The Barricades that Jack Built

I remember when the new paving bricks were laid all along the wide pavements of Kiev’s main street, Kreschatyk; over most of Maidan Nezalezhnosti; up Institutska and Bohdana Kmelnitskoho, spreading like a sort of monotonous grey skin disease over the whole of downtown Kiev and then out to the suburbs.

Nobody liked them much; they were ugly and, worse, impractical (slippery in the rain, cracking in the frost). Why were they being laid absolutely everywhere, replacing pavements that seemed perfectly adequate already? Obvious, people joked; because they’re made in the factory owned by Jack the Kiev mayor’s son. Or is it Jack the president’s nephew?

Later that stopped being a joke, and was repeated as fact.

I don’t know if it’s actually true about the factory owner or not. I’m not sure it matters. What matters is that everyone joked about what they assumed was true, because that’s the way everything worked in Ukraine – favours, nepotism, bribes, backhanders: endemic corruption. Someone somewhere had to be making lots of dishonestly acquired money from paving most of Kiev.

Whatever factory they came from, Ukrainians colonised those acres of ugly grey bricks. Grandmothers sold cottage garden peonies or single cigarettes from upturned crates set out on them. Kids covered them in chalked pictures and chewing gum. Pensioners knelt on them to beg; well-dressed young people walked over them and felt European.

Then demonstrators dug them up and built barricades out of them. Activists threw them at riot police.

Over last weekend, they’ve been built into monuments for the dead, holders for candles, shelves for sheaves of flowers.

Photo by M. Bibik

I still don’t know who Jack is in this case; who it is that made those bricks that paved the city that built the barricades that honour the dead who died so that no Jack would make a dishonest fortune selling the bricks that paved the city…

Maybe it doesn’t matter, so long as in future, no one in Ukraine makes jokes about the country being paved by corruption as the only way to bear knowing it’s true.

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