Symbol of Ukrainian-Russian Friendship Becomes Hopeful Sign of Eventual Peace

April 29 20:42 2022
Symbol of Ukrainian-Russian Friendship Becomes Hopeful Sign of Eventual Peace
Soviet-era rocket toy unites children of both countries with shared love of technology

A Soviet-era knick-knack has become a symbol of friendship between people from Ukraine and Russia, even in the midst of a terrible war.

It started, according to Save Ukraine co-founder Svetlana Shevchenko, when a six-year old girl from the Donbass town of Sloviansk discovered a crater created by a Russian Iskander missile in early April. “Olga asked her parents what caused the massive hole in the ground. They explained what a missile was, and tried, without much success, to explain why Russia would want to fire such a destructive thing at their city.” [Russia has launched more than 1,300 such rockets at Ukraine since the invasion started on February 24].

Olga then asked, according to the story, if the ‘missiles’ her parents were talking about were the same as the ceramic figurines in their china cabinet which clearly looked like rockets. She was referring to a series of commemorative sculptures created in 1960 at the Ghzel pottery factory near Moscow, which celebrated the flight of Sputnik 5. This was the first space mission to include mammals (two dogs named Belka and Strelka) who made it back to earth safely. Collecting such items is popular in both Russia and Ukraine, perhaps because they commemorate a happier time when both countries were part of the Soviet Union and worked together on inspiring missions like the space program. Some of the figurines are used as vodka jugs in both countries.

So with her parents’ help, Olga initiated a project which encourages Russian and Ukrainian children to trade their Sputnik trinkets. These can still be purchased on the Russian equivalent of ebay (and ebay itself) and still inspire kids to be interested in technology. Lively discussions are emerging on Russian and Ukrainian social media platforms about the toys, and what they may symbolize in the light of the invasion.

And there are plenty of daily reminders of what the ‘real thing’ is, according to Save Ukraine’s Oleg Kravchuk. “As an attempt to ‘soften up’ Ukrainian defenses ahead of a full-scale infantry assault on the Ukrainian-held portions of Donbass, Russian forces continuously pummel the region with Iskander missiles.” They have destroyed major portions of Makkivka, Horlivka, and Kramatorsk, and are now raining hundreds of rockets on Lysychansk, Alchevsk, Sloviansk, and Sieveirodonetsk.

Meanwhile Ukrainian and Russian children build friendships via shared love of rocket-shaped toys. And Olga still uses the Sloviansk bomb crater near her home as a playground.

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