Icons and Cultural Identity Ukraine

Toronto’s expression of solidarity for the Ukrainian people in this time of turmoil is expressed in City Hall with this small memorial shrine. This is an icon of the Virgin Blachernitissa shown with the Christ child in a medallion hovering over her chest with outstretched arms. Through this icon the Virgin exercised her most powerful work as protector and intercessor on behalf of the people of Constantinople; now she defends and intercedes on behalf of the people of Ukraine.

This memorial shrine is another example of the solidarity felt by some Torontonians with the ongoing uncertainty in Ukraine. On Monday night a group of Ukrainian-Canadians gathered at City Hall in a vigil to express their solidarity. Interestingly, these gestures of solidarity and support were organized by the Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly while Mayor Rob Ford was preoccupied on his PR trip to Los Angeles to appear on the Jimmy Kimmel show.

Here are a few other observations from this developing story:

A friend posted this video from BBC’s Newsnight on the emerging Neo-Nazi presence now gaining a foothold in the vacuum of real leadership and power. Ethnic distinctness remains a fundamental question for those in the Ukraine.

The New Yorker ran this article by Adam Gopnik on some historical issues in Crimea. Many are drawing parallels between this situation and the assignation of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and the start of the first World War. This is a scary scenario and one to be avoided at all costs.

Our MP Chrystia Freeland describes her experiences in Kyiv where she witnessed first-hand the spirit of the revolution. She is optimistic, but more importantly as she explains in this NYTimes op-ed she is convinced that the Russian pressure on Ukraine, which if Ukraine disintegrates would destabilize the political and ethnic fabric of Europe, is paradoxically working to unite Ukrainians striving for a new government. She also stresses that most inhabitants are at least bilingual in Russian and Ukrainian, which means dividing the population based on linguistic preference or other ethnic markers is a poor reflection of their cultural identities and political beliefs. I’m not sure our western media adequately understand and report on the lukewarm reception of the Russian forces there. Russians are not liberators (ok, we understand that fact) and their cause is not sparking a groundswell of support.

I recently learned about Putin’s order that the Black Madonna of Kazan be flown over the Black Sea. Icons, it seems, are at the forefront of these cultural moves blessing and defending people in every corner.

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