Tomb of the Unknown Sailor: Shevchenko Park – Odessa, Ukraine

Odessans have a strong tie to their naval and maritime heritage and at the Sea Passenger Terminal Saint Nikolay, patron saint of sailors, watch over the port. A visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Sailor at Shevchenko Park gave us an insight into the great respect and patriotic honour that the young people of Odessa still hold for their history. This Obelisk, to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the victory over Germany, was unveiled in May 1960 and we were told that young school volunteers come here everyday to stand guard at the memorial. 

We walked down the long tree-lined Alley of Glory to the memorial, and when we reached the Obelisk, the atmosphere was solemn but serene.  We saw how seriously these young guards took on their duty. It was scorching hot and even the hoards of tourists milling around them and taking snaps, didn’t distract them from their post.

These young volunteers are carrying on a tradition from the days of the Soviet Union when members of the Young Communist League and Pioneers and teenage children stood guard at the memorial. Only the most loyal members were chosen for this ceremony and it was a great honor to be selected.

Today, fifteen to sixteen year old school volunteers, dressed in naval-themed uniforms come here to be on duty.  The girls look particularly pretty, with lace ribbons in their hair and matching lacey long socks. These kids march from the guard post at the main road down the Alley of Glory to the Obelisk and then stand on duty for 15 minutes before being replaced by the next watch.  They remain on guard every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  It’s impressive watching them conduct their own drills, unsupervised by adults – a quick march followed by a slower march as they approach the Obelisk.  Language is a problem in the Ukraine and there was no way we could have spoken to the youngsters about their ceremony.  Nevertheless, the seriousness with which they hold the tradition spoke of the honour and respect that they hold for their war heroes and those who have perished in war.

Coming close up to the Obelisk, you’ll see engravings on the four sides commemorating the four key naval battles of Odessa:

- the 1854 Crimean War
- the 1905 mutiny on board the Potemkin
- the 1918 victory of the Soviet Union, and
- the 1941 landing at Grigoryevsky Cape during the defense of Odessa

At the front of the monument, inside of a bronze laurel wreath, the eternal flame burns in memory of the war dead. 

As you walk back towards the main road, you’ll see on both sides of the Alley memorial tombstones to remember Odessans who helped defend the city. May 9th is a special day at this memorial.

Pictures coming soon!

Helen

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