Though no firm groundbreaking date has been set, the site for the Ukrainian Man-made Famine (Holodomor) memorial was consecrated last month by the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, just days after the project received concept approval from the Commission of Fine Arts.
Located on a 3100-s.f. triangular wedge at the intersection of North Capitol Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and F Street, the memorial is dedicated to victims of the 1932 Ukrainian catastrophe, created when Stalin exported the bulk of Ukraine's grain stores, deliberately inducing a famine that he hoped would lead to a repopulation of the country by ethnic Russians. Presently the site is a popular lunchtime gathering place for the throngs of neighborhood workers who patronize the nearby food trucks, perhaps foreshadowing the future irony of young urban professionals shoveling back kimchi tacos and twelve dollar hula burgers in the shadow of a famine memorial.
Since securing authorization from Congress in 2006, the Holodomor project has made slow but steady progress. The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) awarded the site in October 2008, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine began soliciting designs the very next year. From 52 submitted proposals, they narrowed it down to five, which were then vetted down to two that met NCPC standards. The project team, led by architects-of-record Hartman-Cox Architects (who were brought in to shepherd the project through the labyrinthine approvals process), presented these two designs at an NCPC meeting on December 1. The “preferred” scheme, dubbed “Field of Wheat,” is comprised of a small paved area and bench in front of a wall-like bas-relief sculpture of wheat. The “alternate” scheme (which seemed to be much preferred at the last NCPC meeting, due to the one-sided design of “Field of Wheat”) is a small sculpture in-the-round of a ten-foot-tall pair of open hands, surrounded by trees. The designs received concept approval from the Commission of Fine Arts in mid-November, and now go to the National Capital Advisory committee.
According to NCPC Acting Director of Urban Design and Plan Review Shane Dettman, the monument is being funded directly by the Ukranian government, which will also take on an unusual level of responsibility for the finished site. “Unlike most monuments that are given over to the National Park Service for maintenance, this particular memorial will be on a Park Service reservation that's owned by the federal government, but the Ukrainian government will take care of upkeep and maintenance,” Dettman said.
Still, the memorial does seem puzzling to some, in the same way that the U.S. erecting a “Trail of Tears” memorial in downtown Kiev might raise eyebrows. The boilerplate justification for the project, taken from the proposal/environmental impact study, is that America's long-standing role as the foremost champion of human rights in the world makes Washington, DC the best location for a memorial to this tragedy. Which is undoubtedly true, as far as that goes. (Which isn’t very far.)
The Ukrainian embassy wasn't forthcoming with any context, but recent history might lend some. George W. Bush signed the legislation authorizing the Holodomor memorial into law in 2006, coincidentally a few years after Ukraine was one of the only countries to make a significant contribution to the multinational Iraq invasion force, inviting the suspicion that the monument was a chip in a much bigger picture of backroom diplomatic horse-trading. Additionally, it's well-known that the U.S. needs a regional ally to keep Russian’s empire-ish ambitions contained (a Taiwan to Russia’s China, if you will), so it makes sense that we would want to keep the Ukrainians happy. They get a sculpture in the capital city of the world's leading superpower, we get a missile installation, that sort of thing. If it saves us from a 21st century “Red Dawn,” it's a small price to pay.
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