‘Gravitating to This Ground’: The Euromaidan in Turtle Bay

by Nicholas Frankovich

Here, at the Ukrainian consulate in New York, an outdoor shrine to those who have died in the Euromaidan has been planted, I assume, by anonymous sympathizers. Consulate staff have let it stand. Make of that what you will. 

At least twice this winter, including this past Sunday, anti-Yanukovych protesters have gathered outside the building, on East 49th Street near Second Avenue, a few blocks from the United Nations.

Lately the scene has been quiet, as far as I can tell. Whenever I’ve passed it in recent days, a couple of New York City cops have been stationed nearby, just in case. On Friday, while I was taking pictures, the woman in this photo approached the mélange of candles, flowers, messages (some in English, some in Ukrainian), and head shots of martyrs to the cause. She stopped in front of them, crossed herself (Orthodox style, I imagine, not Catholic, though the act takes only a second and I didn’t think to look for that detail until she’d completed it), bowed her head, and remained there in that posture for a minute or two before reentering and blending into the pedestrian traffic.

Her gesture impressed me more than any mass demonstration ever could, either here in Turtle Bay, where demonstrations are everyday occurrences, or in Kiev, which is far away and to which my emotional connection is weak to nonexistent. With her, I find myself on the other side of a dynamic I experience when a friend who is not religious conveys to me his respect for my religion. What he respects really is the sincerity with which people believe in and practice it. It doesn’t touch him directly. He has no receptors for its particular truth or beauty. But he sees people who are in communion with it, and he admires them.

“A serious house on serious earth it is” is how Philip Larkin, a nonreligious man, described a desolate church in an England that, for those with eyes to see in the 1950s, was already well on its way toward lapsing — or growing, depending on your point of view — into its present state of post-Christianity. “And that much,” he continued, “never can be obsolete, / Since someone will forever be surprising / A hunger in himself to be more serious, / And gravitating with it to this ground, / Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in, / If only that so many dead lie round.”

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