Mariupol, the Pivot
1 August 2016

On a summer evening, in Teatral’nyi garden, in Mariupol’s center, lovers come to walk and flirt, young children climb and balance on the rim of the fountain. Muscular men with short hair test their strength against a boxing arcade game, their shooting prowess against targets, for a stuffed animal or a drinking glass.


On a summer morning, in Park Kultury, men and women run in circles, walk their dogs, sit on shaded benches. A worker cuts grass, another sweeps pavement. The amusement ride attendants filter into the park, unlock the rides, scrub down the seats, and put out signs advertising their pleasures.


On a summer’s eve in the park on Ussiuriis’ska St. perched on the bluff overlooking the Sea of Azov, young women photograph each other. Men rest on benches and talk. Boys jostle and shove. A rainbow arcs over the port to the east.


Along Morskyi Boulevard the morning buses run on time, picking up workers, students, shoppers from brightly painted bus stops, while others walk their dogs under the deeply shaded summer paths of the adjacent park.


Evenings, in summer, families congregate on the beach, to swim, to fish off the stone piers, to gossip, to drink vodka and beer, to stretch and nestle into the sand, which still holds the sun’s warmth.


The shoppers in Kyivs’ki Market test the summer tomatoes with their fingers. They rotate through the stalls checking prices, shaded from the morning sun by billowing blue tarps.


Summers, all evening long, couples lean against the rail of the pier, gazing out to the horizon, or at each other. Fishermen cast their nets over the same rail, hoping for dinner.


The morning sun reflects off the whitewashed facades of homes on Hrets’ka St., while residents in their gardens reach up into their mulberry trees to pluck berries, ripe with the heat of summer.


The train departs from Mariupol to Kyiv evenings, as the summer sun slants across the station and into the wagons. Families gather on the platforms, carrying bags and meals for their daughters and sons, their soldiers, their students, their holiday-makers. The coach attendants stand by the doors to the wagons, greeting the passengers.


Along Mariupol Beach older men stretch out into the hot morning sand, sleeping off last night’s vodka, or listening to the faint lapping of the tide, or watching the clouds drift past, the vertigo of passing time.


The workers from the Azovstal steel factory wait for trams and buses along Naberezhna St. Summer evenings they ride north and east to their apartment flats, or further out to their dachas outside the city, near the checkpoints that control the roads to the front.


The Illicheivs’kyi market along Boika Avenue overflows its stalls, out along the nearby railway, where lines of men and women display their goods on outstretched blankets. Summer mornings you can find blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, along with picked cucumber, garlic and pepper. The shoppers hobble, with full bags, home over the railway trestle bridge.


Along the Kal’mius River, most evenings in summer, you will see men cast their lines, from the reed-choked shores or from the rail of a sheetmetal bridge, couples rowing upstream in wooden boats, as the wind ripples through the long grasses of the wetlands.


East of the city’s suburbs, vast fields of sunflowers stretch out to the front lines and minefields. Mornings, they turn their inclined heads slowly toward the summer sun.


The boys who like to climb. Watchtowers, the facades of buildings, dropping down and onto the roofs of train cars from pedestrian footbridges. Summers they clamber for hours, urging each other to attempt difficult stunts. By evening they retire to the beach, to drink vodka, to look out into the sea.


Groups of children from a nearby summer camp march along the water’s edge, the sand in their toes wet and cool despite the morning heat.


On the hill called Alaska, at the northwestern edge of the city, families and couples walk down the ski slopes, find a spot in the long grasses to rest, to drink, to embrace, to photograph each other, to watch the summer sun set over the dachas, the fields, the Illich Steel factory.


Along Prospekt Mira, past the vector tetrapods that have become the symbol of the city, the morning shoppers hurry to the groceries, to the bus stop, to the flower kiosk. The summer breeze carries the pollen from the fields, the smoke from the factories, the salt from the sea.


As evening falls on Shevchenka Boulevard, the football players return from their games, young families push prams through the tree-shaded allee. The lights of the apartment blocks lining the boulevard flicker. Men and women rest on their window sills, smoking, drinking, looking out above the trees, at the lights across the way, at the swallows darting through the thickening air. On the road the long-haul trucks creep over the pavement. A truck pulls to a halt, a young woman darts to the passenger door, climbs up, hands a package through the window, then turns and walks off. The truck starts and lurches, lights bright, as it pulls back into the night traffic.


Most mornings, a young woman runs around the dirt track behind the Church of St. Mikail, the track rutted, the football field within overgrown, she dreams of speed, of summer races.