How Manchester ended up with a statue from Soviet Ukraine
Plus: We meet the daughter of Ukrainian refugees at a service in Rochdale
Dear Millers — last night we published a piece about the moving anti-war vigil that took place in Manchester this weekend. It included the story of an economics lecturer called Dariya Mykhayliv, 47, who fled Ukraine last week after going back to say goodbye to her dying mother. “Strength to her,” one reader wrote under a picture of Dariya on our Instagram, while another wrote: “My heart goes out to you and all the Ukrainians”.
In today’s briefing, we meet Maria Kopczik, 71, whose parents came to Rochdale to escape the oppression of the Soviet Union in 1947. Dani met her at a church service in Rochdale this weekend and got an insight into what life was like for penniless Ukrainian refugees after the Second World War.
Which brings us to the massive statue of Friedrich Engels outside HOME in the city centre. It was brought from a village in eastern Ukraine by the artist Phil Collins, who was criticised at the time for not asking Manchester’s Ukrainians whether they welcomed a piece of Soviet propaganda that their countrymen had torn down. More on that below.
‘They came here with nothing’
By Dani Cole
On Saturday, away from the crowds and the chants in Piccadilly Gardens, a sombre vigil was taking place at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St Mary and St James in Rochdale. A 100-strong congregation quietly bowed their heads as they were led in prayers for peace. Afterwards, friends gathered to drink tea and offer words of comfort to one another.
“I am so glad my parents aren’t alive to see this,” Maria Kopczik, 71, told me. “They would be distraught.” Maria was born on Tweedale Street to parents Roman and Anastasia. Anastasia worked in a cotton factory, and Roman went into construction. When they were working, Maria and her sister would go off and play in Falinge Park, or run around the street outside their house with other children.
During the Second World War, Anastasia had been sent to a German forced labour camp. Soldiers went from village to village rounding people up. She was told: “You’re younger, and you’ll survive.” She came to the UK in 1947, in the year of the Soviet famine, which is estimated to have killed 300,000 Ukrainians.
When she arrived in Rochdale, her possessions amounted to a single wooden suitcase. One time, Anastasia and a friend needed shoes, so they walked into a shop and pointed to their feet. When it was time to pay, “they just emptied their purses on the counter,” Maria said. “They came here with nothing.”
The psychological and emotional scars of the war, and the fear of the Soviet Union ran deep. Growing up Maria heard little about her parents’ life in Ukraine. “It was very hard to find things out, because your parents wouldn’t talk about it,” she said. Much of Roman’s family emigrated to Poland. When Ukraine became independent in 1991, Maria was able to visit her father’s village, and stand in the house he was born in. “A lot of the Ukrainians were afraid,” Maria said. “They were frightened of speaking out.” When telephones were introduced into homes, many in the community were careful about what was said over the line.
“It’s absolutely dreadful that in 2022, one man [Vladimir Putin] has been allowed to do this,” she said about the war that rages on. But today, they were making a defiant stand. Her parents, and those of their generation, “They’d be proud of us if they saw what we were doing today.”
This week’s weather 🌦
Our weather forecast comes from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says: “Our weather will be changeable day to day during the week ahead. Tuesday and Friday will be the best days in terms of sunshine. Weekend onwards is uncertain.”
Tuesday 🌤 will start fine with plenty of sunny spells. A gentle north-easterly breeze will make it feel a little chilly out of the sunshine. Max 10°c.
Wednesday 🌧 Conditions will be cloudy and damp with patchy rain. Max 9°c.
Thursday 🌧 Spells of rain will feature as weather fronts sweep west to east. Max 9°c.
Friday 🌦 A better end to the working week will follow with sunny intervals and occasional showers. Max 9°c.
Weekend 🌦 A battle between high and low pressure will take place towards the weekend. At the moment, an unsettled weekend is most likely.
For the full forecast visit Manchester Weather on Facebook, which posts forecasts daily at 6.15am.
Mancunian illustrator and Mill member Stanley Chow has drawn Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. He posted the image on Twitter this morning.
