Sunday, April 02, 2006


During the run-up to the New Year, I determined that Kharkov has more fireworks displays than any other city in the world. Entirely unscientific of course, but this is how I determine things. Just about every night, sometimes two or three times an evening, I'd hear loud booming crashes that'd send me scrambling to my window. Sometimes it'd just be a faint illumination over the tops of apartment buildings, a flash and then gone. Street to street fighting -- that's what it reminded me of, especially when the latest pwoo-pwoo-pwoo coincided with a car racing by beneath my window. But slowly I began to realize it was just fireworks. A splatter of light would spread across the sky, a red burst, a green one, maybe blue, and then it'd be gone. Sometimes full fireworks shows would be heard and seen in the periphery, coming from Svobody Square or Karl Marx -- something I'd see out my bedroom or living room window.

Last night, I caught one at Svobody Square, formerly Dzherzinsky Square, where Lenin still stands, of course, as I've shown in many photographs before. The show caught me and my friend off-guard. We were just walking through Schevchenko Park, thinking there really was quite a crowd. It was the first weekend of spring, we decided, so we figured everyone was just glad to have the opportunity to be out and about. There was light drizzle in the air, puddles on the ground, mud beneath the feet -- but all but a few dirt-blackened piles of snow were cleared, and the weather was plus 7 or plus 8.

This thinking began to change a little when we got to the square and saw a huge crowd of people standing around enjoying the music. I looked for some tents, some sign of a carnival or a bazaar, maybe a stage, but nothing. Just people standing, drinking, talking, everyone vaguely facing in the direction of Lenin and the music. A pony passed, a child in the saddle. I looked more closely for the source of the Russian pop songs: a small blue bus bearing the name of the state telephone monopoly, Ukretelecom. It had four old-style speakers mounted on top. On the side of the bus, a neat painted message: Zbukova Reklama. Essentially, radio commercials.

A few minutes later, the fireworks filled the sky, majestic burst of every color you could mate with a pile of gunpowders. Reds, yellows, blues, greens. The crowd ooh'd and ah'd as the fireworks shot up, spread out, seems to come raining down right on top of us like the special effects for warp speed in some science-fiction movie. I began to revert to US-thinking, insurance hazards, municipal codes, because these fireworks were shooting up into the air from right behind Lenin and going off low in the skies. Some fireworks sent a line of five or six glowing dots floating through the air on the hold of a little parachute. They drifted toward the Kharkov Hotel, the old Military University. They came down in trees and onto buildings, these and other fireworks, the lights streaming down still afire as they hit the ground.

It seemed to go on forever, one percussive boom after another. The woman with the pony calmed her animal, stroking its face, and then all eyes went to a hanging display of sparkling fireworks that were drawn out against a wire background and kept aloft by a crane. It lit up in front of Lenin, while a voice from the old propaganda bus announced the name of the political party now sparkling lit up in the sky for all to see, spelled out in sparkling yellow and blue: Party of Regions. And then lighting up above, Victory, as the bus announced the same, and the crowd continued to ooh and ahh.