struggle and to be useful in helping to raise awareness about the situation in Ukraine both among the local population and foreigners visiting it. The German exchange student stressed that the memorial demonstrates our world’s current state of unity, as it reveals the solidarity and empathy between people in different parts of the world. In turn, the Dutch couple believed that the memorial had no practical utility and that only mobilizing the European political forces could ensure a veritable assistance and change in Ukraine.
    The Latvian interviewees had contributed to adorning the embassy, by bringing candles or flowers for different reasons. One of them, an elderly Latvian lady was just passing by the embassy and observing the new tokens that had been added since she brought two of the first candles to be placed in the memorial. She confessed that, while she did not have a direct relation to Ukraine, she empathized with the Ukrainians’ struggle against Russian forces, which her own country had been through, and wanted to show that she cared. The other one, a middle-age lady, who brought flowers while I was there, said her gesture was motivated by the fact that she had a Ukrainian son-in-law, who was living in Latvia with her daughter.
    Apart from the Latvians, two Ukrainians came to light candles in front of the memorial while I was still there. The first to arrive had been born in Latvia to Ukrainian parents and identified as Ukrainian. He believed that the memorial symbolized not only solidarity with the protesters, but also a clear opposition to Yanukovich’s rule, which he stressed had been silently tortured the Ukrainian people for the past four years and now had resorted to direct violence and oppression. The other Ukrainian only told me he was from Odessa, before bursting into tears and leaving, when I asked him why he had brought the candle. It was clearly a highly emotional topic for him, which led me to think that he might have family or friends involved in the struggle in his home country.
    While these groups of foreigners, locals and Ukrainians empathized with the Ukrainian struggle, many other passer-byes did not look at the memorial or stop in front of the embassy. Nevertheless, the memorial, constantly expanding with new tokens, is there to remind anyone who is willing to pay attention about the suffering of Ukrainian people in their bitter fight for a self-determined future.

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