Big story: How Manchester ended up with a statue from Soviet Ukraine
Top line: The village of Mala Pereshchepina, in a district of eastern Ukraine that used to be named after Friedrich Engels, tore down its statue of the nineteenth-century writer in 2015, following a previous bout of Russian aggression in the country. Ukraine banned the signs and symbols of the communist era, so the village’s 12ft statue was dumped on some farmland and covered up. Most of Ukraine’s Soviet-era statues had already been pulled down in 1989.
Coming to Manchester: The Engels statue was recovered from Mala Pereshchepina by the Turner prize-nominated artist Phil Collins and brought to Manchester, where Engels lived and wrote some of his most famous work. It was installed outside HOME as the closing event of the 2017 Manchester International Festival of the arts, and it has stood there ever since.
The reaction was, shall we say, mixed. Manchester’s many Engels fans (including many trade unionists) said they were proud to have the statue in the city, and it has become a popular gathering point for activists ever since. In fact, members of the Young Communist League and the Communist Party of Britain paid their respects to Engels around the statue on the 200th anniversary of his birth two years ago (as you can see below).
“My first reaction was anger,” wrote Kevin Bolton in the Guardian at the time. Bolton, who is an archivist from Stockport, said he had no problem with monuments to Engels in the city (there are others), but wrote: “I do have a problem with a statue created specifically to promote Soviet propaganda being placed in Manchester.” He pointed out that Manchester’s Ukrainian community — of which he is a member by marriage — had not been consulted:
I understand that members of the community were approached about providing a choir for Ceremony [the name of the art project], but they turned it down when they discovered the context. This was the first they knew about the project.
This morning, a Mill reader called Nick Thornsby wrote to Bev Craig, the leader of Manchester City Council. He explains:
Notwithstanding Engels’ connection to Manchester, the statue has always seemed to me to be an oddity at best. At worst, it felt like a particular insult to the people of Ukraine, for whom Engels represented a grim part of the country’s history. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the motivations at its heart make the continued presence of the statue worse still. It would be a small but significant display of solidarity to at least temporarily remove the statue and replace it with a Ukrainian flag.
It turns out that the statue is owned by HOME, and given its popularity, it seems unlikely that it will be taken down even temporarily. But some might be attracted to an option suggested by Kevin Bolton in his 2017 Guardian piece. “When I saw the statue in person I was drawn to the faded blue-and-yellow paint of the Ukrainian flag on the legs,” he wrote. “I assume that it was painted by Ukrainians following the fall of the Soviet regime in 1991. A part of me longed to repaint the statue in the Ukrainian colours.”
Home of the week
This charming 2-bed cottage in Saddleworth is surrounded by rolling hills. It’s on the market for £260,000.
Other local news in brief
Who is running the Whitworth? A Guardian scoop last week said that the gallery’s director Alistair Hudson had been “asked to leave his post” by the University of Manchester following a heated but frankly hard-to-follow row about the removal of an exhibition statement that denounced Israel’s military operations in Gaza and its “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. This weekend, leading artists pulled out of an upcoming show to protest Hudson’s reported removal, but when The Mill asked this morning, the university was still referring to Hudson as “our current Whitworth Director”. To add to the confusion, Hudson is also the head of the Manchester Art Gallery. A protest — “Stop Censoring Palestine + Palestinian solidarity Reinstate the Whitworth Gallery director” — is taking place tomorrow. Know something? Just hit reply.
An “active neighbourhood” is being planned in Heaton Park, and residents are being asked for their input on proposals. Readers will remember the controversy over similar plans in Levenshulme. More here.
A judge will decide if a 17-year-old boy should have a kidney transplant after doctors at Manchester Children’s Hospital said it was not in his “best interests.” William Verden has steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome, and it is thought there is an 80% chance of the disease recurring after a transplant. More here.
Legendary spin bowler Sonny Ramadhinhas has died aged 92. Ramadhinhas, who played for West Indies, lived in Delph, Oldham for the last 12 years of his life. He was the first cricketer of East Indian origin to play for West Indies. More here.
