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Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Serpent's Wall

Here is a site that turns the so called "grand sweep of history" directly into the personal and poignant. Authored by Elena, Serpent's Wall is the story of a fortification first built to protect her hometown, Kiev, from Mongel invaders. More than that, though, it's a chronicle of the place where some of the most ferocious, titanic battles in history were fought, some sixty years ago, in World War II; of the people who fought them; and, less directly, of those who live there today.

It seems that, since the war, it's become common habit among young people to go exploring in the wall and surrounding war ruins, digging up everything from Mongel jewelry to German schnapps still sealed in the bottle. These young Kievers seem to have a keen sense of history, and of the significance of their surroundings. While a few of their finds are sold, most become part of the private museums that each of them maintains: spontaneous shrines to the foolishness and heroism of a generation, on both sides, stopped in its tracks. The skeletons they find - and they find plenty - they take care to bury or cover with dirt.

Beneath this image, in broken English, Elena writes,

"Soldiers there too, under leaves, bones, skulls, jaw-bones... teeth mostly good of young people. In Soviet army of those who were born in 1922 only 3 out of 100 came home from war, the rest 97 on those hills.

"I believe, for German army statistic must be similar as young people the same everywhere, do not know the value of life, have no fear and for their regimes it was easier to fool young." Link.

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