Russia's War of the Roses

Russia's War of the Roses. (A spoof of the 1989 film starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.) Images mixed by author.

Russia's War of the Roses. (A spoof of the 1989 film starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.) Images mixed by author.

Just outside the Kremlin, there is a public park called Alexander Gardens, where you'll find several monuments to the Soviet Union's victory over fascist Germany, including a wall with stone slabs dedicated to the 12 “hero cities” of the war. Before Russia annexed Crimea earlier this year, Ukraine was home to three different “hero cities.” Today, after the loss of Sevastopol, there are only two such cites in Ukraine: Odessa and Kiev. After last week's deadly fire in Odessa, and months of tensions between Moscow and Kiev, it's no surprise that the hero-cities memorial has become an important stage in Russian politics. In the past few days, two groups have swept through Alexander Gardens with decidedly different messages.

And, by the way, this is Odessa!

On May 5, 2014, more than 7 thousand people reportedly gathered outside the Kremlin to show support for Odessa, Kramatorsk, and Slaviansk, observing a minute of silence for the victims of the Ukrainian government's supposed failures. A Duma deputy from United Russia, the country's ruling political party, attended the demonstration, thanking those who came for illustrating Russia's commitment to Ukrainians’ welfare. People came with flowers, burying Odessa's slab under roses and candles.

The only hero-city slab outside the Kremlin in Alexander Gardens without flowers is Kiev's.

No one, it seems, brought flowers for Kiev. The same day as the demonstration for Odessa, photographer Evgeny Feldman tweeted an image of Kiev's flowerless slab in Alexander Gardens. It was the only hero city in the park without flowers. It seemed that Kiev, the seat of a revolution that recently ousted a Moscow-friendly government, was no longer considered such a heroic place. With the Kremlin accusing Kiev of “criminal irresponsibility” for allowing scores of people to be burned to death in Odessa, denying the city its roses was a powerful denunciation.

A Moscow woman leaves flowers at Kiev's hero-city WWII monument. May 7, 2014. Facebook.

Not all Muscovites wanted to send this message. Over the next two days, Kiev's hero-city slab was also covered in flowers. Dozens of people came to the monument with roses for the neglected city, responding to the previous day's demonstration with a gesture of their own. Flower-bearers photographed themselves and tweeted the images, reminding Internet users that there are still many Russians who aren't willing to rewrite history for the sake of sticking it to Ukraine's new government.

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