I remember my first trip abroad as if it happened yesterday. At that time, Ukraine was not part of the visa-free agreement with the EU, so there were enormous lines at the border, and one had to get a visa before a planned trip. There were no biometric passports to have all the important data at hand. One had to submit all the personal data over and over again, making the entire process tedious and time-consuming.
What is also important to mention is that no one could tell which direction Ukraine would move. To the East or to the West? To the EU or to the Eastern Partnership? There was anxious uncertainty in papers and in people’s minds, causing an unsettling atmosphere.
There were more questions than answers at that time. Even after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine didn’t receive a clear vector of development. From the perspective of a Ukrainian citizen, one thing was certain: “Ukraine is a developing democratic country. This country has a rich history and culture. It lies at the centre of the European continent.” And obviously, a strong understanding of existence was in my mind, too. I could say without hesitation where I live, which language I speak, and which nationality I have. I took my knowledge with me on a trip abroad.
Unpleasant smiles of the foreign consulate staff, a Russian-speaking ambassador of the foreign country, and a ton of abusive remarks made me doubt if people really knew Ukraine, if the language and culture of my country were visible enough to others. Yet, the information about Ukrainian existence was unavailable to the majority of Europeans or Americans.
I tried to do a whole field research on the Ukrainian Pink Spot, but the answer is quite simple. If we take the maps or books printed in the West from the Cold War period, we will see a huge pink spot from the east border of the Polish People’s Republic to the west border of Japan. There are no special signs or explanations: either the USSR or Russia. More than 30 years ago, the Soviet Union had fallen apart. And many great nations fought their way to independence and democracy. Still, the pink spot stays in the minds of Westerners.
As you might guess, I had received the visa in my bright blue children’s passport so that I could pass the border with legal guardians. It was a whole new world that didn’t recognize my existence or the existence of my homeland. Weird, isn’t it?
After that first trip, more than a devil’s dozen years have passed. I received many new visas, ambassadors started speaking Ukrainian, and the geographical appearance of Ukraine became more familiar to most people. All these cases were out of sight, only numbers without soul. They lacked personal history behind it all.
The curse of the pink spot didn’t let Ukraine move forward. The USSR was always marked with a disgusting fading pink on the world’s map by Western Bloc countries. It was a huge blot on the globe and was reduced to the simplest descriptions: Russian culture, Russian country, Russians. I had learned it by heart from my long museum walks. As easy as it was, that shaped the minds of the generations from the early ’50s and the generations to come.
I found it very disturbing that in order to start learning about Ukraine and its unique identity, some Westerners needed to be shocked by Russian bombs, which caused tens of thousands of casualties among Ukrainian civilians. The Russian-Ukrainian war became the best advertisement campaign in history for Ukrainian culture, making people question the pink spot and realise the existence and importance of this independent nation.