Rates of Covid-19 in Greater Manchester are still falling. The region’s case rate is 181, down 29.4% in a week, compared to England’s 313.2, down 29.9%. Stockport has the highest infection rate, Oldham has the lowest.
Things to do
🖼 Exhibition | Photographer Simon Buckley is exhibiting at the Modernist in the Northern Quarter this week. The photos follow the inner ring road and Mancunian Way from the now-demolished Wellington pub in Salford to the derelict Bank of England on Pollard Street. More here.
💻 Course | ClickMCR, a free new coding training course for unemployed young people in Manchester, is starting soon. It's designed to give young people with no coding knowledge some employable skills in eight weeks of training. Book now.
🤖 Talk | The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society is hosting a talk called “Artificial Intelligence: Myths and Realities” on Tuesday at 7pm. Book here.
🎥 Film | Tonight The Gherkin in Levenshulme has its weekly film night, and the main feature is Queen and Slim. Book here.
🥘 Food | Interested in fab fermenting? On Thursday evening, the Plucky Pickle and Koji Kitchen are running a masterclass on miso at Pollen Bakery. Book here.
☕ Dine | Heaton Park Cafe has pods by the waterside — have a cuppa and a bite to eat overlooking peaceful scenery. More here.
💭 Workshop | Graphic novelist Quan Zhou will be presenting a talk — “An intercultural dialogue through the graphic novel” — at Instituto Cervantes on Thursday. Book here.
Our favourite reads
‘The Tories fear me because I say it how I see it’ — New Statesman
Kate Mossman asks if Angela Rayner is destined to lead the Labour Party. We enjoyed the opening paragraph of this piece, which sees Rayner visit a primary school in Ashton. “Angela Rayner sails in, black mask and long black coat making her look a bit like Batman. She is not the type to kneel down and look at the children’s drawings. ‘See, this is politics,’ she tells them. ‘You saw something you didn’t like, you took action.’”
Last week we recommended popping along to the Bridgewater Hall to hear the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic perform Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, among other pieces. In case you didn’t manage, longtime Miller and writer Hugh Morris wrote this review: “A puzzling start to this thought-provoking composer’s 150th year,” he concludes.
‘Every shift is a knife edge’ — Manchester Evening News
“Lost patients, abandoned mothers, unsupervised students, dangerously unwell people left to roam the community. It has not been the official picture during a pandemic in which politicians have repeatedly insisted the NHS could and would cope,” writes Helena Vesty, the MEN’s health correspondent in a piece highlighting the experiences of frontline hospital staff.
How residential developers are quietening culture — Salt Magazine
Following last year’s row over noise complaints lodged against much-loved Manchester institution Day & Night Cafe, this article takes a look at the impact of residential development in the city centre. “While bands and fans quickly took to social media to pour out support, the news came as little surprise to many. Recent decades have seen post-industrial places like Manchester ‘reurbanise’”.
Letters to the editor
Thanks for the first-class reporting on the Manchester demonstration about the plight of Ukraine and its people (‘A community consoles itself and prepares for worse news to come’). I'd like to draw attention to the very real danger faced by independent journalists in Ukraine. These are principled people trying to report accurately and impartially, countering Russian and other disinformation — the sort of professionals who might be working for The Mill were they in the UK. I've spent time in Kyiv helping to train many journalists, and now learn how much danger they are in. Some are in hiding, others are trying to escape or at least send their families to safety. This country's current attitude to escaping Ukrainians is embarrassing — there is an urgent to relax the UK visa rules and offer safety to those in need. In addition, we have just started a fund to support journalists on the ground, and I hope a few Millers might support it. Derek, High Peak
Brilliant piece, bravo Jack! The Mill once again manages to find a fascinating story about a topic that many people don’t think about. (‘The crane is God’: Meet the men who work 100ft in the sky’.) I never imagined I’d be spending my day reading about crane operators. Barry, Manchester