This Wednesday morning, August 20th, as the sun lit up the spires of bombastic Stalin-era high-rises in the heart of Russia’s capital, residents of a historical downtown district noticed a large flag of Ukraine fluttering over one such spire, atop a large golden star.
The top of the star had also been repainted light-blue to resemble the Ukrainian flag (the original hammer and sickle emblem in the middle remained unharmed, though). A resident of a nearby building was able to catch the perpetrator on camera as the man completed his stunt by jumping off the 560 foot tall spire with a parachute and disappearing in the pre-dawn emptiness of the city.
It’s hard to say what was more daring: to risk a deadly fall during the stunt, or to deface the iconic Stalinist spire, which continues to symbolize Russia’s imperial ambitions — and to raise the blue-and-yellow “enemy” flag over Moscow at a time of war, when all of Russia is seething with anti-Ukrainian anger as the official propaganda continues to whip the crowds into a supremacist frenzy by comparing its aggression against Ukraine with the “Great Patriotic War” against Nazi Germany.
Hatred of all things Ukrainian in today’s Russia is universal — it extends from Ukrainian-made chocolates to Ukrainian music and Ukrainian people, who are now called by a newly invented ethnic slur “ukrop,” which translates as “dill” — with the dehumanizing implication that Ukrainians are nothing more than vegetables destined to be chopped into salad.
A special kind of hatred is reserved for the emblems of Ukrainian statehood, which symbolize the country’s independence from the imperial Big Brother — the historical blue-and-yellow flag and the tryzub — the ancient ornamental trident from the times of Kievan Rus — which today’s Kremlin propaganda absurdly compares to the swastika.
Under these circumstances, falling into the hands of a frothing supremacist mob might be not much different than falling from the top of a Stalinist spire.
According to Moscow police, a group of perpetrators had apparently sneaked into the building at night through a service entrance and climbed up the service stairs to the roof unnoticed. They must have been also carrying a large flag, a load of spray paint cans, and climbing equipment which they used to scale the spire and get on top of the star.
The authorities declared a citywide manhunt for anyone seen carrying mountain-climbing equipment. The hunt resulted in the detention of four local residents — two men and two women in their mid-twenties — who are denying their involvement. In the meantime, a Russian blogger disclosed the name of the daredevil as Grigory — a young man from Ukraine who engages in the extreme sport of “roofing.” He is known on Facebook and Twitter as Wanted Mustang and has a website filled with vertigo-inducing images of himself standing or hanging from the highest points of buildings, bridges, and spires around the world.
“This young man walked the streets of Moscow in a T-shirt with the Ukrainian coat of arms. He is quite famous in the ‘roofer’ circles. He is a citizen of Ukraine. I met him Saturday by accident, he said he wanted to take a walk on the roofs of Moscow, pay a visit to the Stalinist high-rises, and climb on top of the star because it must be beautiful up there,” wrote the blogger, adding that Grigory supports Ukraine’s fight against the Russia-sponsored separatists and is thinking of joining the volunteer army in Kiev.
On his Facebook page, Grigory wrote that he had already been to the war-torn eastern Ukraine in April to videotape the fighting for a Ukrainian TV channel, admitting that the body armor he was given turned out to be too uncomfortable and so he traveled without it.